Once we had our piece of property, it was time to start designing our home. By this point we had been wool-gathering for a while, collecting photos and ideas for the things we liked and didn’t like. We had put together a pinterest board with some images, but eventually we distilled what we wanted into a (long) document. Those who have read A Pattern Language will see some familiar ideas.
If this gets too nitty-gritty, feel free to skip ahead to see what Shaun actually did with the information. But for those who want to get down into the weeds, here is a lightly-edited version of what we sent Shaun:
Our Pinterest board gives a good sense of some of the visuals of things we have found inspiring or otherwise want or like for our house. This document serves as a companion piece, in part to give some sense of priority to the things we like, and in part to give some additional narrative in an attempt to describe things that are tougher to convey through a photo snipped from the internet. We’ve tried to divide it into sections that make sense. Entries in bold are significant priorities; not quite all-expenses-spared priorities, but major ones. Where things are significantly lower priorities — either not something we want to pay much for, or “extra credit” that would be nice but may be too much money or not terribly feasible or just not that big of a deal but a nice thing to have — we’ve tried to make that clear in the text as well.
Overall Design Goals
- Maximize usable (and used) square footage, paying attention to how we currently use space and how we would like our space to be laid out.
- Maximize use of views and sun from the site. The best thing about our favorite places are views and sunny south exposures, and this lot has the same advantages. We want to take advantage of the views as much as possible. This likely leads to the major axis of the house running generally east to west, and a relatively long narrow building (or at least as long of a building, east to west, as the site allows)
- Overall design aesthetic: I’m generally a fan of what we can loosely call “mountain modern” architecture — wood and glass boxes. She likes English country cottages. We have no idea if or how these ideas could be combined. Wood and glass boxes covered in ivy???
- Allow for a workable home office that is part of the house but, with two small kids, as acoustically separate as possible. A move to the mountains will involve me working from home quite a bit.
- Stay under budget. And more generally, set clear priorities (like this document) as to what is important to us and what we want to spend money on. If something doesn’t show up on this list or on our pinterest boards (ceiling treatments, for example) it’s possible that we just haven’t thought about it one way or another, but it’s also a decent indication that it’s not an element that we want to priorities or focus our resources/cash on.
- Generally, interior space should follow a public to private intimacy gradient, with public spaces near the entrances and private spaces away from the entrances.
- Higher ceilings and more central locations for the three main public spaces (living, kitchen, and second living area), with traffic paths that avoid cutting though the middle of the spaces
- Inter-connected rooms to avoid closed-off hallways; avoid walled-in staircases
- Traffic flow through sides/corners of rooms
- Building situated near the back (north) of the lot since views and sun are all to the south
- Use of passive solar with overhangs to allow winter sun to heat the house without allowing the summer sun to bake the house
- Second story with big views
- Combined with dining (no separate formal dining room) and open to kitchen
- Gas fireplace, preferably one setup to carry some weight in heating the house, so that we can run the fireplace more and the furnace less
- Likely a stone fireplace surround
- Fireplace serves as a focal point of a sitting circle
- Preferably views of the fireplace from the kitchen and in passing
- Big openings to decks off either living or kitchen or both; french doors or similar
- Prefer no TV in main floor living space, but it’s possible this is aspirational and we are weak-willed, so planning out a potential place for a TV wouldn’t be the worst idea.
- Some alcoves for sitting either alone or in twos would be nice, rather than a single large space
- Reading nook with a window, maybe a bay window
- Somewhat torn on big windows vs. smaller windows/panes that give more framing to the view
- Maybe not feasible, but we saw a couple houses with lacquered trees as vertical supports; loved the look
- Low window sills, here and elsewhere
- Windows that open wide
- We’ve been happy with some of the engineered “hardwood” or bamboo floors; not so happy with the laminates – the super smooth “wood” look isn’t very convincing
- Style living room seating as a U – protection and facing a view
- Bookshelves in back should have some bar space
- Big rugs add definition to open living space; make sure all of the stuff in the section fits on the rug, even if chairs are pulled out etc.
- Consider a side table near the dining table to stash empty chairs while avoiding a conference table look when it’s not filled
- Consider down lights in addition to chandelier
Second Living/Play Area
- We have two kids, and so far the first is super high-energy; we’ll see about the second. So we want a second living area that we can funnel the kids (and their friends, and their toys) to, particularly when we have guests over. Likely separated from the main floor by a flight of stairs.
