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Design Principles for Those Planning to Build

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By Mary Beth Breckenridge

(MCT)— Interior designer Alan Garren believes good design makes a house more functional and enjoyable, not just more beautiful.He believes little details matter, like where the television is positioned and whether guests at the door are sheltered from the rain.

His design principles can help people who are planning to build homes.

Here are his suggestions.

Get to know the land.
Before you build or even buy, spend some time on the property. Bring some lawn chairs and maybe a bottle of wine, and just sit there awhile, Garren suggested.

What views appeal to you? What noises do you dislike? Knowing that can help your construction team orient your house the best way and use methods such as extra insulation or sound-controlling windows to muffle unwanted noise.

One thing to consider: If you want a walkout basement, look for property that’s sloped, Garren said.

Put together a team.
Ideally, Garren said, an architect, interior designer, builder and landscaper should be involved from the beginning of a home construction project. Each of those professionals has his or her own focus and expertise, and their collaboration can result in a house that’s designed properly, that’s beautiful and that fits the way you live.

You’re part of that team, too, and Garren said you should provide as much input as possible.

Make sure to choose people who are open to working together. Listen to them, and make sure they’re willing to listen to you.

He advises holding weekly meetings with the team, so the inevitable problems can be addressed promptly. That’s true even if you’re working with just a builder, he said.

Make selections before you get a bid.
Elements such as lighting fixtures and cabinets vary widely in price, so the features you choose can have a big effect on the cost of building your dream home. By choosing those elements ahead of time, you can tell your builder exactly what you want and get a much more accurate bid, Garren said. You’ll also be left with fewer decisions to make during construction, reducing your stress.

Four elements, in particular, have the biggest bearing on a home’s price: roofing, siding, windows and cabinets.

“You can’t always foresee everything,” he said, “but the more (elements) you hit, the better.”

Give the home continuity and character.
Think of a house as a whole, not a series of individual rooms. By limiting colors and materials inside and out, you’ll give the home a more consistent appearance, Garren said.

Limit exterior materials to three or maybe four, he recommended.

Don’t confuse continuity with blandness, however. Architectural features such as stone fireplaces, plank ceilings and corbels make a home much more interesting. But even if you can’t afford bookshelves and French doors, you can add character with an interesting paint color or wallcovering, Garren said.

Make your home welcoming to guests.
Your garage or your laundry room isn’t your home’s most attractive entry, so don’t tempt guests to come in that way. Downplay the side entry, Garren recommended, and make it easy for guests to come to the front door.

Make sure that front entry is protected from the elements, so your guests can be dry and as comfortable as possible while they wait.

Garren is also a fan of circular or U-shaped driveways. They eliminate the need to back out and make exiting easier for guests, especially at night.

Have fewer rooms, but make them larger.
Many people have rooms they enter mostly to clean. If you rarely live in your living room or dine in your dining room, why have them?

Eliminating redundant or seldom-used spaces allows you to put that square footage into a few well-planned rooms, big enough to accommodate the activities your family engages in, to allow the furniture to float in the room and to bring in extra seating for guests.

Making sure rooms are big enough requires space planning, Garren said. During the design phase, he recommended laying out the furniture on paper according to the room’s uses, whether it’s watching TV, playing the piano or hosting the neighborhood poker game.

Combine focal points.
One of Garren’s pet peeves is houses that are built with no thought to where the televisions will go, especially in the great room. That often forces the homeowners to fit their TVs in wherever they can, not where they make the best sense.

Planning eliminates that problem. It also makes it easier to combine focal points so your eye isn’t continually jumping all around the room, he said.

Let there be light.
Daylight lifts our moods and beautifies our rooms. “The more, the better,” Garren said.

He recommended letting in as much natural light as possible through large windows, skylights and solar tubes — tubular skylights that often have reflective material inside.

At the same time, plan on multiple sources of artificial lighting, controlled with dimmers, Garren advised.

Be aware of sight lines.
No matter how pretty your powder room is, you really don’t want it to be on view from the living room. Garren recommended designing a house so private areas such as bathrooms and bedrooms aren’t visible from the public areas.

It’s tougher to improve sight lines in smaller houses, he conceded, but sometimes it’s possible with planning.

More tips:

• Balance the elements in a room, without aiming for perfect symmetry.
• Don’t stint on storage.
• Your roof is a big surface, so choose interesting roofing materials.
• Be generous with roof overhangs. They give a house presence and let you open windows when it’s raining.
• Try to line up the windows on all sides, so the exterior isn’t a visual jumble.
• Choose paint colors and materials outdoors, where colors are truer than they are in artificial light. Hazy light is best.
• Ask yourself what you really need and want. If you always shower, for example, you might not need a bathtub.

©2012 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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