Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Making Your House Work for You

Is this economy making you think that your starter home will be your retirement home? Or maybe you bought your house because you have a great view but not a great house. Many of our clients come to us because they are unhappy with their current house but are unsure of what to do to make it better.

Before we start considering the design of the house, you need to rethink the spaces in your house. Ask yourself, what would I change in this house to improve my quality of life? Consider all the problem areas in your house; is the work triangle in your kitchen too big; does the washer and dryer in your kitchen cause noise and moisture problems; or does the pink bathroom tile and plumbing fixtures give you a headache? Write down all the activities that currently occur or that you want to occur in your house. Categorize the activities as formal/informal and public/private. This list will be different for every household. One family might have an artist who likes to paint in the same room while the children are doing their homework as opposed to a painter who wants a very private atelier. Include the typical time of day for the activities and how often you engage in them (daily, monthly, quarterly, or annually).

There are five essential characteristics in creating a good house. 1) The relationship of the house to the site and neighbors; 2) The appropriate size, mass, proportion, and scale of the spaces for the intended activities; 3) The flow of the spaces in conjunction with the time of day and the transitions or links between the spaces; 4) Exterior and interior openings; and 5) the detailing of the house.

In existing houses, the relationship of the house to the site and neighbors can be improved in many ways. Upgrade the entry sequence with new paving, plantings, and replace the front door. Create outdoor rooms with terraces, decks or courtyards, add plantings or fencing to provide privacy from neighbors and open the interior to the outside.

The size and location of the spaces in an existing house need to reflect how you live; not how the house forces you to live. It might be as simple as adding bookcases and changing the formal living room into an office. Or you might remove interior walls to create a great room. Often small additions can dramatically change how a room functions, giving elbow room to a bathroom or creating an eat-in kitchen with a bay window.

Changing the flow of the spaces in an existing house usually occurs in more extensive renovations. But minor changes can also make a big impact. In one project, we moved the door into the dining room six feet. Previously, the circulation path from the breakfast area into the dining room cut though the kitchen work triangle. By changing the circulation, the cook was much happier. Flow is also controlled by ceiling height, lighting and the placement of interior windows that entice you to round the corner.

Many people move to coastal South Carolina because of the natural environment, yet many houses don’t take advantage of the views. Adding or enlarging windows creates the most dramatic change. Consideration should also be given to getting natural light into all interior rooms. In one project we added two light tubes and the dark interior was flooded with natural light.
Because the detailing of the house is the most critical and extensive; I am going to devote the entire next article on details.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What Makes a Good Home #3

Liesl Geiger in her book Essence of Home details 6 aspects that are necessary for a good home. Most of the items have already been discussed by Hildebrand and Eck. Her six items are 1. Site and Scale; 2. Language and Style, she refers to the language of spatial forces and the language of physical detailing; they must work together. Language and Style complements Hildebrand's Prospect, Refuge and Complex Order; 3. Openings and Light Geiger describes as the relationship between the interior and exterior. She also describes houses as introverted (minimal relationship with the exterior) or extroverted (large openings connecting with the exterior); 4. Spheres of Living - Geiger reiterates Eck's request to not name the rooms by traditional names but rather what activity occurs in the space. This also corresponds with Eck's essential feature of how the floor plan minimizes efficiency and comfort for today's living; 5. Flow of Space - which generally is the same as Hildebrand's enticement but Geiger brings in a new concept of the speed of spaces. Slow spaces have furniture and fast spaces have little furniture. The links between spaces are critically important and can be accomplished by changes in doors, material, lighting and dimensions, both horizontally and vertically; and 6. Sustainability which Geiger defines as "Sustainability refers to a manner of building that takes into consideration the region and the environment - its climate, natural resources, and construction traditions."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What Makes a good home #2

I just finished Jeremiah Eck's book The Distinctive Home, A Vision of Timeless Design. This is a good book for clients to read, he covers the importance of site design very well. He also has a strong argument on the importance of detailing and the necessity of prioritizing desired square footage and finishes.
Eck says that there are four essential features for a good home. 1. How it occupies the site. 2. How the floor plan works for you and contemporary lifestyles. He recommends that you rethink what rooms are called. They should be named for their activities and whether they are formal/informal and public/private. 3. How the exterior is designed. It should be balanced and blend with the site and or neighborhood. 4. How selected exterior and interior details transmit an enduring sense of quality, care, and thought.
I agree with Eck on his four essential features but we need to include the prospect/refuge and enticement from Hildebrand's list. Hildebrand's "complex order" is the same as Eck's #4 detailing.