Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Playing with House Design

First, an apology! Our workdays are eating us alive right now, and I'm often brain-dead when I am able to be here at the computer. No complaints...we're living life and I do get a lot of that commuting time with Jack now that we're sharing one vehicle. But I wanted to apologize for my delay in answering comments...I do read them all, and appreciate them all!

One of the things I've enjoyed ever since my youth is sketching house plans...I'm not sure why, but I've always been able to picture in my mind's eye what the 3-D would look like as I'm drawing things out on graph paper less dimensionally. When I get an idea, or see something really neat as far as an architectural design in real life, I love being able to put it on paper, rearrange to my heart's content, and "solve" problems there though most of them have never seen the light of day in actual construction.

I had my daughter at a much younger age than many of my contemporaries who waited till their thirties to start their families, and I was a stay-at-home working mom (I kept other folks' kids for many of those years). Now and then as I imagined a more workable floor plan, or dreamed of having more children (I'm one of those people who'd love to have ten or more), I'd grab a notebook and sketch just for fun. I filled notebooks with floor plans for houses, and those went through phases as the years progressed. What used to be my ideal house on paper was much larger than what I ever ended up needing compared to today's doodles. It was also influenced by the older homes I'd see out in the countryside wherever I lived, so when I lived on the Kentucky border my house plans took on the roomy farmhouse sprawl I so love, with open porches, and so on.

I've been through floor plan love affairs, and crushes on certain styles. There are very few styles I'm not drawn to at least somewhat, and I've always been very happy where I've lived, and have adapted my preferences from past houses (I've moved a lot!) into my house doodles.

When I married a man who built houses "on the side," I was in raptures! And though he's no longer in business that way since the big economic crash, I've had a lot of fun running ideas past him...we're slowly piecing together a house plan of our own.

He has a wish list, and I have mine, and they look very different from the one I made as a new mother expecting a very large family. We have different goals, and I'm glad we've had to work together and compromise to come up with what we've finally hashed out as our rough working plan to build in the future.

Here are the things we've had to incorporate...because of parameters we've both negotiated as our "best" list:

Jack's list:

1. Building materials --For our climate, he wants building materials as indestructable as possible. Mold and insect-resistant. Strong enough for high winds. Easy to construct. Lasting, not subject to rot. Easy to adapt to different styles of architecture. This has meant.......concrete. Whether it's blocks or poured walls, it'll have to be concrete underneath (walls, everything). Stucco or similar finish to the exterior.

2. A 3-12 pitch roof. That's pretty flat, but still with a bit of a slope. I don't like those nearly as much as my preference for nice steep gables, but he convinced me when he said he'd be doing any roof maintenance himself and wanted to walk around on a lower pitch roof.

3. All appliances grouped as much as possible on outside walls. This has to do with ease of maintenance, construction, and any future repairs. It also has to do with positioning plumbing within easy access of the septic.

4. Proximity of kitchen to garage. He wants it as close as possible for ease of unloading things.

5. Separate closets in master bedroom.

6. Bathroom attached to MBR.

7. Tile or concrete/cement floors throughout house. As little wood used in construction as possible to mitigate insect potential.

8. No wall-to-wall carpet anywhere. Yes to throw rugs and area rugs that are manageable sizes for taking outside and "beating" to clean.

9. A woodstove that could be used for cooking if we go without electricity at any point.

10. Plenty of natural light in house, but no openings in roof to let light in. Playing with house design to incorporate transom windows or passive solar design for additional light.

11. A one story house, and other things designed to help us build this house as quickly and easily as possible when the time comes.

12. Jack's biggest preference: planning it all ahead of time for ease of construction and maintenance and flexibility to types of heating and cooling. We'll use the easiest design rather than things that would have to be engineered, which has eliminated a lot of types of roof design and wall span dimensions but will allow him to hire helpers who can do simply construction with a design that can be put together quickly. Therefore, it's pretty much a straight roofed house, no ells or roofline breaks. This will help immensely with construction and materials costs.

13. Design it for future expansion, possibly.

14. Jack is the efficiency and insulation freakazoid. Just another thing I love about the man!

15. Tankless water heater if we can do that.

Here's my list:

1. Kitchen not split, no main traffic area going through it to elsewhere. Also kitchen not shut off from main living areas...I prefer things very open but no traffic through kitchen. This has meant putting laundry and garage entry elsewhere.

2. Good traffic flow, not awkward, not interrupting other spaces. This is hard to describe, but have you ever lived in a house where the front door opens right onto everyone seated in the main living area...or where you have to go through one bedroom to get to another? I like to "live" in a place in my mind, imagining what it would be like going through the house doing daily things and solving some of the potential traffic problems with design. I like the main seating area to be grouped without the main flow of traffic cutting right through the middle.

