Using Floor Plans to Explore Solutions

Our client had been struggling for 2 years with their open design house — they just couldn’t make it cozy for family meals.  It’s a bungalow in the Takoma Park neighborhood right outside Washington, DC.  A previous owner had rehabbed the house and created a more open floor plan.  But as a small bungalow, the spaces were still fairly small.  My client had taken cues for the use of each space from the way the house was staged when they purchased it.
This article is about using floor plans to diagnose & fix problems and using mock-ups to review or confirm your solutions.  With only a very small investment in our consulting time and without any structural changes, our client was able to fix frustrations that had been nagging them for over 2 years.  We’ll show you the tools we used and what we suggested for them.
The floor plans, below, illustrate how they were using the spaces when they asked us to help and our suggested changes.  You can see from the floor plan on the right why they were frustrated and the simple changes we suggested.

Floor Plan After
Floor Plan After

Floor Plan Before
Floor Plan Before


The front door opens into a small living room.  Large openings between the spaces as you head toward the back of the house create an open plan leading to the kitchen and family room in the back of the house.  My client had placed their piano in the front room and arranged a chair and settee such that each piece was quite isolated.  It was not an inviting space for either a group or an individual. It made the space feel like a large hallway — in fact our clients called it “the bowling alley”.  Even looking at the floor plan you can see how you would want to simply get through this space as quickly as possible and move toward the “mass” of the home.  In the family room, a traditional arrangement of a love seat and 2 chairs were arranged around the fireplace.  This might have worked well for a couple living in the house alone, but my client had 2 small children.  They needed a place for the kids to draw & do projects and for the family to gather near the kitchen.  While the counter had some stools, the children were too small and the counter too narrow for the stools to work as a sitting area.  Further, the formal dining area was both too far from the kitchen and too formal for it to work as a family gathering space.
When we asked what they had tried, they pointed to a card table that they had been moving from place to place to try to figure out where to put a family dining area.  The problem with this approach is that you need to have great powers of visualization to translate a small card table into a real piece of furniture.  Further, furniture and spaces relate to each other — you need to approximate the correct mass of each within the space to understand how the arrangement will feel as a total.
We recommended three very simply changes:  First create a true sitting area in the living room.  This will provide a secondary place for the family and frequent guests to gather.  It will also help balance the mass of the home.  The piano should be moved to the playroom.  With a the existing couch in the room (not drawn), the playroom is a better place for family or friends to gather to listen to the music.  A 60″ round table should be added to the family room with a smaller sitting area on the other side of the room.  This arrangement provides a place for the family to gather comfortably.  Plus it still feels balanced with the fireplace.  An upholstered bench replacing the stools under the counter, can easily be pulled over to enlarge the small seating area when more than two people want to gather there.  The children can be doing projects at the table while the parents relax with a glass of wine or while one cooks.  The table is large enough that additional chairs can be added as a secondary place to gather during the frequent gatherings that the couple hosts.  Again, by looking at the floor plan, you can see that the new plan is better balanced — distributing the mass of the living areas along the length of the home.  You can also imagine the comfortable gathering space that the new arrangement in the family room provides.
Finally, we suggested that, if the floor plan wasn’t enough for them to experience the space.  They could easily “mock-up” the feel prior to purchasing furniture.  Since they liked the idea of moving the piano into the playroom, we suggested moving the piano to the playroom and moving the sitting are from the family room to the living room.  Then, existing arm chairs can be used to create the new sitting area in the family room and we can get one of our carpenters to “mock-up” the 60″ round table.  Existing dining room chairs can be used during the test phase.  This is a low-cost way to test the arrangement prior to purchasing a new table and chairs.
This example demonstates the cost-effectivenss and power of using a floor plan and mock-up tools to make your space work better for you and your family.
All images courtesy of Braitman Design/Build
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