Hallways, hallways, hallways
Placing spaces in relation to one another is the main purpose of a house layout. A good layout is therefore one in which the best use of these relationships is made. Imagine:
When coming home with groceries, the path to the fridge and pantry should be minimal. You would also benefit from having a countertop to place the groceries and sort through them. You would need to be able to get to wash your hands first as well. All of these little actions have there own flow and this flow can be smooth and elegant or it can make you run around the kitchen table four times looking for a towel and then making marathon races to the car back and forth tripping on the bags you already brought in but left in the hallway. Which leads me to the most useful tip on the list: kill hallways. Avoid hallways in your layout like the plague. They are expensive, inelegant and dull ways of fixing bad layouts and nothing more. That does not mean you should enter bedrooms directly from the living room of course, or that your dirty rain boots should sit next to the sofa. But avoid filling mismatched rooms with windowless hallways, they make for dark undefined spaces. If you must have a hallway, try to make it into a proper lounge or parlour, with two small armchairs and maybe some bookshelves, and don’t forget about sunlight.
Bring more sunshine into your house: part 3
Now this is South-facing window 2.0. The idea of having a space that heats up in the winter sun but protects you from the wind and the cold air is just mouth-watering. Big bonus, you can have plants and veggies growing in there as well, all year in most climates! A passive greenhouse is a windowed-up space that is stuck to the walls of the house (or half-buried in the ground) so that the mass of the walls gives heat back to the space and helps keep steady temperatures. South-facing, obviously, as you would need to get the most exposure as possible. Though recent studies try to explain to us that lack of sun exposure is not the depression-causing villain we thought it was, I still firmly believe that a well positioned passive greenhouse can be the bringer of many winter joys. If you have space, bring that daybed in here, along with books, a desk, and WiFi, and you will not come out of there until the end of March.
Lets be frank: a sunshine-less house is just depressing. I've lived for two winters in a house in the middle of the forest. It was niched along a valley and had a big hill in front. That wasn't a problem in the autumn when we arrived, as the hill was far away enough that the sun was passing right above it. But by the time December came, the sun started disappearing sooner and sooner behind the hill. "One day, S said, we shall go on that hill and scrape the top of it off!" We were a sad bunch, all of us, huddled around the stove, heating ourselves up in this darkness of the winter afternoon that was our alone. Because the rest of the houses, while few, were all either to the left of the hill, or to the right, or above it. So the darkness was ours and ours alone.
The big hill was just high enough and close enough for the winter sun to hide behind it for two months, starting from about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. This meant that our stone house, which was supposed to soak up the afternoon heat and give it back to us gradually throughout the night, keeping us warm, well, didn't. We were chasing the sun all mornings, and longing for it all afternoons. One day I was contemplating the warm rays of sun disappearing from sight and leaving me cold and lonely and swore I shall never have another human being endure such a trauma!
So here I am, evangelist of the January sunshine, preaching those who will listen about the countless ways (well, …
Bring more sunshine into your house: part 5
A big ruiner of sunlight access is the sheer depth of the rooms we build. The proportions of a room with regards to the natural light source can cause a room to be one half blindingly lit and hot and the other half pitch dark. That's because contrast in light exposure changes the way we see things. Too much light in one room can cause you to not see anything when you enter a less-lit one, like when you come inside a dark room after having been out in the sun.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 6
First-time modern home builders soon realize that, while their spaces look great, they have nowhere to put stuff. From Le Corbusier's first fancy modern buildings until today, the problem of home storage has been avoided by architects in favor of sleek design. Apart from basic usage areas like kitchen, sitting area, office, every house needs those additional spaces specifically purposed for storage. Built-in storage is also a great way to avoid hallways. Any mismatch in the way walls meet up can become the perfect storage room. But watch out, built-in storage becomes a fixed feature of the room: try to keep your layout flexible enough that you can still use the room if its function changes.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 9
Now, with social distancing and working from home becoming the norm, a new name has been added to the list of essentials: "the home office". Some love it, some hate it, but for a lot of us, home offices are here to stay, along with entertainment use of the computer instead of the old TV/couch/coffee table trio. This space need not be enormous or have a room of its own. But it does need to feature the possibility of privacy and silence, and decent background for video calls. The rest depends on each of us and our own workflow.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 10
This entry is by far the less glamorous: pipes are noisy and expensive to repair. So make them short, accessible and far away from beds. A good trick is to stick kitchen and bathroom walls together and have a single inlet of water in between. That can be your technical space too, so while you're at it, make it accessible from outside. Place the bedroom toilet WC on a different wall than the bed, to avoid waking up in the middle of the night every time somebody flushes the toilet.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 7
Surprisingly many houses lack a downstairs bathroom. A friend's mom fell and broke her hip, she had to pee in a bucket for a month before they installed an elevator (yes, an elevator). It is a big problem with contemporary housing, as it is very hard to fix a toilet-lacking plan (elevator). This tip is a reminder to prepare for uncertainty and to not take decisions assured that things will always be as they are right now. We get old, we break legs, we fall ill, pandemics happen. What doesn't change is our need for toilets. Or does it?
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 8
One of the main reasons for people selling their houses is the fact that the space has become inadequate. If only a couple of years ago, this house was a perfect fit, today you have kids, the kids have grown up and need more space, or they are adults now and left, or mom with a broken hip moved in , or… The list goes on. To take advantage of your house for the longest time possible, think about the evolution opportunities of the space from the get-go. Also, try to keep your rooms as flexible as possible. The same should go for individual rooms and for whole buildings. We can make our spaces adaptable, able to change along with their users, and that's the most sustainable thing we can do. Find the smallest changes needed to keep existing rooms usable, not scratch and start anew every time there is a change in context.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 3
A deep analysis of the site not only gives you clues about the orientation and bio-climatic techniques to follow. It also gives you good guidelines about where the other elements of your household can be placed. You'll say that garden, greenhouse, summer kitchen (ah yes, those lovely summer kitchens), garage, tools shed, all of these elements could very well be placed anywhere. But when they are well placed, they get so interconnected with the interior space and with each other that you wonder how on earth things could ever have been placed otherwise!
It's worth it to take the time on these details.