Since we visited over 20 families around the Tết (Lunar New Year) season in Đẳk Lẳk, I had an opportunity to see over 20 farm and village houses in this rural province. The home of my friend's family was very representative of them all.
While their house was the typical masonry (extruded clay block) covered with plaster, many of the houses were constructed of wood framing and rough siding. In the early 1980s, the government encouraged villagers from poor northern provinces to relocate to Dak Lak and plant coffee. They distributed the land free but the recipients were obligated to clear the native forests, build a house, and plant coffee trees. This is very similar to the "homestead" laws in the United States in the late 19th century that settled the western states. All of the families I met (except for the indigenous "minority" tribespeople) had come from Nghệ An Province (on the coast between Hanoi and Huế).
The general plan and furnishings of both the wood and masonry houses were pretty much the same, however.
The entry doorway (almost always at the left front side of the house) enters into a sitting room.
The furniture almost always consists of a cabinet below a high wall-mounted altar shelf, a coffee table, one long wood bench, and two wood chairs. I never saw a cushion in all the houses I visited, including in the city of Buôn Ma Thuột. The chairs are rather deep in the seat, which can become uncomfortable (for westerners like me, at least) after a half-hour of sitting. The four young men in the photo were the home's first visitors on the first day of the Lunar New Year (at 3:00 am). My friend is seated at the front of the photo. They all went out to visit some other friends at 4:00 am.
This new house in Buôn Ma Thuột shows the same features, but the altar is a very modern adaptation of the normal altar shelf.
The young woman in the photo (visiting her parents from HCMC) is an architecture and design student in my English group, and she designed this house.
If a large party is held, the furniture is moved outside and grass mats are laid down on the floor for dining and drinking.
For normal meals, the grass mats are laid down on the floor of the adjacent bedroom that has ample space in front of the TV set.
There were three bedrooms in my friend's family house, but the beds were all very typical in all of the houses I saw; there are no mattresses, and the grass mats are laid over wood slats. Mosquito nets are put up each evening (although there were significantly fewer bugs than what I experience daily in Ho Chi Minh City).
Kitchens range from spartan to quite modern, with cabinets similar to western-style kitchen cabinets and countertops.
Much of the food preparation took place outside of the kitchen, however, where it was cooler and there was more light and room to work. Unlike most of us westerners, Vietnamese are very comfortable squatting to work.
There was only one refrigerator in all of the rural houses that I saw. In homes in the city of Buôn Ma Thuột, however, the three houses I visited all had refrigerators.
Vietnamese are very comfortable sitting on floors for long periods, sleeping in very hard beds, and lounging in hard chairs. This old westerner adapted well-enough for the ten-day period in Đẳk Lẳk, but my old body is not used to this and I usually had to take a break during meal times to stretch a bit. From what I see in HCMC city houses, however, urban Vietnamese are buying over-stuffed chairs and couches, although they continue to eat on the floor mats for large gatherings. Over time, will Vietnamese slowly adapt to western tastes in comfort (and grow bigger, stiffer bodies as a result)?