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Emerging Ideas in Floor Plans

My last few posts (from a few months ago- sorry!) focused mostly on the exterior trends and what was being done wrong and what could be done instead. I’ve spent very little time so far talking about plans or layouts for a couple of reasons. For one, plans are a very personal and subjective aspect of house design, and if you ask a dozen people what rooms they want in their house, you’ll get a dozen different answers. For another, plans will vary quite a bit as you travel across the country, and what is popular or acceptable in one region may not be the case in another, making predications and recommendations difficult.

However, we are seeing some things recently that are causing people to change what they are looking for in a home. First off, I think that most people are changing their lifestyles slightly; in other words, rethinking how they use the spaces in their homes. Secondly, either because of the economy or due to concerns over ecological responsibility (or both), the trends seems to be pointing towards smaller homes. Most of the battle for the smaller home is fought on the first floor, since that is considerably more expensive area to build than the 2nd floor (with a “slab on grade” house, as most Texas homes are). Unfortunately, the trend for smaller is also fighting with the trend to place more and more of the entertaining spaces downstairs.

Regardless, I have designed several homes this year with some different philosophies in their layout, and while I’d hesitate to call it a “trend”, at this point, it probably merits at least a report.

1) Separation of Formal and Informal spaces:

Not very long ago, the trend was that a larger home had to have a formal living room and a family room, as well as a formal dining room and a casual dining room (or ‘breakfast nook’). People bought very nice furniture to put in the formal spaces and more relaxed pieces for the informal ones.

Recently, people have begun to realize that, for the most part, these formal spaces were used very infrequently and took on a sort of “home museum” feel to them, being mostly wasted space except for special occasions. The formal living room has all but disappeared in most of the houses I design, and I am seeing the Formal Dining start to follow suit. Part of this is also due to the trend of furniture beginning to blur the line between casual and formal. ‘Distressed’ pieces are a very common item now and fit well in either formal or casual environments.

In our designs, it is very common now to oversize the family room and have the house as a ‘single living area’ home. Often we will vault these spaces and let the line between formal and casual blur in the home as well. The fact is, people spend their time in the family room, and they want it to be a nice, large, appealing space.

We have also experimented with eliminated the formal dining room in some of our designs. One way to do this is to place a very large single dining area (or ‘semi-formal’ dining) that opens up to (or is actually part of) the family room. Part of what also makes people more comfortable with this concept is to have a kitchen with an island large enough to be considered and ‘eat-in’ kitchen.

2) The Entertaining Spaces

Another common feature of a home was that it had to have a space that could be used as a home theater, as well as a separate ‘Game Room’ whose sole purposed seemed to be to house a pool table that rarely got used. These rooms were almost always placed on the 2nd floor of the home and, as the formal spaces of previous designs, became parts of the home rarely visited.

We have begun doing 2 things in rethinking these spaces. One is to join these individual rooms into a single space. Picture either an ‘L’ or ‘T’ shaped room with the large flat screen TV or projection screen being against the wall of the appendage space. This allows for furniture to be placed so that the same space can hold typical game room equipment (pool table, poker table, shuffleboard, etc) and yet also have a large sofa or 2 separating these spaces. Functionally, the room can now fit a variety of activities simultaneously.

The other aspect is that, wherever possible, our designs are now placing these spaces downstairs instead of up. While this can be a challenge and is not always possible on smaller homes, the result is a space that become much more usable on a day to day basis for the adults.

3) Reducing where possible

As I said earlier, while some of these spaces are moving downstairs, the overall trend is that these homes are getting smaller overall, and that has to happen on the ground floor for it to be a significant financial savings. Eliminating formal spaces is one way, but that area is then usually given to increasing the size of the family or semi formal dining, or towards moving entertaining spaces downstairs. There are some possibilities in reducing size though.

Grand staircases at the entryway make for dramatic foyers. They also are expensive and take a lot of square footage to do. One way to save space is to move away from the stair hall at the foyer and have a less grand, more functional staircase close to the kitchen. In circumstances where the entertaining spaces are mostly downstairs anyways, a grand staircase makes less sense from a practical standpoint as well.

Master baths are a space that have also grown over the years. Some people have used size instead of something well laid out to impress. In several houses lately, I have designed much smaller bathrooms. One way to get around the reduced size is to spatially separate the sinks from the bathing and shower area. The bathing area can then take on the aspect of being it’s own “spa retreat” instead of simply slapping a tub in the center of the master bath or in front of the only window. As the tub moves into it’s own space, it’s important for the sink area to still maintain as much natural light as possible, so why not leave a smaller bench or window seat in front of the window where the tub used to be?

Master closets can get notoriously large, and one of the things that people will frown upon if it’s too small. One solution that we came up with was to place a cedar lined closet on the 2nd floor above the master closet, with a dumb waiter for moving winter/ summer clothes back and forth. This allowed us to put a much smaller closet downstairs and yet still have a great deal of clothes storage.

Utility rooms also have grown in size, and that trend seems to be reversing. Placing the 2nd refrigerator (or freezer) in another location allows the room to get smaller. We have also begun placing smaller, secondary utility rooms upstairs (just big enough for a washer dryer and a cabinet or 2) and the main laundry room in most of our current design now has access to the Master Closet directly for convenience.

These are some of the innovations that I have come up with over the past couple of years in designing homes for my clients. While not all of the ideas will appeal to everyone or make sense for every living situation, they may help to spark some new ideas for you or perhaps begin to rethink how you want to live in your next home.

Until my next post!

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