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Almost all of our terrestrial furniture is designed and depends on gravity. Beds to lie down in, chairs to sit down on, tables to place things on top. None of these would work in a zero-G environment.

For a hypothetical home without gravity, what would the furniture look like, and how would they work? Please keep in mind that this will be a typical home for humans, so it will need:

  • Rooms or partitions for privacy
  • Some place for sleeping
  • Some place for eating, storing and possibly preparing food
  • Some common space for recreation or socialisation
  • Ability to store possessions (assume no fancy replicators nor post-material society)
  • A place to bathe or clean yourself
  • A place to eliminate waste (space toilet)

I suppose we can simply look to our current space stations for inspiration, but keep in mind they are severely cramped and spartan due to exorbitant resupply costs, and share very few functions with the typical home.

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  • $\begingroup$ You didn't specify if this home is for people used to live in a normal gravity environment, or for people born and living in such a zero-g environment. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Oct 3 '14 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Consider taking a step back. With people living in space, or making a transition to living in space, you might have a few "touchstones" of normality to make them feel comfortable, but you could radically change how they live, eat, and sleep (and you have to anyway). Privacy might not exist. Or it might not exist as separate rooms or partitions, but inside one's own clothes. The sleeping area and the eating area might be the same, but make use of opposite walls. In other words, I think you should reconsider the statement, "...this will be a typical home for humans..." $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Oct 3 '14 at 19:51
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As pointed out in the comments a lot of the inspiration for this could can be found by looking at the crew of the ISS and other existing space stations. I'm going to assume (for simplicity) that the residents of this "home" are not native space dwellers... they're basically humanoid and evolved on a planet similar to earth.

Rooms or partitions for privacy

This would actually work much like in a normal room however there would be no floors, after all you can't walk on the floor or put anything on it. As such the rooms/doors could be in any shape configuration the household/"architect" wished. We'd see familiar constructs such as walls, windows and doors although there is no reason they would be square. I would suggest that all doors will be circular because the occupants of the house would not walk through a door, they'd glide face first through it.

Sharp corners would be far less common to avoid bumping into things.

Some place for sleeping

In the ISS the crew sleep in what can only be described as Sleeping Bags.

enter image description here

Source

These bags as well as providing warmth prevent the homeowners from drifting off and injuring themselves. There is of course no reason why these bags need to be on the "floor", they could be on any surface the residents desired.

Storage

Storage would actually be far easier than in a regular house because drawers and cupboards can cover any wall, floor or ceiling. However things you put in a cupboard would not stay there. As a result everything would be in much smaller draws with many more compartments (so when you opened one thing you didn't lose the contents of the drawer).

It's likely that a product's packaging would become part of it's storage solution. Everything would come in a container which fits into one of a standard set of sizes. Much like models and collectibles on Earth today.

Food Preparation

I think I've covered food storage storage above, in terms of actual cooking and preparing food I would expect much more to be prepackaged food or fresh food. Think office lunch style food, things which wouldn't require a lot of preparation. Soups would come in cartons like kids juices.

Lots of food would be microwaved, I would suggest that cooking with an oven/hobs would be less common because hot pots, pans and trays would simply drift off (I'm assuming the house would be fairly robust and fire itself wouldn't be as much of a danger as on modern day space stations).

Social Areas

For the most part I don't think there would be a lot of changes, chairs would probably have belts but there would be less of them. After all you're not getting tired from standing around! The only reason for chairs would be to help orientate the family so they would play games, talk or use another entertainment device as a group. Visitors not used to living in space would be far less disorientated if the family can "sit" together.

Decoration would most likely be orientated, televisions/pictures/computers all require a certain viewing orientation. It's likely that these would be consistent throughout the house. Any chairs would also be orientated this way.

A place to bathe or clean yourself and a place to eliminate waste (space toilet)

Washing would be largely sink based, after all showers and baths are a recipe for disaster as the water would float off around the house. Typically astronauts use wipes and small quantities of water on a flannels and sponges to wash.

How to put this delicately... I believe they use a tube. I'm afraid I'm not going to start searching for that on this computer!

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    $\begingroup$ "after all showers and baths are a recipe for disaster" Really? I see no reason that they couldn't exist. E.g. for a shower it could be in a contained unit with fans providing a downward force. Drying could be done with saids fan and heat. Bath's also possible, though it may be more like crawling into a water bottle :P $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Oct 12 '14 at 0:13
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The ISS (as celtschk mentions in the comments) employs a lot of solutions that can give us an idea of what problems have to be solved in order to get furniture to work.

Lets start with the nasties -

A toilet - in SPAAAAACE[2]

  • Sucks waste using air flow
  • Has gender-specific receptacles for urine and apparently men can use these at a distance, while there's holes on the one intended for women to prevent excess suction
  • For poo, you have to strap yourself to the toilet. (at least on a space shuttle)[1][3]
  • Currently, the waste is sterilized and kept in bags, which are kept in drawers (with the exception of liquid waste sometimes, which is released into space), but feel free to just get rid of it all - I think they just keep it for studying.

How to not look like me

  • If you're a clean-shaver or want to shave your legs (I guess), you can use a regular razor[5] but you have to use AstroEdgeⓇ

  • If you have to trim, you need to use a vacuum cleaner - I think I saw Chris Hadfield use a hybrid shaving machine and vacuum device, pretty neat.

  • To cut your nails, yep, you use suction again[6] - Hadfield uses a vent (lol) but I guess you can just use the toilet or something.

