This renovation included adding doors to the office off the entry, so that business related guests didn’t have to traipse through the house to get to the husband’s office (Kenin Bunnel Renovation Design group courtesy)
With the social movement toward more casual, open floor plans, it is important to consider issues related to privacy when designing your remodel.
When thinking architecturally, there are three levels of interaction in your home that need to be identified and appropriately designed in your remodel, even with a casual open concept design.
The first level of privacy relates to public spaces. These are spaces in your home where anyone is welcome. For example, these spaces would include your front porch and your entry hall. Here you would interact with an employee delivering a package or someone canvasing the neighborhood for a political candidate. These spaces are not restricted and are appropriate places for interaction with strangers and casual acquaintances who approach your house.
However, seldom do you invite the FedEx driver into your living room or family room. The living/family room, dining room and guest bathroom are the next level of privacy, known as semi-private spaces. Along with outdoor spaces for entertaining such as decks and patios, these are gathering areas for those you consider family, friends or invited guests.
The third level of privacy contains rooms your guests rarely see — or maybe the ones you hope they don’t see. These are your private spaces, usually reserved for family members or very close friends. These spaces include bedrooms, personal bathrooms, and back-of-the-house areas, such as laundry rooms, mechanical rooms and storage rooms.
You may notice that we haven’t included the kitchen in any category. Historically, the kitchen was a private space, never to be seen by guests. In fact, in some of our great historical homes, the kitchen was seldom viewed even by the family, as it was a place for servants and household help.
The kitchen moved up to a semi-private space somewhere in the 1950s or ’60s when either a dining area or a family room was opened up to the kitchen. This meant guests were privy to seeing a room that was formerly hidden away. With the current penchant for opening spaces to each other — i.e., the “great room” — the kitchen may now be viewed even from public spaces, such as the front entry of the home.
In a well-designed home, areas are arranged in a logical sequence from the most public to the most private. For instance, you would not want guests to go through a private space, such as a bedroom, to get to a semi-private space, such as a family room. This is why you may prefer to provide a powder room (semi-private space) rather than have guests use a personal bath (private space).
The level assigned to a given room may vary from family to family. In some homes, an office is a private space, used only by family members to pay bills, study, read, etc. In this case, the office could be on the second floor attached to the master bedroom or down in the corner of the lower level. In other homes, the office may be used for business purposes, and people other than family members may need to access it. Here the office should be placed adjacent to the entry of the home or possibly even have a separate entry of its own.
Sometimes a guest doesn’t have to physically come into a private space to create an issue. A lot of times it is simply an issue of visual privacy. If a salesperson has a view of a child’s bathroom or the laundry room from the front door, then you may still have a privacy problem.
Circulation is critical to a well-designed home, and as we analyze a project we often need to focus on the concept of creating a more logical flow of public and private spaces. In the original floor plan of one home we worked on, the front door was not centrally located and was adjacent to the bedrooms. That put very public and very private spaces together. In addition, the view upon entering the front door was straight down the hall into the master-bedroom closet — a very private space. The front door was so awkwardly placed that people generally used the side door, which opened into the kitchen, making a normally semi-private space a public space, causing the homeowners no end of frustration.
To help create and delineate a flow of public, semi-private and private spaces, we eliminated the door that went into the kitchen and moved the front door to a more naturally public space, creating an entry that transitioned into the living room rather than the bedrooms.
Whether the changes are subtle or more dramatic, understanding and addressing the public or private use of each space in your home will help your home function at its best. Good design requires taking the larger view of your house. Don’t analyze each room as a separate entity, but look at the role each part plays in the whole function of your home.
Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com