Top 10 Interior Design Do’s

Jody Brown of Infill recently asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest post for his site Coffee with an Architect. Jody is a talented architect running a scrappier than mine little firm in Durham NC. You can learn more about Jody here – INFILL…..but don’t give him any work unless you run it by me first 😉

I accepted his offer, wrote a post and he put it up on his site- I figured it couldn’t hurt to post on my site as well and further the gospel spread of common sense design…’s the post:

You heard what?
No, don’t be silly, I was just coughing.

Top Ten Interior Recommendations when Designing a Home:

Over the past 16 years all the single family homes I have designed, no matter the scale or scope, permeate with omnipresent issues. I have learned many valuable lessons- the hard way of course. I have attempted to create a succinct list of my top ten interior recommendations when designing a home. The list is a reflection of my observations and what my clients have valued, asked for, or regretted not doing in the design of the houses for them…..

(lights dim, soft drum roll):

10. Outdoor eating areas: Outdoor? But you said interior recommendations, read on… outdoor spaces are great, but only if integrated with the house. Ideally an outdoor eating area should be located a maximum of 20 feet from the kitchen. While the impact and drama of an outdoor eating area can be stunning, practicality is better. No one wants to carry food, drinks, tableware and such for 50’ only to realize they have the good wine and forgot the cork screw. NOTE: If you are Mrs. Client from item 8 below you can ignore this recommendation and proceed with tossing your food scraps to the peasants below.

9. Unfinished basement: Okay, so you watch HGTV, you may subscribe to This Old House Magazine, and perhaps you have even done a craft at Home Depot on a Saturday morning. Go ahead, look out the window, see how sad that red bellied sapsucker looks, it’s because the bird house you built has no floor, no roof, and no walls; only a perch offset from the tree. I give you credit though, you tried to adhere to Adolf Loos and his manifesto “Ornament and Crime” however, once and a while you need to slap some lipstick on a pig to make it dance. You, yes I’m looking at you Mr. and Mrs. Client, will NEVER finish the basement yourself. The greatest regret I have heard from clients is that they did not finish the basement during the construction of their home. Trust me, it is cheaper to do it now rather than later- oh who am I kidding, you won’t listen to me. (18 months later) Wait for it, wait for it….”I told you so.”

8. Laundry Rooms: Unless you have house staff, place the laundry room on the same floor as the bedrooms. A quick re-enactment (names were changed to protect the classless):

Me: Sure Mrs. Client, we can locate the laundry in the lower level where you would like… will be a bit out of the way though and not that convenient… will have to walk down two flights of stairs and across the entire basement to do the laundry.

(Mrs. Client reacts with the indifference of Judge Judy’s Bailiff Byrd…. room becomes silent and a cold chill fills the air… Mrs. Client rolls eyes)

Mrs. Client: I am not carrying or doing any laundry, my help does that and I do not care how far they have to walk

Me: but, but….what about……

(Mrs. Client sighs, rolls eyes once again and gets up from chair to leave)

Mrs. Client: Put the laundry room where I want it, I say good day to you!

Do not be Mrs. Client, she is evil and she’s a cold hearted snake, do not look into her eyes (obscure Paula Abdul reference for no reason at all).

7. Mudroom: I mandate that all homes shall have a mudroom! The minimum should include a washable floor, floor drain, and utility sink with a hose attachment. In addition to the minimum, all the homes I have designed with a mudroom also included built-in cubbies/lockers. Each occupant of the home should have their own cubby/locker for storage of their jackets, footwear, sports gear, etc. We are a dirty active species and need a dedicated space for our stuff and a quick hose down so we don’t track dirt and swine flu into the home. The mudroom should be located wherever the family foot traffic passes on a daily basis (pssst… pssst… here’s a clue, it’s usually not the front door).

6. Powder room: Locate in an area that is easily accessible but in an out of the way location- ideally the mudroom can be used as a buffer to the powder room. Let’s face it, we have all been at a party where we consumed one too many mini taquitos accompanied by alcoholic beverages, or you’re the designated driver and all jacked up on pixie sticks and mountain dew. Next thing you know, nature comes a knocking. You’re in the powder room, which is located in the entry foyer where the host is welcoming new guests, and even better item number 3 below was ignored. You try and mask the ‘event’- you turn on the under sized exhaust fan, next you turn the water on, and as a last resort you pretend to have a coughing fit- it doesn’t work. As you exit the powder room you’re greeted with an uncomfortable stare from the guests, word spreads and you’re “that guy/gal” for the rest of the evening. This did not need to happen- friends do not let friends use poorly designed powder rooms.

5. Built-ins: It is the details that make a home stand out and unique. Having a few built-ins selectively located, will add to the character of your home and typically increase the overall value of the home. These do not need to be elaborate- i.e. with a few minor modifications/additions, a window seat can be fabricated from kitchen wall cabinets and achieve a handcrafted custom look. To be clear, stacked cmu’s or milk crates with horizontal 1×12’s do not constitute a built-in.

4. Upset beams and MEP Conflicts: No, this does not relate to the emotional state of beams- although it is a plausible debate that beams have feelings along the same lines as shellfish. It is worth noting that this only applies to wood beams, everyone knows steel beams have no feelings whatsoever and are only concerned with themselves. This is an issue for the architect, if you do not layout the structure and MEP for your projects be sure you review and understand the consultant’s drawings. Know when a beam needs to be down set- floor joists rest on top of the beam. Know when a beam needs to be upset (sometimes called flush)- beam is in floor cavity and floor joists are hung off the beam. Early on in my career I was burned by many an unplanned soffit or chase as a result of non-coordinated beams and ductwork. A coffered ceiling is great a coffered ceiling with a beam soffit down one side not so great.

3. Create sound barriers: Sound insulate walls and floor/ceilings between public and private rooms. In addition, insulate private and private rooms as per the project specifics. No witty comments here, however, if you do not follow this advice be forewarned you will hear things that will forever haunt you to the depths of your soul!

2. Create separate wings: Ideally the home should be divided into three zones- main living spaces, owner’s wing, and a wing containing children’s and/or guest bedrooms. Even the closest of close families all relish their private time and want to get away from each other now and then. 10 PM and your trying to get your sanity sleep or find Stella’s groove, the last thing you need is Justin Bieber permeating your room, or worse yet Nickleback!

1. Floor Plan: The floor plan should meet your needs and how you live. Do not design for what you are told is needed to re-sell the home or include whatever the latest trend is, i.e. “man cave.” You do not want to end up with rooms that you never use- not only will you have to furnish them but you will also have to heat and cool them- these monies could be better spent elsewhere, ideally the architect’s final bill would be paid in full… come on, who are we kidding, that’s not going to happen. Perhaps a gift card for the architect or a simple thank you card. Afford me a $25 Target gift card so I can get a Michael Graves Stainless Steel Martini Shaker and we will call it even.

I was unsure of what I was going to write about and who would care what I write about, but then it came to me, “you know, I think I really do know some stuff” …….”people like stuff”…….write about “stuff”…..”and if nobody cares, so what, it’s just stuff.” So that’s what I did and hopefully you have found some humor and some advice within my ramblings- it’s been a fun write and somewhat cathartic.

Depending on how this post is received, the next installment shall either be my top ten regarding the exterior of the house, kitchen design, or why basswood is superior to balsa wood but not as versatile as chipboard nor as tasty as homemade fudge- or none at all. It’s some crazy times out here in architecture land, but keep on designing and something will happen. In closing I would like to state that I will be re-reading the definition of succinct.

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