What to watch out for when considering a floor plan...

bevangel_i_h8_h0uzzOctober 10, 2013

I started to post on another thread regarding "lay-out pet peeves" and stopped because I realized that most everyone was talking about things that were more a matter of preference than truly poor design.

By "poor design," I am not talking about the kinds of things that different people tend to feel differently about such as whether closets should or should not be accessible only via the master bath; or whether the master bedroom should be close to secondary bedrooms or at the opposite end of the house for extra privacy.

I am talking about the kinds of things that make a house less than "user friendly" for EVERYONE regardless of their decorating preferences or whether they're 25 with 3 small children or 75 and retired. And I'm especially talking the kinds of things that folks who are not floor-plan savvy are unlikely to notice when looking at a plan.

After looking at about a kajillion on-line stock plans and dozens of custom plans posted here, it seems to me that the same kinds of truly poor floor-plan layouts crop up often enough that it might be helpful to compile a list of things that everybody starting a plan search (or working with an architect for the first time) might want to watch out for.

These can be major issues that you've noticed showing up on a lot of plans that you think either ought to be cause for rejecting such plans completely or relatively minor things that can usually be rather easily modified to make the plan better.

I'll start...

1. View lines from the front door directly into a bathroom (especially view lines that let you look right at the toilet)

2. View lines from from the kitchen or dining areas directly into a bathroom.

3. Small toilet rooms with doors that swing into the room. (If someone passes out while on the throne and falls to the floor, his/her body blocking the door will make it harder for EMS to get in to provide aid.)

4. Long long narrow dark hallways.

5. Hallways with several bends and twists that will make it nearly impossible to get furniture into/out of rooms.

6. Closets that are not really wide enough or deep enough to actually hang clothing as indicated by the drawings. Hanging clothing requires about 24 inches of space from the wall. So, you simply cannot have a 5 or 5.5 ft wide closet and hang clothes on both side walls because it won't leave you with enough room for an aisle down the center. But I see this sketched all the time on stock plans and even occasionally on custom plans!

7. Walk-in closets that are about 4 ft deep and 6 to 8 ft wide or wider with a single door in the middle of one of the long sides. This is a waste of space and no one is going to enjoy sliding between wall and clothing to get to the clothes that are hung at a distance from the door. Better to make the closet a normal reach-in closet with a couple of out-swinging doors and incorporate the rest of the floor space into the main room.

8. Kitchens with "barrier" islands. If you have to detour AROUND the island to get from sink to refrigerator to rangetop to sink, it's a barrier island. Cooking in such kitchens often results in bruised hips as one careens off the island while moving from one work area to another.

9. Kitchens with no work space next to the range top and no counter space beside the refrigerator. Both places need at least SOME work space beside the appliance.

10. Kitchens with aisles that are too narrow. Watch especially for designs with the sink and stove directly across a narrow aisle from one another.

11. Kitchen designs that show refrigerators the exact same depth as the countertop. Even expensive "counter-depth" fridges stick out into the aisleway a little bit. The typical modern non-counter depth fridge will stick out as much as 12 inches into the aisle. If the aisle in front of the fridge is only 3 to 3.5 ft wide, you'll have a hard time even opening the fridge door and squeezing past the fridge on a daily basis will be a PITA.

12. Kitchens that show barstool seating without enough room for someone to actually sit on those barstools at the counter while someone else walks behind them.

13. Any room that won't actually accommodate the typical furniture that one would expect to find in such a room. (i.e., bedrooms with no place to put a bed and nightstand and at least on chest of drawers; living rooms with so many necessary pathways thru them that there is no way to arrange a sofa plus a couple of chairs and side tables, dining rooms that are too narrow or too short for a standard sized dining room table for six plus chairs and room to get around the table to get in/out of all the chairs.

14. Garages that are so big they totally overwhelm the house.

15. Garages that are not wide enough or deep enough for the number of cars that they are supposed to hold. Garages need to be at least a couple of feet deeper than the length of the longest vehicle you ever expect to own and you need at least a couple of feet of clearance on each side in order to be able to open car doors. And, if you plan on storing anything in your garage, the garage width/depth should be made bigger in order to accommodate storage. Also be aware of any staircases leading up to the man-door to the house and know exactly how far into your "parking space" they will extend. One person I know started building a house from an online plan and discovered that she would need something like 7 steps to get up to the door to her house. Those 7 steps extended so far out that there was no way she could still park a car in the remaining space. (But while making sure the garage is big enough to accommodate your garage needs, keep #14 in mind!)

