Design principles that emphasize the way you live
If you are planning to build your own home, do your homework before starting project.
Akron Beacon Journal
BATH TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Interior designer Alan Garren thinks good design makes a house more functional and enjoyable, not just more beautiful.
He says little details matter, like where the television is positioned and whether guests at the door are sheltered from the rain.
He got the chance to get those details right in a home he designed recently in Bath.
His client, orthopedic surgeon Bob Kepley, already had a fairly clear idea of what he wanted when he hired Garren to design a house for his lakeside property. He wanted a house with the character of a lodge, with fireplaces and a screened porch.
He said he also knew from his previous house what he didn't want — "a big, wasted living room, which I had; a big, wasted dining room, which I had;" and a big, unsheltered deck, which he also had.
Kepley made some sketches and gave them to Garren, who worked with architect Woody Clough, building company KNL Custom Homes and Paul Lucas Landscaping to turn Kepley's vision into his home. The 3,800-square-foot house is large but not palatial, with views of the lake from every important room, a covered deck in the back and spaces designed for living, not just for show.
Interior designers aren't always involved from the start of a home-construction project, but Garren said his suggestions helped avoid the kinds of problems he's often called on to solve after a house has been built.
His design principles can help people who are planning to build homes — even production homes and houses of more modest size than Kepley's custom home.
Here are his tips.
Get to know the land
Before you build or even buy, spend some time on the property. Bring some lawn chairs and maybe a bottle of wine, and just sit there awhile, Garren suggested.
What views appeal to you? What noises do you dislike? Knowing that can help your construction team orient your house the best way and use methods such as extra insulation or sound-controlling windows to muffle unwanted noise.
One thing to consider: If you want a walkout basement, look for property that's sloped, Garren said.
Put together a team
Ideally, Garren said, an architect, interior designer, builder and landscaper should be involved from the beginning of a project. Each of those professionals has his or her own focus and expertise, and their collaboration can result in a house that's designed properly, that's beautiful and that fits the way you live.
You're part of that team, too, and Garren said you should provide as much input as possible.
He advises holding weekly meetings with the team, so the inevitable problems can be addressed promptly. That's true even if you're working with just a builder, he said.
Select, then bid
Elements such as lighting fixtures and cabinets vary in price, so the features you choose can have a big effect on the cost of your dream home. By choosing those elements ahead of time, you can tell your builder what you want and get a much more accurate bid, Garren said. You'll also be left with fewer decisions to make during construction, reducing your stress.
Four elements, in particular, have the biggest bearing on a home's price: roofing, siding, windows and cabinets.
"You can't always foresee everything," he said, "but the more (elements) you hit, the better."
Think of a house as a whole, not a series of individual rooms. By limiting colors and materials inside and out, you'll give the home a more consistent appearance, Garren said.
Limit exterior materials to three or four, he recommended. On Kepley's house, he used brick, board and batten siding and brown trim.
Inside, he used the same color palette of sandy brown, henna, gold and green throughout the house, while mixing in some contrast and variation. All the fixtures — faucets, pendant lights, even drawer pulls — are bronze.
Don't confuse continuity with blandness. Architectural features such as stone fireplaces, plank ceilings and corbels make a home much more interesting. But even if you can't afford bookshelves and French doors, you can add character with an interesting paint color or wallcovering, Garren said.
Your garage or your laundry room isn't your home's most attractive entry, so don't tempt guests to come in that way. Downplay the side entry, Garren recommended, and make it easy for guests to come to the front door.
Make sure that front entry is protected from the elements.
Garren is also a fan of circular or U-shaped driveways. They eliminate the need to back out and make exiting easier for guests, especially at night.
Have fewer rooms, but make them larger.
If you rarely live in your living room or dine in your dining room, why have them?
Making sure rooms are big enough requires space planning, Garren said. During the design phase, he recommended laying out the furniture on paper according to the room's uses, whether it's watching TV, playing the piano or hosting the neighborhood poker game.
Combine focal points
One of Garren's pet peeves is houses that are built with no thought to where the televisions will go, especially in the great room. That often forces the homeowners to fit their TVs in wherever they can, not where they make the best sense.
Planning eliminates that problem. It also makes it easier to combine focal points so your eye isn't continually jumping all around the room, he said.
Kepley's living room, for example, has three focal points: the TV, the fireplace and the expansive windows with a view of the lake. Garren positioned the TV next to the fireplace, on a wall adjoining the window wall. When Kepley is watching TV, he can see both the fireplace and the windows on the edges of his vision, and he can shift his gaze to any of the focal points easily.
Let there be light
Daylight lifts our moods and beautifies our rooms. "The more, the better," Garren said.
He recommended letting in as much natural light as possible through large windows, skylights and solar tubes.
At the same time, plan on multiple sources of artificial lighting, controlled with dimmers, Garren advised. Kepley's living room has a variety that includes lamps, recessed ceiling lights, uplighting on shelves and spotlights on architectural and decorative features.
Sight lines matter
No matter how pretty your powder room is, you really don't want it to be on view from the living room. Garren recommended designing a house so private areas such as bathrooms and bedrooms aren't visible from the public areas.
In Kepley's house, for example, the entrance to the master suite if just off the living room. But Garren designed the suite so that just inside the doorway is a section of wall that's the right size for an accent table.
It's tougher to improve sight lines in smaller houses, he conceded, but sometimes it's possible with planning.
• Balance the elements in a room, without aiming for perfect symmetry.
• Don't stint on storage.
• Your roof is a big surface, so choose interesting roofing materials.
• Be generous with roof overhangs. They give a house presence and let you open windows when it's raining.
• Try to line up the windows on all sides, so the exterior isn't a visual jumble.
• Choose paint colors and materials outdoors, where colors are truer. Hazy light is best.