As we, people, are all different, we have different preferences about our approach to life, our priorities, our attitude towards others, we naturally tend to have various choices about our general likes and dislikes. I am ready to share with you my own must haves related to architecture and interior design and my reasons behind them.
A centre of a house
This area is very important for me and should stay open and free to walk through. You would be surprised how much this feature affects your overall feeling about a particular place. I started noticing this naturally a while back, before I even looked at emotional architecture or feng shui. I do not want to talk too much about these two alternative views here, as they have dedicated posts on their own, however, I need to mention the fact, that many of their recommendations are based on real life observations. So is the centre of a house and so are my preferences here in this post.
Due to obvious compromises about space the centre of my house is not very big, yet it still functions as a valid main cross road connecting all the important routes together. The centre draws you in, you want to be able to walk through it freely. My friend has a huge masonry oven stove right in the middle of her house. I cannot explain enough the frustration which I endure when visiting her, because I feel this great desire to be able to walk directly through the stove. Basically, the same rule applies to any one room. You don't usually place solid stationary objects in the middle. The exception might be a bed in a small bedroom, however, you still place that bed up against a solid wall, not in a middle as such and it is a part of furnishings anyway. A static column, a wall, a tall fitted wardrobe, something fully blocking your view is more of an example.
Now, think about main squares of European towns, about gardens, central gathering points - this principle applies for exterior too.
Seeing that this central area is the main cross road of a house, I think it should not be too dark. In bigger, wider, deeper houses this might seem to be more difficult to achieve, but it simply means that during the day there should be enough natural light that artificial lighting is not required. As a matter of fact, during later hours or in certain situations when artificial lighting is truly not avoidable, an ambient little lamp is a necessity. Once again, not only is this emotionally pleasing, it also performs a very practical function. In a frequently passed through area you don't need a super bright light, still enough light in order to see where you are going, and you don't need to keep switching it on and off each time you pass through either, as a low-output energy efficient light bulb does the trick without affecting your electricity bill. I believe in older homes a fire place just off-the-centre of a house used to carry out this role just as efficiently.
Walk through rooms
Walk through rooms have fascinated me ever since I remember. My very first memories of these magical places go back to our family visits of my aunt's flat at Christmas times. She also had this amazing real working cuckoo clock in the kitchen. The most enchanting of all was her main bedroom in the middle of the flat. It had two doors. One lead to the main hallway, and the other to her daughter's bedroom. The latter was also accessible from the kitchen, thus creating a circle hallway-kitchen-kid's room-master bedroom. Oh, how I loved it! Now I know many communist era panel block flats, including the one I used to live in as a child, were originally designed with two door living rooms. Due to later fashion, most owners walled one of the doors off. This was the case of my parents' flat, too.
Unfortunately, these days I very rarely encounter this feature. Something so very common in traditional American house layouts, almost completely forgotten in today's era of locking ourselves in separate rooms. Gone are the times of shared bedrooms between two or more siblings. A little bit of comeback may be attributed to open plan kitchen living areas, though I personally don't consider these as truly walk through since they don't really create a circle, they usually don't offer an option for different routes to the same place.
A couple of examples of walk through options
Designing our house was a long process. Many of my original requirements I could compromise on, I could make my pantry smaller, I could sacrifice the fire place, I don't have a separate toilet, but I need to have a walk through circle! And not just one, if I take into account directly adjoining outdoor areas.
Many people who have seen our house layout don't get my decision of two particular doors, which are both so very important to me. They seamlessly fall into my good energy flow, the same way as they seamlessly lead to my third preference.
Kitchen with a direct exterior access
Two words: absolutely vital. From all the flats and houses I've ever lived in, and that was a nice number of 15, five of them had kitchens with a direct access to the outdoors. Four were houses with doors leading to a garden, the last one is our current flat with a narrow french door leading to a balcony.
When at home I spend most of my time in the kitchen. I like cooking and experimenting with healthy international cuisine, I bake my own sour dough bread, prepare raw foods, you name it. My dream kitchen is therefore very well lit with plenty of natural light, it is a very social place suitable for two cooks and it has its very own exterior door leading to the garden. Mind, it is not the main patio door shared with the dining room or the living room. For that purpose I designed a separate sliding door of a bigger size. It means that this door is dedicated to the cook's convenience.
Let's have a look at some advantages:
- immediate ventilation
- quick access to the veggie and herb garden
- easy food serving to the patio area
- convenience of checking playing children in the garden while cooking
- organic recycling as well as rubbish bags can go straight outside
- more natural light if you have a glazed door
The main disadvantage is obviously loosing some kitchen storage space. However, I don't find this too tragic. It would mean having a corner unit and that for me has its very own, rather annoying drawbacks. Besides, a deep peninsula or an island can provide an extra needed storage.
White interior window frames
Our first house design had dark brown exterior window frames as a legacy to the old house that used to stand in its place. After we decided to do the changes, I was very pleased that we ended up going with white frames on the outside, too. The interior window frames were something I never really had to think about as they have always been pretty clear to me - wooden and white.
I absolutely don't get the trend of modern architecture going with black, or as they call them, anthracite window frames. I can get the natural spruce finish with its soft and light shade, but very dark or black? Isn't the main reason for having windows the natural light it lets through? A good chunk of the lovely sun light which is necessary for our wellbeing and which should end up brightening up the room gets eaten up by dark frames instead. This applies especially to smaller enclosed spaces that can suffer by this greatly.
