John Henry Architect
LIVING WITH THE PLAN: How to Make Sure Your Dream Home is Right for You
BUYING A NEW OR USED HOUSE
There are many things to consider when either purchasing an existing house or designing one from scratch. It is easiest to simply walk into a house for sale and move through each room noting the finishes, feel of space, lighting, views, types of furniture (if staged) that can fit best, etc. Outdoor spaces, shade, breezes, sun angles are also evident.
The immediate sensory feedback when considering buying a house built either as a spec or for someone else is normally sufficient to make a decision to move forward or not. When you are designing a house from scratch, you have only two dimensional drawings to imagine what the real house will feel like, how you will experience light and space, how the views will come through each room, how the room to room flow works, etc.
With so much sensual information available from evaluating a built design (even characteristic odors due to types of materials used, aging, or even water damage) the buyer can make a reasonable assessment of whether the property will do or not. And then it is the singular feature that grabs them emotionally: the incredible picture window, the amazing kitchen, the amount of storage, the size of the master suite and bath, the great views, etc.
Even though one may be smitten by several aspects of a property the potential buyer needs to become coldly analytical about the great commitment they are about to undertake. Location and orientation, the features that are most desirable, the age of the home, how you will grow in it, whether it can it be remodeled or added to, possible insect infestation, ground movement, drainage, structural integrity, and other items including cost comparisons and mortgage facts and more should be factored into the buying decision.
Important to imagine is how the buyer will actually use the house day-to-day. What is the route he/she will take from exiting the car with groceries to the kitchen? Does the Dining area accommodate the family and guests or is it taking advantage of any views – is it open to other spaces or isolated? Is the Kitchen open sufficiently to work and converse with family – is it dark or brightly lit? Are there enough cabinets, is the work triangle efficient? Is the Master Suite too close to children play areas, does it have enough closet space, are the counters sufficient for cosmetics, is it on the quiet side of the property, does it get direct light in the morning, is there visual and acoustic
If the climate is wet most of the year will you damage a hardwood floor coming in and out of the house? Is the roof simple or complex possibly needing attention if hard rains or heavy snows stress the tile or rafters? If nearby trees are large and shady will they pose a hazard in high winds? How old are the trees and shrubs? What is the condition of the driveway; will potential repairs to the house mean that heavy equipment will damage it?
Of course, I cannot itemize every possible contingency but you should get the picture: consider your lifestyle and day to day living with the family you have now, how long you plan to live in the house, and try to establish possible situations where some kind of damage might occur and how you could repair it.
So I suggest that you: LIVE WITH THE PLAN. Study the design of the house and how it is sited on the property. Go through several scenarios in your mind how you will utilize an existing house. Get a floor plan layout from the Realtor and write notes as you move from room to room. Measure the sizes of some of the largest pieces of furniture you own and check them on the floor plan. If you plan to remodel cosmetically your attention and considerations are different from possible structural wall changes and additions. Seek a building professional to verify what you have in mind can be done.
DESIGNING FROM SCRATCH
When working with an architect or builder on a new design from scratch most of the above considerations must be addressed as well. You do not have the luxury of visiting the house as built; you cannot move through spaces; you cannot sense the sizes of rooms and lighting or views. So even more important now: LIVE WITH THE PLAN. Take all the time you need to imagine as best as possible how a new design will work specifically for you and your family. Is the overall design aesthetically pleasing, even inspirational? Does it make a statement about who you are or what you aspire towards? Does it present the right effect upon entering? Are there some things that should be visible and others hidden from view? Are corridors short enough or interesting through the openings that are presented on either side that their length does not matter? Is the kitchen triangle laid out well in order to keep footsteps minimized? Will the location of the home theater bother others who may not be watching movies? Does the rear porch have ample room for chairs and possibly a grill and does it extend sufficiently to shade well? Will there be the appropriate light and shade in the rooms you will use the most often
While renderings of interior spaces and computer walkthroughs may offer detailed and realistic depictions of the space, these are done at the end of the design process typically and may be too late as a check on the usability of spaces. If you can, have early perspective sketches drawn and renderings of interiors and exteriors to get as clear an idea about the feel of the spaces in terms of height, details, color, furniture, etc.
It is most important in a new design that you LIVE WITH THE PLAN in a two-dimensional aspect. Compare the sizes and number of rooms and their arrangement with your existing residence or another house for sale that is similar. Measure out floor space of familiar rooms and compare with what you are designing to judge better. Note also the width of doors: standard widths from yesteryear may be stifling and if you think you might be using a wheelchair make sure that ADA compatible baths and other spaces are designed with a look towards the future.
Finding an existing house that fits your needs and aspirations perfectly is a difficult task but it is the easiest and most direct way to check your lifestyle and requirements with a fully three dimensional house already built. You know exactly what you are going to get by observing every aspect of an existing house. Again, be diligent to avoid missing items small or large that may be difficult to remedy later.
Starting from scratch on paper is a huge leap of faith. There is nothing to walk through, only a dream that must be fleshed out methodically. It takes time to plan and time to build. You must be prepared to concentrate on every aspect of the design -- from general layout and aesthetics to finish details and specification. Study plans from magazines and libraries that feature houses similar to what you have in mind. Gather all your ideas together before starting out.
LIVING WITH THE PLAN in either scenario means that you should make the best decisions in a calculated method in order to Make Sure Your Dream Home is Right for You.