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Bad flow is a real stumbling block

Smooth room-to-room transitions help bring life to a dwelling and can improve its marketability.

December 23, 2007|Jennifer Lisle | Special to The Times

Bad room flow can be obvious: an oversized couch that blocks the doorway, a front door that opens into the kitchen or a powder room in a far-flung location. It can also be subtle -- a large room where something just doesn't feel right.

As owners demand houses with larger rooms that have multiple functions -- home theater, kids' study area, meditation room -- designers and architects say it can be easy to over-complicate a home's basic traffic patterns.

Although it's possible to live with a space that doesn't flow smoothly, real estate agents warn that homeowners may have trouble when they try to sell, as a home with an awkward room flow can sit on the market longer than a home with good flow.

"The cream rises to the top in this kind of market. If the place has a bad flow pattern that isn't easily corrected, it can sell for up to 15% to 20% less than a home that's the same size and similar location," said Larry Young, a Realtor with Prudential -- John Aaroe, Beverly Hills.

Young cites as an example a Westside home he recently sold that had a major flow problem -- a series of dark walls that isolated the living and family rooms from the rest of the house. The home sold for $1.9 million, whereas comparable homes in the area were selling for $2.5 million, Young said.

But even those who overlooked big flow flaws in the buying frenzy of recent years should know that a house with bad room flow doesn't necessarily mean it's a teardown. Although major problems might be hard to fix without construction, designers say there are minimally invasive repairs and disguises for minor flow issues.

Sandi Sinicrope, president of ASF Interior Re-Design in Alhambra, said she looks at a home's flow starting at the curb outside. It's desirable, she said, to have a clear and elegant pathway leading to the front door as well as a welcoming entrance.

"When we enter a house, I think it's important to have a 'pause' area, a breathing spot," she said. Even though many homes are built without a separate or formal entrance hall, she added, it is possible to signify a front entrance with design elements.

For those with the space, a bench or a chair with a table and lamp or plant gives people a place to stop and collect themselves, she said. "It can help you start to change your mentality from being at work to being at home."

If there are space limitations, Sinicrope said, an area rug and a hall tree can do the job, as can an umbrella stand or even a small table inside the door for keys and mail.

Once you are inside, said Karen Zieba, who owns the Long Beach-based remodeling firm Zieba Builders Inc. with her husband, Joe, there should be a sensible, easy and pleasant path through the space without going through too many rooms or around too many obstructions.

"The sight line should go as far as possible through a house," Zieba said.

Karen Taylor, who inherited her grandmother's 1940s bungalow in Long Beach, found that the path from its entrance to its kitchen was long and arduous.

"You had to go through a closed door, then a small TV-room area, then through a solarium and another exterior door to get there," she said.

Zieba and her contractor ended up removing the wall between the entrance and the small TV room and integrated that space into the entrance hall. Then she turned the solarium into a family room that connects to the kitchen.

"We now have a more welcoming entrance way that leads to the family room and kitchen," Taylor said.

Zieba encourages homeowners to consider changing the purpose of a room if the flow doesn't seem right.

"Just because it's always been called the living room doesn't mean you can't turn it into the family room," she said.

Zieba cited her own kitchen, which had no real dining area, as an example. The kitchen had a small, adjoining unused utility room where she installed a banquette and created a breakfast nook.

Joan Ackermann rethought the purpose of several rooms when she reworked the kitchen area in her Simi Valley condominium.

The area was originally three different rooms: a narrow kitchen separated from a tiny dinette area by a horizontal kitchen island with a sitting room on the other side of the dinette.

"We lived in the seating area and wanted it to feel more spacious but didn't know what to do about it," Ackermann said.

Jo-Ann Capelaci, an interior designer with Garrett Interiors of Woodland Hills, reconfigured the island so it was longer and ran vertically through the space. She took out the dinette set and installed a built-in window seat against the wall below a window.

"It really plays up the window area and ties the three spaces together," Ackermann said.

The dining area is now a small round floating table at the end of the island, a few inches below the counter. Without the dinette, the seating area flows more easily into the adjacent space and seems bigger.

"It's doubled our living and entertaining area," she said.

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