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Recognizing Basics of Good Design


No matter whether you are buying your first home or your dream house, certain design principals are universal.

For example, the walls against which beds are placed in the master and secondary bedrooms should be opposite the doors of those rooms.

Why? Because the wall facing the door is the focal point of the room. The longest uninterrupted wall in the bedroom is usually the one where home buyers put their beds. Placed anywhere else, the bed is likely to block a window or two.

In larger, more expensive houses, the wall may be long enough to accommodate a king-size bed and two night stands. In smaller houses--or rooms, for that matter--perhaps only a twin or double bed will fit. Either way, for the most dramatic effect, it should be opposite the door.

Let's look at a typical 2,000-square-foot house through the eyes of some of the nation's top residential architects. Remember, although the house you are considering may be smaller or larger, the design principals are the same:

* Foyer: The house should open into a foyer. Otherwise, says Mark Kaufman of Kaufman Meeks Partners in Houston, you'll be stepping through the front door directly into the living room.

The foyer (or the hallway leading from the foyer) should hold a coat closet and perhaps even a half-bath powder room. And you should be able to see all the way through the house to the outside.

According to Kaufman, such a sight-line "extends the home visually, making it feel more spacious." Opening the front door and looking directly into a closet, a wall or stairwell compresses the entry.

In most two-story houses, the stairs are in the foyer, permitting the designer to create volume at the point of entry. Such placement also allows for high transom glass over the front doors, which adds to their drama and elegance.

In the latest layouts, however, the stairs are frequently set in the middle of the house so they can continue easily into the attic for storage or possibly even a third-story expansion, Kaufman says.

Also, central stairways are usually designed in an L- or U-shape with a platform turn at the mid-point, a concept that is preferable to one long, straight stairwell. Such a placement can also move the stairs out of sight from the front door.

This arrangement allows the entry foyer to be "much more intimate and understated," says the architect, who often adds such detailing as columns, ceiling treatments and flooring patterns to give the foyer elegance and impact.

* Living and dining rooms: In a typical 2,000-square-foot house, these two rooms are usually adjacent to each other in an arrangement that "helps achieve the perception of larger space," points out Arthur Danielian of Danielian Associates in Irvine. If the two rooms are separate, they're usually smaller.

The living room should be a minimum of 12 feet by 13 feet, but Danielian says another foot on each dimension is preferred. And the room should have volume, created either by a high, sloping ceiling or, if there is another room above, higher ceiling plates.

Eight-foot ceilings are still standard, but spacious 9- or 10-foot ceilings have been making a comeback. Higher ceilings also allow for such design features as transom glass over the doors, taller 8-foot doors or higher "feature" windows.

Danielian says the dining room "should be no smaller than 11 feet by 11 feet." Dining rooms should also have volume, though they are generally not as big as the living room. A sense of spaciousness can be accomplished with tray or coffered ceilings and perhaps a circular window or two.

There should also be some kind of structure that separates the living and dining rooms and defines the two spaces. A different ceiling treatment will do the trick, as will a curving header above the passageway between the rooms.

* Family room: Also known as the gathering room, media room, hearth room and, if it is large enough, the great room, the family room is the center of the house and the place where the occupants do most of their living.

"Family rooms are lifestyle rooms," says Quincy Johnson of Quincy Johnson Associates in Boca Raton, La. "Home buyers should set their minimum requirements based upon how they expect to live in this area."

Typically, the family room is close to the kitchen or breakfast area and features a fireplace. But the fireplace is no longer the sole focal point of this space; nowadays, a television set is frequently substituted.

Everyone will use this space a little differently, but Johnson says television placement is paramount. You should be able to see the set from every corner of the family room, the adjoining breakfast room and maybe even the kitchen.

Many of today's better designs feature a media wall for the TV, fireplace, home entertainment center and bookshelves. And as you move up in price, you'll see built-in recesses for big-screen TVs.

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