How do you design a family home? One that will suit you and your family now, and into the future? Here’s 7 tips to get it right.
Your home is the launchpad for your life.
It’s where you set out from each day to head out into the world, and it is where you return to, to rest and restore. It’s where you create memories as a family – not only the big events, but the smaller, incidental ones too. It is where you connect together in your own private realm, share your secrets and dreams, and where you can be truly yourself.
How your home is designed can radically impact how it feels, and how you feel in it.
Families grow and change too, and a home that is designed well can, and will, accommodate years of love and growth – whilst loving you back.
So how do you design a family home that works – now and always?
Step 1: Become a sun worshipper
When you design for how the sun moves across your site and home, it is the single biggest thing you can do to create a home that works and feels great.
Research shows that our health and wellbeing improves with access to natural daylight on a regular basis.
Not only that, using what is available for free (natural sunlight and breezes) to heat and cool our spaces means lower energy bills long term. Often we forget about the ongoing costs in running our home when budgeting for a build or renovation.
I bang on about this a lot – I know. Honestly though, when you make the decision to design for orientation FIRST, then it makes all the difference to all other decisions, and the home you create.
It is also the secret sauce in spaces that feel and look great. It’s this magic ingredient that you really don’t know how awesome it is until you’ve lived in a home and experienced it – and then wonder how you ever lived otherwise.
So arrange the spaces in your home for orientation (see #uatips below). It may not always be possible, but start with this framework and prioritise your living areas getting northern sun (or southern if you’re in the northern hemisphere). If you can’t position them there, then read here for other ways you can access that northern sunlight.
Then provide shade and shelter to deal with hot summer sun and heat, whilst allowing winter sun to warm your interiors. Use your roof overhangs (eaves), and external landscaping to do this. You need horizontal shade elements (eaves and awnings) for high sun (midday sun), and vertical shade elements (screens and external blinds) for more horizontal (morning and afternoon) sun.
Step 2: Create privacy and protection
Part of the beauty of our homes is that we control them – who enters them, who hangs out in them. They’re our own private domain.
So design in this ability to maintain privacy and protection. Think about:
- How does someone arrive at the front door of your home – from the street to the front door? You don’t always have to have a physical or secure gate to make someone question whether they should enter.
- How much does someone see when you open your front door? Design in a small entryway, which screens the rest of your home. That way, you can open the door to anyone and decide whether they get to see more of your home.
- Can you keep an eye all around your home casually? Locate windows so you can keep an eye on the street as well as your rear gardens. This natural surveillance of the street will improve security overall.
- Can your neighbours look into your home? As we live closer to each other, it’s harder to keep eyes out of our gardens and homes. Position your windows with this consideration, and think about pergolas and awnings to cut off views neighbours may have down into your rear gardens and living areas.
- How can you get to your kids easily when supervising them (whilst you’re getting other jobs done in your home)? Of course, it’s important to easily see them play outside, or in a living space, or elsewhere around your home. However, equally important is the ability to get to them quickly if you need to, without traversing lots of stairs, or having to move through lots of other spaces or around obstructive furniture.
Managing these views in and out of your home, as well as easy physcial connection, will enhance that feeling of security and safety.
Step 3: Keep connected
Our busy lives often mean we juggle many jobs at once, and this is no different in your home.
With young and growing families, this often means being able to get daily tasks done whilst kids can be supervised or entertained. Some of the ways to do this are:
- Ensure your kitchen has a good view of internal and external play areas, including your swimming pool if you have one.
- Creating a study nook near the kitchen helps with supervision of computer use outside the bedroom, and enables you (as parents) to have somewhere easy as a command station the calendar, the school notes and other regularly required info.
- Island benches, or casual meal areas, double as conversation hotspots and homeworks zones. Create those casual areas where people can congregate easily, whilst enabling you to still get stuff done.
- If you have a two-storey home, creating a visual and audio connection between levels is handy. Often we’re so focused on creating quiet around the private zones of our home, that we forget it’s useful to keep an ear and eye out on things going on everywhere in our home!
Step 4: Useful is beautiful
You may not have all the space in the world, but you can make the space you have do lots of jobs so its always really functional.
Creating simply shaped rooms will mean they’re easy to furnish.
As you’re designing your renovation or new home, always draw furniture on your floor plans. It will help inform how to arrange windows and doors so you don’t limit how you can use the room.
Remember that every room isn’t only for one purpose. Look at the edges and corners of your rooms to create more intimate spaces … day beds, or reading nooks, or space for a desk.
Step 5: Get it right with space and flow
Everyone wants more. It is human condition. Your budget may never feel enough for all the things you would really love for your home. And when every glossy magazine seduces you, it can become demoralising to feel like you can’t have it all (or even a chunk of it!).