16. Big homes where the entry from the garage walks you right in front of the washer and dryer. I totally understand that in smaller, less expensive homes, the most space effective spot for the washer and dryer may be in the garage entry may be but when square footage climbs up over 2000 sq ft, one really ought to be able to find a better place to do laundry. Family members and close friends should not have to step over/around piles of laundry every time they come in!

17. Room where the ceilings are higher (or nearly as high) as the rooms are wide. Even worse, rooms where the height is the greatest dimension in the room! Such rooms tend to feel like elevator shafts. They are hard to heat/cool, almost impossible to decorate effectively, and totally uncomfortable for conversation or watching TV due to echos.

18. Can lights over stairwells. When a can light bulb that is 12 to 20 feet above the staircase burns out, it is very very difficult to replace it because there is no safe place to put a ladder. Who wants to have to go out and rent scaffolding in order to replace a light bulb? If your stairwell is wide enough, wall sconces are a much better solution for lighting the stairway. Otherwise, hanging pendants that you can actually REACH while standing on the stairs are a much better choice.

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These are my pet peeves with so-called 'show' homes, which many people use as a basis for their own plans.

Kitchens without enough room for the oven to open! It's amazing, how many kitchen designs have a separate oven, too close to the island. Fine, until you take a step back to lean down and get something out...especially a Thanksgiving turkey!

Stairs that are too steep. Too many homes (in our area) don't allow enough length, so it's like climbing a ladder at some of these 'show' homes.

Lack of attention to outdoor details. Wouldn't it be nice to have an arbor? Or a charming front fence? Or a shaded area on a patio? So many huge homes have no landscaping...especially in the back. I know everyone has different ideas, but a 'show' home should show some outdoor features, too :)

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 4:59PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Hah! We have our laundry in our mud room which includes the garage door. The thing is friends and guests come in the front door...rarely does anyone other than us use the garage door. That's because our garage door faces front...another architectural no-no...so guests know exactly where to go.

One layout detail that's often missed is if door placement throughout the house allows for trim.

Another is if drawers in the kitchen can open or will they hit hardware on side cabinetry.

Make sure the utility space doors are large enough to get the biggest equipment like furnaces in and out.

This post was edited by AnnieDeighnaugh on Thu, Oct 10, 13 at 17:22

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Thank you !!! My current pet peeve is bathrooms off the kitchen. ewwww I never realized how sensitive I was to that until recently. I just toured a $1,000,000 home where I could see (and hear) the half bath from almost every kitchen and eating area angle.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 5:38PM
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The thing I couldn't believe when we were looking through stock plans was the astonishing number without a coat closet near the front door (and many also lacked coat storage near the family entrance). I understand that much of the country does not get winters like ours, but even in the South, there are seasons where people wear coats, and having a place to put them seems like a pretty basic thing to me.

Another pet peeve of mine, which can be worked around, but is a design challenge, IMO, is when houses have an expensive foyer and a side-load garage that means almost no one will ever come in through the front door, because it's so far from where they're likely to park. I know there are people who feel strongly that all garages should be sideload where possible because garage doors are big strong features that compete with the rest of the house, but for me I lean toward practicality-- I would rather guests see my house as they drive up, even if it includes the front of the garage, and then have a short obvious walk to the front door, instead of having to figure out where to go after they park.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 6:12PM
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My biggest pet peeves with the house I live in now and I think this is true for a lot of houses.

1. A beautiful side entry near the garage that enters directly into my laundry room.

2. Laundry room is tiny compared to the overall size of the house.

3. The dreaded tiny powder room with in swing door.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 6:54PM
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Zone4Newby, I can't see how a side-load garage would have any impact on a guest's ability to figure out where to go after they park.

When I go to visit someone, I almost NEVER park in their driveway because I don't want to risk blocking someone in who might be needing to leave while I'm visiting. Unless my hosts have very specifically told me to park in their driveway, I just don't do it. I ALWAYS park on the street and walk from there up to the house. So it doesn't matter whether they have a front load or a side load garage, if their front door faces the street in front of the house, I will see that and head towards it. No confusion.

