In a foul DIY mood, I cracked open a copy of A Pattern Language. My sister maintains that Christopher Alexander and company will not only help me plan my kitchen remodel, but will change my life. Not familiar with their work? In the late 70s, they broke down urban planning and architecture into essential elements, such that anyone could create utopian cities, garages and window seats. I’ve become obsessed with this book and its train wreck of a graphics scheme, this strange set of mutually referring chapters illustrated with what look like tiny black-and-white travel snapshots and back-of-napkin sketches.

Frustrated with designing my kitchen, I’ve instead made a game of rewriting the patterns to suit my family. Don’t work too hard trying to understand the strange flow of Alexandrian paragraphs and fonts. Just get the gist of it and then join in with your own patterns.


...The pattern ANIMALS (74) contends that our humanized pets provide neither “emotional sustenance nor...ecological connections.” However, STAIR SEATS (125) and the ENTRANCE TRANSITIONS (112) both fall short without the presence of felines.

People say to pets what they long to say to each other.

Nobody can resist a kitty. Kitties on a front stoop invite the community to partake in a family’s affection without crossing boundaries of personal space. People ask inane questions of homeowners to establish a relationship that legitimizes their attachment to the family cat. Some are so transported by feline love that they abandon their plans and lie down on the parking strip with the household kitty. This serves as a daily model for children in sharing and community building.


Install one or more fat, furry kitties on the front stoop.

Choose breeds like Tabby and Tortoiseshell for their coats of WARM COLORS (250). You'll suddenly notice OLD PEOPLE EVERYWHERE (40).

241(b) PEE SPOTS (a.k.a., SEAT SPOTS, Revisited)

...Kids, like ANIMALS (74), need places to squat. Locate near TREE SPACES (171), or perhaps a BUILDING EDGE (160), preferably in a SUNNY PLACE (161).

Bears do it, so why shouldn’t children?

Kids resist admitting to adults that they need to stop their play in order to go potty. Therefore, they need places in the yard to do so without time-consuming bathroom rituals like door-shutting and hand-washing. Wise adults grant this privilege, after cautions against scandalizing the neighbors and stunting the dahlias.


Designate places in the yard where children can pause to pee.

To aid in the protection of the dahlias, employ RAISED FLOWERS (245). For obvious reasons, avoid locating in ROOF GARDENS (118).

195(b) STAIRCASE VOLUME, Revisited

... STAIRCASE AS A STAGE (133) and the original STAIRCASE VOLUME (195) patterns deal well with the aesthetics, flow and practicalities of stairs but don’t address the need to escape from the BED ALCOVE (188) through the FARMHOUSE KITCHEN (139). “Volume,” in the revised pattern, refers to acoustics.

Stairs that announce every coming and going of a house’s residents induce claustrophobia, eventually leading to the breakdown of the family unit.

Creaky wooden staircases evoke sweet memories of tiptoeing around so as not to wake the baby. Scaling them after a long day lulls one into the first stages of sleep, so comforting is the familiar noise. They may even sell an old house to a sentimental prospective buyer. But studies show that only a tiny number of proposed post-bedtime escapes are successful if the home has a creaky staircase. This sets the stage for conflict between parents and their adolescent children, just as the children are naturally seeking independence and establishing their own identities. Such conflict delays separation and can ultimately lead to either a premature or delayed empty nest.


Build stairs of solid materials. Do not assume that stair noises are worthy of preservation. Instead, fortify saggy, creaky old stairs with reinforcements under every joint.

One caveat to this pattern: CHILDREN IN THE CITY (57) who have access to a quiet staircase are often found DANCING IN THE STREET (63) and SLEEPING IN PUBLIC (94).