The floor plan
Well, it seems obvious to me and Michelle. I think it was obvious to Frank Lloyd Wright, too. You design the house to fit the land. So that’s what we did.
After we bought the land, we took the next year designing the floor plan. We started by writing down a list of what was important to us:
- Ranch style, because Michelle was concerned about going up and down stairs at her weight when older
- Low maintenance
- Open windows with lots of view… we were tired of living huddled up behind closed curtains
- High ceilings
- No high-off-the-ground decks
- A full walk-out basement with lots of extra room
- About the same main floor square footage as our current three-level split-level
One of the toughest design tasks was combining the absence of high-off-the-ground decks with the full walk-out basement. These design criteria were at odds with one another. The property was sloped. Our original thought was to face the back of the house directly down the slope, like most houses in the same situation. But then, one builder we interviewed suggest we buy both adjacent lots rather than just one, and this change put us at more of an angle. This angle then became the saving grace of the design. Most houses, if not on a “shot-gun” lot, are wider than they are deep. With an angled position relative to the hill, it’s a bit of the end and a bit of the back that’s deepest down hill. Exactly the solution! We made the “walk-out” part of the basement consist of almost all of the right end, plus a very small portion of the back. This end-corner had to be 11′ below the front door, in order to be walk-out. Connecting this around to the front was pretty easy. It only took a 4′ retaining wall to make up the difference. Then, the main living space exits out the back onto a patio. This patio, going almost all the way across the back, is then immediately adjacent to the basement walk-out, thus requiring a higher retaining wall. That wall isn’t 11′, because some of the height difference is taken up by a small slope above the wall.
With this “foundation” concept for the design, derived directly from our design criteria combined with the shape of the land, we had a good start. Next, we simply made the back consist of floor-to-ceiling glass, 9′ high and a wiggly 75′ wide. Now there’s a view! From this point, it was a matter of adding, removing, and reshaping “building blocks” for rooms, until it all added up to what we wanted.
We did use a few controlling principles in the design, mostly driven into our psyches by the conditions we really didn’t like in our old split-level home. First, who’s bright idea was it to put the laundry room two flights of stairs below the main bedroom. Up and down. Up and down. Give me a break. Our new home, a ranch style home, was going to have the laundry room on the same floor as the master bedroom. In the end, we came up with a 192 square foot walk-in closet (the size of a small bedroom itself), that included in turn a 20 square foot laundry closet. Today, except for when they’re on our bodies, our clothes never travel more than a few feet, from laundry basket, to washer, to dryer, to hanger. They certainly don’t go up and down any stairs!
Another controlling principle in the design relates to wasted space. You have a 3′ wide hallway serving a number of rooms, including a small 12′ x 12′ bedroom. Why not design your floor plan to eliminate that hallway and give the space to the bedroom instead, increasing its size to 12′ x 15′. Well, it wasn’t easy, but we designed the whole house to have not one single hallway. Every single bit of square footage is highly usable. So the effective square footage of the house — the square footage that a “regular” house would need in order to have a similar amount of usable square footage — is at least 10% if not 25% larger. While no appraiser is ever going to give us the credit our house deserves for this, at least we get to enjoy it every day.
Part of these also includes the use of pocket doors. On the main floor, there are 4 interior pocket doors. Otherwise, there are only 3 interior swinging doors, two of these being such for sound proofing reasons.
Perhaps the most important controlling principle in the design relates to movement, to getting from room to room. This principle exhibits itself in three different movement patterns in the house. Most importantly, there’s the bedroom suite. From the living room, you leave the “public” area of the house by going through an exterior-style solid mahogany swinging door in a 14″ thick sound-proof wall, into the master bedroom. The master bedroom has 9′ floor to ceiling windows across 36′ of undulating wall length, including full glass swinging double patio doors for legal/safety egress. From their, you go through another exterior-style solid mahogany swinging door and sound-proof wall to the master bedroom. Next, there’s a solid mahogany pocket door to the walk-in closet I mentioned. This closet has it’s own half-glass swinging door for legal/safety egress so that the room can be considered a bedroom itself, plus that laundry closet. From there, you go through a glass reed door and into the pantry that’s adjacent to the garage and kitchen — you’re now back into the “public” area of the house.
