One of the things I enjoy so much about personal appearances (like at the March 16 APP Talks I did about design that makes a difference) is helping people with their design challenges and answering design questions about both residential and commercial spaces. I'd like to do the same thing with this column periodically, so I invite you to send your design questions to me on the contact page at sheilarichinteriors.com/contact-us.
Q. We’re having a home built and are now in the blueprint stage. I’ve read in your column that this is the optimal time for us to make changes in the house’s layout so we don’t have to spend additional money later on improvements and upgrades. I was hoping you could give me some general insights as to what we should look for, and maybe some examples of “mistakes” you’ve spotted in blueprints. Thanks for your help. ~Jody
A. Jody, you’re going about things the right way by making your changes in the blueprint stage. At this early point, you’ll need to consider the layout of your furniture, lighting requirements, and the traffic flow in your home for both entertaining and your own family’s lifestyle in order to ensure that your new home is built to suit your specific needs.
In general, you’ll find that the theme of many new construction plans today is to make things look grand, which can mean a lot of wasted space. However, in the blueprint stage you can assess the various ways to make your home look impressive and still eliminate wasted space. Space that looks attractive will maximize your home’s value, but that doesn’t mean it has to be overly large to be impressive; you can set the right tone immediately with a well decorated home that meets your needs.
The most important first step is to plan the function of each room and make sure it’s in the right place within the house. The location of each room should be appropriate to the use of room. A kitchen separated from a dining room by a foyer would be inconvenient for serving, and a kitchen with a pass-through to the dining room but with no door directly leading into the dining room would also create difficulties. Often builders and architects use half walls to separate rooms, but I rarely see any advantage to having these walls. This is common between kitchens and family rooms as well as between living rooms and dining rooms; it is the blueprint change I make most often. Half walls tend to impede the flow of traffic and do not offer privacy or sound buffers. If such a wall exists in your blueprints, I would suggest removing it and treating the whole area with the same flooring. You can warm up the spaces by grouping the furniture into conversation areas or television watching areas, and use area rugs to ground the grouping. Making this change will give your house the look of a more open floor plan, something that is highly desirable today and works better for young families.
Another primary focus when assessing a home in the blueprint stage is to carefully review each room’s layout. Take into consideration the often-overlooked “ordinary” features such as the space required to allow doors to swing open without hitting counters or furniture. Lay out your furniture arrangement over the blueprint so you can make sure things like the location of electrical switches, ceiling lights, and outlets work within your arrangement. Plan the location of the switches so that they don’t prevent you from putting art on the wall, nor should they be the first thing you see when you enter a room. If you have recessed lighting (which should be planned in relation to the furniture layout), you should have areas of lights controlled by different switches so they don’t all turn on and off at once with a single switch. With this option, you can light up different areas of the room according to use, and always use dimmers.
A good example to illustrate the fact that builders and architects don’t always consider the impact of furniture layouts is reflected in changes I recently made to a blueprint that would have placed the family room seating so that it would face a wall instead of the television niche. I switched a French door and the television niche so that the seating arrangement would face both the television and the lovely yard, affording the family two desirable views.
The master bedroom in the same house also required modifications. It was a very, very large room with a long walk to the bathroom and dressing area. The room was large enough to add an additional, closer entry to the bathroom without changing the look of the room or the layout of the furniture.
Window placement needs to be considered too - bow or bay windows add interesting detail to a room and will impact the layout of your furniture. Plan your windows so that they become part of outdoor views when you’re sitting, but make sure they don’t interfere with the purpose of the room. A client of mine had a two-story room family room that was also a dedicated home theater with second-story windows, but the resulting glare on the screen hadn’t been taken into consideration before the room was built. (A room that is a dedicated home theater functions best with fewer windows.) After the fact, window treatments had to be added to the room. In the long run, since those windows had to be kept covered, having installed them in the first place was a waste of money. Instead, either fewer windows could have been used or the second story could have been turned into an additional room on the upper floor, which would have added to the value of the house. High windows with treetop views are wonderful as long as they’re not interfering with the purpose of the room. Even with all of these considerations, there is still plenty of flexibility for the layout of your furniture.
The blueprint stage is the best time to find spaces for extra closets and storage areas. There’s no such thing as too much storage space! It’s important to plan for the luxury of having a place for everything so everything can have its own place. You can’t squirrel everything away in the garage, and today’s basements are usually finished and used for entertaining rather than storage, so think beyond the standard closets and plan for the storage of things like luggage, skis, out-of-season clothing, holiday decorations, and so on.
This is also the perfect time to consider any amenities you may want in your bathrooms. Allowing for a spa, tub, steam shower, or bidet now can save you lots of time, money, and inconvenience in the future when plumbing would have to be redone. Be sure arrangements for extra amenities and perhaps extra support for future grab bars are made when the walls and floors are open.
Outdoor entertaining also needs to be considered when designing a new home. Since you’ll be using the yard and outdoor rooms on beautiful days, you need to plan the flow and traffic patterns within your home that are used to reach your outdoor spaces. If you have a deck or patio with a barbecue, make sure it’s convenient to the kitchen. Ideally you should be able to access the outdoors several different ways in order to have the proper flow for outdoor entertaining.
These are just a few ideas as to what you should look for in your blueprints. Your own particular needs may be different from the examples I’ve given, but you have the general idea. Best of luck in your new home!