Last updated May 7, 2001.
Thoughts and notes about house design, jotted down as I go. Not necessarily things I want to have in my home, but things worth exploring.
General priorities: low-maintentance/durable; comfortable; inviting/friendly; spacious (in the psychological/aesthetic rather than physical sense); clean, simple lines and shapes. I'd rather spend money on things like murals, good furniture, etc. than things like huge rooms or detailed trim.
More specific notes and thoughts:
Also, some random floorplans (not necessarily of things I want, just ones I happen to have lying around):
Diagonal kitchen counters --
Boring first floor --
Connected porches --
My current apartment
Probably my favorite part of the house.
- Large, open, spacious... not necessarily room for two cooks, but certainly room for one cook and a bunch of guests.
The kitchen is a social area... which isn't to say that dozens of people should be milling around in my way in it, but rather that I should be able to interact with people in the common spaces from it.
This is doable even if there isn't much space available in general. For example, here's a sketch of an open-plan great-room that fits living-room/dining-room/kitchen functions into a single 6-meter-square space.
- Things like dishwashers, sinks, fridges, microwaves, hoods, etc. should
At a minimum they should be not distractingly loud (better yet, inaudible)
from the other end of the great room. If there's no way to do that without
creating more of a division between the kitchen and livingroom ends of
the greatroom, then we create more of a division.
Preferably they should just be quiet... it should be possible to have
a phone conversation in the kitchen while they are running.
- A counter backed up against a small table (spacious for two, cramped
for four) at the end of an open space, with several standalone, foldaway
tables of the same height (and material? maybe not) that can butt against
it for large groups. (Something like this, where table 1 is built in and tables
2 and 3 could be lined up or put away if one wished.)
The counter could be an island could be in the center of an L-shaped
kitchen, for example, such that one end of the wall-mounted kitchen counters
paralleled the table and was readily acessible from (one side of) it.
Add a third level between counter and table to avoid the sharp-cliff
Can be the same countertop as the food-prep area, or different.
- Flatware and plates readily accessible from table.
If need be, include a small secondary drawer built into the table or
the back of a counter or something.
Better would be to lay the space out so the silverware and plate drawers/cabinets/shelves/whatever are a short hop from the table.
Of course, they should be close to the dishwasher as well.
- Keep the top of the space empty.
A couple of wall-mounted cabinets for visual effect is OK, but avoid both the monolithic fitted-kitchen traditional upper layer of cabinets and the cluttered unfinished "country kitchen" look; keep that space open as much as possible... windows or mirrors or open space or even just plain wall. Make up for the missing storage space with floor-to-ceiling pantry shelves (pull-out or freestanding cabinet) and/or a detached walk-in pantry.
And heck, if the kitchen has to be a little bigger to include requisite
storage, I'll just have to learn to live with it somehow.
- Use drawers instead of cabinets for undercounter storage... they
provide much more efficient access to the stuff in back. Admittedly they are more obstructive than cabinet doors... so I guess the walkways will have to be a little wider... darn. Handles should be openable with feet.
Drawers of different depths... some deep enough to fit large pots;
some shallow enough to hold small stuff, some normal sized.
- Raise dishwasher 1-2 feet off the ground for easier access.
- Where does the stove go?
On the one hand, on an island so I can cook facing the room is a good
thing. On the other hand, I've never liked hoods overhanging islands
aesthetically, and I'm told they tend to be noisier. Dilemma!
One solution is to put the room off to the side of the stove, so it's at least in peripheral vision. (Eg, this or this.) Another is to put a mirror behind the stove... grease on mirrors is an issue, but not if I use a good hood consistently.
Much later: actually, there are some overhanging hoods I like and aren't too loud... a peninsula or island stove might work OK. And having a stove on one side of an island and a two-person "eating shelf" on the other side of the same island would be practical in some ways, though perhaps dangerous.
- Mirrors behind work areas
Allows visibility into room even if facing away.