  • To brush your teeth, you can use a regular toothbrush and toothpaste but on the ISS, they just dampen it with water, swallow the toothpaste when done and rinse it with their mouth. The problem with a sink would be, the water would get everywhere (remember to brush as long as you can sing happy birthday![7]) I assume that you could have a toothbrush that secretes the water and paste and some specialized means of cleaning it out, but you'd have to use a toilet funnel to spit out the water safely.

Sometimes you just need a shower

  • For hair: On the ISS they use regular water and no-rinse shampoo. Apparently some use towels to scrub a bit. To prevent humidity, you need air conditioning :P. I assume that you could improve things a bit by packaging the shampoo and water together, but overall, no showers as we know them.[8]

  • For the rest: Sponge baths with moist sponges and get it out with a wet towel.[9]

Hadfield's sponge bath bag

The problem remains - water gets everywhere and the excess humidity would be a huge problem, so you make the process as efficient as possible. If you don't however have an issue with water supply, power to pump the water to high pressure and your air conditioning is super-efficient, you could probably have a regular shower.

You can't be up all day

  • Sleeping without gravity means, as usual, strapping yourself in. Sleeping bags are efficient for this since you can confine yourself and stay warm.[9]

  • Eating means again, strapping yourself to the chair.[9]

  • To drink, you use a bag with a straw.

  • Since you're not feeling the weight of your body, you don't really need a couch to sit on when watching TV, so you just float in place.

  • Astronauts have to use special food bags, prepared for rehydration (like Marty's mom in BTTF2, although noone can rehydrate a pizza like her!). Stick in the wall and pump it with water.[11]

How does all this come together if you're not starved for space and supplies?

Rooms: Not very hard - regular sliding doors would work just the same and probably would be preferrable. Regular doors don't depend on gravity besides, in some cases, to define whether they're going to open more or close if they're left loose. I'd imagine that if you're in space, or in a general zero-G environment, using the regular air pump systems you see in a lot of places to make sure a door closes would work fine. If you want a door that can stay open instead of float back and forth, you could use a stopper, much like how large gates have: there's an arc rail on the floor with holes and you open the door however much you want, then sink the stopper into the hole.

Bedding: You're probably limited to the astronaut solution. The problem is keeping yourself from floating around while sleeping, so if you fall asleep on your desk you might float out of the room or something. A simple strap would prevent you from floating too far, so you just get into the habit of using your new, fancy Nike desk strap. This means sleeping bags attached to surfaces, no matter the orientation, are most preferable and convenient. They can be made large for comfort and have a velcro on them for your water bag, in case you need a drink at night.

Eating: Again, just use your fancy Nike strap (might be a good idea to wear these and just hook them wherever you need instead of having one for each piece of furniture). Sit down, strap in, eat up. Liquids go in bags, solid stuff is packed together. I imagine sandwiches will be very popular. Spoons aren't obsolete, since peanut butter is still around and 2nd-3rd generation children growing up in space will probably be able to eat soup using a spoon - assuming the soup stays in a plate :P.

Since you don't want to eat rehydrated pizza forever, you'd have a kitchen. Instead of cooking in a pot, you'd probably have a kitchen on the wall, with modules equivalent to pots and pans, stirring included! Glass allows you to see what's going on but everything stays sealed in until it's ready. Put your veggies in a slot that flows through an airlock into your square pot, inject water through the water supply, inject salt through the appropriate button that links to your salt module and give it a temperature. Once it's done, tell it to suck it into a bag or dry it out and send it to your oven module, where you've already prepared a pan. Let it cool down and then take out your pie - use a fork. I assume kitchen appliances would be much the same overall, but with a bit more automation to prevent spillage and make things easier to control. The market would be full of tiny modules for this and that. You can get a full cooking process, just like home, but on the wall.

Recreation: Again, just a matter of partitioning space. Couches can be done away with (use your Nike strap) and everything can be velcroed in place if necessary. Stuff that doesn't have to be moved can be bolted or screwed in place.

Storage: The real question is, how do you keep your stuff in place? Cupboards are easy - however again, the astronaut solution is probably best. Get everything velcroed - possibly storage will have velcro on all interior surfaces (when intended for regular people stuff) and items come with velcro attached or you have bags of various sizes to put your stuff in and the bag carries the velcro - little difference from drawers and drawer sizes and shapes. Velcro isn't magnetic, so no problems there - it works for everything.

Toilets: As seen above, if you can handle the excess humidity and have enough water and enough power to pump it, you can just have a regular shower. Even water spillage wouldn't be as much of a problem. Still, you'd probably have hybrid cleaning tools to make things easier and faster. A bubble bath might still be out of the question but you get a zero-G shower, which can be just as fun - the point of a bubble bath is partially the relaxation, I assume a lack of gravity can have a similar effect.

For waste, the existing solutions work well enough and I don't think much more than appearance would be different. You might have a luxury bathroom that resembles an Earth one, but it would work much the same. Air vacuums, bags for storage or shoot the waste into space and vents to prevent your hair and nail clippings from choking everyone and floating into electronics.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 a great answer... I can't help thinking one of the biggest challenges would be fitness. I suppose they could always have a quick kick-around on the AstroTurf though! $\endgroup$ – Liath Oct 3 '14 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Liath Spaceballs! - btw, the video where Hadfield cooks is hilarious. $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 3 '14 at 13:45
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Just a small addition to the great answers already here:

Human health degrades pretty rapidly in space unless you exercise regularly. So having a gym at home should be much more common. Look up ISS (again) exercise machines for inspiration. I once saw a video of one, and it looked like a simple static bike.

If resources are really plentiful, some completely different gym stuff could exist, like an entire spherical padded room for jumping around, or even a centrifuge to lift weights in simulated gravity.

(optionally, you could magically make that go away with unspecified advancements in medicine)

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