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Great Room Design Challenges (and Our Favorite Solutions!)

Great minds may think alike, but in great room design, they typically have little in common aside from containing kitchen, living and dining spaces. Check out the many personalities of this universal timber-home room.

A great room has been a fundamental piece of the timber home puzzle for nearly as long as timber frame homes have been in existence. Where it took years — even decades — for conventional construction to catch up to the “open-concept” mantra that has taken over residential design, timber-framed homes almost always flow freely between rooms — especially the living, kitchen and dining spaces.
So with such a storied pedigree of open-floor-plan living, you’d think laying out a great room space would be a no-brainer, but not so. There are more design decisions to make here than you’d think. Everything from how to conceal meal-prep mess in the kitchen from guests lounging in the living room to where to plug in a side-table lamp when your sofa is several feet from the nearest wall outlet have to be considered. So even though a great room may be the largest and most open room in your timber home, it may also pose the most challenges.
To get your design juices flowing as freely as your floor plan, we’ve collected a grouping of some of the most successful great rooms we’ve featured throughout the past three years. From coastal comfort to rustic bliss, each one showcases the diversity and ingenuity that lie at the heart of timber home living. They impressed us — we hope you, too, will find inspiration here.
Photo: Greg Premru, Courtesy Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC

Create a Cohesive Space

Reclaimed, antique timbers pop against this enchanting coastal retreat. A combination of dormers, clerestory windows and skylights accentuate the bright white interior, punctuated by vivid bursts of marine blue. The great room’s kitchen and dining space is a seamless extension of the living room, while a golden hardwood floor ties the whole area together.

Photo: Scott Hemenway, Courtesy New Energy Works

Warm Up Modern Spaces

A NYC loft was the design inspiration behind this modern timber home near the New York/Massachusetts border. The sleek, linear design of the great room is given warmth and dimension thanks to the wood prominently displayed in its simple trusses and reclaimed-wood feature wall.  To the left, the open kitchen is light and bright thanks to a trio of windows and polished, reflective surfaces.  Lowered ceilings keep the whole great room cozy.
Photo: Jim Westphalen, Courtesy North Woods Joinery

Strive for Simplicity

A playful yet well-appointed retreat was the goal behind this great room’s design. Though the Douglas fir frame is structural, the owners didn’t feel the need to showcase the frame in its entirety, and the open plan helped to dictate where to expose the columns and timbers. The marble-topped island is command central in the kitchen space, while the double-sided fieldstone fireplace holds court in the living area. The juxtaposition of smooth and rugged stone in a similar color palette plays well off each other, while the lighting adds a contemporary touch.
Photo: Courtesy of Linthicum

Keep the Focus on the View

To keep the focus on the dramatic architecture and picture-perfect view, furnishings and accessories were kept to a minimum in the living portion of this twist on a California-contemporary great room. Organic materials and textures — including mesquite hardwood floors, Douglas fir/redwood trim and cut-fieldstone  — make the space come alive. With soaring 27-foot-high ceilings, lighting could have been a challenge, but the fixed-pane window and hand-forged iron chandelier illuminate the space splendidly.

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