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5 Tips for Designing a Floor Plan That "Flows"

Expert tips for designing a gratifying timber home floor plan:

Photo: Great Island Photography / Courtesy of Timberpeg.
Flow may be a word more often associated with rivers or even yoga teachers than timber home design, but the concept is absolutely crucial in creating a floor plan that works with your life. In fact, arranging rooms in a way that makes sense is why we create floor plans in the first place — and to do it right, you need to take into account everything from the view you want to capture to the way you’ll move around in your home.
For advice on how to achieve good flow in your floor plan, we turned to two experts: Allen Halcomb, owner of MossCreek, a firm that specializes in designing timber, log and hybrid homes and Mark Wagner, planning and design division manager and architectural associate with Tamarack Grove Engineering. Here are their tips for keeping things moving with ease. 

1. Start with your location.

Before you can figure out how to make your floor plan flow, you need to pinpoint any potential blockages. “The first place to start when designing a floor plan is to look at the things that will constrain the way you organize the house,” Allen says, “and the most constraining thing is usually the site — that’s a very difficult thing to change.”
If you have an amazing view of snow-capped mountains or a pristine lake, you’ll naturally want to organize the home around that focal point, perhaps by creating a linear design that will provide spectacular panoramas. On the other hand, if the landscape is pretty similar from every angle of your site, your game plan should be much different. “If you have a house in the woods, the rooms tend to focus in on each other,” says Allen. “It’s more about what you see as you look from one room to another. Keep this in mind and your house will feel much cozier.”

2. Examine your life.

“We perform certain ritualistic tasks in our homes every day. Maybe when you arrive home from work, you stop by the drop zone, toss your car keys and sort the mail; or maybe you wake up in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, check your email and get ready for the day,” Mark explains. “These routines should be considered. Organizing, or at least understanding, the process of how a home will accommodate daily life is vital to successful design.”
In addition to the day-to-day routine, you also should consider whether your overall lifestyle is casual or formal and how you’d like your home to reflect that philosophy. A few immediate clues are an open great room versus a walled-off living area, a cozy eat-in kitchen as opposed to a dedicated dining room. But there are other, more subtle design decisions that have just as much of an impact on a home’s atmosphere.
“The two most important organizational principles in floor plan design are the public zone and the private zone,” says Allen. The way you delineate those can have a major impact on how formal or casual your house feels. The best example? Hallways. “When you have a lack of hallways — a front door that enters right into the great room, or a master bedroom with a door in the wall of the great room — it’s extremely informal,” notes Allen. “You can use hallways to create an aesthetic and emotional separation. For some people, such as those using the home as a primary residence,  that’s more important than it is for others.”

3. Visualize living in the house.

This is probably the most important thing you can do to help determine where rooms should fit inside your floor plan. The key word here is “visualize.” Close your eyes and imagine yourself walking through the house; relying on logic alone won’t do the trick. For example, locating your laundry room near your master bedroom might seem like a great idea, but, says Allen, “The majority of our customers find that, in the end, because they spend most of their time in the kitchen — the central area of the house — when they locate the laundry room elsewhere, they find themselves tracking back.”
When doing this visualization, it’s also important to plan not just for your current situation but also for the future. For example, if you’re using the home for a weekend getaway now but plan to retire there down the road, place the master bedroom on the main level, and make sure you incorporate plenty of storage.

4. Create connection and separation.

A large, open great room is nearly a given in a timber home; it’s what you do with that vast space that determines how cozy and intimate your home will feel.
“It’s easy to get lost in a large space,” says Mark. “A home should provide a mixture of large gathering zones, with intimate conversation nooks that help to enhance the connection between people, or the connection with the activity of the space, whether it is a fireplace, vista window, kitchen, what have you. Placing small areas within larger rooms creates flexibility in the usage of the space and enhances personal interactions within that space.”
The secret to creating these zones within a larger room, according to Allen, is the usage of subtle design elements. “Psychologically, people tend to break rooms into 12-by-12-foot dimensions,” he explains, “and it can create tension in a room if you haven’t done this aesthetically.” The most common way to accomplish it in timber homes is by varying the ceiling heights, keeping the tall, vaulted ceiling over the living area, but bringing it down in more intimate spaces, like the kitchen and dining room.”
Mark agrees. “It’s also important to design the areas of connection and separation between the rooms,” he adds. “One example is how an island spans the separation between the kitchen and dining room, in the same way that a bridge increases the visual interest of a riverbank. These connections also act as bridges that help to create spatial definition by confining access between spaces and enhancing a home’s flow.”

5. Add an element of surprise.

Just like you wouldn’t want someone to spoil a movie by telling you the ending the moment you start the show; the same thing applies to designing your timber home. “Don’t tell the entire story as soon as you walk through the front door. Hold a little of the plot line back,” advises Mark.  “It’s the process of discovery and experience that will increase the sense of space and flow within your home.”

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