Once the fundamentals of the design of the site are established, the choreography of everyday life is the next thing to consider. The layout of your interior spaces will impose a routine on everyone who lives there so it is important to ensure the routine you create is life giving, easy and beneficial.
Most of us live in existing housing stock, which was often built decades if not centuries ago. Your house and the way it functions may have made perfect sense for the time it was built. But we don’t live in that way now.
Eileen Gray was a turn-of-the-twentieth century Modernist architect. Her view was that the way we live our lives should influence the design and layout of our homes, not vice versa.
In her house E-1027, she imagined a person’s movement through the house and allowed this pattern to shape its layout.
The interior design of the house also reflected her views and made it a place where the everyday became joyful and pleasurable. Stairs became sculptural; cupboards were labelled and carefully placed to receive items such as hats, coats, utensils; textures made the house sensual; there were spaces to catch the sun.
Her thinking – her “choreography of the everyday” – provides us with a blueprint for a design that gives you both what you need and what you desire from your home and enables you to live your life the way you want to live it.
Every home and every person’s routine is different but we find there are some set routines that we find resonate with most people and which can be used to start thinking about the plan of the house.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the spaces in the home, their relationship to each other and what their design needs to consider.
As soon as one opens the front door, one wishes to have a sense of entrance and of arrival. There are also practicalities to consider. There is always a need for a place to take off the clothes that we use for the outside world and put on the clothes of the inside world. This is something that needs to be done every time we walk in and out of the house and so careful consideration should be given to the idea of cloakrooms or cloak cupboards. Once one is in the house one should not have to carry coats and boots any further than is strictly necessary. Equally, when one goes out it is not useful to collect items of clothing or shoes from the other end of the house, just to be able to walk out of the front door. The more exposed or rural the location, the larger these rooms need to be.
The second most important consideration tends to be the kitchen. When one enters the house, the kitchen tends to be the first port of call. Whether it’s to prepare a drink to welcome a visitor or to put away large bags of groceries, there seems little point in walking any further than necessary to access the space where these can be achieved.
Kitchens have been transformed in recent times from sculleries, where there was little light, air or view, to spaces where we wish to spend the majority of our time – the new living rooms. They have become the real centrepiece of our home and kitchen design has evolved into a discipline almost in its own right. Much thought and care therefore needs to be taken over this area.
The dining area
After entering the house, accessing the kitchen and preparing food, many people find it useful to have an area for eating, whether it’s to entertain in or for everyday meals. Sometimes the two areas can exist as part of one open plan living space; sometimes people prefer to have a separate formal area for dining. No matter which is the case, the relationship between the kitchen and the dining area is important.
Once people have cooked and eaten, there is often the desire to relax in more comfortable surroundings, which brings us into the next key area of the house, which is the living area.
The living area
Living areas can be part of an open plan kitchen, dining and living space or be a separate room. In terms of the traditional living room, there is usually a point of focus that will either be a fireplace, or, in more contemporary homes, a very large screen. This screen has grown in size and importance from being solely associated with television to being associated with live streaming, digital music, presenting photographs, video conferencing and more. Careful consideration therefore needs to be given to the audio visual installations in this space.
There are many different ways to refer to a living area and many different ways in which it can be used. These range from media dens to cinema rooms, to snugs, to drawing rooms, to libraries, to studies. It may be the case that a sitting room has several of these functions within one space or it may be that one of these individual rooms is so important to you that you wish to give it a completely dedicated space.
As kitchen, dining and living areas become more open plan generally, there is also a desire to make dedicated quiet areas that people can retreat to at certain times of the day, especially if living as part of a larger family. The arrangement of these individual rooms and the relationship they have with the rest of the spaces is obviously key and important.
The final destination of almost everyone’s day is a bedroom. It is of course also the start of everyone’s day. Therefore, the way the bedrooms relate to the living spaces and the entrance can fundamentally change the character of a house.
In many British houses bedrooms are typically located on upper floors whereas in other parts of the world, where there is more space, single level houses are far more popular. However they are arranged, there is often a different character to bedroom and bathroom spaces as they are considered personal and private spaces compared to kitchens and living areas, which are very much part of the public areas of the house. In Middle Eastern architecture, the floors are divided between public and private areas, rather than between living and sleeping areas.
It is often useful to think about how intimate and private you want your own sleeping areas to be compared to how much access that gives guests. In some single level houses, people have to walk down the hall past the bedrooms before accessing the kitchen and living areas, which some people find uncomfortable.
