The difference between a renovation and a new build is similar to altering an antique wedding dress versus having one custom-made. They both have extreme pros and cons. For instance, the vintage dress might unravel once you start unstitching the threads, possibly even disintegrating in your hands, but even that dust has so much history and soul (oh dear, not really selling it here). The custom dress on the other hand will likely fit you like a glove if done right, but the beginning concepts for it might be daunting and getting it perfect isn’t always easy in the planning stages – and if you hire the wrong seamstress it could be a disaster. Taking the time to do something ‘new’ means just that – you need to do something NEW (or else just buy one off the shelf) which is why architects are so hell-bent on moving design forward, not recreating an older style home. And I get that and agree. The vintage dress has a lot more risks and guess what? It can cost just as much as the renovation (true story! hahahaha!!!), but you hopefully have a historical and sentimental connection to it (plus it is hopefully better for the earth). The new build/dress requires finding the best players to make sure that if you are starting from scratch it will be worth it. Designing both a new build and a historic remodel at the same time is a true new level of education. I LOVE MY JOB right now because I’m learning SO MUCH. And right now if I had to choose between living in Ken’s new construction river house or our vintage remodeled farmhouse it would be a real tossup. Ultimately we want chickens and alpacas, so farm it is. But you’ll see through this process the benefits of building something new.
First Off, Where Are We At With The River House?
We finished the initial floor plan months ago in order to even submit for engineering and thus permits to start, but I wasn’t sure how to blog about the floor plan in a way that is useful to others. Every new build is different based on the location (ours is a skinny long lot ending in a river), the needs/size of the family, and of course the homeowners budget (normally calculated per square foot). So just showing you the final floor plan didn’t seem very helpful nor universal. But then I realized that while Annie Usher (Architect), Max Humphrey (co-designer), myself (Lady Emily Von Henderson) JP Macy (contractor), and Ken/Katie (Bro + SIL) were pouring over the final floor plan details there were some really good takeaways for any new build or extensive remodel in regards to floorplan planning. Quite plainly the question is: WHERE DO YOU PUT ALL YOUR ROOMS FOR THE BEST LAYOUT AND FLOW AND LIFE? It’s both so basic and so broad but that didn’t stop us from coming up with some solid tips. And yes these are tips based more on personal lifestyle than they are architectural rules. I had Annie weigh in on them and she absolutely agreed. Your architect will of course know to put a bathroom off the main bedroom, but do they understand the needs of your family enough to know exactly where the all-important mudroom should go????
First off – I really like doing this new build – FAR MORE than I thought I would. To be fair, Annie Usher, the architect, is doing the bulk of the work thus far (planning, permitting), and Max Humphrey is heavily involved in materials and elevations, but it showed me that if I were ever to do one (which I will now) I would just hire a dope architect. They are the ones that do all the intimidating stuff – engineering, permitting, schedules, surveys, etc. And as a designer/homeowner you have SO much more control over how your house ‘works’. There are days where Ken/Katie and Brian/Myself want to trade places – I see how they will get EXACT home what they want, while they see that living on a flat farm will be full of charm that is hard to put into a new build. But the #1 thing I’ve learned is that the new build process is much more difficult at the beginning than a remodel, but once you have the permits you can GO FOR IT with FAR less unknowns.
So here are our floorplan rules, no matter what style or age of home you have:
The Mudroom Should Be Between The Car/Garage or The Back Entrance And Ideally Also Near Kitchen
I loved where it was in the Portland Project (above) – it was right off the kitchen, with its own entrance, close to the main entrance (but further down) and inside it was near the garage so if they came in via the car they could quickly pop into the mudroom and drop their garbage/shoes before entering the living areas.
And oh how I wish we could have done this at the farm, but we would have had to sacrifice the best natural light in the house and given it to the mudroom – something we simply weren’t willing to do (we wanted it for the kitchen and our bedroom). For Ken and Katie’s house, since it’s elevated due to flood planes, their first floor starts on top of the garage, so the mudroom is at the top of the stairs after you park in the garage. There is also an exterior entrance so if kids are playing outside and muddy/sandy they can go around the house from the river and straight in the side (and clean off in the outdoor shower).
This will just make the flow and your house better and more importantly, cleaner:)
Ideal Bedroom Locations – Near Kids Or Your Own ‘Wing’?
I think universally people want to be close to their kids when they are sweet and little but farther away when they are gross teenagers. This makes the new build process a bit more difficult as you have to predict the future, but I love what Annie came up with for them – same floor (the second) – but at opposite ends for some privacy. This is obviously a lifestyle question only you can answer – how close do you want to be from your kids? I’d recommend AT LEAST a bathroom in between or on the other side of the whole house – you don’t want to actually share a wall with your eventually grown kids (nor do they, you). So this was a high priority that they are the perfect distance away from their kids – enough for privacy, but not so far that they feel nervous.
Us on the other hand at the farm, oof, we are NOT close to our kid’s rooms and we are very curious how this is going to go down. We think they’ll get the dogs to sleep with them (our kids get “scared” 3 nights a week). Do I wish our bedroom was closer? YES. But there was literally no way to do it UNLESS we forewent having the bedroom and bath of our dreams, and frankly we weren’t willing to do that with this extensive of a remodel. We are playing the long game in this house and it’s going to be fine. But if I were building new I sure would have done it differently (but I think we’ll be psyched in 7 years).
