There’s something about huge log homes that makes the rest of us jealous: the owners don’t have to worry about wasted space. But for smaller floor plans, we need to stir up our creative juices and make every inch count. And that means getting rid of dead space.
Hallways are a big culprit. I think it might have something to do with how we were brought up, because some people just can’t fathom a bedroom opening up to a kitchen or dining room. However, today’s open floor plans are beginning to remove old prejudices. Do you really need a hallway with a bunch of doors that looks like a hotel? You could convert that hall to useable space if you rethink how the rooms could flow. I’ve also seen balconies that lead to a row of bedrooms. The would-be loft space was converted to a catwalk, that served no purpose other than an open hallway. A loft too small for a table and chair is a potential wasted opportunity.
How will you handle your front door? There are lots of trade-offs. The entrance commandeers its own very large space, which could turn monstrous if it leads directly onto a grand staircase. Foyers themselves create a lot of dead space and tend to be difficult to furnish. But if they are too small (if the front door is crowded by a closet or a wall) the guest feels a bit claustrophobic. A front door that opens to a hallway could have the same effect, and when placed way off-center, they sometimes look like an after-thought. Some floor plans eliminate the question by doing away with the front door altogether, entering the great room from the deck. However, a house without a front door bothers a lot of people, and this could create a problem with resale.
It helps to give the door an unrestricted view. There are floor plans that enter the house directly into the center of the great room. This certainly creates an expansive feeling, but an invisible walkway needs to be defined so you don’t trip across a couch when coming into the house. It does create a challenge of where to put the furniture.
At the same time, large great rooms can easily become cavernous… how many couches does one room need? When I was designing my floor plan, I originally wanted a huge great room, but I couldn’t think of anything to do with it. I already had my dining room in place, which already has a table. Do I need another table in the great room? In the end, I made the great room smaller and created a quiet room in another part of the house (great rooms can be very noisy if you have a loft).
We tend to want to fill the walls with windows. Floor-to-ceiling windows look great, but you can’t put any thing in front of them. So the furniture gets pushed into the center of the floor, which demands a mental adjustment for most of us. Then we add a fireplace to the mix, which usually requires a hearth.
Doors and windows are also going to define what you can do with your floor space. If you find yourself short on wall space, perhaps a pocket door would be a solution (although these are usually used between the dining room and the living room). In any room, if your windows are too close together (or too close to your doors), you may not be able to fit a piece of furniture between the two. For instance, when you look at your bedroom walls, you need to figure out how many linear feet your headboard will take up, then your dresser and chest of drawers. You are going to have at least one closet door, an entrance door into the room, and possibly a door into the bathroom. Where will the bed go?
Door swings are another bugaboo. Once a door is hung you can’t change the swing, so ask yourself which way you want the door to open into a room; the choice will be up to you. If you have two doors around the corner from each other, make sure they don’t bang together. See if the bathroom door can open up all the way without hitting the vanity or the toilet. French doors open either in or out, depending on which kind you buy. If they swing to the outside, you’ll have more space but the screen will be on the inside. My French doors didn’t come with screen doors at all, which is a real nuisance.
Keeping in mind that each door creates a dead zone on either side, sometimes it saves space to put two closet doors across from each other as an entrance to a room. Or, have your closet door open into the foyer, which is already dead space. Some people design their walk-in closet door to open into the bathroom. That way, they get more use of the bedroom walls.
The space below the stairs presents its own question. Usually, the basement stairs are placed directly beneath the stairs to the second floor, with a railing to keep you from falling in the hole. Think of an escalator. Going up the stairs, you have to make sure the roof line permits head clearance for the tallest person you know. And you’ll need enough dead space at the base of the stairs to move furniture and large objects around.
Small dormers look pretty on the outside, but from the inside, you can either put a window seat in the narrow space, or maybe nothing at tall. Try using wide dormers that will accommodate furniture, or a bathtub, or even a bed.
Many of these points are minor early in the design phase, but little things become big annoyances if not caught in time. In the end, we have to live in our log home, not just look at it!