Monday, April 30, 2018

THE HIERARCHY OF ROOM DESIGN: Which Room Gets What

Nice view of the Eiffel Tower...but it probably would have
been better in the living room.
A student of mine once designed a floor plan in which the laundry room received a spectacular view, and the master bedroom faced the neighbor’s garage. When I asked him to explain his choice, he said:

“The master bedroom always gets the view in other plans, so I thought I’d give it to the laundry for a change.”

Interesting—but not much of a rationale. It’s a bit like saying, “I always put my paycheck in the bank, so today I’ll throw it in the trash instead.” Some decisions are routine for good reason.  


Orient major rooms to the south so they'll have access to sun
all day long.
In life, we rely on a framework of priorities to help make sense of the gazillion decisions we face each day. Architects use a similar system of priorities in the design process—we call them as hierarchies. Without the various principles of hierarchy to help organize our designs, we’d be hopelessly adrift in a sea of of possibilities.  

The principle of hierarchy can help you approach your own design problems in a logical way as well. Here are a few example:

•  Solar orientation. Simply put, the hierarchy of solar orientation dictates that primary living areas—living room, family room, kitchen, and sometimes the master bedroom—should have first claim on the southern exposure, which remains sunny all day long.  Secondary rooms should be located so they get sun at the time they’re used. Hence, a breakfast room would ideally face east for morning sun, a dining room west for afternoon sun, and so on. Ancillary spaces such as closets, secondary baths, and garages are dead last in this hierarchy, so they get the sunless northern exposure. 


Put the fancy stuff in the master bedroom. The other
bedrooms typically get the dregs.
•  View orientation. This one is simple too: the primary living areas always get dibs on the best view. The living room is usually first in line, although the choice really depends on your lifestyle. If you spend more time in the family room, then perhaps the view will be more appreciated there. Inasmuch as people spend relatively little time in closets, pantries—or in laundry rooms, for Pete’s sake—those rooms sink to the bottom of the priority list. 

What if there’s a conflict between view orientation and solar orientation? In most cases, a compromise is possible: the view can be addressed by a limited amount of window, while still maintaining at least partial southern exposure in major rooms. If the view is a real stunner—let's say, the Pacific Ocean—it will take priority even though it means the windows will have to face west.


An old rule of the One Percent: Put the money where
people are sure to see it.
•  Room size. Hierarchy holds that rooms be sized according to their importance. Hence, a master bedroom is accorded more space in the floor plan than a secondary bedroom, which in turn gets more space than a guest bedroom. For the same reason, if remodeling dictates that space be borrowed from existing areas, the least important rooms are sacrificed. Say you’re faced with carving a guest closet from either the dining room or the pantry. Which do you choose? Right. Move over, cranberry sauce.   

•  Finishes. No surprise here. Hierarchy says: when the finish budget is limited, spend the money where it’s most visible. Once again, the primary living areas are favored with the best materials.  

The hierarchy of finishes applies to exteriors as well—the areas most visible from the street are first in line for the best materials. It’s a time-honored rule used by many developers, who use fine detailing and quality materials on the facades of their homes, and the cheap stuff everywhere else.  

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