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March 31, 2023

Designing for Imagination: Up & Away Spaces


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Designing imaginative spaces conducive to daydreaming is one of the ways architects can create comfort, interest, and joy in a home. At Whitten Architects, we enjoy being able to design spaces that stoke the imagination–we call them “up and away” spaces because they are often elevated or have a commanding view of the surroundings. These spaces can be designed for both adults and children, as we all need a place to get away from distractions and daydream in peace. In The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard wrote, “the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” 

Designing these types of spaces requires special considerations, and as always, begins with a dialogue with our clients to understand their unique needs and goals. We then draw on several architectural principles to make those goals come to life. The concept of prospect and refuge, for example, is key when we’re designing these types of spaces, as they often combine a sense of protection (refuge) with a commanding view of the surroundings (prospect). The changing of scale to create an intimate, smaller space is also important here. Site, as always, plays a significant role in creating these spaces, as they need to be designed around the natural features of the land and the microclimate. Connectivity is another important factor–the way the house flows and how the spaces link together can impact the feeling of these types of spaces. They should feel unique and be connected to the outside world in some way. A focal component, such as a view of the ocean or a garden, can enhance the feeling of being in a special space. 

Spurwink Retreat features an excellent example of an up and away space designed for children. Each child has a little treehouse dormer off of their bedroom that looks out over the ocean, providing a commanding view of the surroundings while also feeling protected. Similarly, Englishman Bay Retreat features a rooftop deck, evoking the deck of a ship, where one can spend time with loved ones and enjoy the view of a star-filled night sky. Another example would be a bunk room, which offers a fun and playful space that encourages creativity.

Up and away spaces offer a place to get away from distractions and daydream. A skylight or a carefully placed window can provide a sense of prospect and refuge, creating an environment ideal for imagining and creating without distractions. Or something as simple as two Adirondack chairs on a porch with a scenic overlook or a window bench with a view creates an intimate space for people to relax and connect.

When thinking about these up and away spaces, we believe in the principles of “firmness, commodity, and delight,” the three essential elements of good design, as famously stated by Vitruvius in the first century BC. Firmness refers to the structural stability and durability of a design, commodity refers to the functionality and usefulness of a design, and delight refers to its aesthetic appeal and ability to inspire and bring joy to its users. The function of up and away spaces is more about daydreaming and delight than practicality. They offer adults and children alike the opportunity to retreat from distractions and imagine new possibilities. By designing imaginative up and away spaces, we create spaces that offer protection and prospect, and allow the dreamer to dream in peace. 


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