The poetics of space
These days, a living area is generally associated with the ground floor, since this has good access to the garden. Traditionally, however, living areas were located on the first floor and this is still worth considering if losing direct access to the garden is overshadowed by gaining views over the landscape. At this point, the idea of development of balconies and terraces may be important to the overall plan of the building to give direct access to more spaces which may not be on the ground level.
There are also cultural associations with levels within the house. A book by Gaston Bachelard called The Poetics of Space, investigates people’s associations. Cellars he associates with darkness, dampness, fears and ideas of being buried. Of course, this is not always the case, but it can be if a basement area is developed badly because one can feel like one is living in the ground without any natural light and with the constant smell of damp. On the other hand, he associates attic spaces with dreaming, with garrets, with creativity, with privacy, with reclusiveness.
Neither of these ideas have overriding power, but as you develop your spaces you must always be aware that you are not just considering their size, height and relationship with each other. You are also considering their association with people’s hopes, fears, dreams and experiences, which will colour their experiences of these spaces in powerful and unpredictable ways that can give heightened understanding to the internal spaces of the houses.
Size and scale
It is important to get the relationship between spaces and the wider landscape right first. Once you have done this, you can start to think about the size and scale of the spaces.
The size of individual spaces is affected to a large degree by what needs to be carried out in those spaces but it is equally as important to consider the wider setting. Parisian apartments can have tiny but beautifully appointed kitchens in which one can prepare and enjoy all sorts of food. At the same time, a space like this would not suit a farmhouse in the West Country in England. For this reason, when designing the size of a space it is not often useful to put arbitrary dimensions in place but to build spaces around furniture.
It is important to consider furniture as part of the architecture of the space. It is almost impossible to conceive what a space is without thinking about the furniture within it and yet it is disappointing that so many spaces are designed without furniture and therefore tend to become almost completely unusable in reality. At Communion we often design pieces of furniture such as shelving and wardrobes, kitchens and bathrooms for specific spaces because the success or otherwise of those spaces is utterly dependent on their relationship with the furniture in it. Therefore, once the diagram of the relationship between the spaces has been developed, think carefully about what furniture you need to put in the spaces. This will help you plan how big these spaces need to be and help you develop the size of your architecture.
In kitchen planning, the 600 mm x 600 mm unit size has become an almost universal planning tool when designing a kitchen. Every appliance tends to come in a matrix of 600 x 600 mm, so by marking these squares on a plan one can easily start to get an appreciation of how many units and how much equipment a certain size space can hold.
Equally, when planning bedrooms, the most useful dimension is the size of the bed that you wish to put in it. Traditionally there are single and double bedrooms. However, the traditional size of the double bed has grown into king size and super king size. Different beds will obviously have a dramatic impact on the space available in the room and therefore this will be the most important factor in the size of these spaces.
In terms of sitting and dining spaces these can be defined by the size of the table and sofas and seating that you wish to have in these spaces. It can often be a very productive exercise to measure your existing furniture and use these dimensions as a starting place for planning out your new space. Equally when planning a new space, it can be very useful to survey existing spaces you are familiar with and use these as a basis for sizing new spaces.
Where the plan of a building can always have a basis in rationality in terms of size, space, order and relationship, what a building looks like is much more of an aesthetic choice.
People tend to start to consider the elevations once they have a plan. However, there is always a direct relationship between a plan and an elevation. Therefore, while you have to have one eye on the site, spaces and relationships, you should always be developing a vision of what the building will look like at the same time so the two can be in harmony. If you do not do this the overall result may be highly functional, but have little aesthetic value, which may not bring you the pleasure you would like to gain nor accord with the planning policy that buildings are always governed by.
Therefore, some of the hardest work to be done within the building design is in terms of the elevation. In the same way in which a plan needs a strategy to address the way a building works and experiences its landscape, an elevation needs a strategy in terms of how the building is going to represent itself to the world and how it will be known.
There are many styles of architecture associated with previous historic periods and using these as a starting point can be useful to a certain degree. In different periods of architecture, Gothic, for example, the plan has dominated the elevation. By contrast, in strict Georgian or Palladian architecture, the elevation has dominated the plan. Both approaches can give extremely beautiful and successful architecture. However, it is in the resolution of these two areas that the success or otherwise of the project can be seen.
Resolving your choreography of the everyday
However you choose to arrange your space for the choreography of your everyday, each still needs to respond to the fundamentals of the site in terms of light, views and garden. Getting the relationships right will bring a richness to individual areas and to the site as a whole.