Distinct Rooms Make A Home Feel Larger

Recently a professor I teach with asked me about a house just down the street from mine.  It is a striking new build home with a great profile of two gables and the entry centered between. Not exactly traditional exterior,  yet not modern a wonderful comfortable blend. It has been off and the market for years since it was built in 2008. I toured it a few years ago during an open house. It was built as speculative home on a great tear down lot with coveted golf course view. My neighborhood is walkable to restaurants and even a Macy’s.  The public schools are strong and homes have aged well since built after the war starting in late 1940’s . More and more tear downs are happening as housing needs and generally how we live has changed. Kitchen, garages and mudrooms need more space than in 1952. The rumpus or activity room as it was called in the day is now a family room that houses a TV and most likely a view if not the actual of kitchen. The rooms have blended together to reflect today’s casual lifestyle.

Dining room and living room are distinct rooms in my home a 1960's split level. The door trim allows for paint to easily change color. The contrast of colors creates two rooms allowing a comfortable to feel larger.
Dining room and living room are distinct rooms in my home a 1960’s split level. The door trim allows for paint to easily change color. The contrast of colors creates two rooms allowing a comfortable home to feel larger.

I love to design homes with tight square footage where EVERY foot counts. 1700 square feet first floor with guest rooms either  up or down is magic to me! So how could this home down the street with stunning exterior, great location and over twice the size of my typically designed homes not sell?

This home that has dropped 25% in price since it first hit the market in the dismal 2008. Great exterior, great location, great view, lots of square feet, price reduction what more could it need? In my opinion it needs distinct interior rooms or spaces.  Teaching a design studio has forced me to critique projects in order to help students improve their design skills. Honestly it didn’t come easily. I am more than happy to review and amend my own work but not one to seek out and crit others. Yet this house was a puzzle of things that needed to happen on the plan and didn’t.

An entry space is important, a space to take to coat off without standing in a room for sitting or dining or cooking. It may seem as wasted little used space but it allows a transition which actually makes a home feel larger. It is the same idea of slowly unwrapping a present. The drama, the careful reveal you aren’t just handed an unwrapped gift just as you shouldn’t see everything from the front door. It will collapse the space in perspective and make even a large space feel small.  Why do you wrap gifts? Does it make then event special? An entry space makes a home feel special.  It is an important luxury to have an entry hall/space. The house down the street had an entry door that was right into to the combined living dining. It was an implied room with a tile floor alas it didn’t have any walls to help create a transition from exterior to living.

To design a smaller house you have to make it feel spacious. One way is to make sure there are distinct rooms. I explain to clients if you wanted to paint each room different color A BIG what if…are there edges?  Are the rooms distinct with trimmed doorways  or are they fuzzy? On renovations I add walls to help make a large multi-function living and formal dining space feel as two distinct spaces.  A living room with dining table in one room isn’t two rooms just a big room! If the table light moved, it is hard to tell where a table might go. This unsold house has the formal table space adjacent to the seating space. A large room yet the table “floats” only grounded by the chandelier.

Stairs! In the Midwest, we typically have basements. We often have two-story homes too! Stairs can be a feature. I have spent many hours, perhaps all combined from many projects over the years… months of time designing stairs. They can be a feature yet they have to be in the right place or it is very easy to create wasted space in long hallways. Typically stairs are placed in the center of a home for efficient second floor layout if bedrooms are involved. If they are for basement access only location can be more flexible. Stairs can be a front hall feature but I have done quiet off to the side stairs also. Stairs are fun anywhere and a great chance to have nice thoughtful railing or a window to allow borrowed shared daylight in basement. The house down the street has them to one side which is fine on the first floor but it creates a very long hallway on the second floor.

Lack of clear rooms, missing front hall foyer and wasted hallway space might be contributing factors why it is on the market. There are probably many more factors but imagine a home as a gift you slowly want to unwrap. Ribbon is a nice touch as is an entry foyer.  Needed maybe not but enjoyed yes it is! Pay attention to the ability to change paint color if you would like for distinct character in a space. Do rooms have edges/ are they distinct rooms or are the edges fuzzy? I teach my students 8 points determine a space…a room has 8 corners! You can have more but any less and it is not a distinct room!




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