- This is probably also a good place for our TV
- Doesn’t need to be huge
- Close to the kids’ bedrooms and their traffic patterns; removed from the master bedroom and the office and their traffic patterns
- Potential location for bunks
- Sunshine, and particularly morning sun, with some southern exposure
- Sufficient workspace for two people to cook together
- Comfortable seating, likely along a counter but we can get creative. When we have guests over in our current house they tend to sit at the counter and we tend to stand in the kitchen to chat and eat and make drinks and whatever.
- Given the standing and chatting that happens in the kitchen, it would even be nice to have a spot for a stool to live under the counter on the kitchen/working side of the counter, opposite the rest of the stools/seating. Likewise, we’d probably also get use out of a couch or other more comfortable seating in a position that those seated could talk to those working in the kitchen.
- At least 12 linear feet of counter space (excluding appliances and sinks); over 14 would be better
- Thoughtful places for commonly used small appliances, maybe through an extra-deep counter that lets them live on the counter while still providing work space. For us, commonly used appliances are tea kettle, coffee grinder, toaster (all used on a daily basis), and to a lesser extent, blender. Space for a big stand mixer somewhere. And maybe for our sodastream (currently connected to a 20 lb co2 tank).
- If cabinets live over the sink, a drip rack for dishes immediately over the sink, but a window over the sink is probably better. Drain rack + window might work
- Drawers and storage locations for specific things planned out at the design phase
- Avoid custom cabinets and their expense if possible
- Avoid expensive countertop materials. We currently have cement counters, which we like well enough (once we got them sealed properly).
- Locations for trash, recycling, and compost. We tend to generate a fair amount of the latter two.
- Gas range preferred, but maybe a good idea to run utilities for gas and electric
- Full use of vertical space for storage
- Significant pops of color
- Maybe subway tile?
- Legitimate stove exhaust vent and fan
- Shaker front cabinets with slab drawers
- Our countertop preferences tend to run towards a streaker marble look, rather than small speckles. We particularly dislike the tight, busy speckled look that a lot of granite has. We’ve liked the look and feel of most of the engineered options (corian, hi macs, quartz, etc.); we don’t like laminate but that’s about it.
- Trash and recycling in a cabinet
- We don’t like undermount sinks; drop in is probably the way to go. Not real picky about sinks either; two equal bowls but beyond that it seems like a sink is a sink is a sink
- High arch sink faucet with a sprayer
- High mount oven, one is probably fine
- Minimize fancy cabinet add-ons
- Should have some location for “life” stuff (bills etc; they won’t actually stay in the mudroom in real life)
- Office with views and a murphy bed that can be converted into additional guest space.
- Combined with a bathroom and small-as-legal kitchenette to create a separately permitted ADU
- Separation of the ADU from traffic patterns in the house
- Separate entrance for clients and for potential later uses (aging parents, Airbnb, whatever)
- Size not a major consideration; enough square footage for desk, work chair, 2 guests chairs, and murphy bed to be open without moving furniture is about enough, at least for the main office space (not including kitchenette)
- For sleeping version, have somewhere to drop a bag and something nightstand-ey
- Easterly aspect
- Dressing space, if not a walk-in closet
- Away from traffic patterns of main house and particularly kid traffic patterns
- Closets located near the bedroom entryways to serve as a buffer to the rest of the house
- Lots of outlets near master bed
- Room lights wired to switch near master bed
- I kind of like drop pendants but they limit bed placement options
- 2 kids bedrooms, one for each kid.
- Close to the play area, described above
- Enough space for dressers, a chair to read and retreat to, a bed (obviously), but beyond that square footage not a priority
- Views not a huge priority
- Closets located near the bedroom entryways to serve as a buffer to the rest of the house
- If we can afford the space, ideal is a layout of master + 2 kid bedrooms + office + guest bedroom.
- Guest bedroom could be pretty small; could also be a bunkroom
- Likely 3 bathrooms. 1 master/upstairs, 1 for the kids/main downstairs bath, and 1 guest/office bathroom.
- Only the girls’ bathroom needs to have a tub. Showers are fine for the others, though a pretty tub in the master wouldn’t be bad either
- Separate toilet enclosures aren’t a terrible idea, depending on workable space
- Square footage not a major priority here. Master suites the size of our current living room are…. Not how we want to use our space
- No shower curtains in master bath, maybe not in any bath
- No pedestal sinks
Outside living spaces
- We use our patios a lot, so we want significant outdoor patio space utilizing our south exposure. We’ll use them on a daily basis to eat and read and work and play, weather permitting.