Well, I'll admit that if someone has a house out in the country and a long long driveway, then I'll park along their driveway but even then I always stop at some distance IN FRONT of the house. I cannot imagine going to visit someone and driving up their driveway past the edge of their house that is closest to the street. Going past the front edge of the house would seem downright intrusive to me... like wondering into someone's bedroom uninvited. So even with a long country driveway, I still see the front door from where I stop to park. No confusion.

Do people behave differently when choosing where to park in your area?

Anyway, the thing I don't like about a lot of stock plans is how often the staircase juts out into the foyer by one step.... just far enough for someone to trip over it but not far enough to be noticeable. Maybe I notice it because I once tripped over such a staircase at a friends house and dislocated my shoulder. To me, that's bad design.

Also I don't like when downstairs powder rooms are hidden back off the mud room. No way I want my guests going thru my family's mud room to get to the powder room.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 7:00PM
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When I was looking at plans, many of them had open concept kitchen/living room with a wall of windows and/or French doors leading to the back. By the time you gave ample walkways in between the doors/bar/furniture, in the living room you basically had about an 8x8 area to place your furniture in.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 8:30PM
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Good share and really appreciative. I think it is very helpful for all of us. I would like to say thanks to you for sharing these great tips.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 1:40AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

cpate, In our area, no one parks on the streets and if someone does, it's almost dangerous as no drivers expect to find a car parked on the street, so everyone parks in the drive. I've been in houses with side load garages, and you pull in and then are left with the conundrum...do I go to the front door? Or do I go around back? You don't know because the entrance is not obvious. Some will just open the garage door and you have to go past the garbage and mowers and bikes and such to get into the house. One colonial house I was in like that didn't even have a sidewalk to the front door.

The other thing about side loads is they make for longer driveways, and since DH and shovel our own snow, a short drive is a blessing.

We have a front loading garage with parking spaces on the side in the driveway. People pull in, see the front door and head for it. However, when we designed it, we made sure the garage did not dwarf the house. It is 2 car, lower and recessed back so the front door really is prominent on the front facade. We put the 3rd car garage under.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 8:22AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

This came to mind on another thread...watch floor transitions. If you are changing flooring in various rooms of the house, you will have to plan ahead on sub floor depths or you will have a lot of transitions and thresholds which are not favorable for walkers/wheelchairs or just plain old trip hazards. We had our mason bevel the edge of stone under our woodstove so it wouldn't become a "toe banger".

Also, think about window placement and treatment. On the home decor side we have a lot of "how am I going to treat this window" questions...where window tops don't line up with french door tops...where windows are crammed right up against a wall so no room for a side drape...where windows are lovely 2 story high things that blind people with glare and then how do they control the light and heat...giant windows with lots of wonderful light in the bath that then just get covered up for privacy anyway. Think too about the views and how the light will hit you as you go through the house. For instance, we have an open staircase so we can see light from the finished lower level so it doesn't feel like you're going down to a basement...and when you're downstairs, you can see the light from the foyer to draw you up.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 8:30AM
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Many things hamper daily living in small ways that never should have made it through the design process.

1 - Too much space dedicated to "show" areas, at the expense of usability:

MBRs that have as much room as the rest of the bedrooms combined.
Bathrooms that are large enough to make bathing a spectator sport.
Dining, music, media rooms that are too small to actually be used as such, but look great on the floor plan.

2- No thought to how the usual traffic flows through the house:

Closets at the far side of a bathroom from the en suite bedroom, so getting dressed means trekking through the bathroom, putting clothing away means trekking through the bathroom, and the clothes are exposed to the dampness of the steam shower.

Shared bathrooms, designed so one kid combing his hair can block all sibling from showering and using the toilet.

Kitchen layouts that run all traffic past the range, even if it's just someone getting ice from the refrigerator.

Kitchen layouts chopped up so no single countertop is big enough to roll out a strudel.

Into pet peeve territory:

Layouts with so many angles that there's no place to put large furniture

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 9:45AM
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One thing that I noticed when looking at plans: Here in South Louisiana, basements are out of the question. So, when looking at stock house plans, I had to find space for return a/c and hot water heater. If you can't build the house on a basement foundation, where will they go?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 10:14AM
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- Doors that open across other doors.

