When you design a home, you need to consider at least the following factors:

How it operates
How pleasant it feels to use
How it looks
How much it costs
How much it will be worth

Designing for function

This is a pretty obvious concept. Draw a list of activities that you want to use your home for.

Here are a few examples …

Watching TV
Listening to music.
Entertaining guests (overnight?)
Having family come to visit

Be specific for all members of the household. If you intend to sell to a target group, design for all members. If you intend to sell to a family for example, consider the husband, wife and children.

Other uses for your house may therefore expand to:

Surfing the Web
Playing table football
Studying for exams
Listening to music
Practising piano

Now map these on a sheet of paper and show the following:

Traffic density (by line thickness)
Degree of separation required (by location of bubbles)
Heavily used areas (heavy circles)
Movement of materials
Materials sitting in a location

Next take this a step further. Try connecting these activities as a series of bubbles into a structure.

Your goal of course is to design so that activities can happen without conflict or congestion and in harmony. Try drawing it out, this may help evolve some ideas for you.

Designing for pleasure

Consider now, beyond what you actually do in your home and think about how pleasant it is to perform these same tasks. Make statements like the following:

E.g., Take a Shower (dad) – in private, plenty of power, very hot not over bath, nice warm room, good to have changing room attached (that’s just as warm), a view from it but not into it! How many showers?

Read my book (mum) – want to be close to dad, he likes to watch TV so reading area/bookshelves close to TV room, must have good reading light but must not intrude on dad watching TV.

At this stage, you are starting to develop a powerful specification

Make sure you capture and categorise your thinking for each activity the property must perform and how it must achieve this.

Next go back to the bubble map and add to it or reconfigure it.

Other considerations are:

The scheme should have fairly mainstream appeal if there is any chance that you will sell in the short term or if you intend to re-finance
The scheme must benefit from some features that make a contemporary home function well

The design must have longevity – it will otherwise look worse with time. That’s why you must apply time-proven design concepts and use appropriate materials.

Designing with buyers in mind

This is more of a statement than a method. If your total interest or partial interest is commercial success then you need to design for others rather than exclusively for yourself.

You may consider yourself a good designer with exceptional taste. The rest of the world may consider you to be completely out of touch.

The problem is you just don’t know what you don’t know. What is even worse is that your friends may not have the heart to tell you that your design is naff.

The only way you can verify your thinking is to ask as many people as you can:

Is my design the best one possible to appeal to a potential buyer?
Is my design timeless enough that should I hang on to the property for ten years, it will look better – not worse?

Key Tip: Find ways of testing your design thinking with others, professional or otherwise.

Designing for form – classical design

There are certain features of house design that are undeniably attractive over a long period of time. It’s important to be able to recognise those attractive features that are here to stay and those that will come and go.

You may decide to move after ten years so it’s important that you design in a durable style to gain maximum value.

Here are some examples of things that have been or may be short lived and their approximate time at the top:

Low-pitched roofs – 5 years
Long horizontal windows – 5 years
Cube homes – 5 years
Plastic carports – 5 years

Usually, the most long-lasting designs are those that have a sustainable performance advantage. All products, good are bad, are driven into mass appeal by public exposure. In a growth cycle, hysteria for newness tends to rule.

Once this fad hysteria has waned however the reality of the product becomes more significant.

Boy bands usually come and go because their music is often awful. They might look cool for a while but their existence is not about looks, it’s about music. Mozart will live forever because his music is actually pretty good!

Here’s a list of classic design features that will have enduring appeal. Put them together with high performance materials and you will have produced a timeless design:

Windows that have greater height than width and commonly have proportions of around 1.6:1 (designers will recognise this ratio)
Steep roofs (more than 45 degrees)
Multiple gables
Decorative lead work
High ceilings
Bay windows
Simple symmetry

Generally, if you look at the dominant periods of housing design you will see several significant styles that are timeless. Consider these for example.

Tudor/Elizabethan – Steep roofs, gables, timber frames, oak and clay in abundance.

Georgian – Classic symmetry, lead work, parapet walls, high ceilings.

Victorian (the most common type of house out there) – Classic solidity, simplicity, brick and slate.

It is conceivable that some very poor, really daft-looking houses were built during these periods and have gone out of existence.

It does seem, though, that house design in the UK has completely lost its way. Most individual designs are based on some kind of respect for the past.

Some of these work quite well. There are certain barns out there for example that have considerable appeal. They are of course early Saxon derivatives.

Most modern housing design seems to have little to say about itself other than its efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Certainly, there is some original architecture out there, but most of it seems based around either producing something outlandish (like straw houses, houses that look like fish, or more Bauhaus cubes).

Perhaps the only distinctive memory of late-twentieth century housing will be an increased focus on lifestyle and designing homes that fit with how people like to live. This is certainly a significant driver in the USA.

On the other hand, perhaps the increased use of glass will stand the test of time (and it is used to great effect in commercial buildings).

Perhaps structural materials providing huge open spaces will stand out. Or it may be our distinctive (or is it renewed) need for natural, untreated, earthy materials.

In the UK, sadly, we are in a period of sustained decline as far as home design goes. It’s a great shame as we were once the best architects on the planet.

The talent is there, it’s something else that’s lacking. So, go ahead, apply our simple rules and challenge your designer to do something a bit special.

Use of high-performance materials

Materials similarly suffer from the same faddishness as designs.

Consider the lifespan of the following materials:

Artex on walls – 10 years
Artex on ceilings – 10 years
Ash felt roofing – 15 years
MDF – 10 years?
Large concrete roof tiles – 10 years
Secondary glazing – 10 years
Wooden decking?
Underfloor heating?

Wooden decking dries quickly and is cleaner than stone or concrete. It does rot faster, though, so it may not be a popular option in years to come.

Underfloor heating performs well and has no obvious downsides (although it does make your feet warm!) Will it thrive for decades or more?

Key Tip: Generally, the most impressive housing will contain materials of high performance and durability

Consider these tried and true building materials:

Clay brick
Clay roof tiles
Slate, sandstone, granite
Lime mortar

These materials have pedigree. The key thing about materials with pedigree is that they have proven performance over a significant time period. They usually, for some unknown reason, also look better and better as they age.

So remember, the best materials:

  1. Perform well
  2. Improve with age

Perhaps the twentieth century will contribute a few materials that will stand it in high esteem:

Insulants and roofing felts that are incredibly durable and effective
Glass that is remarkably clear and yet blocks harmful radiation
Improved spatial quality

Did you ever walk through the front door of a house, into a dismal closed-in hallway that felt like a phone box without windows? The impact is quite difficult to get over. Space is not necessarily a real quality.

It is mostly a felt quality. A big house can be made to feel very small. A small house can feel big.

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Daniel Peacock

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