Paper versus computer
The advent of accessible design software for computers is both a blessing and a curse for the inexperienced home designer. While drafting programs can help you to turn out very professional-looking renderings, they can also limit your vision by creating solid definitions of the space too early in the process. Computers make very accurate rectangles and boxes, but they often constrain “visions” of space in these early phases. It will be a matter of personal preference whether you choose to work on your design on paper or electronically (or maybe both).
Add detail gradually
Your first drawings don’t have to be accurate or beautiful. As you create a design that meets your needs and pleases you, you can gradually add detail. Begin to add depth/thickness to walls, and begin to draw doorways and windows to scale. Consider the direction in which doors will swing. Add permanent fixtures like sinks, baths, showers, and toilets; place counters, closets, beds, desks, and tables. Think about appliances. For two-story designs, begin to place stairs and landings. And even if you don’t know the specific details, consider the location of heating devices and mechanical systems.
As you start to work with more accurate dimensions, you may want to carry a tape measure with you wherever you go. By measuring existing rooms and spaces, you can build a realistic understanding of what dimensions will work best for your design. Most people tend to overestimate the amount of space they will need. Only by knowing how your numbers translate into real-world space can you avoid over- or under-sizing. Consider how space will be used, not just the amount of space that’s available.
Design for efficiency
It is not too difficult to design individual rooms to suit your needs. It is a real skill, however, to be able to join all the rooms efficiently. The least efficient spaces in a home are hallways. These take up a lot of square footage and often don’t serve any purpose other than short-term foot traffic to connecting rooms. Where possible, arrange rooms to limit the number and size of hallways. If a hallway is unavoidable, try to have it serve additional purposes (storage, art display, outdoor view, reading nooks, for example).
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Efficient design also accounts for the primacy of daily “chores” such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and moving goods into the home and waste out of the home. Give these activities careful consideration and make them as easy as possible to complete.
Storage is an important consideration in efficient design. Be honest about how much storage capacity you will need. There is no point in planning for less storage than necessary it will be a constant frustration in the home. The tiny house movement has introduced a wide array of clever storage options. Think about spaces in your design that are underutilized; it may be possible to integrate storage into them in unique ways.
Don’t strain to be original
You don’t have to come up with your own design from scratch. By copying or slightly altering an existing design that has many of the features you want, you can still create a highly personalized living space. Even two houses built from identical plans can look and feel remarkably different and original. Designing a home is not an art competition or exercise in radical originality (unless you want it to be!). Borrowing or even directly copying what has already been done is not cheating it’s a time-honored tradition.
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