As some of you may know, my husband and I recently purchased a vacant lot on which we intend to build our dream home. Want to see the beginning stages of the design? Follow the link to see plans and a rough draft mass model.
Hope you like it as much as we do!
I knew I shouldn’t have made french toast this morning. Too much sugar will make my eye twitch and my mind race; inevitably, I have to let out that sugar rush some how. Today’s sugar rush release came in the form of obsession over proper entry design for a home.
As I blazed through a collection of images of a new ‘modern’ home community in Austin, TX, I noticed a lack of proper entrance design on a large number of plans. Now, you may be wondering “What makes an entry ‘properly designed’?”. That is a good question: one which I will attempt to answer…in the form of more questions. (You didn’t think you’d get a straightforward easy to follow prescriptive, did you?)
I’ll start with some theoretical musings that will hopefully stimulate your over-caffeinated brains and drive you to obsess over these little details as much as I have.
First, what is an entry? It is a space in which you transition from the exterior to the interior. It serves as an in-between space that sets the tone of the rest of the house. It is a place where you will greet guests and welcome them into your home. It is a place of high traffic (assuming your house doesn’t have a side-door-mistress that takes all the love away from your front door). It is a threshold.
Well, what is a threshold, exactly? The dictionary defines it in several ways: it is a piece of wood that frames the bottom of a door. Boring. It is an entry way or door. Duh? It is The place or point of beginning; the outset. Wait a minute…beginning. That means there is more to come. So perhaps the entry of a home serves as the foreword; the glimpse of something yet to come; the beginning of an experience. Also it is defined as The starting point of an experience, event, or venture. Well, that settles it. Your home’s entry is not just a bit of extra square footage to store that lonely hat rack (come on, admit it: you don’t actually wear hats). It isn’t just some interior room provided for the door swing. Rather, it is a unique space that will either build anticipation or completely let you down. Your home’s entry is your first impression.
Now let’s review some design criteria that should be considered as one designs a home. As with any building (residential or not), you must be aware of the surroundings; the site. How will you approach this building? Will you know where the entrance is located? Is the entrance brought to the attention of the user by means of a differentiating volume, color, texture, or some other means? How will a user engage the building? Will it be easy to understand how the user is to interact with the building? What should the user experience? What should they feel? What is the division of public space and private space? How will you move through the entry and into the rest of the building? What is the flow? Is there a large volume of traffic anticipated? What are the materials?…
I could go on and on. These questions are often summed up in singular ‘design terms’ such as “parti” and “approach”, or “balance” and “weight”. The real summation is that you have to think about every aspect of how this building will be experienced. Only then can you begin to answer the above questions and come up with a good design.
That’s all fine and good, but where did all the sugar rush energy go to? Mostly to scratching my head, a frequent eye twitch and increased heart and breathing rate. Let’s take a look at how some of these Austin designers handled their entrances (No designers or plan names are listed):
Where on earth do you actually enter this house? I can’t seem to figure out which end is the ‘front’. Do you approach a long windowless wall and stumble into a carport, only to ‘discover’ the uh…mistress…door? No, that doesn’t make much sense. How about approaching from the bottom to the right of the house…through a sliding door…no, that doesn’t make sense either. Okay, how about from the top of the plan? There is a porch there…hmm. But now, do I have any indication that I’m supposed to a) go through the carport again, b) choose the single door or c) opt for the sliding door immediately adjacent?
Maybe there will be a nice paved path that leads directly to one of these doors, and that will remove the mystery once it is built. However, that doesn’t solve all the problems:
What happens when you actually enter through these doors? Lets start in the carport. You wiggle past the parked cars and are immediately greeted with: a bathroom.
Welcome!!! Do you need to take a dump? No? Well, let’s hope the person before you didn’t either for the sake of your olfactory introduction to our home!
Okay, I hope that isn’t the main entry. Let’s look at the next door, the single one off the porch.
Welcome! *WHAM!* Oh, watch the wall! We just put it there to um…hold our keys…and hats…and hide the kitchen immediately behind it. Please, stumble immediately into our dining room!
Okay, so I’m a little more apt to believe this is the front door, and although you don’t enter directly into the kitchen, it doesn’t get much closer. The other two doors are unlikely candidates, but if they were the entry doors, well…you’d be abruptly met with a sofa or table. Not exactly a great first impression.
Let’s take a look at another design:
Again, I’m not sure which door is the designated ‘front door’, but in either case, you have an obstacle course that dumps you into a kitchen. Let’s face it: no one keeps an immaculate kitchen. What does this mean? Your guests will enter your home and be frozen in horror at the sight of remnants from last night’s ‘mac n cheese’ episode. Do yourself a favor: don’t design an entry that opens directly into a kitchen. It is almost as bad as entering next to a bathroom.