- Doors that open across walkways

- French doors that open across wall space where switches will be needed.

- Home designs where side doors will be used to the exclusion of front doors.

- Bathrooms where the toilet can be seen from the living spaces (sometimes a necessity).

- Bathrooms with outswing or pocket doors where the toilet can be seen from the door (someone on the post is merciless to stop entry). Master bath is a possible exception here.

- Dining rooms disconnected from the kitchen.

- Houses with so many exterior entrances that the interior space is consumed with pathways to the exterior.

- Kitchens where the fridge wall is not framed for the fridge door to be flush with the counter.

- Being able to look into the kitchen sink from the front door.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:00AM
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Many thanks to Bevangel, AnnieDeighnaugh, and all those who pitched in on the timely threads on what to watch out and pet peeves for floor plans / layout design.

I am almost finished with the floor plan and still working on the exteriors with the architect. It has been quite a journey for me to deal with so many challenges of a house design. People on the GW forums have been very helpful.

Could somebody create a sticky readme, complie FAQs, or maintain a outside blog site with collection of selected threads/pictures? Something like what is done in the kitchen forum. That would be nice for future visitors to this site.

Just my thought. JF

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:11AM
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This is a great, great thread! Thanks Bevangel for starting this!

Annie- I totally agree about the floor transitions. Adding to that, would be to get selections done BEFORE you start building..then there are fewer changes, (changes can add cost) etc....Our builder didn't start until we had all floors, cabinetry, lighting etc...selected...so, he was able to build quickly without waiting for us to make decisions. This also allowed our slab be poured at different heights based on the type of floor. I have to threshold molding/trim...it just goes floor to floor (tile to wood, wood to chicago brick etc....) It doesn't look like we added flooring later...it all flows so nicely.

Also, consult with a good cabinet company that has some design skills. We tried to "cut corners" with a budget cabinet place and they had our fridge as a FOCAL point when you looked into the kitchen! We spent a little more and the company we used actually had designers that have designed cabinets for 10 years plus. They were aware of traffic flow, spacing for appliances to islands etc....it was worth the extra money.

Pocket doors are my pet peeve - keep in mind if you do it for a bathroom, that wall where the pocket is cannot house electrical or hold a towel bar or toilet paper holder. They really limit what your walls can be used for.


    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 12:58PM
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Doors butted up next to windows which make it impossible to add drapery panels. UGH I have a room like this and it is one of my biggest pet peeves about this house.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 1:01PM
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Kitchen island that are too big for the space...and then have sharp corners! Why must every kitchen have an island? Yes, they can be very nice, when designed correctly, but just 'plunking' one down in the middle of a space, does not make it a gourmet kitchen.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 1:41PM
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Wasted space. Whether it's in a grand foyer or a winding hallway, I am much more of a function over form person.

My brother's house (that he built himself) has SO many of the things listed here! Master bedroom right off the dining room; a huge open kitchen/dining room/living room with no logical place to put furniture; vaulted ceiling and laminate floors in said huge room, making every little noise echo. There is no hallway - just a huge room with bedrooms at each end.

Wait, there is one hallway - coming in from the garage. It is narrow, has coat hooks on one side and washer/dryer on the other side, and not nearly enough room for 4 people to come home and take off boots and coats.

As long as I'm ragging on my brother's house - he cut a bunch of cedar trees on his lot, and had a friend cut them into boards for him. He put cedar shelves in every bedroom closet - but varnished them before he installed them. I think he missed the point.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 2:31PM
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These are perhaps personal preferences.

