Designing a welcoming home

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 1 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

It is difficult to put into words what it feels like to come home.

“Home” looks and feels different for everyone. However, there are similarities in the elements of architecture that create that welcoming feeling of "Ahh, we're home."

In our architectural practice, we specialize in residences. Therefore, one of our primary goals for every client is to create that comforting feeling of coming home through good architecture. A well-designed home should make a good impression from the moment you pull into the driveway. The exterior design and resulting curb appeal should imply the style and environment you will find when you enter the house.

For clients who want to improve their home’s first impression, we suggest they begin assessing their house by starting at the street. Imagine you are a stranger approaching your house for the first time. What are your impressions? This is a difficult exercise to do at your own house because we are often blinded to the eyesores and troublesome areas of our homes. Perhaps it is some sort of psychological defense mechanism that we can so easily get used to problems that need attention.

Concentrate on "the process of entering." Look at the landscaping, the pathway or stairs and the front porch. Gateways, covered porches and entry courtyards can all be used in the design of your welcoming space. All of these elements may come in different forms and sizes depending on the style of your house, but the goal of each element is to pleasantly lead your family and guests inside.

Looking honestly and objectively at your house from this perspective will help you know what first impression your home truly gives. Above all, is the appearance neat and tidy? Is the door clean, including the door handle and the doorbell? Is it time for a new doormat? Does the mail box need a quick coat of paint? Remember, modest and sparkling beats huge and dingy every time.

Once inside the front door, ideally there should be an area where guests are welcomed and can take a moment to get oriented to the interior of the house. This is a transitional space both physically and psychologically, leading into the more private areas of the house for family and invited guests. The design and style of the entry space should set the tone for the home, serving as a preview of what the rest of the house will be like.

It is important to craft this space to give the feelings you want your guests and family members to have in your home. A very tall space such as a two-story entryway can be overwhelming, which works well if your goal is to make your guests feel intimidated. On the other hand, a tiny space can make guests feel as if they are intruding or imposing on you. This space should be large enough for two or three people to stand comfortably and should offer interior glimpses into the house without providing wide vistas into more private parts of the home.

If your home does not have room for a completely separate entry hall, you still need to address this function. Because of the lack of transition space, something feels awkward when you step through the front door smack into the living room. An entry area can be defined by using rugs or a change in flooring materials and by strategically placing furniture to separate it from the rest of the larger room. Adding a faux beam on the ceiling and perhaps a column can further differentiate this space.

When designing the front entryway and entering process for your home, keep in mind that it will set the tone for the rest of your house. Think of this space as a warm embrace, welcoming your guests as you receive them into your home.

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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