The basics of good interior design – space, flow and function

By Tepilo on

The other day I visited a new client of mine, to show them my draft interior layout plans of the ground floor of their house. I did an existing layout after having carried out an internal survey and 4 proposed room layouts with space, flow and function. This particular visit reminded me how very important this design stage in a house refurbishment is.

These clients are a young couple who started their business from home – they have now moved in commercial premises with several employees. The house, a mid century chalet style bungalow had been extended in 2005 to give them extra room in the roof space to make a spacious home/office. The problem is when they moved out of their home into new offices, the house still felt like an office with undefined ‘home’ areas. Lots of hall space with nowhere to go but to more empty undefined space.

I was called in after a friend Garden Design colleague of mine had been asked by the owner to come and ‘sort the garden out’ because they wanted to have a house and home back. It was quickly apparent to my colleague that the house needed looking at before the garden. My colleague believes in a garden framing the house, setting it into its environment. We spend most of our lives indoors and we look out into the wider world, if the inside doesn’t feel right, it’s not as if we can camp out (well some people do!) under the stars and live a comfortable life.

Once the inside has defined spaces, then the garden can be designed to suit the vistas that will open up from inside out. So if you are thinking about re-jigging your house because you need it to work better for you, see the pointers below. I’ve added the existing and draft layouts (very draft no detail) so you can see the progression of the work and thought process.

Ground floor existing layout- lots of hallways, lost space and no function

BEFORE YOU START ON THE BASICS OF SPACE, FLOW AND FUNCTION...

I asked the client to prepare and think about a few things for us to discuss before I visited them for the first time back in October 2010. Here is a list of things you can think about to your own home renovation before you make any other decision:

What are your working hours and what is a typical working day in the week and what do you enjoy doing at weekend – this makes sense. What areas are they going to use most when they come home from work, what areas are used in the morning. This gives me a good idea of how they use the house Do you bring work home? Do you need a lot of space for files and office stuff? Is it important to have a quiet area away from the hubbub of the house? What do you really dislike about the house now? Is the kitchen old and not performing functionally/aesthetically? What mood and atmosphere do you want to create? This relates to how you use the house and when – fresh to invigorate you, peaceful to de-stress you after work and on weekend? Do you yearn for a lavish interior or a more down to earth environment? Are you tall? Sounds odd right? But you do need to look at yourself and the people that live with you. My clients are German and very tall – itty bitty spaces, small tight corners and entrances will not do! Do you entertain alot? How do you entertain? Do you have lots of friends that pop in, do you organise lots of cook ups where everyone takes part- my clients do. They really want to share the seasons and its produce with friends and employees – they want to share the cooking. They like cooking but right now they dislike their house so much they spend all their time at the office until 10pm and eat take ways there! So they need a much larger kitchen, a better layout and counter tops that allows for lots of prep to be done by lots of friends.

What about using the hallway as a dining area? Look tight, doesn’t quite work

SPACE – how much or how little do you need?

For these clients it was about re-defining working and living areas before we got to new bathrooms and a new kitchen. This involves lots of work from the client’s perspective actually. It’s about what areas are going to be used alot and for what purpose.

Do you want divide the space up into specific areas – separate rooms for separate activities or do you want and need modular /flexible space to cater to your needs or the size of the house.

Space is also about volumes: you do need to think about the furniture you have or want to buy, will it fit the space and not crowd you. Furniture is like adding 3D effect to a plain room; it adds texture, visual stimulation and can make of break a space.

Space is about scale and proportion: furniture or pattern that is too big it can swamp the space, too small and detailed it can make it look busy, fussy and awkward.

How about shielding the bathroom from the living areas with an internal hall? Too poky, doesn’t work.

FLOW – what feels right and what does not?

The flow of the house is instinctive – you just know if a house has it or not. I am sure you must have walked into a house and known when it just felt right walking from room to room and when something feels odd like walking out of a bathroom into a dining space. Awkward!

My client’s house does not flow. It is bitty with huge hallways going nowhere and doing nothing. This client’s house has no purpose, a table shoved in a corner here, a dining table in the middle of a hallway there and a bathroom jammed into the same space – it feels haltering, uncomfortable and plain wrong (as a friend mine would say!).

A flowing house is when your house guides you to specific areas – bedrooms in one area of the house away from loud noise with a bathroom just around the corner. Flow is about the dining area being close to the kitchen and not miles away so you can get food to table quickly and efficiently. It’s a seamless feel.

Here we have a kitchen island and a dining area with a French window into the garden. Bedroom 1 could become a living room?

FUNCTION – the mechanics of it all

One really needs to think how one lives; it’s about how you want to use your house and when.

Do you ‘live’ in the kitchen the majority of the time? Do you watch TV much? Do you want to keep a watchful eye over the kiddies when you are getting on with cooking and chores?

Large family? You need dishwasher, washing machine and dryer to be in a specific place. A space for utilitarian activities like drying the washing, folding it and putting it away in a basket is important in a family. Washing muddy boots in a utility sink is perhaps more hygienic than in the kitchen sink!

You need storage space to put away all those outdoor activity kits that you use sometimes but not often. And then you need more storage space for things that are not pretty but used a lot – the broom, the vacuum cleaner, the bucket and the mop.

SOUNDS OBVIOUS BUT...

All these things do sound obvious but as my client said “without you I could not have come up with any of those layout plans for the space, flow and function of our house. You have come up with proposed plans that fulfil all our needs and wants – I am really excited as I feel my house will be ok to live in now”.

And that is the key – a good solid brief, fulfilling a client’s needs by thinking the space through and executing that in an achievable way. Next we are moving on to choosing the materials for the interior and then pulling all that together in mood boards and 3D room sets so the client can see what the space will look like with its new internal layout.

Below is the final draft layout I did. This makes the bedroom at the back bigger, the utility also much bigger, moving the front door to the side means we have a natural central corridor that serves all parts of the house. If the clients wants to move the dining area to the living room they can with the opening in the wall over the cooker- it acts as divider but not a barrier. They can then have a living room at the back if they want. But this can be turned back into a 4 bedroom house when time comes to sell.

By taking out the false chimney, the room becomes bigger in the dining room and if the bay window becomes a French window this would also make a fab dining area looking out onto the garden. Minimum costs and minimum refurb.
 

 

Françoise Murat & Associates specialise in interior, garden & landscape design.

For more garden and interior design information visit us at www.francoisemurat.com.

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