Sunday, September 18, 2011

516. Master's Thesis In Architecture

I love architecture. I love anything relating to floor plans or houses or design. If what you’re holding in your hands has the words “blue” and “print” on it, I want to see.  Even though my college degree is in English Literature, I initially majored in Architecture (Architectural Engineering, to be precise). I drop this fascinating little tidbit into conversation whenever the opportunity allows:

Random co-worker: So, MOV, my cousin, she’s an architect in Boston, is helping us design our new house.
Me: That’s so exciting! You know, I majored in Architecture.


New neighbor: Do you happen to know a good designer, MOV? Because we might be adding on to the back of our house.
Me: That’s so funny you ask, because I went to school for Architecture.


Person I just met at a party: It’s so nice to meet you, MOP! Susie mentioned that you work at the high-end children's store?
MeI actually studied Architecture.


Complete stranger in line ahead of me at Starbucks: Excuse me, ma’am, I think you knocked over that coffee bean display with your purse.
Me: I’m an architect!

So, as you can see, there are different times when I may or may not have mentioned it to loved ones and just really super-close friends.

The only reason I bring this up is because I am completely dismayed by homes being built today.

(*ALERT: blog takes serious tone, for once)

I frequently tour new construction houses in the process of being built. Some might call this “trespassing,” I prefer to call it “Continuing Education and Independent Studies in Architecture.” I’ve noticed an alarming trend out there: Bad houses.

We are going to fix this, right here, right now. How, you say? Well, I’m going to tell you what makes a good house, and you are going to forward this blog to everyone on your email list. I mean, EVERYONE. I will keep up my end of the bargain (keep reading), and then you need to hit the forward key.  Done.

Homes today are outdated. (I'm not talking about some historical, Gone With The Wind-type property here, so don't get all upset.)  You most likely do not wear the same style of clothing that your parents or grandparents wore at your same age. (Poodle skirt, anyone?) This begs the question: Why are we living in houses that are from another era, completely outmoded, that have ceased to work for the way families live today? Small, choppy rooms. A formal living room that never gets used and pretty much serves as a furniture museum and a separate family room where everyone really does hang out. A kitchen that is a far away from all the other rooms. No formal entry/ foyer to set your purse and keys and hang up your coat. A floor plan with two or three separate floors where the family is wasting time and energy going up and down all day. Not enough windows/ connection to the outside. These features (lack of features) may have worked for our grandparents 50 years ago, but they are a dismal match for our current needs.

Number One Important Thing: The house should take advantage of the view. The End. I mean, come on. Why do I even need to type this? This should be common sense. The house I toured this morning is adjacent to a spectacular park. The grass is green, the trees are mature, there is a creek involved. Guess which room takes advantage of this view? The upstairs hall bathroom! And the closet (with no window). Are you kidding me? The entire living room should have floor to ceiling windows of the gorgeous park! It was as if the owner of the lot looked through a book of floor plans and said, This one might be okay. It is not okay!  EACH HOUSE SHOULD BE SITE SPECIFIC. What a tragic lost opportunity.

I could go on and on and on and on (and on) about that one issue all day long, but you get the gist.

Moving forward.  I have designed a basic home that works in most situations where there is not really a view one way or another. I affectionately call this house “The H,” due to its H-shape. The kitchen and entry are the center of the H. The main public (daytime) rooms are on one side of the H, and the other part of the H is all the bedrooms. It is a simple design, really.

Wanna see?


My plan works for several reasons. One is that it gives the family an entry, a respite from outside, a spot to set down their things and regroup before continuing into the home. THIS TRANSITION IS IMPORTANT. If you are building a home, put an entry in it. If your current existing home does not have it, consider adding it somehow, or at least trying to make some sort of area that can serve this function.

My H plan also acknowledges that the kitchen is the center of our lives, the gathering spot. I put the kitchen right smack dab in the middle, with a nice patio off the back.

The patio is also accessible from the master bedroom and the living room (notice there is NO family room, which means that the living room really is the place to enjoy and LIVE).

The living room is in the back of the house, looking at the backyard and patio. The dining room is the room where the family is intended to eat and be together, it is not a drop-all zone for junk from the front door. THAT IS WHY I PUT IN AN ENTRY FOYER AREA!

