Depressed Design

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The House We Live In: A Series on Building the Sustainable Home in Tucson, Arizona

I recently came out to a group of close friends as a person who lives with depression. I’ve been struggling with a bout of it for much of the time I’ve spent designing the house. For those of you lucky enough never to have experienced this (and for the rest of you, because everyone experiences it differently), it has often made even the simplest things feel nearly impossible or not worth doing. Sometimes, in my current house, things don’t get done because they are upstairs and I can’t summon the will to get all the way up there. Sometimes, I get halfway up, and sit there a while. The floors only stay even vaguely clean because I have the dustbuster in a very convenient place where there are no extra steps involved in accessing and using it. I don’t sit on the deck upstairs much because the little table is dirty, but the paper towels are down in the kitchen, and going back down there to get them, and cleaning it off, and coming back in to throw the towel away, and brushing the leaves off the seat, before I can settle with my glass of wine just feels too hard.

Designing a house in this state has led me to make some different choices than I would have without this disease. In particular, I’ve insisted on levels of convenience beyond what’s really necessary for regular life. I remember, for instance, being concerned that if I was going to have cushions for outdoor furniture, they had to be able to be stored somewhere that was right near or on the way to where they’d be used, because if sitting in the courtyard became a two-step process, I would never do it. It would feel too hard. We grouped switches together as much as possible so I wouldn’t have to cross the room to open the windows and turn on the light. The bathroom fan turns itself off. The whole house has a surge protector so I won’t have to install individual ones at important outlets. The plumbing for the outdoor shower is inside the walls so I won’t have to drain it when a freeze is coming. What I’m ending up with, then, is a house that maximizes convenience in dozens of tiny ways.

I’m imagining, and hoping, that those details I created to accommodate my condition now will be little treats and comforts even when I have recovered. It’s not a tradeoff I would choose to make, but it’s what I have and these little demands of layout and technology are part of what will make it not just a house, or an efficient house, a desert house, but my house.



Amy KnightAmy Knight is the fiction editor for In this weekly series, she chronicles the process of designing and building an eco-friendly house in Tucson, Arizona. The series will explore both how it’s done and what it means, from the perspective of someone who wants to do the right thing but knows almost nothing about sustainable building. Look for new posts every Monday. You can email Amy at or leave a comment here. Visit her website, or follow her on twitter @amypknight.

Photo of clouds courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Amy Knight by Richard Whitmer. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.