Renovation Solutions: Three home design elements to better your home

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 7:10 a.m. MDT

This five-foot opening between a basement family room and guest room helps the spaces feel larger and more connected.

Brent Murray, Renovation Design

In our last column, we started the discussion on design elements that affect our lives and our relationships in our homes. We talked about three key design elements: light, interior views and shelter around activity.

As we emphasized then, good architecture should positively affect the lives of the end user. After a remodel, the new design should impact and enhance your personal lifestyle, the relationships within your household and your social relationships outside the family.

Three additional design elements featured in Sarah Susanka's book "Home by Design" are inside/outside connection, public versus private space and openability. Let's take a brief look at each of these concepts:

1. Inside/outside connection: "Home" does not stop with the outside walls. Our living spaces should extend outside the literal walls of our homes. We play, celebrate, entertain and relax outside. Therefore, as our living spaces and activities extend outside, they should reflect the same level of design and style as the interior of our homes.

The connection between our inside and outside spaces is critical and should be seamless and natural. Once outside, we should find properly designed outside living areas. The overall design should facilitate an easy transition between inside and outside, making it completely natural to flow easily between the two types of spaces.

2. Public to private: The spaces in a home range from public to private spaces. The porch and entry hall are public spaces; even strangers (such as the deliveryman and mail carrier) are welcome to approach and enter these areas.

On the other hand, bathrooms, bedrooms and master suite are private spaces, generally reserved only for family members. Depending on your family's style, other rooms such as the family room and kitchen fall into a semi-private range. Here, people who are not immediate family may be included by invitation.

A home's design should acknowledge and consciously organize these different kinds of spaces. One should never have to pass through a private space to access a public space. That also goes for the line of sight; for instance, you should never be able to see into a bathroom from the front door.

Designing your home with this element in mind impacts the relationships within the family as well as the social relationship outside the home. The popularity of the open great room/kitchen concept makes this design element an even more important tool.

When creating more public common areas, make sure you keep private spaces accessible for the family members to escape the commotion of large gathering spaces.

3. Openability: In Susanka's book, she says Americans think almost exclusively of opening or closing a room with a single, swinging door. However, there are many different ways you can open and close a space.

Interior French doors can close off a formal dining room or glass sliding doors can close off an office to provide privacy while still maintaining some visual contact, light and views. We know typical pocket doors have a bad track record for not being user-friendly, but new and better hardware can make this style of opening a better way to go in small spaces. They take up less floor space than a swinging door and can disappear into the wall. A current trend is to mount sliding doors on the outside of the wall with tracks similar to barn door hardware.

Besides doors, partitions or movable walls or windows are other ways to open or close off a space.

Susanka describes how Japanese houses commonly use shoji screens to multitask spaces. These wood-framed partitions use panels of rice paper instead of wood, allowing light to pass through the partition. They are lightweight and can be easily opened to create a living room by day and closed to transform the space into a bedroom by night.

While Western furnishings can't typically be moved in and out as easily as a Japanese sleeping futon, we can learn from this concept by multitasking our spaces with creative design.

Another recent trend is creating walls of windows that slide or fold such that the whole wall can virtually disappear. Talk about an indoor/outdoor connection! You can see how these design elements start working together to positively impact the people who live in or visit a home.

A design plan that honors public and private spaces and works to connect the inside areas to the outdoor living spaces will definitely impact the way a family lives daily. Using creative ways to open and close a space can help connect you to your surroundings and allow you to actually vary the amount of public or private space you want to assign to a room.

Once you understand the basics of design elements and notice the shortcomings in your own home, you can see how architecture has the potential to impact your life for the better.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at renovationdesigngroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com

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