If you are planning to remodel or build a home, there are a multitude of variables to consider. Your stage in life, geographic location, values, and lifestyle will all influence your decisions.
Before you delve into the details of the house design, there are big picture considerations. Do you need to consider how your choices impact the resale value of your home? Do you want to make plans that allow you to age in place? Are you responding to current trends or your own personal statement about design? What aspects of a current or past home do you want to include in this project? What design features will be energy-efficient? Do you need to build with consideration of extreme weather?
The visual experience of the environment you will create is directly related to a number of factors. These include the site, home orientation, sizes of the spaces, size of your furniture, window placement, organization of objects, and ways spaces will be used.
Ideally, you will spend time on the lot or in the home before you come up with a design. This will enable you to become familiar with weather patterns, predominant breezes, and casts of light at different times of year. If you are in an urban environment or residential neighborhood, you should take into account the habits of your neighbors. Look around. How will street lights, a basketball court, an adjacent driveway, or a dog pen impact your experience of the property?
Begin by considering the proportion of your house to the lot and surrounding environment. Then consider the proportion of the rooms to the house and the proportion of the objects and windows to the spaces.
Elevations have to do with how the vertical planes interact. How does the size of the house feel in relation to the trees around the house? How do door heights and window proportions look in relation to the exterior of the house?
You want to consider the view when you are sitting or standing in a room. Views include not just what you see from a window, but what you see across a room, through a doorway, or down a hall. In a bedroom or bathroom window heights need to differ.
Your relationship to technology will determine where you locate a flat screen or a computer. The visual presence of a black box over a fireplace has a huge influence on the feeling of the space. Whether technology dominates the spaces will determine what kind of invitation there is for empty time and spaciousness.
List the activities that will take place in each room and what the needs are for each activity. This ranges from furniture, to lighting to storage. Rooms may have a central theme or focal point. There may be a painting, carpet, or bed frame that you know will define what happens in a space or what size a wall needs to be.
It is very important to consider your needs for wall space when you are planning the location of doors and windows. Where will your furniture be placed? Where will traffic flow disrupt furniture arrangements?
Below are variables to consider when you plan each space. Because this list is for someone remodeling or building a home, it is written as if the spaces exist. This may be helpful when you are building your home because part of planning a new home involves considering how you currently live and what does and does not work for you.
Storage: Where do you keep light bulbs, cleaning items, rags, vacuum, winter gear, instruments, extra food, to-do projects, laundry items, projects in progress, and bills? How much storage space do you need? Are you someone who likes to have things visible or do you need a clutter-free environment?
Garage: What will be stored in the garage? Car, car repair items, sports items, garbage, recycling, gardening, tools, summer items, barbecue equipment, hobby equipment, firewood, etc.. Do you want these items stored in enclosed spaces or on open shelving? What is the access between the house and the garage?
Parking: Is there adequate visitor parking and space to turn around? Is there good lighting? Does the grade of the drive adequately direct rainwater?
Entrances: Is the main entrance to your home easy for visitors to locate? Is the entrance space inviting? Which way do the doors open? Is there adequate space to stand while greeting people? Are visitors protected from the weather while waiting at the door? What do people see upon entering and leaving the home? Is there a place to take off and put boots and coats where you enter the house? Is there storage for coats, rain gear, boots, etc.? Is there somewhere to sit while taking off shoes or putting on boots? Where do you put mail upon entering?
Lighting: If it is a remodel, is there adequate lighting? What kind of lighting do you want? What is the natural light like at different times of the year?
What is the lighting needed for tasks in the space? Install wiring for lighting outside spaces, even if you are not installing lights. Consider light switch placement so you don’t have to enter a dark space to turn on a light.
Windows: Think about improving light and airflow through cross ventilation, interior windows or skylights. In every space you should ask what you will see out each window at every time of year. Before finalizing the house design you may want to consider what kind of window treatments you will require. It may be helpful to review whether ceiling heights, window trim and doors will allow for the treatment you envision.
Stairways: Is there adequate lighting?
Hallways: How is the lighting? Are there dead ends or dark spaces? Is there enough space to open closets or drawers?
