Jeff’s (Current) Top 10 Design Elements to Watch For

A few posts ago, I described a bit about how our design process works and how we collaborate as a team to ensure that we get the best design for our clients. The funny part about design, of course, is that we designers start to see trends and patterns and are able to “read” floor plans quite quickly to determine what will work or not work. It is a skill that takes time but once mastered, you’ll find that you can quickly review a floor plan and come up with some viable options or identify which options will be dead-ends. Bathrooms take up certain dimensions, so do hallways, and it ends up being like a virtual Tetris game.

As much as I love playing Tetris with your home, it is inevitable that I’ve developed a few design or space-planning approaches which I keep coming back to. I’ve heard a few times around the office “Jeff will want the bathroom this way,” so I thought it would be fun to discuss a few of my current “hot-button issues”. Basically things that I feel passionate about or often, things that I’ve learned after the fact that maybe weren’t the best design solutions (usually experiments I did on my own house). I can be talked out of them sometimes, but these are issues I think that everyone should be thinking about (and they’re absolutely in no order).

1) An 8’ x 12’ Master Bathroom is extremely efficient, luxurious, and about the best footprint for fitting in a generous shower, soaking tub, dual sinks, and a separate toilet area.

Backyard View

Here is a quick sketch of how all of the typical Master bathroom elements fit in this footprint. There are numerous options for door placement as well.

2) Speaking of toilet rooms, put the lights on a dimmer (you don’t want to wake yourself up at 2am) and try to get a surfaced mounted fixture which aims the light up. Downlights provide lots of glare while sitting and reading. And although the combo light-and-fan fixture is certainly tempting, you can’t dim it so stay away.

3) Switch the lights next to your TV or pull-down theater screen separately from the lights in the main space. You’ll regret it if you don’t (I know I do, it was a big WHOOPS on my own house).

See those two lights next to the wall (you can see the slot for the movie screen in the ceiling), yeah, those should have been on a separate switch

See those two lights next to the wall (you can see the slot for the movie screen in the ceiling), yeah, those should have been on a separate switch

4) Squeeze in a separate washer/dryer closet on your second floor near the bedrooms. Get the smaller 24” footprint washers and use it as a supplement to a larger laundry room elsewhere (if you can’t fit a full one on the second floor). It may seem like an extravagance but once you have both you’ll never know how you lived without it. There’s almost never not enough room for it.

5) Is this a forever house? Plan for an elevator now with stacked closets.

This transition is just so painfully bad

This transition is just so painfully bad

6) At all costs, avoid having two materials on the same plane. Materials should always die at an inside corner, not adjacent to another material. How materials transition is paramount to a design feeling complete and harmonious. I’ve written about this before and it is still true.

This transition is just so painfully bad

This transition is just so painfully bad

7) If I can avoid it (it isn’t always possible), I prefer a switchback stair with a landing. This is a relatively illogical request as straight run stairs are far more efficient and perfectly fine….except that I have an illogical fear of falling down those stairs. Stairs can make or break a house.

In this project currently in design, we completely re-located the main staircase and created a new 'U' shaped stair which ties all four floors of the house together in a grand fashion.

In this project currently in design, we completely re-located the main staircase and created a new 'U' shaped stair which ties all four floors of the house together in a grand fashion.

8) Avoid overhead lights above mirrors. Get big sconces on either side of the mirror instead. I know they don’t look as uniformly nice and that it is harder to find good examples, but try! Zombie lighting makes me nuts.

Avoid this at all costs

Avoid this at all costs

9) You don’t need as much space between an island and a kitchen counter as most people say you need. Most space planning guides will tell you that you need 4’ clear and maybe, if you absolutely have to, 3’-6” at a minimum. They’re full of lies. Living in the city we have to deal with tighter spaces. If you have enough circulation area and the space between the island and the counter is “protected space,” meant to be used by one person, go with 3’. I have around 2’-9” at my own house and I have never once thought it was too tight.

Seattle Box Remodel – Kitchen Island Less than 3' From the Counter

See that space between the stove and the island? it is less than 3' and we love it.

10) No 45 degree angles inside your house. Every now and then they do present a dignified solution to a problem but 99% of the time they don’t. They present the easy solution, not a graceful one. I’ve written about this before.

I snapped this picture of a rental house while on vacation.  There was a better solution and this just screams "cheap builder design answer".  It is bad.

I snapped this picture of a rental house while on vacation. There was a better solution and this just screams "cheap builder design answer". It is bad.

Those are my hot issues at the moment. You can be assured that our Project Associates are very conscious of the above list, and most of the design options I review in the office steer clear. Luckily too, they also know when to push me on these ideas and if they decide to stray from the above, they come to the table with a great argument. Being able to defend our ideas and concepts is what makes us able to better communicate with our clients.

Except, of course, if the solution is a 45 degree angle at a jog in the corridor. That is just not allowed.

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