1. Kitchens that are basically hallways to other living areas. I don't want people walking right through the middle of my kitchen when I'm cooking.
2. Desks in kitchens.
3. Kitchens that are too far from the garage.
4. Powder rooms too far from the garage.
5. Sinks or ranges in tiny islands, especially in open floor plans. You see this so often, and it really baffles me.
7. Kitchens visible from front door.
8. Powder rooms right off main living areas. As a visitor, I like the powder room to be a little more private.
9. Lack of REAL storage, and space to hang coats for every season. A little 3' coat closet would never suffice for just DH and me, so I often wonder how it works for a family with several children. We have an 8' X 12' closet in our mudroom area with one 12' side all clothes rod, and the other side has shelves for storage. Don't know what we'd do without it.
10. Garages without windows. You have to turn on the light during the day.
11. French doors which are right behind a dining room table, or a bank of furniture. I've had this, and was constantly moving chairs to use the doors.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 4:44PM
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I have a question...if powder rooms are often located in inconvenient places (and I so agree) how far can they be from living areas? If the bathroom is close to the garage, mudroom and kitchen, does it need to be less than 20' from the living or family room?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 6:55PM
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We are reviewing our almost final plans for our home. I am DEFINITELY going to check out all these things. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 12:39AM
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What room do most people like being visible from the front entrance? For me it's the kitchen because its the prettiest space (at least I think so in our current house), our living room is right near the front door too but I hate that people can see me lounging on my couch as they approach the door. I like the living room to be hidden. Also how far is too far for the dining room from the kitchen?

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 1:44AM
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Estrella - I like my living room to be the first thing visible from the front door...mainly because it is the one room in the house that I can usually keep picked up and looking good.

As far as I'm concerned, a dining room that is used daily should be within just a few steps of the kitchen. Maximum distance? 10 feet maybe? I've never understood a house where you have to carry food through the great room and then down a hallway practically to the front door before you finally reach the dining room? Who wants to carry food halfway across the house and dirty dishes back halfway across the house? Just more chances for drips, spills, and broken dishes.

I suppose if you only plan to use your formal dining room on very special occasions and also have a pretty serving cart that you can load all the food and dishes onto and then wheel it into the dining room, then I guess 25 or 30 feet would not be too much of a problem. Personally though, I'd rather not have to trek that far when I realize - usually right in the middle of Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner - that I forgot to set the butter on the table.

And of course, if one happens to have a cook plus a serving maid or butler, then who cares how far away the kitchen is from the dining room? It's the "help's" job to see that food gets to the table still warm and that nothing gets dropped/broken along the way. Don't I wish?!!! LOL!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 2:04AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

For kitchen/DR, I definitely didn't want the DR visible from the kitchen, so they share a wall...DR is right around the corner. In the old house, they were open to each other and I hated everyone looking at the stack of dirty dishes and pots. DR is instead open to the library so the formal spaces are together. Kitchen is open to bkfst nook and family room so the casual spaces are together. From the foyer, you can see into the library and DH's study and only get a small glimpse into the FR. This way, if company comes and the FR is "lived in", we can escort them into the library/LR.

We really struggled with locating the PR. Fortunately it fell out of the plan in a great way. It is right next to the mud room, but in the foyer. So it is convenient to the garage and to the FR where we spend most of our time. It is not visible from the kitchen or the formal spaces. However, guests do not feel like they are going to the garage to get there. We can close the mud room door and it feels part of the living space, not working space. Further, the PR backs up to the study where no one goes. DH didn't want a PR that touches the public room walls at all...no bathroom noises appreciated.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 9:49AM
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Great thread! Wonderful thoughts shared. Thanks for starting it, bevangel.
A major pet peeve of mine is stationary windows designed with no easy access for washing or cleaning the outside. Hiring a pricey window cleaning service or balancing on a 15' ladder with bucket, brush seems to be the only options.
Another peeve is not enough outside water spigots. One on the balcony is nice for watering plants and cleaning windows there. Think I'm a clean window freak?????

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 4:23PM
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Putting a refrigerator right next to a wall. Before my reno/addition, my fridge was right next to a wall and I couldn't open the door far enough to pull out the drawers on that side. That meant pulling the whole thing out, clear of the counter, and angling it just to be able to clean it properly. Scratched the heck out of my wood floor in that corner.

Casement windows that open onto a front porch. I walked past a house today where the open window was about 6" from the front door - jutting out about a foot from the wall, in the direction where you'd have to walk upon leaving the house. I'd be the first one to walk right into it.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 9:34PM
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Estrella18, the first thing I like to see when I walk in is the outside! I like to see right through the house to a window, French door, back door, whatever, to the back yard. (In my own house, I hope this draws people's eyes from any clutter that may be in the hall!)

If not the outside, I actually like to see a wall in front of me, with a table and artworks, or another focal point, so I know I'm in an entry hall, and know where to look. Then I count on my host to direct me to the entertainment area or the working area (like the kitchen), depending on why I'm there.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 1:47PM
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