On the other hand, white colour in general has a very universal, clean and uplifting quality. You basically can't really go too wrong when using white. In addition, windows are something you don't change as often as furniture or the colour of walls for example. I do understand a lovely alpine cottage will have natural wooden frames, or a mid 20th century cubist van der Rohe maxi glazed walls with black frames, but I have been to a few new modestly sized bungalows with anthracite window frames and to me the interiors suffered. There was no particular architectural feature going on. No balanced striking interior design complementing the black. The amount of natural light and embracing welcoming brightness, however, was paying the price. Certainly, bigger houses in hot climates preferably in Southern hemisphere may not be that affected, though simple optics apply everywhere - the black swallows the light, the white reflects it. And I want to have as much light as possible in my Northern hemisphere temperate climate zone house. That's why I am having white window frames.
Front door on the front and sunny side of the house
This might sound silly to many. I've lived in the UK before, obviously the main front door is on the front. Well, after moving to Slovakia you can never be too sure. Architects, as well as the majority of house building population here, are pretty obsessed with north facing front door, which apparently guarantees you a lovely south facing private garden to the back of your property. This theory appears rather sound and sensible. On the contrary, it also ensures your return home will alway be cold and gloomy. Plus, an image of a usually dark, narrow and on many occasions window-less front entry makes me feel completely repulsed. Finding a perfectly facing land might also be a challenge. If I had to go with this hypothetical rule, my house would need to have the front entry on the right side or the back of the house. I admit that due to the shape of our land, the directions and our house foot print my requirement for front door on the front was challenging. None of the neighbouring houses has such. Nevertheless, the idea of having this lovely sun-lit, warm and welcoming south-east facing entry door just kept me going.
I mean, it is in the name. The front door clearly has the word 'front' in it. Why should it be on the left, or right, or at the back. According to the traditional Chinese feng shui art the best orientation for the front door is on the front of the building and south facing. Through this main entry you are supposed to welcome the good sun's energy into your home.
I don't like following any kind of rules too much. I let my feelings and own common sense take charge in most situations. Having a sunny front entry just seems very natural to me. As I mentioned not to like following rules I believe not every house needs to have the main door on the front, many aspects have to be taken into account when deciding about its placement. Most of all, it must feel right to the residents and be easy to find for the visitors. I can imagine a lovely curving path leading to a 'side' front entry door. Yet, I can not see myself going so easy and without cringing my teeth on the north facing idea.
Transom light - windows over the doors and other interior glazing
I don't really know how to start this one as it is pretty obvious. It's been commonly used in older structures with high ceilings. Nowadays, I see it as a feature of front doors, but never on the inside. As well as the walk through rooms, transom lights and interior windows have alway been magical to me. A window inside? That is just plain cool! Talk about practicality and most of all - light.
Transom view from my front entry towards the kitchen
I placed transoms above both bathroom doors, I am considering doing the utility and built-in wardrobe, too. I have an exterior side window by the front door and a long narrow window placed high on a wall between the kitchen and the front entry - in order to brighten up my entry hallway as much as possible. If there were enough walls, enough opportunities where to place them, I would. For apparent reasons I would not do transom lights or glazed doors in bedrooms. We had them in one of our UK flats. We could have blackened them out during evenings and night time, since we had other flat mates who stayed up late, but we didn't bother as we only lived there for a short while.
I simply can not wait to see how my interior glazing is going to work once we finally move to our finished house. I am sure it will add a lot of brightness and a peculiar quality to the overall feel. One of mine and my husband's ideas is to build a timeless house, meaning you can not be really sure of its age. It doesn't fall into any particular fashion. Now, after the structure and walls are standing, it looks so far, so good.
This article would not be completed without mentioning some of my requirements I had to compromise on and why.
Here they are:
- a fold slide patio door - ended up being a sliding one, because of energy efficiency. There are no passive standard fold slides yet
- a big pantry - in a low energy house with central ventilation you can't have a cooler temperature room within the house itself. It would have to be built as a separate unit 'stuck' on the side of the house and being accessed through a proper high energy efficient exterior door. Since I have a cellar outside, I reduced my pantry size to an under the stairs cupboard to accommodate jars, cans and bigger food packs. I might complement it with a second fridge in the utility if needed
- two separate toilets and two separate showers - I scrutinised the layout a lot for this, but ended up having to go with two full bathrooms each with its own toilet and shower, the main bathroom also features a bath
- a large and spacious front entry - due to overall house size I simply couldn't make it any bigger. It benefits from two windows and I am planning bright interior finishings here
- east facing bedroom windows - only the small front bedroom has one. Our master bedroom, though sharing an exterior wall on north-east side, has a french door facing the back garden instead. If I did put its window on the east wall, it would be facing a fence and neighbours yard behind it. Considering the small size I shunned the idea of windows on two sides. Kids' bedroom faces south-west
- fire place - I have a whole post dedicated to this topic
- stairs not in the middle of the house - originally placed next to an exterior wall, later on after lowering the roof there was not really much choice. I've never wanted an open showcase stairs, so common in continental Europe. I want the staircase to be as modest, hidden, functional and practical as possible. Although it ended up being within the more less central part of the house I placed it in such a way, that it doesn't interfere with the actual physical centre. It also provides a division between different zones while being discreet and visible only from one side