- Most of the patios should have significant south exposure. Chunks of them, or at least a good chunk of the main patio, should be sheltered from prevailing winds (I expect prevailing winds at the site are largely west to north.
- This may require the main patio to be half “inset” into the body of the house
- They should take advantage of the views
- The major patio should be easily accessible from the kitchen and/or the living room
- At least one section of the major patio should have west views for sunset cocktails
- Generally, main seating areas should allow people to sit with their backs against something while taking in a long view
- Thoughtful grill placement with a gas line
- Outdoor fire or heat would be nice; open to options
- An outdoor hot tub
- Not sure about hot tub placement. Access from inside matters, as do south and west views. An outdoor shower and a place for a heated towel rack would be nice bonuses.
- Double extra credit for a TV viewable from the hot tub or space for a projector and screen for hot tub movie nights
- Some natural landscape screening from the road, both as a view/sound break and as a visible marker, would be good (“don’t go past the pine trees”)
- “Positive” outdoor space that has edges
- Patio/terrace edges to shield the road from view when sitting
- No balconies under 6’ deep
- Likely composite decking, lighter colors to stay cool
- Attached garage
- 1 car is good; 2 car is better; vehicles could go nose-to-tail if it needs to happen for 2 cars
- Ideally, garage would be on the north side of the house so that the first floor rooms could have the full southern exposure.
- Workshop space in addition to car space. Nothing huge, but enough for a well-lit workbench that is at least a ski length long; convertible to a ski tuning bench
- Gear storage. We participate in a number of gear-intensive sports, and the family also camps. Space to the sides of the cars should be enlarged enough so that they can accommodate a person walking plus rubbermaid tubs stored lengthwise
- Pass-through for cat to get to a litter box in the garage, which is enclosed in a space that vents to the garage and can be opened and cleaned in the garage
- Electrical for future electric car
- Floor drain?
- Insulation yes; on the fence about heat
Odds and Ends
- Mudroom off of garage entrance
- Laundry room of some sort, likely combined with the mud room
- Wired for Cat 6 but with cable conduit for pulling… whatever… fiber optic or whatever ends up as the standard 10 years from now
- Dimmable light switches that can handle dimmed LED bulbs.
- Half-wall or something to soften transition from street/outside to front door/inside
- Enough space on lower stair risers for places for people to sit on the stairs, at least outdoors and maybe indoors as well
- Windows on 2 sides of each room if at all possible
- Main entrance visible from the main approach to the house, with an awning to be out of the weather
- Shelves on both sides of house entrances (indoor and out) to set things down when fumbling for keys etc; maybe keypad locks as to not fumble with keys; window on or near front door
- Where passages are necessary, include bookshelves to create a library or libraries; extra credit for a library ladder
- Some small windows in passageways/transition areas that frame significant views
- Pools of light in important places (dining room table, for instance), with darker space nearby
- Tile in kitchens and bathrooms and entryways; wood floors in main living and maybe secondary living; carpet in bedrooms
- Door light switches in closets. Door open = light on; door closed = light off
- High transom windows on N side if not taken up by garage
- Landing pad nook or table near main family entry (probably garage) with space for keys, phone/stuff chargers, etc.
- Space for wine and beer storage, maybe under stairs
- Space for a liquor cabinet and mixing drinks.
- Prewiring for speakers in and out
- Video and photo walkthrough before walls are closed to locate all conduit, wire, and pipe
- Some extra blocking for hanging TVs, big art
- Couple outlets under eaves for christmas lights, run to an interior switch
- Tankless water heaters seem to have some nice upsides
- Pretty dry up high. Are whole house humidifiers a thing? Other options?
- Consider thematic ideas for room design
- Master Bed: Serenity
- Office: Industrial business
- M. Bath: Elegance and clean lines
- M Closet: Prepare for the day
- Kitchen: Family time
- Dining: Dinner with a view
- Living: Sun to front, books to back
- Activity: Cozy
- Powder: Clean and classic
- Downstairs bath: Fun
- Laundry: Clean lines
- Consider stealing color palettes from paintings
- Consider general light types:
- Ambient (total illumination)
- Task (light a thing)
- Accent (set off architectural detail)
- Pick a focal point for the mudroom, but we don’t have a lot of wall space that won’t be used for storage. Consider a statement chandelier
Things we DON’T want
- Separate formal dining room
- A large formal entryway
- Pedestal sinks
- A single nail in the floor
- Landscaping requiring much maintenance. Water qualifies as maintenance.
- Materials, interior or exterior, requiring much in the way of ongoing maintenance.
Next, let’s see what Shaun did with what we gave him.