You may not notice them when first glancing at a house design. But
designers often employ tricks of the trade to make their homes look larger,
live better, and go together more economically. The touches could be as subtle
as a raised vanity that allows you to run tile to the wall, in case you want to
change it later, or as obvious as a big porch overhang that blocks summer sun.
Here are 10 less-than-obvious design techniques to look for as you browse house
1. Rooms that borrow space from each other.
The classic example, which you find over and over
again in a house plans search, is a great room plan with a kitchen and family
room that occupy one big space. But even if the great room adjoins a closed
room, like a home office, it could be separated by a sliding door – barn doors
are all the rage, like in plan 437-83 above – that could be left open when no one’s home. You close it
when the family comes home if you still need to work. Another common technique
to create separation but promote openness is to leave a half wall between, say,
a dining area and the great room. You could also separate a parlor with interior
French doors, so that practicing musicians aren’t completely isolated.
boundaries between indoor and outdoor space.
These days, you see a lot of plans with sliding
glass doors that separate the great room from a patio or outdoor room. Some
fold back accordion style, or pocket into the wall, to make the outdoors read
like indoor space. That’s a great in a luxury home, especially when floor and
ceiling treatments extend from indoor to outdoor space, cementing the impression
of one living area. A less expensive approach, though, may be to use a 16-foot
sliding unit, with two inside doors that slide over two outer doors, providing
an 8-foot opening in 16 feet of glass. “It’s considerably less expensive than a
multi-slide or multi-fold door unit,” says architect Janet Hobbs, designer of splendid plan 935-14 above. 3. Inexpensive
Wood beams certainly draw attention to the ceiling of a great room or
living room. But you can often create equally interesting and less expensive
ceiling motifs with drywall, especially when highlighted by lighting. Another
money-saving technique is to create a simple, enclosed pantry with sheetrock
instead of cabinetry behind a conventional interior door. In fact, inexpensive
sheetrock details can be used throughout the house – on the staircase, in the
kitchen – to create a design motif for your home. 4. Trim space by reducing dedicated
The best designs anticipate how people move from one room to another.
They minimize square footage dedicated to pure circulation in favor of connected
living space. The result: bigger rooms. Plan 929-885 above trims almost all hallway space away.
When hall space can’t be avoided, a
good approach is to use it for more than one purpose; maybe there’s room for a
homework den like the one in plan 48-693 above. Widening upstairs hallways by only one foot often provides enough
depth for built-in bookshelves. 5. Windows that frame
Strategically located windows draw the eye to exterior views, making
homes appear larger and more inviting. The optimal situation is when windows
frame views of landscaping, especially if that’s the view upon entering a house
or key public room. Windows on two sides of a room allow a house to “breathe”
by creating natural airflow. That’s easier to achieve when a house is only one
room wide. When light enters a room from two directions, it cuts down on glare.
A reflective surface near a window – something as simple as a sill or a table – will bounce natural light into a room, reducing the need for electric
lighting. Plan 888-16 above features a wide but shallow footprint and large windows in the master suite. 6. A potential
first-floor master suite.
You may be fine climbing stairs to a second-floor master bedroom today,
but what about 15 years from now? When your hips or knees go, you may
appreciate having a potential first-floor bedroom that’s adjacent to the
powder, especially if you can easily rearrange interior walls to draw the bathroom
into a master suite. Some plans anticipate this contingency by placing a closet
or utility space next to the powder that could one day house a shower. 7. Space for a
Many homeowners these days find that creating an alcove for a pocket
office is a more effective use of space than having a dedicated home office. Maybe
all you need is a small recess with a desk to pay the bills and take notes
while making an occasional phone call. The beauty of having a strong wireless
system is that you can work anywhere you want in the home, maybe even outdoors.
You may still want a dedicated home office if you are on the phone all day,
attend teleconferences, or see clients.Plan 48-646 provides a small office near the front of the home, with a powder bath nearby. 8. Bathtubs
instead of stall showers in some secondary baths.
The beauty of
old-fashioned bathtubs is that they take up less space. Most are 30-inches wide
instead of the minimum 42 inches needed for a decent stall shower. They also
cost less, since a shower requires a pan, extra tile work, shower glass, and
extra labor to assemble. You may still want to have at least one other stall
shower (beside the one in the master) for the person who doesn’t want to or
can’t step into a tub. New tract homes now commonly feature pedestal bathtubs
that take up even less space and provide a focal point. 9. Floating
cabinets in the bath.
These provide a longer uninterrupted view of the floor, making the space
feel larger, like this bathroom in plan 430-169. They also make it easier to replace flooring material if you want
to update the room. You may even save a little money on cabinets that don’t run
all way down to the floor. You could use the savings for under-cabinet lighting
that provides a light at night. 10. A second-floor laundry.
Stay-at-home parents may appreciate having the laundry near the kitchen,
so they can multi-task. But dual-income families on the go may prefer to have
the laundry on the second floor, close to the master bath, where dirty clothes
are discarded and clean ones put away. “This saves steps when you realize that
shirt you meant to wear is still in the dryer,” says Hobbs. Stacking
washers and dryers mean you could even put the laundry in a hall closet, though
that arrangement may not leave much space for folding clothes.Plan 938-89 features a laundry closet upstairs, just steps away from the master suite and two secondary suites. A larger laundry room sits downstairs for the use of the other master suite (ideal for an in-law or elderly guests).