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.
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.
You've once been told, sometime in your youth, that you were bad at spacial visualization. And ever since that day, you've been convincing yourself of that. You always tell people "Oh I'm bad at spatial visualization", but it's not true. You've made it true.
The simple fact that you've told yourself against it and that you've refused to harness that skill (because it is a skill, not a talent) has made it so that now, you have difficulties in tackling complex spatial geometries.
To get physically fit you have to start running or otherwise moving. You have to do it every day for a while. Then you get better at it and fitter.
The exact same thing happens when playing around with imaginary spaces. You just start where you are and, after a while, you'll get faster and smarter about it. And when you're good at something, you start loving to do it, because it just lost that frustrating quality a bit, that feeling of sucking at something. We all get that, it's what makes us move forward. So be bad at spatial visualization. And strive to get better.
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.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 2
Advancements in technology have lately made it possible for humans to bypass most of the natural building constrictions. If only a couple of decades ago, a harsh environment would have deterred us from building altogether on a specific site, today we can do almost anything anywhere. And it is almost the definition of our times that we are global. What works for you must work for me and what works here is bound to work there. And this is the way architecture had been made for generations. This does not mean we should disconsider the environment when we design. Bio-climatic design harnesses age-old sets of techniques for embracing and responding to the local environment. Much of the world's vernacular architecture responded to the regional climate, like heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, looking for the sun rays and avoiding the cold winds. What makes a house comfortable year-round depends on the specificity of the place. The basic layout of the building emerges from the questions you ask the land. Take a look at the Permarchitecture Site Analysis Checklist. You can find it here.
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 5
Head bumps at the end of the staircase.
I live in such a house with my very tall boyfriend, so I speak from the heart. When drafting in 2D, some elements seem obvious, but when you build them, surprises occur: the space above the last steps of the staircase is very often the main culprits here. The trick is to simply be aware of this when drafting stairs and, if you can, draft your plans in 3D to be sure you have enough space to get upstairs. (she whispers in your ear: "come, book a session")
10 errors to avoid when designing your sustainable home plan layout: part 1
Drawing to scale is an acquired skill and drafting by hand is, for a beginner, the best way to make rooms way too big. The generosity of the enthusiastic designer will give each bedroom at least 20% more space than it actually needs and the living room the proportion of a football stadium. So be sure to check your dimensions often and don't forget to furnish the rooms, even in the first drafts. Furniture will make big empty areas stand out. It will also give you a first glance at the circulation flows of the layout.
Try to avoid non-allocated space, but also stay away from too-small spaces, especially in the bathroom and kitchen area. Tip: When drafting your layout by hand, you can cut bits of paper to size for your main furniture elements. You can move them around your puzzle and play with them. Their presence also intuitively gives you a sense of how much space you need when drawing up a new room.