Monday, August 04, 2008
Homes have public and private spaces
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
There are places in your house meant to be public, and there are places meant to be private.
When thinking architecturally, there are three levels of interaction in your home, and they need to be identified and appropriately designed in your remodel.
The first is public spaces. These are spaces in your home where anyone (including strangers but not burglars) is welcome. These spaces, for example, would be your front porch or your entry hall. Here you would interact with the FedEx person or your next-door neighbor. It is not restricted and is the appropriate place for strangers and acquaintances to approach your house.
But seldom do you invite the FedEx person into the living room or family room. The living/family room, dining room or guest bathroom could all be considered semiprivate spaces, along with outdoor spaces for entertaining, such as decks and patios. These are gathering areas but only for those you consider friends, family or invited guests.
Then there are the rooms your guests rarely see — or maybe the ones you hope they don't see! These are your private spaces. Only family or close friends are invited into these spaces, which include bedrooms, personal baths 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 either 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. (Those were the days, huh?)
The kitchen moved up to a semiprivate 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 is now often included in the most public of spaces.
In a well-designed home, these 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 semiprivate space, such as a TV room. Or you may prefer to provide a powder room rather than have guests use a personal bath.
The level assigned to a given room may vary from family to family. In some homes, an office is a private space, used to pay bills, study, read, etc. In this case, the office could be on the second floor attached to the master bedroom. 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 and/or have a separate entry of its own.
Sometimes a guest doesn't have to come into a private space to create an issue. A lot of times it is simply visual privacy. If a salesman has a view of the kids' 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 and into the master-bedroom closet — another 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 semiprivate space a public space, causing the homeowners no end of frustration.
To help create and delineate a flow of public, semiprivate 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. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.