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.

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