- Long (40 or 50 inches), narrow, horizontal spicerack just above
the back of the main food-prep counter.
Or maybe a smaller 2-tier rack, but I really like the long shallow
- Near enough to stove to fill a pot from it (via sprinkler hose or high
faucet or something).
- Either undermounted or with an integral cutting board or something like
that... basically some way of brushing crap from food-preparation area
directly into sink without getting caught on the lip.
Another alternative is a sink with hardware for drainers and cutting
boards and stuff... but I'd rather use counters.
This gets a little tricky if there are separate preparation areas for
vegetables and everything else, unless there's also a separate vegetable
- Garbage disposals or compost or somesuch built into sinks.
- Distinct produce preparation area with a cutting/chopping
surface, kniferack, drawer for vegetabley tools (peelers, scrubbers) and
drawers or baskets for fresh produce.
Should be adjacent to a sink with a garbage disposal (or compost or
somesuch) for peels and rinsing... either main or secondary sink.
- Distinct staging area accessible from food-preparation area(s) and
Should include some mechanism for keeping serving trays warm (hotplate
Also positioned to be useful for putting grocery bags down, and for
collecting dishes from large meals.
The counter+table approach mentioned above could serve this role, for
example; there are other ways to do it too.
Can be the same countertop as the food-prep area, or different.
- Wall oven is better than under-stove... but I'll happily live with the understove if it's noticably cheaper. The truth is I hardly ever use the oven anyway, though when I do use it there's no alternative.
- Well-lit... lots of task lighting as well as central lighting.
- Distinct appliance area -- toaster, food processor, coffemaker,
popcorn popper, whatever.
Not *too* far from food preparation areas but not necessarily too close
Outlets built into it. Storage below (and maybe above if need be) for
second-string appliances that can swap in and out.
Possibly two layers if the heights make any sense, but it doesn't seem
Sound-buffered as much as possible... maybe recessed or something,
so they make as little noise as possible.
Should be a different surface from the food-prep area.
- Distinct dirty-dishes area, ~20".
This always seems to end up near the sink, but there's no particular
reason I can think of for that. Should be near dishwasher, though.
Of course, if I were good about emptying the dishwasher quickly, I
could use the dishwasher for this... but in the real world...
Perhaps have a "garage door" or cabinet door over this area to hide
it away? Maybe not... might just encourage pile-up. Out of sight, out of
The truly decadent version of this is two dishwashers, one for loading
dirty dishes into and one for pulling clean dishes out of.
Having a comfortable bathroom might actually compete in priority with my
kitchen -- though I spend less time there, granted.
- Avoid the standard too-small-tub+shower.
Either eliminate the tub altogether and go with a straight shower stall,
or include a *real* tub (that is, one I can fit in comfortably!).
It might be best to separate them -- heck, put the tub in another room
altogether so other people can go to the bathroom while someone takes a
bath. This seems decadent but might be worth it. Alternatively, a large tub with a shower enclosure.
In any case, the half-measures are stupid... the standard tub isn't
big enough for me to use comfortably, so it just gets in the way. If I
can't afford a real tub I'd rather go with a straight shower stall and
do it right.
- A skylight over the shower or tub would be cool -- especially when
it rains... but probably silly.
- Large shower.
Ideally large enough for two, even if I never use it that way. More important is to make it "feel big" -- for example, close off the end of a rectangular bathroom with a glass wall and a door in it, to create the feel of the entire room being the "shower stall" (at least until it steams up).
Include a bench (nonslip!) to sit on and shelves for shower-stuff,
protected from the main flow of water... maybe a watertight medicine cabinet.
- A real bathtub! Like, one I can fit in! Or sit down in, maybe read
a book while sitting in.
Think about the space around it. Reading shelves, towelrack, lighting
Outlets; think about electricity and water. Tricky but should be resolvable.
Plants (should enjoy the humidity!).
- Color walls dark so the white fixtures jump out.
