11 Innovative Projects to Reinvent Your Living Space

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Home is where the hardware is.

Some say it is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically, but that goes so beyond without saying in a maker’s house. Rather, it is where half the things you see are more than meets the eye, where your light bulb might start correcting you when you talk to yourself, and quite possibly where you might find some sawdust in your morning granola, but roughage is roughage, right? (The same is not true for yarn — though the fiber pun is right there — or circuitry work. Be careful. Putter responsibly.)

Regardless of your house’s size and cleverness, we’ve all had the dream of being able to just hose everything down. That or a targeted set of very controlled fires. One day, maybe we’ll all have our own version of the self-cleaning house that inventor Frances Gabe, who recently passed away, patented in 1984.

Frances Gabe, the inventor of the self-cleaning house

It functioned basically like a dishwasher, sans rotating blades in the middle; splashing, rinsing, and then blowing dry everything not protected by bespoke covers and boxes — including the actual dishes, which would sit out on special racks. (Apparently, the water then took a detour through the doghouse on the way outside, to get the pooch clean as a bonus. Why not.) Until that day:

It’s What’s on the Inside

No matter how tiny or smart, you need to have things in your house. Decoration? Storage? Seating? Maybe you’re still in your boring big, dumb house and want to do what you can with what you have. (Yes, we all want a flip-up wall bed that’s also a sauna, a karaoke machine, and does the laundry.)

Opendesk: This London company-cum-platform is a sort of conglomeration of, or maybe dating service for, designers, professional and hobby makers, and people who just want to plonk down money for great and simple furniture. No matter where you are, you can get schematics for a clever and simple desk, say, and then find someone local to you to make it if you’re not the jigsaw type yourself. Consumer dollars are less diluted before they reach both designers and carpenters, and your work surface can be just what you want it to be.

Photo by Art Krumsee

Spyndi: Somewhere in the overlap of human vertebrae, caterpillar tank tread, and click-together toys, you find this Lithuanian furniture company, which successfully crowdfunded its hyper-engineered but open-ended chair last year and promises to deliver to backers some time right about now. Flexible in both senses of the word, the design slots joints of wood together to let you mold a long flat strip into almost whatever you want. For when you maybe don’t have time to saw and sand yourself, but still want to get to play around with the shape and function of your chair. Or foot rest. Or ovoid lounging surface.

Photo by Spyndi

Ply90: Assembling bespoke furniture of any type can be a challenge. The brushed aluminum Ply90 connectors let you piece together almost any configuration of flat material to build sofas, shelves, tables, and more. They’re not cheap, but their good looks and versatility make up for that.

Photo by Hep Svadja

Maker Living Room: Make: editor Caleb Kraft and his family came up with a unique spin on the traditional living room by turning theirs into a makerspace. They replaced the TV entertainment center with a workbench/toolbox/peg board combo, complete with an installed tablet to watch how-to videos while working. Out went the coffee table, and in went a pair of matching worktables with under-bench storage, meaning each family member had their own space for stowing long-term projects. A set of baker’s shelves completed the transformation, to hold bulkier tools and supplies.

Photo by Caleb Kraft

Rocketing Restroom: As for the most important seat in the house?

Jeff de Boer, of The Little Giant Rocket Company in Calgary, Canada, decided that since shop bathrooms are often grimy anyway, he would turn his into a purposefully grimy one, one that would turn a visit to the privy into something much more fun.

“I thought, as we are a rocket company, it should be a bathroom that looks like it is shared by the lowest ranking crew members,” he says.

The project was started during a time when work was slow and everything was over budget, and de Boer was wondering if the whole thing was going to turn out to be a mistake. He decided to go for it and, as he puts it, fail big — which in this case meant, make the bathroom. And as it turns out, 20 years later, the studio is still a success.

“Every time I feel fear, I just go to the bathroom and I have a reminder that taking chances can bring great rewards and joy.”