Family Room Near Kitchen (But Not Too Close To The TV)
The pandemic changed the ubiquitous love of the open concept – people are wanting more separation. I still love the kitchen being open to a hang-out room so you can feel connected to the family pre and post-dinner, but not TOO close to the TV. The reason is doing dishes y’all. It’s REALLY ANNOYING to hear someone bang around doing the dishes 7 feet away from your head while you are trying to carefully rewatch Felicity for the 12th time. Our mountain house has a great setup – the family room/kitchen are close, but around a corner and the sound doesn’t carry. Another option is to be able to close off the doors or of course have a separate TV room altogether, away from the family room. There are just so many times when you want to send the kids off to watch something so you can do the dishes in peace (how sad?) and there is nothing more enraging than your kids complaining about your loud dish cleaning while they watch The Thundermans. NOTHING. It makes me want to chuck a plate at that dumb magical rabbit’s face. So just think about creating some sort of separation to the TV, while still not caging yourself in by yourself if you like cooking/cleaning (which I do).
For this home, the kitchen shares the space with a family room (no real formal living room in this house) but there is the rompus room/media room at the other end. Basically, they have options when it comes to wanting to hang or needing some TV/kitchen cleaning separation.
Washer/Dryer Near Bedrooms
This seems obvious but back in the day people put washer/dryer in the basement mostly for water/plumbing purposes, which makes sense. But these days there is more trust in the technology and the pipes to go ahead and throw them near the bedrooms even if on the second floor.
Our laundry closet at the mountain house was put in secondary to our larger laundry closet on the first floor (where it originally was). IT IS AWESOME. ALL of the clothes – clean and dirty – belong on that floor, as well as all the sheets/towels so there is minimal schlepping. If you are building new or totally remodeling DEFINITELY think about putting your washer dryer near the bedrooms.
Here are Annie’s thoughts: “For washer and dryer, yes usually up by the bedrooms, but know yourself and your environment. Muddy or sandy zones, you might want to think about having W/D in the mudroom location to make sure you are not tracking sand/mud through the house. Or in these locations, try not to have carpet between the backdoor and the laundry room so the floor is easier to clean. This comes from someone who lives in a very very very muddy family:)”
We are doing it at the farm…
And at the river house. Can you tell we’re fans?
Powder Right Off Entrance, Yet Tucked Away And Especially Not Too Close To The Dining Room (Ahem)
Y’all were up in arms about the location of our powder room at the farm and while it’s not “ideal” it’s gonna be totally fine. Listen, I think it’s rather old-fashioned to have the need for a more ‘public’ washroom for ‘guests’. This need was for back in the day when people would invite and entertain strangers (WHAT? gross) who didn’t know their way around your house. So indeed a more centrally located and obvious powder was the WC of choice. Ideally, it’s in a hallway off the living room and kitchen – central but tucked away for privacy. What you don’t necessarily want is right off the dining room or kitchen. We’ve all been on either end of that situation and even if they are your brother or a stranger, I’d go for tucked away over ‘central’ any day.
Annie’s powder room thoughts: “Powder bathrooms need privacy. I try to make it so that the door of the powder bath can not be seen from any of the major rooms like the living room, dining room, or kitchen. Nothing like walking out to the bathroom and the entire dinner party is staring at you. Or when you have guests over and your kid goes to the bathroom without shutting the door.”
Dining Room (Or Family Room) Not In Western/Afternoon Light
Have you ever had a room you couldn’t use during certain times of the day – the times when you actually really wanted to use them? THIS IS WHY YOU HIRE AN ARCHITECT. Architects (and now me) think about where the light is going to blast into at all times of the day, throughout the seasons and place rooms accordingly (along with maximizing the view and general good flow). You can’t avoid it all of the time (especially in a renovation, like ours) but what you don’t want is hot western afternoon light blasting the areas that you want to sit during that time – like the family/hang out room or especially the dining room. Having to shut the shades on a sunny day because your architect didn’t shield you from the elements is a real bummer. Our living room faces west and there was nothing we can do about it, but we made sure to tuck our dining nook into the corner that will be shaded by the roofline. If you are doing a new build – make your living areas face north or south, not east or west.
Avoid The ‘Pass Through’ Living Room
For a lot of us that are renovating older homes there is no way to totally reconfigure your layout based on existing staircases, foundation and well, the OG footprint is likely too expensive to move all walls, electrical, plumbing, entrances, etc. There were so many times at the farm I wished we could pick up our house walk it 100 yards west turn it 180 degrees and face it south or north (better/softer light), but that can only be realized through the hiring of the strong Encanto sister which has gained so much popularity through the success of her movie that she is booked years in advance. We are happy for her! But if you can control it, give yourself space to walk properly behind a sitting area to get from one room to another, either through a hallway or bisecting an open space. In this new house the hallways dead end in between the kitchen and the living room – thus disrupting neither area, and providing excellent flow. I’m very jealous. Trying to layout a living room that people will have to walk through to get literally anywhere else is HARD.
Annie’s thoughts on the matter: “For me, one of the big items in a house is the different kinds of circulation. And the circulation to the kitchen always seems to need to be as efficient as possible, as you are taking that route more than any other, and it is usually more purposeful. I like to avoid going through other rooms to get to the kitchen, and I love the hallway to the kitchen. This frees up the furniture layout in the living room and dining room, and gives you a quick route to the kitchen, which we all want.”
There you go. New or vintage, thinking through these kinds of things will only make your life in your home better. Are there any layout plan decisions you made that were awesome (or not so much)? Let’s talk about it. xx