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Spatial Effects: How to Fit Furniture into Your Timber Frame

Ensure your home and the rooms inside are appropriately sized by planning ahead.

Square footage is a precious commodity when building a new home. You want to make sure you have plenty of space for everything, but you also have a budget to maintain. You can save yourself some headaches by first determining how you plan to use your home, then deciding the necessary dimensions to be allotted to each space based on intended functions.

“Square footage is expensive,” states Karen Wray, design coordinator at Mountain Log Homes of Colorado, “so design [your home] for how you live and how you entertain.”
To start, ask yourself questions about basic functions. “Are you a formal entertainer or an informal entertainer?” Wray asks. The answer may determine whether you have a dedicated dining space or just a large kitchen island around which everyone can gather, she explains.

TV-watching habits and sleeping arrangements also may affect your design. “I’ve seen people use lofts as TV-watching areas,” she observes. “But you have to make sure, if it’s open to below, that you don’t have the TVs [from the loft and common area] on at the same time because the noise carries.”

The same is true of using the space for an overflow sleeping arrangement, she adds. Not only may you be able to hear the giggles from children playing above; those perched up there also can hear the effects of a surround-sound television.

“A lot of times, I’ll put a desk with a cozy chair and lamps to make a quiet space,” she notes, with built-in shelving for books, bill storage and the like for someone to get away from the other activity in the home. “Lofts work really well for that purpose. It can be pretty when seen from below if you have nice cabinetry, but it doesn’t require quiet or you to be quiet.”

These transition areas can prove tricky at times, but your furniture can actually be used to help separate functional spaces by creating a visual divide. Oftentimes, it’s some form of sofa/sofa table arrangement to cordon off the great room from adjacent spaces; kitchen islands also can help in that respect. Just make sure you have at least a rough idea of how these items will fall in your plan before the construction phase begins so you can install floor outlets as necessary to minimize the need for extension cords.

Using Current Furniture

More often than not, you’ll be placing current furnishings within your new place rather than buying new. The benefit is that you know the dimensions of these pieces beforehand so you can work with your architect to ensure space for particular showcase pieces, such as family heirlooms.

“If you’ve got some heirloom pieces you know for sure you want to include, in the blueprint stage, calculate the window height to accommodate pieces like that,” Wray suggests. “If there are a couple pieces you know you can’t live without, work with your architect [on dimensions] and make sure the architect knows that when making window placements.”

Be flexible with placement, too; not every piece of furniture needs to serve the exact same function as it does in your current residence. For example, Wray notes, a dining-room piece from your current house may function better as a buffet-style sofa table in your new house, or a beloved oversized chair may find a new home in front of a bedroom window. An open mind will help pieces fit within the context of the home.

See also Wall & Roof Options for Timber Frame Homes

Understanding the Space

Staring down at a ¼-inch scale drawing may not be helpful if you have nothing against which to compare it. “If you don’t do this for a living, and you’re looking at a 4-by-5-inch space [on a floor plan], it’s hard to visualize how that space lives when you’re not standing in it,” Wray states. If you’re weighing dimensions for key spaces, ask your builder to take you to homes he or she has constructed, she suggests, to help you see how large or small that much space feels.

You also can put pencil to paper by incorporating ¼-inch drawings of your own into the plan to understand traffic flow and livability. Wray will often shade out the logical pathways — which should be 36 to 42 inches wide for comfortable maneuverability — between areas such as the kitchen and great room so she can see the natural flow of the spaces. Area rugs come in handy to compartmentalize functional spaces while allowing the flooring to show through in these major walkways.

Lighting is critical as well. If you plan to incorporate high ceilings, Wray recommends a mix of decorative, up and down lighting. Steer clear of more delicate fixtures, she cautions, which can be dwarfed by the magnitude of any big timbers used.

See also New Life for Old Barns

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