What were they thinking?

blueprintThat is a question I get asked by many homeowners when I’m in their house trying to find solutions to design flaws or problems. While it’s very hard to say what a designer was actually thinking when they put together the plan for a home that can often be over forty years old, one thing is certain- the times they are a-changin’. What used to be acceptable to the modern homebuyer is clearly not anymore. But, many times there are issues that come up repeatedly in multiple homes that illustrate that design flaws are prevalent in homes that are even less than ten years old. Here are some of the things I see often and how we, at Foster Remodeling Solutions, try to avoid these mistakes:

1.)   Electrical outlets and switches in poor locations: The code requires a minimum spacing of outlets in rooms but, many times, the minimum is not enough. This is especially true in rooms that need power to lamps, appliances or other items in specific locations. Instead of forcing a client to drag a cord across a floor to reach an end table lamp, a floor plug could be installed at the location where the lamp will be. Another pet peeve of mine is banks of switches that are not ordered properly based on the use of the room. For example, when you walk into your Kitchenelectrical outlet the first switch in a bank of switches should provide general lighting to get into the room. The next switch down should operate secondary lighting like under-cabinet or spot lighting. You do not want the first switch you reach for in a bedroom to turn on the ceiling fan. Likewise, the first switch in the bank of switches in a bathroom should not operate the exhaust fan. These types of flaws can be eliminated by the designer simply “walking through” the plan on paper and understanding the day-to-day use of a room along with the desires communicated by the client about how they plan to furnish or use a specific room.

2.)   Locations and sizes of windows: While it may let in a lot of light and create a feeling of drama in a bathroom, designing an 8’ wide by 5’ tall window in front of a garden tub may create a little too “intimate” relationship with the neighbors. Most clients will tell you they love “lots of windows” but there can be a bit too much “view” in some cases. Also, designing windows that are difficult to operate is a common flaw that is seen in many homes. A bay window at a Kitchen sink can create a nice, panoramic view of the back yard but, if the window crank is several feet away from the front of the sink, it can be very cumbersome to open the window when the client wants a little fresh air or to ventilate the Kitchen. The bottom line is that a balance has to be struck in the design between natural light/ventilation and the need for drama.

3.)   Powder Rooms (i.e. half baths): Many clients complain about the ridiculously small size of their Powder Room but one more common complaint is the fact that, often times, the toilet is visible from anpowder room before entertaining or food preparation space. Another problem with centrally located Powder Rooms is privacy and noise once inside the bath. When guests come to visit, it can be a poor first impression when they ask to use the restroom and are directed to a tight, poorly functioning half bath with little or no privacy from the adjacent rooms. In modern designs, the rule of thumb should be that a toilet is never visible from a hallway or common space in the home. Sometimes, simply considering the swing of the door into the Powder Room is enough to hide the toilet and help with maneuverability once inside. In many cases, the door swing alone is not enough. Another solution is to incorporate a half wall to tuck the toilet behind. The issue of privacy is another matter. In many older homes, doors have been cut down or flooring has been changed so many times that there is a large gap at the bottom of the bathroom door. In addition to the installation of a properly sized door, the use of sound-deadening insulation can help create a much more private half bath.

Basement4.)   Centering design elements on walls: It’s seems very easy to consider that everyone has a symmetrical brain and wants to see things centered in rooms. It also can be a bit self-serving for a designer to think that the only element a client will ever want as a focal point in a room is an element the designer placed there (i.e. a fireplace, a window, a niche). The client has to be able to understand how they will use a room and be able to convey that to the designer so that, for example, the beautiful fireplace they wanted isn’t right where the TV will eventually need to be. I’ve walked into hundreds of bedrooms where the designer placed the window on the outside wall right where the bed should go. Simple communication is the key- if the client is one of the very few people who will use the fireplace more than their TV, it might be worth considering centering it rather an alternative like a corner fireplace design.

While it’s easy to pick designs apart after the fact it is difficult to know all the parameters and decisions that went into a particular design element that we may look at with our head slightly askew today. In many older homes, things like laundry facilities in the Kitchen; “popcorn” ceilings; narrow doorways and 7’ high ceilings were accepted norms that were phased out as modern homebuyers demanded more. But, design flaws are typically the result of poor communication between the designer and the client. At Foster Remodeling Solutions, we strive to understand how a client desires to use a space and the things the client will be putting in those spaces. Through our multi-step design phase, options are discussed and presented to help eliminate a client ever asking “what were they thinking?”.

If you would like to talk about ideas for remodeling or renovating your home in Fairfax, Mclean, Springfield, Woodbridge, Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church VA, reach out to us at Foster Remodeling. Call now for a free consultation!