10 years ago: The Waist-high Shelf

Boxes leaning by front door with jumper and papers resting on them

A few years ago when we extended our house to create a new entrance hall we greatly enjoyed flicking through the relevant pages in Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction”. So much of it rang true with those “oh yeah” moments as we looked with fresh eyes at the way we used our home. The book is also just a joy to read. I challenge anyone to read the Entrance Room pattern without smiling and nodding.

Some of the elements, such as the size of the hall, the need to create a defined threshold and reorienting the front door to improve the Intimacy Gradient, were baked into the building itself. Others were to be added by us after the builders had gone, and among this latter sort was the famous Waist-high Shelf pattern, often cited as an example of how Alexander’s system works.

We never got around to putting in that waist-high shelf, but the other day I noticed that a strange thing had happened. We’d taken a delivery of some flat-pack furniture. We were busy, so instead of getting assembled it just got dumped inside the front door. And at once it attracted papers, hats, a school sweatshirt — everything the waist-high shelf was meant to absorb.

So here’s the warning: Find room in your home for the waist-high shelf, or the waist-high shelf will find you, whether you like it or not.


Originally published at blog.mattedgar.com on April 16, 2008.

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