- A mechanism for putting towels in the bathroom from the outside (a closet with doors on both sides, for example).
- Shower/tub areas are also changing rooms, almost by definition. Make dirty clothes hampers convenient, or have a chute into laundry room. Provide hooks where bathrobes, pajamas, pants can be hung... and someplace convenient to put shoes and slippers.
The use case here is something like (assuming shower in evening): Take off clothes, put dirty clothes in hamper, possibly hang pants on hook for reuse, put shoes away, shower, put on slippers and robe. Next morning grab underwear/socks/shirt, return to bathroom, put away slippers and robe, get dressed, put on shoes and pants.
This should actually include the kitchen, or at least not be actively separated
from it... in effect, creating a large open-plan greatroom with
a kitchen at one end and a livingroom at the other. Or if you like, a really
big kitchen that happens to include couches, some lamps, maybe a television...
- Include a separate working area in a corner somewhere that is out-of-the-way
but not isolated.
The idea is a space that isn't actually quiet or private, but naturally
lends itself to tasks like paying bills or reading a book if don't really
want to be isolated... somewhere where you aren't in the middle of things
going on, but people in the living room can still see you and talk to you.
(By the same token, if you want somewhere private or quiet to think or
make a phone call or whatever, that's probably not the place.)
- Lots of storage... multifunction rooms will need it.
- Suggest spaces with different-height ceilings, different-color walls,
Use movable screens to close spaces off when necessary (parties and
ceremonies, for example).
- Keep the same floor throughout, with occassional "islands" -- throwrugs,
A hardwood-simulating laminate running the length of the greatroom
would probably do the trick.
I like the idea of having "hardwood floors" in my kitchen!
- Run "stalactite" walls, about a foot high, around the "room borders".
This is in part to suggest space, but also decorative -- make
them soffit-like and keep display items in them. Perhaps paint the quote
from "Mending Wall" along the length of it... "Before I built a wall I'd
ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like
to give offence. Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants
- Lots of seating, facing other seating
Implies that several armchairs, loveseats, and ottomans are better
than long runs of couches.
The primary focus of interest should be the other people in the room!
Well, and the television. I have the traditional American love-hate
relationship with the television... I want it central and out-of-the-way
at the same time. I suspect this is so common that there are well-understood
ways to accomplish it. (I don't like the "put-it-in-a-box" approach, though...
in general I don't like boxes.)
- Seating at different heights
I saw a picture once of a livingroom with a very high ceiling and a
"perch" you have to climb to get to. This is a kinda silly idea when I
think about it, but I like the idea of livingroom seating at different
One idea is a wide, solid piece of furniture -- a chest of drawers,
maybe, or a storage trunk -- or wall -- with shelves in it, perhaps --
that runs about 3' high with the footprint of a large loveseat, cushioned
surface, and upraised cushioned edges... put it behind a couch or something
and allow "stadium seating" when there's a lot of people around.
- Horizontal surfaces near/behind seating
Someplace to put food, drink, books, phones, remote controls, etc.
In reality, I eat on the couch a lot, as do my guests. Give 'em someplace
to put stuff.
That is, a foyer/vestibule/mudroom kinda space between the front door
and the actual entry to the house.
This is mostly an energy-saving thing, but also keep closets for coats
and stuff there; should be large enough that people can get coats without
getting in the way of other people coming in and out.
Outer walls of this area should be glass, clear, visually open...
treat it (visually) more like an enclosed porch than as part of the house.
This is mostly aesthetic, but also to make it possible to sit comfortably
there and get sun or watch for a ride or something. Here's an example; the glass box lets you get away with lots of glass while still being reasonably insulating.
Like the above, but intended to separate floors for ventilation/heating purposes. Should have some other use as well... a reading nook, a plant room, something. Also should take advantage of the height of the stairs... I don't normally like tall ceilings, but here it seems appropriate.
Here's a set of sketches (1, 2, 3, 4) of a stairlock that serves as a reading nook and dog-den (the double doors really should be latchless swinging glass doors, though).
