With my inspirations in place, we began to design a house that fit within that L shaped footprint. Architects often start with a floor plan and work outwards. But we did the reverse. I had a specific idea of what I wanted the exterior of the house to look like. In so many ways the exterior dictated the room placement of the interior. For example, I wanted light filled rooms, but my vision for the exterior involved mostly singular double hung windows which don’t let in as much light as a wall of windows. Therefore, every window had to count. One of the reasons we chose this piece of land was because the house could be situated to take advantage of southern exposure, which is the best light. The back left side of the house would face the south, so therefore we put the kitchen and family room back there (as is common anyway). I also like to be awakened by the sun, so we put the master bedroom on the left side of the house. Dining rooms don’t typically require sun since they’re used in the evening, so that was placed on the right front of the house. And the garage, which would normally block an entire wall of the house, was detached to allow for windows all around. We connected it to the house with a screened breezeway.
In addition to light, the other driving force was maximizing usage of the rooms. We didn’t want to have rooms that were rarely used. The exception to this rule was the 3 bedrooms upstairs. Aside from our son, who would use his bedroom when he was home from college part of the year, we knew the other upstairs bedrooms would only be used for occasional family and other overnight guests, but we also knew it would be very difficult (someday) to resell this house with fewer than 4 bedrooms. So 4 bedrooms was a given.
The obvious choice in eliminating unused rooms is the living room. Does anyone use their living room? We decided to make the family room comfortable, loungeable for tv viewing, but also nice enough and large enough for gatherings. So, no living room. The other room that is often unused is the dining room. In our last house we used our dining room every day because that was the only place we had a table, but we knew we wanted a breakfast room in this house. Therefore, I knew that we would only use a dining room for special occasions, so I came up with the idea to create a mixed use room. One that would look like a library with bookshelves lining the walls, could be used as an office most of the year, but that could become a dining room for the major holidays. I’m really excited about this room, so I’ll go into it more in a future post.
In addition to natural light and usability, something that had an overarching influence on the design of the house was a book that I recently read, A Pattern Language. It was originally published in 1977, so it’s been around a long time, but it helped me to formalize feelings I’d had about my favorite homes. It’s basically a list of rules, or patterns for designing cities, towns, public buildings, parks, on down to rooms, alcoves, balconies, etc, and everything in between. It’s broken into 253 patterns. Everything from #198 Closets Between Rooms (for acoustic insulation), to #132 Short Passages (“Keep passages short. Make them as much like rooms as possible, with carpets or wood on the floor, furniture, bookshelves, beautiful windows.”), to #167 Six-Foot Balcony (“Balconies and porches which are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used.”)
My favorite, though, is #159 Light on Two Sides of Every Room, which says “When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms which have light on two sides, and leave the rooms which are lit only from one side unused and empty.” When I’m in a room I’m constantly looking out the window. Having access to views in two directions makes such a difference to me. It seems like an obvious benefit, and yet it is constantly ignored by builders. I guess it’s for economical reasons, but I found that with a little forethought placing windows on two walls in most rooms could be pretty easily incorporated.
I’ll get into the specifics of the floor plan in my next post.