3. Planned areas for de-cluttering. Jack leaves his keys, shoes, coat, etc near the exit, and that's just how he likes it. I don't want them cluttering the main areas, but do want to have them planned for because a house is to live in, and should be easy to live in. Cute little cubbies and such don't work for us, but having a back entrance that's the main point of entry from the garage and in proximity to a "mud" area would be ideal. A row of hooks, a couple of lockers for stashing the stuff that currently is the grab-and-go clutter, and we'd be in business.

4. Laundry area easy to access, easy to use, somewhat roomy. Close to back entry for ease of getting the dirty gardening and work clothes into the wash without tracking through the rest of the house to get there.

5. Lots of windows, the sort that open, and sited where they'll cool our home 1/2 of the year. Biggest wish in this category...MBR windows that are far enough off the ground that anyone outside cannot simply break them and step in...I want them elevated. Because I want to be able to sleep with the windows open and the fan on at night without anyone easily being able to enter from outside. This has been one of our biggest head-scratchers for over a year now, and the cause of our waffling back and forth between building a 2 story or 1 story house. We finally solved it by planning to elevate the entire house by building it up with a higher stemwall foundation than normal, which will also give us an advantage if there were ever any flooding.

5. No dark kitchen. It has to have a lot of light.

6. Not splitting the views from different areas. I like windows grouped for maximum visibility from inside instead of splitting it among a few that are spaced here and there but dont allow for a good look out. I want to see what's going on outside easily. These windows need to open to allow for a good breeze flow, too.

7. Keep it simple. We'll build the basics, and after once in the house, can customize the finishing of it. There is still something to living in a house to know it best, no matter how well planned it is.

8. Ease of preparing and storing food. Good sized pantry, good work areas in kitchen, no-fuss surfaces that can take some wear and tear and a lot of cleaning. Room for pots and bulky items. Use of vertical space.

9. Elegance with basic materials. We won't be able to afford luxury and custom things unless we later do-it-ourselves with a few projects. The basic design, materials, etc have to be durable, but I do want to personalize it with good aesthetics...beauty. This will be an ongoing thing, and Jack's aboard with that, too. We'll love going to salvage yards for much of this, and I hope to have some free reign artistically with creativity and color and many of the finish elements.

10. Thinking smaller in a big way. We want maximum usage with smaller spaces. What I once thought was necessary living space I now find is bigger than we need. This leads to my next wish...

11. Higher ceilings for smaller spaces, to cool hot areas, to keep from feeling claustrophobic. I want ceilings a minimum of 9 feet, optimally 10 feet high at least in living areas, with very simple ceiling fans.

12. Position doorways to maximize available wall space.

13. House built so that if electricity is not in use, house still functions very well.

14. Small wood stove in living area, big enough for two dutch ovens, etc, on top. We don't need a big one because staying cool is our biggest challenge, not heating. But I want the option to cook without electricity if needed, and to heat the house those two or three months with a very small wood heat source. Plus, I just love fireplaces and wood stoves, and we can't justify a fireplace at this point.

15. A large soaking tub. If it has jacuzzi jets, all the better. That's simply a luxury wish, but it's soooooo nice to soak achey bones after hard work :)

16. All entries, doorways, bathrooms, traffic areas designed for frail or wheelchair-bound people to easily access. When I hurt my knee and had to wheel myself to the bathroom two years ago, it changed my whole perspective on this. We have to design this for when we're elderly because we plan on being in this house for the rest of our lives. For that same reason, the MBR must be on first-floor level and have easy access to a walk-in (doorless) shower. We incorporated that into the plan. Same thing for outdoor access...if we have to step up to get into the house, somewhere there'll need to be an access ramp in case we can't do steps when we're very very old, or are injured.

17. Dining/eating area can be all one room as far as I'm concerned. But I want the space flexible enough that if I want to extend the table to fit a lot of people there's a way to do that.

18. Main entrance offset from living area. We achieved this somewhat by positioning it between living and eating area and also having a porch across that side's exterior to help there be a middleground before direct entry into the house.

10. Keep it simple.

11. I'd like to have a metal roof. That's just a wish. I didnt want a flat roof, though we did play with that in some designs, and it could be useful space. In the end, we went with a low pitch roof.