Photo by Kelly Hofer

Little Boxes on the Hillside

The tiny house movement, and related re-purposing of other structures for living, seems like a no-brainer match for a maker. You can create your own house more or less from scratch, full of clever solutions and interesting multipurpose assemblies, and you don’t need an army of Amish to do it. (Make sure to test a small dance party to get measurements that’ll make you happy.)

Four Lights Tiny House Company: Jay Shafer has everything you need — from housing plans for the exterior shells in several styles, to builds for interior components created for maximum small space usage. The Four Lights Tiny Houses are designed on modular interiors, so the bathroom, kitchen, and staircase loft beds can be arranged in several different configurations, and they can be constructed on any base, from trailer beds to stilts or permanent platforms. The step by step instructions were developed with the novice DIYer in mind, so you don’t need significant carpentry experience to live the dream of having your own tiny dwelling. Interior component projects were developed around easy to obtain fixtures, and everything is planned to be able to fit through the narrow door of a small modular dwelling.

Photo by Hep Svadja

Open Building Institute: This group is creating a library of open source blueprints for building-block style modules, coupled with intense workshops, to allow small groups of people to quickly assemble a house — and, actually, they do call it a modern barn raising — that is also designed to be as efficient and environmentally conscious as possible.

Art by Open Building Institute

Draft-optimized for lower AC needs, accessible water and power lines for easy repairs and adjustments, and more, plus easy expansion when the need or budget arises.

Photo by Open Building Institute

Tiny Hacker House: The next logical step, obviously, is a tiny house that is itself meant to be a maker space. Anil Pattni’s project is planning on building 25 houses around the world in the next few years, by makers and hackers for makers and hackers. The idea is to share and develop skills by building, with open source hardware and smart energy solutions, and then use the house as a work and living space for hackathons, making, and general awesomeness — including workshops to train people to build more houses.

The MakerSpace at Walsh: And if you want to think even bigger? Near Fort Worth, Texas, the Walsh development comes with a makerspace built right into the plans as one of its selling points. It promises to provide tools, training, and community for young and old. Says Mark Hatch, author of The Maker Movement Manifesto, on their website, “[It] will serve as a gathering place for adults to hone crafts or hobbies into skills and second careers, and a source of inspiration for children as they learn to design, create, and make the next generation of big ideas.” 

Beecoming Self-Sufficient

Several of the aforementioned projects include plans or options for gardening and other modes of self-sufficiency. It can be about sustainability, about getting as off-grid as possible, or just wanting to play with new and improved ways of doing things.

Aquapioneers: These Barcelonians want to, in their own words, reconnect urban dwellers with nature and local food using the magic of aquaponics. Basically, make it easy for you to turn your plain ol’ aquarium into a symbiotic box where fish and plants make each other’s lives better. (Focus is on the plants, but you could quite easily have eaty-type fish in the tank, if that’s your thing.)

Photo by Aquapioneers

The model also offers setups for schools, and services for businesses that want something cooler than just a plain old fish tank and fiddle-leaf fig sitting separately in their lobby.

The Open Source Beehives Project: More and more people are starting to keep bees both for the honey and to try and combat the worrisome trend of bee death (and dearth). This project aims to encourage both those endeavors.

Photo by Open Source Beehives Project

They provide ready-made beehives or open source files to let you build your own, but have also developed the BuzzBox Monitor. This electronic little hive mind box will let you monitor and keep track of your busy buddies on your phone, and warn you of any issues, but also makes you part of a bigger network of bee-monitoring that can hopefully play a part in reversing the colony catastrophe.

Photo by Open Source Beehives Project

If you want your home to be your happy place, your best bet is making it your own. For some, that means paint colors and curtains. For others, it’s a stove that can tell what temperature your soup is and a front door that lets you know that your bus is about to leave. Regardless of your level of ambition or skill, you can always find a way to leave your mark on the space around you. If it goes wrong, that just means you’re learning. (NB: This doesn’t necessarily hold true for electrical work and explosive-based landscaping.)

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Julia Skott

Julia Skott is a journalist, writer, podcaster, and potter who also knits and tries to keep plants alive. She tweets in Swedish, English, and bad puns as @juliaskott.

View more articles by Julia Skott


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