This one was so close to achieving a nice entry. There seems to be some sort of logical progression and structural order (as hinted at the long implied ‘hall’ from carport to patio). The disappointment comes in a few ways with this plan. First, the nice orderly implied ‘hall’ is terminated at an off-center door. Why not move the door to align with the first? Secondly, the front door empties users directly into the kitchen. By simply defining the space with structural elements, framed door ways or pulling the entry door back a bit, the spatial arrangement could stay the same and define the entry better. Another solution would be to create additional square footage for a separate entry way. It doesn’t have to be huge; maybe an extra 10 square feet.
This one almost has it. It has a nice roomy entry area, so guests don’t have to feel they’re waiting in line at the DMV as they attempt to leave the house.
The problem I have with this design is that there is no particular rhyme or reason to the ‘additional walls’ shown in the plan. I realize that modern and contemporary designs tends to buck symmetry and defined axes, but wouldn’t it make a better flow if there was a bit more order here?
Something as simple as framing out the spaces, aligning openings, and centering doorways could give this entry a much cleaner, deliberate feeling.
My last example is something that is very near to my heart. The dreaded ‘entry wall’. Let me just say that throwing a partition wall up directly in front of a door is a bad idea. Not only is it visually obtrusive, it is a mover’s worst nightmare. Why? Because sofas don’t bend. I know, I tried.
When you have a huge, wide open living space, why chop it up by adding a useless wall that doesn’t even align with the stairs? Does a wall make your entry more ‘entry-y’? I doubt it. Does it make people angry when they order a nice, long, comfortable couch but have to return it because it won’t fit past the ‘entry wall’? Yes. Yes it does.
In summary, be mindful of each choice you make when designing. Be especially mindful of how the space will be experienced, and how the first and last impression will be made as a user moves through the building.
Do you have any entry way horror stories to share?
After reading Madame Sunday’s blog posts on her kitchen renovation, I got inspired to blog about my own upcoming remodel (as well as inspired to use the F-bomb a bit more loosely; however, I shall resist!). Since we’re still in the very early stages of planning, I don’t have much to share other than a few cabinet and color combinations. Exciting, right? So instead of inundating you with our endless options of finishes and counter choices, I’ll start with why this kitchen needs a makeover.
Let’s start with the obvious. Its circa 1978, with a few ‘upgrades’ that really should be considered ‘downgrades’. Don’t believe me? Let’s turn our attention to the wonderful choice of ‘new paint’:
Cobalt. As in, blue. As in, cobalt blue, directly next to a pinkish-taupe dining room (look at the pony walls in the foreground!). I know your face is undoubtedly contorted in a shocked and disgusted way, but remember your face can freeze like that, so you better do some relaxation exercises between images.
Our fridge is trying its best to blend in, but its like the fat kid playing hide and seek that ducks behind a sapling pine tree. We can all see you. Just give up already. Not only is it just ridiculously oversized for the 70’s built ‘fridge niche’, but who needs that much food storage in a one bedroom condo? Uber-mega fridge, really? I could fit enough food for a family of five in there (alliteration, ftw!). On top of it all, I can barely squeeze into my ‘pantry’ (which is really just a bunch of shelves directly in front of the breaker box). It is important to note I’m a petite lady, and if I have trouble getting in and out…good luck to anyone of a ‘normal stature’. Did pocket doors not exist in the late 70’s? How about bi-fold? Anyone? I find it ironic that the pantry door has a door stopper attached to it. Moving on!
A single meal obliterates our kitchen; half the counter space can be filled by a cutting board. Our counter space is so segmented, you can’t really use it. I’d go so far as to claim it isn’t even a counter. 12 inches of flat surface every few feet isn’t a counter. It’s a high school shop project gone wrong. Stop pretending!
After we purchased the condo, I did some digging on the ‘net to see if we got a good deal. I found images of a few other units in our complex for sale, and it turns out we did. However, it also seems that there was a ‘group discount’ offered to anyone in the complex who purchased the tile and appliances you see in the photos. Stone for stone, fridge for fridge, I saw our condo’s materials and appliances in the photos of another unit for sale. Did it ever occur to anyone that having identical units is a bad thing? You think standing out from the crowd would be a good thing when trying to, oh I don’t know, rent or sell the place? Instead, we’re left with ‘tile for the indecisive’ and it doesn’t even match our cobalt walls. Who knew that the tile-that-matches-everything wouldn’t match? Irony.
On top of the tile being a bit fickle on color allegiance, it wasn’t installed well. Maybe they were trying to add a bit of extra storage…ya know, for all the food I spill on the floor.
