1. Long views
Look at a plan view of your property. Consider what you see and how far you see from some key strategic points:
- As you enter the front door
- As you enter the back door
- Generally, from any point where you may be parked, e.g. sitting on your sofa.
2. Designs for contemporary living
House design in the UK has in the past stubbornly held on to a notion of a collection of boxes (rooms) with one function only and no particular relationship between them.
This is beginning to change. Large housebuilders for example now favour connecting some spaces with double doors. Their view is very conservative however and does not show a good regard for one key point that you would do well to remember:
Key Tip: A home needs to harness Yin and Yang. In other words it must have spaces that contrast with one another for each to be fully appreciated.
Consider the following examples:
- Private and public spaces
- Rooms that are light and airy, rooms that are warm and cosy
- Old and new in a rich harmony (think old fireplaces and shiny new fridges)
Remember also, the two golden rules of house design:
- The kitchen is the heart of your house. Design it to be a social centre and put it in the centre of the house.
- The rooms within a home are used for activities. If they were towns, they would have to be connected by a good road network in order for people to be comfortable using them.
A home must have a good road network. If must be possible to flow from one area to another without any traffic jams.
3. Providing private and public spaces
A house will have a better feel if it has places to interact, socialise, do things together and it has spaces where escape is possible from this.
All people, to some degree, appreciate these two contrasting features and appreciate having the freedom to decide which they want at a particular time.
If the kids have a nightclub running in the basement, then mum and dad can come and dance when they want and they can retire to a quiet, tranquil space when they want.
Think of this concept as having both Piccadilly Circus and Isle of Arran in the same house!
Key Tip: Review the list of uses for your property that you made earlier. Consider which are private and which are public. Build this thinking into your design.
Bathing for example is a very private activity. That’s why an en-suite bathroom is a great (private) feature.
There was a time when many (even small) houses had a room called a parlour. It was used for formal events like entertaining important guests, and for weddings and funerals.
Many houses still have a parlour. It’s a room that now seldom gets used except to accumulate junk. The really unusual thing about this room is that it is commonly found in homes whose owners complain of insufficient space.
This odd paradox occurs because the needed space is a public one and the room is isolated in the minds of the occupiers. This is usually because of the physical layout of the property. A more modern example of a space that’s dysfunctional is a formal dining room.
If it’s too formal it will hardly ever be used. A good dining room used to be Ritzy. Nowadays, a good dining room is more in keeping with a coffee house. The level of formality has shifted.
4. What’s the alternative?
House design is much more evolved in the USA. The concepts introduced earlier are widely adopted. Houses tend to have several mostly public spaces, like kitchen, dining and living that flow into each other.
Separation is more subtle than a brick wall and comes commonly in the form of floor or ceiling level changes, potted plants, floor covering changes and many more alternatives.
Separation of the dining area, for example, is just enough that dining has the right degree of formality placed on it. The benefits of these designs are numerous:
- They create a feeling of space
- They make the most of natural light
- They provide a great sense of community
- Rooms can be used for multiple purposes (therefore making the most of the floor space and giving a greater sense of space)
They also have private spaces that are separated in terms of location and noise communication, such as studies, en-suite bathrooms, home offices and quiet rooms.
5. Kitchen – the heart of a home
It’s very simple. It should be well understood. Kitchens often get put into a dark, almost non-existent corner of the house. In more formal times, the kitchen would have been staffed (for those fortunate enough) by servants.
The room and its inhabitants were not to be seen. Fortunately, we now live in less formal times. Informality is a growing trend that property developers must harness.
Most entertaining for example, unless it is of the rarer formal nature, will migrate to and thrive in a well-designed kitchen. Kitchens must therefore be designed with this in mind. At their best, they have the following social features:
- A counter top that people can lean on
- A place to sit and chat over a coffee
- Good natural light
- A phone
- A small writing area for making notes
- Places to store things other than kitchen apparatus
6. Let there be light
Natural light is an undisputed asset. Its most crucial feature is that it is constantly changing and impacting on its environment. Its power is at its best if it is applied without excess. Nobody would choose to live in a glass house. A mixture of natural light levels works well.
Imagine the following situations:
- Sitting in a cosy warm kitchen, early in the day, sipping coffee as the sunlight reaches its way up the walls.
- Relaxing in an open porch area appreciating the cool evening sun, enjoying a glass of wine and generally unwinding.
Key Tip: Contrast is crucial when it comes to making the most of natural light. A cosy, intimate space does not demand much natural light. In fact, it would be spoiled by it.
Study your sun angles and design your property to interact with the sun. Don’t forget, though, that windows have about 10 times less insulating value than an insulated wall. Too much glass will make a house cold.
North-facing glass will receive no sun, whereas south-facing glass will gain heat when the sun is around and lose heat when the clouds are out.
7. Sun angles
Architects understand that at a particular time of day, at a particular time of year, in a particular part of planet Earth, the sun will follow an arc from a point somewhere around the East to somewhere around the West. Half-way between, it will rise to an angle above the horizon.
Midsummer in the UK, the sun rises around the north-east, sets in the North West and reaches around 55 degrees above the horizon. In the middle of winter, the arc is much shorter and reaches around 25 degrees above the horizon.
You must understand what this means for a house and the natural light within it if you are to harness the natural light available successfully.
8. Linking the inside to the outside – transitional spaces
The concept of long views can be integrated with the concept of bringing the outside in. Use strategically placed windows (or doors) to frame good outside aspects. Imagine entering a spacious entry area that opens out into a generous living space.
Beyond this imagine there is a cedar deck with an elevated view of beautiful countryside.
In your dreams this might be an elevated view over miles of rolling fields and mountains. In reality, there is a great deal you can do in a limited environment. Design the outside of your home as a picture from several key internal and external viewpoints.
Here’s an additional theory with no particular scientific basis other than observation. People are instinctively attracted to being close to the outside world while at home without actually being impacted by it. Take the following examples:
- It feels good to be in a cool place on a very hot day
- It feels good to sit in the rain without getting wet
- It feels good to watch the wind without being affected by it
- It feels good to watch people without people watching you
Fundamentally, a home is a sanctuary. If a feeling of security can be maintained while allowing an interaction with the world, it will have great appeal.