The great part about this “cycle” is this. One of us can get up early in the morning while the other is sleeping. We go through the sound-proof exterior-style [did I mention solid mahogany?] door into the bathroom to get ready. Then we continue into the closet to get dressed, without disturbing the other who still sleeps. We then exit the closet into the pantry. Now we’re in the public area. A few feet away is the kitchen and living room, where we can go if it please us. Or we can go out the door to the garage and the car and drive off to the salt mines [work, that is, but now we both work at home]. All of this is done while the other sleeps like a baby, undisturbed by their partner traipsing back and forth through the master bedroom. As an added benefit, if we have guests staying with us who want to use the laundry, they use this pantry access to the closet room and laundry, without going through the master bedroom or bathroom. So the laundry has both private access and public access, akin to one of the bathrooms in our old split-level, that had two doors, one to a bedroom and the other to the hallway [argh] to the family room.
A second route in the house overlaps with this one. In our old split-level, we also had to walk up and down two flights of stairs to carry the groceries in from the garage to the kitchen. Not in our new house, no way! The kitchen is common with the living room, a great room. The kitchen has expensive cabinetry in it. The kitchen is adjacent to the pantry, and the separating wall even has a pass-through hole for dishes. The pantry, meanwhile, is less visible to the public, although still very open, and is filled with much, much less expensive shelving rather than cabinetry. Then, the door to the garage is in the pantry. Therefore, groceries go through a single door on a single floor, and only a few feet from car to pantry shelf. Then they easily move to the kitchen. Meanwhile, we have a large granite “prep sink” in the kitchen, but also a “clean up sink” in the pantry along with the dishwasher. That’s right, the dishwasher is in the pantry, away from the kitchen & living room great room. Both kitchen and pantry have 30″ deep counter tops against the same wall, and where the pass-through exists, it makes a 60″ deep counter top. Dirty dishes slide through the opening from the kitchen to the pantry, substantially out of view of ourselves for our own pleasure, as well as out of view for guests who may be over. The dishwasher is immediately below that spot, with the sink next to it. So dirty dishes have their own short cut from the kitchen to the dishwasher and sink. Clean dishes even get their own magic carpet ride. That is, we quickly realized that we could empty the dishwasher onto a nice red dish towel, stacking them with foreknowledge. Then, we walk into the kitchen, slide the whole towel in through the pass-through, and then park it on the kitchen wall-side counter. This position turns out to be, and NOT by coincidence, near the center of the kitchen area. From there, we distribute dishes and pots and tools and other things to their various homes in the kitchen. Last to go is the pile of miscellaneous silverware. We just pick up the edges of the towel and carry the whole lot to the counter above where they belong. It’s all very easy and organized. You might say that you can do all of this in your own little kitchen, and it may be true. It’s true for Michelle’s uncle’s kitchen, which is maybe 80 square feet. But we like BIG. Our kitchen and pantry combined are perhaps 400 square feet. So this organization is very important.
This then leads into a third application of the movement principle — the kitchen itself. The kitchen is a “galley” style, with a long counter along the primary wall, and a 15′ island parallel to that, separating it from the living room. The space between the two counters is specifically designed to be 55″ apart, from counter edge to counter edge. This is the perfect distance to work on one counter, turn around, and take a half step to the opposite counter. It’s also far enough apart that two people can work at the same time, easily passing one another. Too much space, and moving from counter to counter would be cumbersome. Too little, and the second person couldn’t squeeze past so easily.
We did a complete motion study of how you cook. We also realized that open wall cabinets and open base units are a complete waste. For the same price as a base unit plus a wall cabinet, we got a drawer base unit. So the whole kitchen is a bunch of three-drawer base units and no wall cabinets. The room feels so much more open, and the storage is probably twice or three times as much. Dishes, glasses, pots, pans, trays, cutting boards, knives, aluminum foil, storage bags… they all have a drawer where they belong. We did our motion study and put each thing in the right place. We positioned the prep sink, the oven, the cooktop, the refrigerator. It all makes sense. We love it.
We love it all.