- Bathroom (or half-bath?) near front door, accessible without entering the rest of the house.
- Front door or airlock should open into several different spaces, so you have
some choices on entering the house.
- Several closed-off rooms off the same hallway that also open out onto a
- If two-floor layout, make sure there's something that can work as a bedroom on the first floor. (For example, an office space that can be turned into a bedroom if necessary.)
- An office space, wired for data and whatnot.
Should be accessible without traversing the rest of the house, either
from "airlock" or separate external door or something like that.
- Basement and attic.
Use the basement as an actual space, not just an afterthought -- put
hobby rooms or something there.
- Staggered-width hallways, such that the effective width remains
roughly constant but you can fill niches with shelves or an armchair. Here's an example.
- Large front porch
Call it 8 feet -- large enough to keep the rain off people even if it's windy; large enough that someone can sit while other people walk in front; large enough to put a small table on... more a roofed-over front deck than a porch. Around--the-corner porches are cool, especially if they don't run all
the way across either side.
The basic problem with wide covered porches like this is they block sunlight into the house... one solution is glass (here's an example).
Porch should be integrated with the house somehow, not just a "box tacked on to the front of the house" (this seems very common with porches for some reason). For example, here's a sketch
, left) that I don't really like, but does have a somewhat integrated porch that kinda works for a large house. Extending the roofline to cover the porch can give this effect (though again, the sunlight effect is a problem).
Think about the effect on sunlight into the house.
- Have somewhere not visible from the street or other houses, etc.,
but is clearly outdoors (in the sun, etc.)
For example, take the "front lawn" area, run a path to the front door,
and dig a big hole off to the right with stairs down into it and a line
of shrubs around the border of it.
- Conceal downspouts and gutters and similar hardware with long eaves
or extended walls or something like that.
- I like the look of stone. Even the fake-stucco stuff. Deal with
it. Horizontally arranged, parallel, not the chaotic mishmash style...
this kind of thing:
- If it's doable without inducing leaks, a flat roof with a roof-deck
would be ideal. Failing that, I'm aesthetically fondest of gambrel rooves... gables are OK if the pitch isn't too steep. (pix)
- Long overhangs (~1 m) all over, except where there are porches.
- Keep heating costs and energy loss as low as possible.
Highly insulated (r60) throughout. Better yet, superinsulated (r2000).
Cold roof in attic, heat recovery system.
Highly insulating windows.
Miscellaneous visual preferences.
- Stick to cool colors -- blues, bluish purples, the occassional green
-- and light shades except for emphasis.
But in rooms where built-in fixtures are mostly white (bathroom? kitchen?),
go with darker walls to make them jump out.
- Mirrors are a good thing.
- Large, frameless mirrors that behave kinda like windows
- Small, ornamental mirrors that connect to each other
- Mirrors at unusual angles (or hinged!) to keep the line of the room interesting.
- Use horizontal lines to connect otherwise
disparate vertical elements.
Stick to straight lines and right angles in most cases, but avoid boxes
instead of a box:
...break the corner:
...or extend the edges:
Similarly, extend horizontal lines around corners but not completely
around rooms. For example, shelves wrapping around corners, and kitchen appliances and drawers connected by color.
- Overlapping circles in blue, silver, white -- a lunar eclipse kinda thing.
- Words as decoration.
After all, I can always paint over what I don't like. Include quotations,
isolated words, even random stuff.
Miscellaneous thoughts along these lines:
- Label the rooms in a pretty foreign script (Hebrew or Mandarin or something) -- "Kitchen".... "Bathroom"... "Window"
- Caligraph "Closets are for clothes" over a closet.
- Dedicate an out-of-the-way wall as a "guest-book" for people to sign their
- Walls flush with ceiling and floors where possible... no moldings, no baseboard, just the wall.
If it's more expensive to make the seam neat enough to show, it might
well be worth it.
