Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Contest House - comparing plans

The compact size of our proposed design triggers a series of compromises. We look at the plan of the typical Swedish catalog house to see if we can gain any insight.

Part of our effort to keep the footprint of the contest house design small also limits our options. We want the living spaces to feel spacious and open, yet our experience is that running any interior room from side to side in a house actually contributes to it feeling smaller. Somehow the presence of a "space beyond" where you are, or a "space between" here and there can contribute to a home feeling perceptually larger. When a house is small this becomes an important consideration.

I've placed the plan of the Anebyhus Lygnern design above the sketch of our contest house plan. The first thing we notice is that the Swedish house is essentially a 1 story design with two bedrooms on the ground floor. Officially it is what the Swedes call a 1.5 design, or a one story house with the option for the finishing of the second floor. That option would add 3 bedrooms, a bath, and a common family room to the home effectively doubling its size. With the upstairs finished the house tops out at around 2000sqft, 33% more than our target of 1500 sqft.

Yet there are significant things going on in the Swedish plan that save space. Things that are considered floor plan "poison" in the US. These are not criticisms of the Swedish design, but rather highlights of different cultural expectations in the US and Sweden. First of all the master bedroom shares its bathroom with the secondary bedroom - no private master bath. Compounding this is the bathroom is also doing duty as a powder room for guests. The second bedroom is also awkwardly located right at the entry foyer. Now if the second floor was completed, all of these issues resolve - the second bedroom becomes an ideal home office. But we will still find only one shared bathroom upstairs. Yet all of this shared bathroom saves space and makes for the opportunity for a very useful utility/laundry room. This is something that we are forced to sacrifice in order to create a first floor powder room. Utilities and laundry relegated to a closet in the same space - not a flexible solution. The American expectation for a master bathroom, and the awkwardness of sending a guest upstairs to find a bathroom puts us in the difficult position to provide 2.5 baths in a compact 1500 sqft home. Yet if we can package these desires into a plan at this size we've put good value and greater market appeal into a small house.


  1. I like where I think this is going. Is that area in front of the living space like a combo mud room / office?

  2. Yes - that is the home office area to the left. Its narrow like a galley kitchen, and separated from the living area by a screen wall. This is again another compromise of the small footprint - no room for a discrete home office with a door. But this should work for all but the full time home worker. It would be quiet enough if kids were at school, but if toddlers were home, with Barney on the tv in the next room - it just would never do. That's why there is CoWorking!

  3. Oh - forgot you mentioned a Mud Room. Its not really a mud room, although you could configure a part of the length of desk there as storage cubbies for kids. On the other side of the front door is a coat closet.

    As the floor plan was developing there were schemes where I thought we could forgo the powder room, and that space was dedicated to laundry, and utilities, with a side door going outside - also would have been useful as a mud room.

    I'm going to look at loosing some of the home office length to a separate powder room at the corner of the house.

  4. Really like the openess of the floor plan, especially if you had a floating stair. Is there a separate dining area on the other side of the kitchen? If space is at a premium, might it not be better to have the kitchen accomodate a larger dining table rather than have two tables? Just my two cents, but since we almost never eat at our dining table...


  5. I think some people might elect to not have a dining table and use that entire space for living. I could also see a galley kitchen take the place of the home office, and a discrete home office taking over the space to the right. I think its good for the plan to have a bit of resiliency this way.

  6. And don't think that office comprimise is really that. I have a upstairs home office (and master suite) now, and all the other living space is on the first floor. One of my bigger problems is that I can't use my office much because the kids and dog are always downstairs and too far away to keep an ear on. Something like what you have here is far better in my case. Which seems to at last partially mirror your challenge here. The only usability thing I wouldn't like about that is the back to the action part. But I guess the work surface could be easily moved. Put a pocket door on the living room end of that divider wall, and you have a good little space there.

    Your designs always make me think & re-evalute my current living arrangments, even if I can't go for broke and go modern for a while!

  7. That's true - if you were managing little ones while you are trying to work - it would be helpful to be just on the other side of the screen wall. And it could be built out with doors for more privacy, but it will feel a bit narrow as a room.

    The design process always make me re-evaluate my living arrangements as well, and I'm similarly unable to do anything about it for now!