Living and Dining rooms: Are these combined or separate spaces in your home? Do they work for both small and large groups? Can you alter the seating arrangement? Do you have room for your couch? Do you use these rooms for formal occasions only? Do you have another room for ‘hanging out’? What would make you use these rooms more often? If there is a power outage, can you be warm here? What are the focal points? Is there good traffic flow?
Kitchen: There are numerous books and websites on how to plan a kitchen. These are just some questions to consider: Where will you store food, dishes, glasses, and other kitchen items? Which way will the refrigerator door open? Will any cupboards hit each other when opening at the same time? Are the counters in convenient locations? Are the counters the optimum height for you and anyone else regularly preparing meals? How will the kitchen function when guests are present? Where will you store cleaning items, garbage, recycling? Is the lighting sufficient? What do you look at when washing dishes or preparing food?
Home Business or Office: Who uses this space, and how? What do you see while at your desk? If it is a shared space, consider individual territories, traffic flow, and privacy. Is the lighting adequate? Is there access to a bathroom? Is there a need for a separate entrance? Is there a need for a separate drive or parking area? Anticipate future needs if the business expands, i.e., extra phone lines.
Bedrooms: Is there a wall for the bed frame? Where do you store your bed linen?
Where do you store your clothes? Is the temperature comfortable? (In some older houses the air systems do not circulate the air evenly through the rooms.) What do you look at when you wake?
Does the room reflect your routines? Is a guest room used for other purposes when no guests are visiting? Do the closets distract from the wished-for effect? Are there dead or dark spaces?
Bathrooms: Do any open onto a public space? When the door is left open are you looking at the toilet? What do you look at while at the sink, toilet, tub, or shower? Is the lighting pleasant and adequate? Where do you put your dirty clothes? Where do you store personal items? Where do you store cleaning items? Are the bathrooms easy to clean? Are there enough towel bars and hooks? Is there private access for overnight guests?
Wall space: Are walls long enough for your furniture and big enough for what you want to display? Are they too big?
Focal points: Where is the soul of the home? Are there focal points in each room?
Proportions: Does the house hold you? Are the ceilings too high or too low? How will your furniture fit in the spaces? Is there too much space to fill up? Is there room for your favorite things?
Practical Considerations: If you plan to have guests, is there a private area for visitors? Is there easy access to fix and maintain utilities and appliances? Are porches deep enough to protect you from rain or sun? Are there screens for doors and windows? Can you drain pipes in the winter?
Laundry: Do you hang clothes to dry? Where? If the noise of the machines will affect other activities, can you position them somewhere else? Where will you do the ironing? Is there a floor drain?
Heating and Cooling Systems: Do you have a wood stove? Is there access to clean it inside and out? Is there adequate storage for wood, paper, and other fire-lighting equipment? Is there a good path to and from the wood supply?
Do you have a propane stove or some kind of unit that depends upon propane or natural gas? Will you have a generator? Will you have a back-up supply of fuel?
Do you have forced air? How do you keep warm during a power outage? Is the noise level of the unit acceptable? Are you able to shut off unused parts of the house? Can you regulate the temperature in all areas of the house? Where is the thermostat located? Plan to place vents in areas that will not be covered by furniture.
Are there fans to circulate the air?
Pets: Where do they sleep? Where do they eat? Is there storage space for their food near where they eat?
Landscape and Hardscape: Consider the long-term plans for the area surrounding the house and driveway as you begin the project. Drainage, water supply, and power supply are factors to plan early on. The plantings outside the house should be influenced by how you plan to use the outdoor space, the amount of sun each area will receive, the look you want, and the view of each outdoor area from inside the house. It can be smart to live with inherited plantings for a while. Over the course of several seasons you will discover if there are benefits offered by mature shade trees or other privacy providing plants that you don’t grasp until you have lived on the property.
Above is just a brief list of considerations to keep in mind when designing or remodeling a home. There are numerous books available on home design, but most of them don’t mention this one helpful hint. When you can embrace budget and site limitations, and you have the time to engage in a less pressured design and building process, you may find that a magical alchemy occurs. The limitations require creative problem solving and deep inner listening that end up bringing into form what seems to always have wanted to be built.