Young people may spend three times more on housing than their grandparents, but according to a leading architect we shouldn't expect a living room.
In a briefing paper published on Wednesday, Patrik Schumacher, who worked on the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London, said "hotel room-sized" studio flats are enough for young people.
"Those who are now making the hard choice between paying 80% of their income on a central flat versus commuting from afar, will in the liberalised future appreciate new options and perhaps choose to pay only 60% for a smaller but more central flat," he wrote.
A small, clean, private hotel-room sized central patch serves their needs perfectly well
"For many young professionals who are out and about networking 24/7, a small, clean, private hotel-room sized central patch serves their needs perfectly well," he said, adding that most central homes should be allocated to people "whose productive lives are most enhanced by being thus positioned, i.e. those who operate at the centre of our network society, attending early morning meetings, after work networking events, weekend conferences, and professional lectures”.
Unsurprisingly, the implication that young people should be content living in overpriced shoeboxes in the middle of cities, with no ability to entertain or relax outside of their bed, went down like a lead balloon. Millennials who voted in a poll on Refinery29 UK's Instagram Stories expressed a view that living rooms and being able to kick back and socialise in the comfort of our own homes was a priority.
81% (812) of the 1,008 people who an responded said they had a living room, and of those, a weighty 83% (703) said they liked it and/or used it intentionally. What's more, among those who said they didn't have a living room, almost two thirds (63%) said this wasn't out of choice.
Many people got in touch to espouse the merits of living rooms and/or bemoan their lack of one. Jennifer, who now has a living room but didn't in two previous flatshares, says it "not only means not having to work in bed on [work from home] days, but also maintaining good sleep hygiene (no screens in the bedroom. Bed for sleep and sex only). Plus, it means getting to have a place for guests to stay when they visit. I never had friends from far away stay over when I lived in a flat without a living room."
Because of the housing crisis, many of us don't have them because we simply don't have a choice but to go without. Cailin Klohk said that in order to live in her west London flat, she and her flatmates had to sacrifice the communal area. "It's meant to be a two-bed with a living room but in order to be able to afford it, three of us live there." So, her bedroom is the living room. "While it would be nice to have a communal area, we wouldn't be able to afford such a nice flat."
Sadhbh O'Sullivan, Refinery29 UK's social media assistant, who doesn't have a living room, said they "seem to be the preserve of people with money" and that when people do have them, there are usually so many people in a house you can barely live in them."
Some young people do appear to live the minimalist lifestyles lauded by Schumacher, but our findings suggest they're a minority. Claire Miller said she and her husband moved out of a two-bedroom terrace with a living room, dining room and garden and sold all their furniture. Now, they rent a small studio apartment together "partly for financial reasons but mostly so we can live centrally and adhere to a more minimalist, deliberate lifestyle – experiences over possessions."
Being social and being able to sit in a living room with my housemates in the evening makes such a huge difference to my mood and happiness.
"As millennials we thrive off being social and being able to sit in a living room with my housemates in the evening makes such a huge difference to my mood and happiness," said Katie Westwater. She'd rather pay a little extra to have a living room, adding that life without one "isn't an option".
Kara Willow said she had to go out of her way to find a flat with a living room, but it was worth it. "So many [flats] had converted it into a bedroom. I use it for dinner parties and pre-drinks all the time."
Natasha Slee, Refinery29 UK's social media manager, said her living room, which she shares with her boyfriend, has "had such a positive impact on our wellbeing and the way we relax." They're now able to keep the bedroom for sleeping only, which has improved their sleep substantially. "I don't believe millennials are choosing to not have living rooms, I think we often don't have the choice."
However, because of the housing crisis life with a living room is still fraught with issues, as Sophie Scott told us. She and her boyfriend share a place with another ("lovely") couple, but "the living room is so small that if they're in there watching a film, it films like a real intrusion of space."
Jess Commons, Refinery29 UK's health and living editor, was infuriated by Schumacher's suggestion and summed up many others' thoughts on the matter. "Stop trying to blame limited space and the housing crisis on millennial quirks. We want the same things you have – a nice house we can make our own. Grown-up student living as a stopgap to deal with the mess we're in is not a solution to the mess [older people] created."
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