Home designs have traditionally been as diverse as the people who inhabit them. From log cabins of the frontier to stucco villas of the southwest, houses were usually influenced in style and design by the building materials readily available in the environment. A few features, however, were universal. Efficiency, room usability, and utilization of outdoor space were a few concepts instinctively considered when building a home.
Today, a home is often built en masse along with dozens of others. Developers are business people whom have contributed positively to the home experience by providing affordable and available homes, but their priority is cost-effective quantity. Even
custom built homes are subject to influence from the neighborhoods and homes already in existence. Property owners take cues from existing homes, thereby perpetuating home features which may not even meet their needs.
Certain home features of the last few decades have served their purpose but are outdated, while others from the past need to be resurrected. With these topics in mind, let's explore some of the possibilities for improving homes.
1. The Walk-Out Basement. Get Rid of It.
The walkout basement became a pervasive feature of many homes in the 1990s and 2000s. Finished basements in the 1970s and 1980s were often unavoidably dark or claustrophobic no matter how luxuriously they were finished. Walkout basements with direct access to the outside and possibility of large windows seemed like an ideal way to make the basement not only an extra living area, but a prominent and comfortable one as well.
This design logically meant putting the main floor of the home a story above the ground
in back. Therefore, with the exception of a deck and a steep flight of stairs, it eliminated the main floor access to the backyard. The habits of people, however, did not change. The basement still felt disconnected and navigating down several stairs to reach the yard took effort. The family backyard traditionally an extension of the home directly off the main living areas -became a thing of the past. Many backyards of homes with walkout basements are barren and underutilized. It is not uncommon to see homeowners trying
to create a backyard atmosphere in their front yard, complete with lawn chairs near the curb and the family pet tied up next to the car. This is based on a natural tendency to walk out the door with the quickest, most level access to the yard.
There is simply little reason for a walkout basement. Basements are meant to be disconnected, and window designs and lighting have evolved to help create a more comfortable space underground. Homes built with easy, direct yard access add to the enjoyment of the property.
2. The Front Porch. Bring It Back.
Regardless of the home style, most homes until the 1980s featured a front porch. Social and outdoor connection was so important that people often used valuable square footage for porches rather than indoor rooms. Front porches present a welcoming image that encourages others to visit. They promote neighborly interaction and allow a comfortable place from which to watch the children and enjoy the fresh air.
At some point in time, homeowners made privacy a top priority in home design. Front porches were eliminated and entrances are often indented into the house footprint rather than built as a central focal point. This discouraged visitors from feeling welcome to spontaneously knock on the door. Screen doors and sidewalks were also eliminated, lending more uninviting aspects to neighborhoods.
The demise of the front porch and the buried front entrance may be the saddest changes in home design. They create an aura of isolation and unnecessary privacy. Bringing back the front porch, repositioning entrances prominently, and creating connecting sidewalks should be strongly considered in new home design.
3. Garages as the Prominent Focal Point. Get Rid of It.
The current trend of garages being the dominating feature of the front of the home is outdated. Entire neighborhoods are built of homes where an enormous garage door juts out from the house footprint and often times nearly hides the home. This feature strongly connects to the problem previously listed in which home entrances are indented into the house footprint while large garages are given prominence.
Garages should ideally be regulated to the side or back of a home and should fit into the main house footprint rather than dominate it. If circumstances demand the garage entrance be in front, then it, rather than the front door, should be built to appear as noninvasive as possible.
4. Architectural Detail. Bring It Back.
Getting the most square footage for the money is a defining factor for most builders. This is an understandable viewpoint, but it often comes at the expense of features than make a home unique. These features are aesthetically pleasing and can add efficiency to a house. Builtin book cabinets with glass doors, strategically placed shelving, or small closets built into "dead space" are some examples of architectural details that were standard in older home designs. These types of features were often whimsical yet functional. Window details or pretty banisters may not have been necessary, but in many older homes they were considered just as important as square footage. Architectural details contribute beauty and functionality to a house and often pay for themselves by using space that would normally be forgotten.
5. Open Floor Plan. Get Rid of It.
By the 1990s and continuing today, one of the top requests for home design is the open floor plan. The open floor plan has become a substitute for good room flow. This plan consists of a large, totally open space that includes all or most main living areas: kitchen, dining, living room, den, and entrance. The design was initially sought after in the hopes it would encourage family interaction, make a home feel lighter and larger, and not isolate those working in the kitchen. It was also a feature intended to promote entertaining.
While the open floor plan might have enabled a few nice parties and created the illusion of a bigger house, there were better qualities it made obsolete. It made privacy impossible. People could no longer mingle in small gatherings without the drone of the entire house. Turning on the TV meant the all main areas were subjected to it. Kitchen smells and messes permeated the entire home. Every inhabitant or guest automatically became a part of what every other inhabitant or guest did or said, whether it was the TV, a conversation, or a sink full of dirty dishes.
Homes are better served by separate rooms, each one with it's own purpose. The light and open effect can be achieved with wide hallways, tall ceilings, large doorways, and ample windows. These features respect the purpose and privacy of each room and still maintaining an easy, unencumbered flow between areas.
6. The Garden Shed. Bring It Back.
Older homes often featured a shed to store items like lawn mowers, garden tools, and yard furniture. They were not only functional but often a charming, outdoor feature. However, at some point in the evolution of America home design, all things outdoor
were relegated to the garage. In some ways this made sense the car is an outdoor thing
so why not store everything outdoor related with it? The problem was the garage became cluttered and inefficient. Some homeowners not only built garages big enough for three cars, but also expanded them in order to store seasonal items. This is a factor that resulted in the enormous garages that contributed to some of the previously mentioned home design mistakes.
Homeowners associations have contributed to this mistake. Many home associations forbid outdoor sheds and other structures. There is no reason for this type of neighborhood rule when common sense guidelines can be followed. Hopefully, homeowners associations will eventually ease up on these restrictions. Small, inexpensive, garden sheds need not be an eyesore. They can free up valuable home square footage, provide easy access to outdoor items, and lend charm to the property.
Home design is a constantly evolving art form. Functionality, efficiency, longevity, and aesthetic appeal must always be considered when creating something as permanent as a house. Today, potential home builders can be better served by adapting a fresh perspective on features that are outdated trends and home characteristics from the past they may wish to revive.