12. A guest room that doubles as small office. And speaking along those lines, we BOTH want to have an efficiency studio living space somewhere beyond the house (attached, over the garage, off to the side, somewhere) as a rental and for longer-stay guests. We live in Florida and would like to have a place for families to come rather than stay in a hotel. Not all our friends are into our sort of lifestyle, and having the flexibility of their being able to come and go in their own tiny cottage might be the best of both worlds. We do total rest on Saturdays (no cooking, shopping, work, etc), and that would also solve that for folks who want to do their own thing and come and go independently.

13. I'd love a porch. We were able to put one on this plan, yay!


both Jack and I want gardenias, jasmines, and other fragrant plants planted around the house, so when the windows are raised we can have those wonderful night scents coming in while the lazy ceiling fans draw in a breeze...ahhh :)

I can probably think of a lot more, but those are a lot of the main things.

The plan we FINALLY agreed on was drawn up and decided on about a month ago, after two years of experimenting and hitting stone walls between Jack's list and mine. Ease of construction and agreeing on design were our biggest obstacles. The result is not the house of the year...it's simpler than we'd have wanted to try doing if we'd known each other and done this years ago. But it's great for us now, and I can see living there as a final house, not wishing for anything else. We were shooting to keep it under 1000 square feet, but had to build at least a 1000 to meet the requirements of the county for that property. I think it ended up being about 1500 square feet, and even with that, about half of it can be closed off and not need much A/C (laundry areas, etc). We went with the additional square footage in order to get some of the things under the same roof instead of plan them for later additions beyond the house, because it was simply easy with the very simple roofline Jack's wanting. In the end it was six and one half dozen of the other, and frankly easier to justify a few more square feet under that simplistic roof rather than do ground-up separate from the house structure.

If you could build the most workable and agreeable house for your needs, what would you include...and what would you never do again?


Sue said...

We just got done with our home-rebuilt from the studs up, and I am sooooo pleased with it. It has a front entry-but my back door is laundry room/mudroom all in one and I LOVE IT!! When we come in from the garden , we have a deep sink to wash up in, muddy shoes go in for a quick spray off, and clothes go straight into the washer (or sink for soaking). The bathroom is next-so the house doesn't get tracked up if we just need to use it.
My kitchen is tiny, but is all drawers in the base units-you can't believe how nice that is versus opening a cabinet door and then pulling out a sliding shelf.
Hope some of these ideas help!

Robbyn said...

I love those ideas! I never thought about drawers, but it makes sense, and I hate trying to get down under the bottom shelves of my cabinets, especially for pot lids :)

Paulette said...

How exciting! I'm so happy for you, I know how we felt when we finally had the final version on paper after all the discussion, planning, compromising, etc. Even if you aren't going to build it right away, it's so good to get that part of it done, and really know what you are looking forward to.

I agree with Sue on the cabinets, we have drawers and I LOVE them. No more sitting in the floor trying to get pots and pans out of the back of a cabinet, then having to be pulled up from the floor.:-)

You have some great ideas, very smart ideas.

We decided to go smaller too, but still ended up with 1800 sf, and really, we use about 1/2 of it. Of course we have storage, which is good.

It also sounds like ya'll could do some of the work, and man, what a savings! We were able to have some things that we couldn't have afforded, just because we did a lot of work and saved on labor.

It sounds awesome!

edifice rex said...

If you are going to use concrete just go all the way with poured walls, forget the block. You will NEVER have to worry about structural concrete and you can reuse your form material for sheathing and framing.
Also, if going with such a low pitch on your roof, it should definitely be metal. Metal roofing is very affordable and will outlast any other roof by many years.
A book I used for reference when I built mine is, The Solar House by Daniel Chiras. Great book full of passive solar ideas.

tina f. said...

A lot of Jack's ideas are the same as mine! I want an attached garage with access to kitchen for the same reason (no traipsing groceries throughout the house), an entry way with good sized closet, a large bright kitchen with a large pantry and maybe one "wall" being a bar counter because that's where everybody gathers (that's how we kind of have it now), an indoor laundry room. I would also like a room to use as an office. In one of my plans I made that I loved I had each of the rooms with their own balcony and bathroom, an office and game room. It was u shaped with a courtyard. Of course it ended up being about 3500sq ft which was totally ridiculous. Now that we are closer to moving from here and getting a new place, I've found some of my original "wants" aren't so important anymore! I still want lots of land though--that never changed!! PS-when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago we got some pull out drawers. I like those. What I don't like so much is the in-the-door storage in the small pantry door (things fall out when you open the door if your aren't careful) and the wierd corner pull out thing they put in the inside corner. Maybe a different style of that thing but the one we have actually wastes space I think. I do like the giant lazy susans in the peninsula/bar area.

warren said...

I esp agree with Jacks 5-9 and most of yours...
but esp separate closets in the MBR!