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Instant community

As the Danish cohousing movement gains strength in the US, one group finally gets cozy in its new digs.

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Elizabeth Locke envisions holiday gatherings and an outdoor campfire; Rosemary Kennedy is planning a reading group; Mike Arnott wants a woodworking room; 7-year-old Kira just needs a place to perform her play about the tooth fairy.

The expectations for cohousing - an English translation of the Danish bofaellesskaber ("living community") - are diverse in their specifics, but share a hunger for togetherness and a longing to escape the cloistered domestic privacy that can verge on isolation.

For one group in Cambridge, Mass., that longing has fueled an eight-year quest - one that culminates this winter, as they move into four red-trimmed buildings in shades of green, brown, yellow, and blue.

The members of Cornerstone are squeezing into 32 apartments and town houses on an acre and a third: a narrow triangle of land that will hold 34 women, 14 men, 14 girls, and 6 boys. They include single parents and retirees, a 90-something and a 6-week-old. Residents' jobs range from computer expert to baker, taxi driver to nuclear scientist.

They're part of a growing movement, one that's old news in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, but has just begun taking root in the US over the past two decades.

American housing "has evolved towards greater privacy," says Katie McCamant, author of "CoHousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves," (Ten Speed Press, $29.95) and a founder of the American cohousing movement. Cohousers crave "a sense of coming home to something bigger than an empty house," she says.

Though each unit has its own kitchen, a common house offers space for communal cooking, arts and crafts, a teen room, and a shared office. Every big decision is made by consensus, with discussion continuing until all present agree, and the cost of baby sitters hired during meetings is shared by everyone - not just parents.

When nuclear isn't enough

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