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So you want to design a house (Pt. 1)

April 21, 2011

Although Mr. B and I have known we would want to design and build our own house, it wasn’t until a few months ago that we really started trying to design one. As someone who has been drawing house plans for years, coming up with a functional plan was shockingly difficult, especially because we started out with an ideal size and then had to fit everything we wanted in. Since we are planning to stay in this house until we can’t function any more, we also had to think about all the potential uses and people it would need to fit. Over the next few days I’ll be walking you through our process of designing the plans and lessons we’ve learned from dealing with the bank, engineer and county public work officials.

Let’s start with the general layout and look of the house.

1) What’s wrong with your perfectly good house anyway?It was really useful to start off asking what we didn’t like about our house and the ways it wasn’t meeting our needs. Sure, we might all want to live in houses with walk in coolers, giant pantries, and fire places big enough to roast a cow in (maybe that’s just me), but most of these “wants” quickly drive houses outside of your price range. I also have a really hard time visualizing room sizes, so it was easy to measure our current living room and say, “If this room was 4 feet wider it would be perfect.” I also found out our house is the same length as Jaws, but that is just an aside. This is also the time to decide if you each need a personal space besides your bedroom, or if your kitchen needs to have more counter space for all those veggies you like to can, or if you hate being stuck in one room when all the activity is happening in another.

2. Look at every book and website that shows floor plans.

Brighton Homes

Seeing how homes are actually put together is another great way to get ideas about room layouts and the amount of room you want/need. Since we weren’t hiring an architect, looking at actual house plans helped us define where we wanted rooms to go, what size they should be, where windows could go, etc. It is also a great idea to look at house plans that have specific elements you want in your house. We knew we wanted a passive solar, straw bale house, so we looked at plans that fit those criteria. Sun Plans is a passive solar house plan company with houses in every size and shape and a great resource. You can also buy plans directly from them or ask them to design a plan for you.

3. Throw it all out the window and follow A Pattern Language

Not really, but this book is must read for anyone planning a house (or a city for that matter). I’m going to do another post on how amazing this book is and how it influenced our house specifically, so this is just a shout out.

4. Start drawing!

I initially made grid paper cut outs of the rooms we wanted and then spent hours moving them around, recreating floor plans that I liked. Mr. B and I also made dozens of drawings of plans. You will quickly figure out if a desired plan isn’t going to work and how much you don’t know (stairs are very tricky). We initially wanted a two-story house but couldn’t keep the house under 2,000 square feet with one involved. You would also ideally already have a location for the house at this point, and drawing for the site is an excellent idea. Maybe you wanted a giant, east facing window but now realize that there is a neighbor on the east side of your house.

Have any of you designed your own house? If so, what was most helpful for you in the process? If not, what would your dream house have that your current one doesn’t?

Tomorrow: See ya, Socrates. A Pattern Language is my new philosophy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brenda G permalink
    April 21, 2011 10:20 am

    The most important part of the home to me is the kitchen. I have never had the kitchen of my dreams but the kitchen/family room in the home where you got married would come pretty close to what I would choose. From the pictures it looked like it had lots of counter space and it was so open to the family room. Just loved it!

  2. April 21, 2011 10:25 am

    That kitchen was wonderful! The kitchen/living room were one big room separated by a counter with seats. I agree that the kitchen is the most important part of a house. Not only do I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and thinking about cooking, but it is always so nice to be in a kitchen during the fall/winter when it is warm and smells good. People like to be in kitchens too, to help out or get another drink.

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