The kitchen is not fleshed out in exact detail, but let me tell you right now, there is not room for a table. There would be an island with bar stools, but the family is meant to eat (I repeat) in the dining room. That is the room with a nice table and chairs and NO TELEVISION. Use it.

The bedrooms are separate from the main rooms, which means that if the kids are asleep, the parents can have some friends over for a cocktail and conversation in the living room and not have to worry about waking anyone up.

There is a nice study/ library tucked away to type on the computer or pay bills. It is in a private area not encumbered with distractions.

This plan also includes a mudroom. The mudroom is essentially a space that connects the outside garage area to the home. So, if the owner happens to be bringing in groceries or muddy kids from soccer or hockey games, there is an appropriate spot to enter.

The beauty of this H floor plan is that most of the rooms can have windows on two sides. This is great for light and also for cross-ventilation.

I love this floor plan. I am so proud of it. Obviously, it needs all the details mapped out, like closet placement and exact cabinets arrangement in the kitchen, etc. But for the most part, the design is nice and solid.

Just like the letter H.



  1. OMG! I have always said I wanted a house shaped like an H with the kitchen in the middle. The only differance being I want one side for me and the other for the husband and kids. I'll happily meet them for lunch in the middle!
    Nice towels on my side, thin towels on theirs! care to come visit!? ;-)

    My issue with modern houses is that I don't understand how a garage door has become a focal point? really they are garages with houses attached!

  2. Oh how I miss our architectural conversations at the high-end kitchen store! Great argument!


  3. My parents have an H-shaped house and I LOVE it! Their kitchen/living is all in the middle, with the bedrooms on either side so their daughter and son-in-law will be out of their hair when they visit. You'll be happy to know, however, that they arranged all their windows around their mountain view... of which I am unspeakably jealous.

    I'll be sure and tell them their floor plan corresponds to a design by "someone who studied architecture." :) I also considered that as a major, until I realized it involved math, at which point I ended up with a Creative Writing degree. But I, too, still enjoy the occasional course in Continuing Education & Independent Studies in Architecture.

  4. But what if you have a HUGE 60/70/80-ish acre plot in the northwoods???

    Oh yeah: just stretch out the H. A LOT.

    ~Aspiring Falconer Motaki (thanks for the compliments in your previous comment, made me feel awesome :D)

  5. Perfect! Now I'm ready to call in the bulldozers and start over. :)

  6. Love house plans, love looking for and dreaming about *the* house... That H set up is pretty good, I'd rearrange it a little based on my preferences, but basically I like it :-)

  7. swap the living room w/dining room and it's perfect! Guests entering should be able to go to a living room and not have to walk through a dining area first.

  8. I love your house design. Remind me, when I have some money, to contact you! -B.

  9. Anonymous 1-- I know what you mean about the houses with gigantic garages in the front. We are lucky bec. our house was built in 1942 and it is an old-style Cape Cod with a separate (one-car) garage on the side, but slightly set back. It is very cute. Now if we could only fit a car in it..........

    Michael-- me, too! we will have to plan more Virgo dinners.............

    Haley, are we long-lost soul sisters? you love to sneak in houses being built, I love to sneak in houses being built, you did creative writing in college, I pretended to do creative writing in college, you draw, I like to look at drawings. See? TWINS.

    Motaki-- are you just bragging now? sounds like you're bragging. If you tell me those northwoods are overlooking the Pacific Ocean, well, I might have to stop speaking to you. For like, a day.

    Le'Ann, awesome! send before and after pics! ;)

    Kerry, thanks for the kind words.

    Anonymous 2, You know, I totally thought about that. I went back and forth. I ended up with living room in the back because we usually keep our dining room nice and neat, and this H house has no family room, so the family/ living is the same area and I wanted it looking at the backyard and patio. thanks for your comment! :)

    Anonymous 3 (B.), yes, yes, when you win Lotto, definitely call me and I will be happy to design your house.

    thanks to all for the lovely comments.


When you write a comment, it makes me feel like I won the lottery or at the very least like I ate an ice-cream sundae. (This has nothing to do with the fact that I did just eat an ice-cream sundae.)