Two homes have the same square footage yet one seems so much larger than the other does. How can that be? The difference is because of sight lines. Sight lines are what you see from any given point in the home, whether you're standing in a doorway or seated in a room. When sight lines are obstructed by a wall or a door the home will feel smaller. Open things up with a hint of what lies beyond and the home will always look and live larger.
You can check a home's sight lines with the floor plan, a ruler, and a pencil. Start from the middle of any doorway or opening and draw a straight line to various focal points in the home. Does the line stop in that room or does it pass through several? Does it intersect a featureless wall or will you get a glimpse of a fireplace or a window and the courtyard beyond? Then check the sight lines from various sitting positions in the home. What will you see from the breakfast table? The family room sofa? From your bed as you read the Sunday papers? As you move through a home, it's far more interesting to get a preview of what's to come with subtle hints and intriguing clues of the spaces beyond than to be cut off from the rest of the home.
The success of a floor plan isn't judged by how it looks when you're standing still or seated. The true measure of a floor plan is how you move through it. These days, we rarely use hallways to move from one space to another. They waste space and they're dreary. Now other rooms have become our passageways. This has the added advantage of making small space rooms seem larger when they are open to other rooms with good sight lines. But when you walk from the master bedroom to the kitchen, do you want to walk between the sofa and the TV? If your master is upstairs, do you want to walk down the stairs and pass through the entry in your pajamas to get a glass of water?
The best floor plans use a technique called horizontal banding to accommodate traffic patterns. If, for example, the family room is flanked on one side by a master bedroom and on the other side by the kitchen, the doors or openings should be kept to the same side of the home. If not, you create a traffic pattern that forces one to navigate diagonally through another room. In this case, the family room. It can also make furniture placement more difficult. A stairway from the entry may not be very practical, either. It's sometimes a better idea to have it come to the family room or kitchen toward the center of the home for better access and a better use of space. And don't settle for just one way in to the kitchen. This is the heart of the home. The more ways in, the merrier. You don't want bottlenecks during parties and family gatherings. A good rule of thumb is three ways in, minimum. Five is even better.
Privacy and Togetherness
The relative placement of rooms can play a major role in how a home lives. Do you really want your children's bedrooms directly over the master bedroom? We all love our children but there are times when even the closest of families need their privacy. The master shouldn't be too close to the family room, either. With the popularity of surround sound, TVs have become louder and more pervasive. The best plans keep the master at a comfortable distance from other activities in the home, ideally in its own wing with nothing above or below and no common walls.
Not all room adjacency issues deal with privacy. Sometimes it's about togetherness. For example, kitchens should not isolate the person preparing the meal. Eat-in kitchens are great places to bring families and friends together. By combining food preparation and dining we create wonderful opportunities for conversation and closeness.
The game room concept is changing, too. Instead of just converting an extra bedroom, families are finding children's retreats to be far more useful. A children's retreat consists of a common recreation/study that serves as the hub of the children's activities and is surrounded by their bedrooms. This area of the home becomes a special place just for the kids, where they can do their homework, play games or watch TV while mom and dad enjoy some quiet time with a movie or reading by the family room fire.
All About Windows
It doesn't take a lot of windows to make an impact on the personality of a home. You just need to know where to put them. And as you may have guessed, sight lines play a large role here, too. An expansive rear wall in the family room doesn't have to be filled with two-story windows to bring in the beauty of the outdoors. Even a 20-foot vaulted ceiling doesn't call for windows all the way to the top. Besides wasting a lot of energy, it may not improve the look and feel of the room. A strategically-placed set of six or eight-foot windows can have just as much impact and be far more economical.
Sometimes small windows under cabinets can have a huge influence on the "feel" of a kitchen. A bow bay window in a small dining area will make it seem much larger. Pay special attention to the interior/exterior relationship created with windows. What direction does the window face? Will it give morning or afternoon light? You may want eastern exposure for a breakfast room window that frames colorful landscaping bathed in morning light. Large windows with western exposure may not be a good idea for a family room with a large screen TV. Fancy "eyebrow" and Palladian windows can add character to any home. They also add to the cost. So, be sure they are located where they will have the greatest impact and not hidden away where people can't enjoy them every day.