So let’s sum it up in a single image:
Now that you’re in full agreement that there could be ‘room for improvement’ (especially given how wide the kitchen is?!), let’s see what we have in store. (In case you were wondering what’s wrong with our uppers, I taped paper to the cabinets to give us an idea of what the new and improved 30” uppers would feel like.)
I drew up some quick plans on how the ‘new and improved’ kitchen will look, and I think, given our um…limitations…it will be much better i.e. functional. I also came up with a rough ‘schedule’ of tasks, even though I’ve never scheduled a remodel in my life. I suppose its more of an ‘order of operations’ rather than a schedule, and solely based on my assumptions of how things work (which is undoubtedly wrong). I’ll probably want to consult a more professional professional on how to schedule a remodel. Anyway, here is the plan for the remodel:
We’ll sell off the old tank style water heater and replace it with a super tiny wall mounted tankless version. That will allow us to triple our pantry storage, and *gasp* walk inside! (once we convert the door to a pocket door, that is). Check out our current ‘food storage area’:
We’ll sell the current fridge as a ‘garage fridge’ to some suburban family of four who apparently needs more food than an entire city block combined, and replace it with a sleek IKEA counter depth model (which has excellent reviews, by the way!).
With the newly slimmed fridge, pocket door and actual pantry space, that corner of the kitchen will be functional. Take a look at my plan and elevations (crude though they are):
We’ll keep the stove side relatively the same, but install 30” high cabinets (apparently 24” is no longer ‘en vogue’).
Turning our attention to the sink side, we’ll do some moving and shaking. The dishwasher will go to the far right, up against the pony wall. Next to the DW will be a single rectangular sink basin (cookie sheets are rectangular, not square - an important fact to note!), followed by the corner ‘lazy susan’ cabinet. I’m not sure about this whole ‘lazy susan’ business. Somehow the idea of a slacker turn table just doesn’t appeal to me. Perhaps this ‘susan’ isn’t quite so ‘lazy’, but the word association just isn’t winning me over. However, for now, it will do.
Turning the corner, we’ll do a double door bottom cabinet with a FULL sized drawer. This alone makes me want to giggle like a girl…wait…I am a girl…and I’m giggling. Anyway, up to this point in time, we’ve had to keep our silverware in three separate drawers, since they’re less than a foot wide. To have all of my flatware together at last, is like music to my ears; clanging metal as it collides into a single depository makes me well up with tears of happiness. No longer will I have to say ‘what kind?’ when asked by a guest where the silverware is. Bliss!
For the uppers, it’s pretty easy overall. Above the fridge is a bit of a conundrum though; the height doesn’t allow for cabinets, and you can’t exactly reach back there anyway. Leave it open? Put some open shelves back there? What to do, what to do? We’ll solve that later.
For the counters, we want to go dark; A nice crisp contrast to white cabinets. Something like this:
Most likely we’ll go with a quartz surface, since its low maintenance and we don’t want to leave a nice material in the hands of renters. Those evil, evil hands…
The backsplash will be some sort of marble(d) subway tile – a white with gray to balance the transisiton, and pick up the slate blue on the dining room walls.
As for the flooring, we’re still undecided. I’m currently considering cork after reading about it on Paul Anater’s blog, but we’re wondering about gouging it when we move the fridge (or other heavy furniture such as the dining table; shhh, my hubby doesn’t know I’m thinking of including the dining floor with this project!). At first I was considering a light color, but after looking lustfully at some “kitchen porn”, I am really digging the dark colored floors. It doesn’t hurt that my hubs said he loved the dark cork I showed him. Win win! I just love the way cork looks and feels:
After the kitchen is all said and done, we’ll do some minor tweaks to the dining room: a fresh coat of slate blue above white wainscoting w/chair rail, a new chandelier with ceiling medallion, and best of all, NO MORE MIRRORS! (except the kind that is independent of the wall and has a distinguishable frame).
If you’re still reading at this point, I commend you. I probably would’ve gone into a coma by now (unless I was remodeling a kitchen; then I’d be glued to the screen and drooling a bit - in a good way).
Until next time!
My design “The Axis” was selected as a finalist for an international design competition. Public voting will account for 25% of the final outcome (along with jury review and focus group feedback). Would you take 5 minutes to vote for my design?
I will resort to any tactics necessary, including being obnoxious/annoying, pestering (which falls under the obnoxious/annoying category), threatening, begging, generally making a fool of myself and other techniques. So if you prefer your sanity (as well as mine), just take a few minutes to vote and we’ll remain good friends - or rather, become good friends…otherwise I’ll hate you forever. FOREVER.
See more of the design images in my previous post