What really impacts how you get to live in your home, is the space and flow of your home working.
So focus on achieving that. Even if you can’t fit it out exactly as you want now, create the spaces, size them well and connect them well to each other. Choosing to spend your budget on what you fill a space with (rather than how you shape a space) will be a short-term solution.
When you invest in creating a home design that feels great, and makes you feel great in it – that pays long-term lifestyle dividends.
Choose materials, fixtures and finishes for their durability. Timber is lovely for its natural warmth, but if not used properly, can become a maintenance nightmare that will stare at you everyday in your home.
If you know something will be difficult and expensive to change in years to come, invest in durability. It will give you bang for buck everytime.
Skip the seduction. Bigger is not better when it comes to your home. Design makes the difference. Quality over quantity will change your everyday life, everytime.
Step 6: Instantly declutter
Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up” has revolutionised a lot of people’s views on clutter. It’s a good (however confronting) place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter at your place.
Here are a few design tricks you can also use:
- Butler’s pantries have become very popular in recent years. They take the walk-in-pantry up a notch, and provide a walk-in space where messy, everyday kitchen activities can be kept out of sight. With our open plan living design, our kitchens are on display, it’s a great tactic.
- If you don’t have room for a butler’s pantry, consider putting some benchspace inside a cupboard. Doors can open to reveal it when required, and be shut when a quick tidy up is needed.
- This works for other storage too. Review the regular activities of your lifestyle – particularly leaving and arriving at the home. Where do you dump the mail, charge your devices, or put your bags down? Create storage solutions that help hide this from view. Put powerpoints inside cupboards.
Imagine next time the doorbell rings, that you madly rush around and shut cupboard doors to hide it all away. Instant decluttering done.
Step 7: Sweet dreams for everyone
Bedrooms, and how they’re sized and arranged, is a topic for significant conversation when it comes to designing a home.
When you have a young family, being close to the kids’ bedrooms is great for convenience with night-time waking. However, kids are big a lot longer than they’re little, so consider that you may not always want them right next door.
A great strategy is to create a study near the master bedroom that can be used as a nursery in the short term.
There are very different views on whether kids’ bedrooms should have sufficient space for a double (or larger) bed down the track. Our kids stay at home a lot longer these days, so sizing their bedrooms at 3.2m x 3.2m (plus their wardrobe) will fit a single bed and desk whilst they’re younger, and a double bed when they’re older.
Even if you plan to never put them in a double bed (I have some clients who’ve insisted the first double beds their kids will ever sleep in is when they move out of home!), it helps for resale to size the bedrooms suitably.
And finally, remember your forever home may not be forever
Our home is usually our biggest asset, so investing in building or improving it should be considered with this in mind.
A newly built or renovated home is an amazing opportunity to shape it exactly how you want it to be and look. However, you can also create a home that has general appeal whilst making it uniquely yours.
Designing a functional, durable family home that will be loved by many families will help you sell well and quickly, if and when the time comes.
Tastes and trends change over time – even yours – so go for neutrals in the items that are more fixed and permanent, or are very expensive to change. Add your personal touches in your finishes and soft furnishings.
Consider two simple white rooms. One is filled with antique furniture, thick rugs, heavy curtains with large pelmets, and chandeliers. The other has Danish furniture, with contemporary artworks, and light coloured timber. Two entirely different aesthetics, and when it’s all taken away, the empty rooms are still the same – and what matters is whether the rooms work in size, shape and lighting.
Invest in the permanent decisions and let the details follow.
This isn’t about “WOW” for everyone else … this is about what works for you
So much of the success in designing a home comes with the order you make your choices in. Prioritise your choices with this framework, and you’ll be creating a home not only helps you survive – it will help you (and your family) thrive.
And isn’t that what we really want from our homes? If you like this, or know someone it could help, please share and forward it on.
And if you need help creating your family home, head here to get in touch.
Sarah Susanka sounds very similar to your wisdom listed in this excellent article. Well done.
Thanks – Sarah Susanka’s work is great 🙂
– Amelia, UA
Thank you, these are amazing tips! We will be building a house soon and I am still contemplating whether to put the kids on the main floor so that they stay close to the mail living area and master bedroom on the 2nd floor. We have 3 kids and we can build 180 square meters on the main floor. We also want to add a family/guest room, a mud room and of course kitchen living room and dining room. Any advice , recommendations or opinions would be greatly appreciated!
Glad you found this helpful. For your decisions around how to plan your future home, I suggest you check out Season 2 of the podcast. I take you through how a family home needs to work, room by room, and how to make decisions that will suit you over the long term. I even help with thinking about where to place the kids’ bedrooms, and how you’ll get that to work. You can start listening here
– Amelia, UA