Include top-of-the-wall decorations where desired, but keep the join
- For closed-off rooms off a shared hallway, keep the room flooring different
from the hall and have it "leak out" from under the door.
Lots of ways to do this, but the general idea is to break up the hallway
monotony, provide some warning of what's where, create some continuity
between the room and the hall.
For example, something like this is boring, but gets the idea across.
- Some dedicated storage space for large stuff, but also think about storage
everywhere. Drawers built into furniture, shelves in all rooms, etc.
- Avoid the standard identical-width free-standing stacked shelves where
More generally, avoid vertical supports on shelves altogether.. they
are basically boxes.
Instead, go with wallmounted shelves of varying heights and widths
and depths, overlapping and otherwise doing visually interesting things.
Where free-standing shelves are called for -- for example, as room
dividers -- they should really be free-standing, not leaned against walls.
- Play with shelf depths... alternate wall insets with wallmounted shelves
Here's an example (pulled from a book somewhere).
- Set up clusters of shelving all over the room(s) rather than a few monolithic blocks or walls of shelves.
- "Task shelving" -- distinguish between paperback shelves, CD/tape shelves,
really-big-bookshelves, normal-bookshelves, display shelves, etc... all
have different H/W/D requirements, and probably belong in different locations.
- Public shelves and private shelves -- some (but not all) such spaces should
have doors or some other mechanism for closing them off.
- Use freestanding halfheight or 2/3-height shelves used as room dividers
in an otherwise open-plan space
- Pull-out drawers built into/under stairs for dead-storage.
- One centralized, built-in entertainment unit for television, VCR, stereo,
removable media... combine drawers and shelves and cubbyholes... like
this. Keep CDs and tapes in drawers; leave a more traditional exposed-vertical display for just a dozen or two we happen to be listening to these days.
- Vertical shelf-holders allow for mix-and-match shelf heights... like
- Use standard materials and dimensions wherever possible.
- Window-seats, designed to allow one person to lounge (maybe even sleep!)
- Modular construction is cool, but use hurricane strapping.
- Stairs should invite sitting down on.
- Soundproof internal walls.
- Ceilings and vertical space...
Keep ceilings just-out-of-reach by default (say, 8' or so) but vary
the heights somewhat throughout the house.
The occassional high ceiling is cool, but reserve it for effect --
don't go for high vaulted ceilings throughout the house.
Break up the monotony of ceilings in large rooms, but avoid dropping
stuff down below hand-height if at all possible (especially light fixtures!).
Room ceilings should be higher than hallway ceilings... the space should
open up vertically as well as horizontally when you walk out of a hall.
- Ledges/shelves next to main-flow doors -- particularly front doors -- high/wide
enough to put down stuff in your hands before opening the door.
- Wire the house for data.
For example, make it possible to connect two computers in different
rooms, or put speakers in one room and the stereo in another, or whatever,
without having to run unsightly cables up and down hallways or poke holes
Easiest is probably to run relatively wide conduits between rooms,
so we can snake wiring through it as needed... but be careful about what
that does to soundproofing.
Another alternative is some kind of decorative baseboard/ceilingboard
with vertical chasers, or a waist-high chair-rail, or something along those
lines along which cables can run without being visually obtrusive... but
think about the distance a cable can be reasonably expected to run.
- Think about electricity.
Put outlets as close as possible to where the electrical appliances
are likely to end up -- even if that's in the floor or six feet up a wall.
When that's not feasible, think about where the cords will go... as
much as possible they should be unobtrusive.
Express a subtle wit through the juxtaposition or absense of traditional
design elements (or suggestions thereof) in subtly challenging ways...
but the key word here is subtle. Play around with the borders of
spaces and their functions, but avoid putting bathroom fixtures in the
livingroom or the staircase that goes nowhere. This is a bit dangerous,
since it's hard to be subtly ironic intentionally and it's easy to come
off goofy and self-conscious if you try... err on the side of tradition
and function when making judgement calls.
- Here's a computer desk.