In the past, homeowner advice focused more on resale value than livability. Families looked for ways to sell their “for now” homes in the shortest amount of time for the most amount of money. The growing desire to age in place, however, means families are trading in their somewhat nomadic lifestyles and searching for a long-term living space. With that in mind, it's time to rethink and rearrange our houses so that they function as facilitators for spending quality time with family and friends.
Whether this transition to a long-term abode is crafted from scratch or a custom tailored renovation, employing the services of an architect can help create this forever home while protecting its asset value. For some, this means simply repurposing unused rooms to accommodate current activities. For others, it is about creating entertaining focal points by graciously connecting indoor and outdoor living spaces.
Before embarking on a new set of plans or creating a list of livability improvements, consider the following concepts:
Hierarchy of design
No matter where you plan to build or the kind of home you envision, be sure to make the difficult-to-alter big decisions before focusing on smaller decisions that can be amended without major upheaval.
The recommended sequence is to start with selecting the neighborhood, then the specific parcel within that neighborhood. Next is to determine a floor plan that facilitates how you live, how the rooms flow together in zones, the internal circulation, and connections to exterior spaces. The final touch is style. Style is the result of a whole series of influences and should only be determined towards the end of this process.
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If you follow these steps, selecting the appropriate look will follow as an authentic flourish. Architects who specialize in residential design can help you recognize what works and what does not; their design skills will ensure that your home accommodates your family’s needs and budget.
Bigger isn’t always better
There is often truth in the phrase “less is more.” Increasing a home’s livability may lead to an improved but downsized version of the best features from your past homes. If renovating, your needs may best be addressed by some well-placed surgery rather than major rework or additions.
Take, for example, the homeowner with rooms positioned like a string of pearls. The rooms were “efficiently” arranged such that you had to pass through one to get to another, creating traffic jams during parties. After consulting with an architect, the need for a living room addition was avoided by the careful insertion of a new doorway that relieved any problematic circulation between entertainment spaces. An architect sees your home as living entity with a myriad of interrelated activities, and their services can be invaluable in informing your decisions to build, renovate, or add on.
Rethink underused spaces
Before embarking on an addition, conduct a quick audit to identify those areas that are rarely used and no longer necessary for your lifestyle. These should be considered as resources that can be repurposed to serve current needs. Consider the dining or formal living room that is rarely used; their lack of use makes them prime targets to become a music room, home office or—by removing walls—a breakfast room open to the kitchen. Rethinking the usage and layout of existing rooms often reduces the need for additional construction to make your home more livable.
Consider multifunctional rooms
A great way to reduce the required size of your house without sacrificing functionality is to outfit one room to accommodate multiple functions. In lieu of creating a separate state-of-the-art, theater-style media room, integrate the same equipment into your family room. What would otherwise become an event isolated from the rest of the home and family activities instead allows for more of a den experience, and in only half of the space.
Expanding living space outdoors
Outdoor living spaces are being designed for year-round use, and can be a delightful method of increasing usable living space. Connecting interior living spaces with adjacent covered porches, outdoor kitchens, BBQ pits, and outdoor fireplaces can significantly expand your capacity to graciously entertain guests, for the price of some additional roofing, deck flooring, and appliances.
Every home design or improvement project should aim to help your family connect with each other while enjoying the house more thoroughly. By enlisting the services of an architect, you will increase your chances of “getting it right,” and plan to keep costs within budget.
About the author: Kevin Harris, FAIA, is a custom residential architect and past chair of AIA's Small Project Practitioners Knowledge Community.