Alright, folks. It’s Sara, I’m back, and this time I’ve brought someone else with me. But first for a very quick recap – I’ve told you how we bought our house here, and I’ve shown you what we’ve done with it so far here. I’m pretty proud of how far our little ragtag renovation team (comprised of my father, brother, boyfriend, and self) has taken this 1921 bungalow. I feel really confident about designing a handful of the spaces myself, and I’m even pushing myself and designing a bathroom, mostly by myself. I’m growing a lot in terms of my design know-how and confidence after 5 years at EHD. AND YET…
There are some things I was feeling really at a loss about; fireplace hearth material? Building a built-in bookcase in our TV room? (My uneducated, non-specific drawings aren’t getting us nearly as far as my embarrassing bathroom vanity drawings did.) And there’s the biggest design brain melter: our open floor plan living room/dining room. One of the first things we did when we started renovation was knock down a partition wall between the living room and dining room. It made the space feel SO much bigger, SO much brighter. AND SO MUCH MORE DAUNTING TO DESIGN.
I was waxing poetically about my home design woes one day at the office and Emily interjected with “you literally work at a company with multiple interior designers, this shouldn’t be an issue. In fact, let’s just assign someone to you, document it, and share it on the blog!” Don’t let anyone tell you complaining doesn’t get you anywhere.
Enter Velinda from the design team, who we’ve been working with on the living room and dining room with since September. She’s been assigned as our design caseworker (aka design couples’ therapist), and I thank her every. Single. Day. for putting up with me, because it turns out I have a lot of opinions. Her first order of business was getting a sense of the functions these rooms will serve so she could tackle this long, narrow open space monster that Mac and I created. But, I’ll let her tell you how she did it…
Velinda here now, ready to run you through my section of this relay-race post. “New client” Sara is technically my boss, so no pressure. We’re only one month into this project, but so far Mac and Sara are still together, the house is still standing and I still have a job. So all in all, we’re off to a great start. But where exactly did we start and where are we now?
(Side note: for those of you following this series for tips on the designers’ end, I’ve got a few treats here for you. For you super experienced designers, leave a few tricks in the comment section along the way for me. Tricks and treats for all! Happy October.)
Let’s rewind to September and take it slow. Figuring out the function then layout of a space (spatial planning) is really the first step in the process. That means meetings and measuring, measuring, measuring.
In this first meeting, I sat down to learn more about Sara and Mac (utilizing a brief questionnaire… see Step #2 in this post if you’re curious). Here’s where the designer must play therapist… or pretend to be the special guest in a threesome and remember IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! The couple is the core. This moment is about their thoughts and desires (design desires, people). So listen before you bombard them with your surely-brilliant ideas.
Just for fun, and because I know them as more than just ‘clients’, I adapted our standard, simple questionnaire introduced in a recent process post by adding additional, inciting questions just to stir up trouble. Like, “What’s been your partner’s worst design idea so far”? Y’know, just taking the professional approach. I learned that when Mac hates an idea, he squints and says ‘mmmmmmmm’ for a long time as if trying to imagine it… or hoping the idea fades from topic. Sara, when given an answer or opinion she doesn’t like about one of her design ideas, just re-asks the same question a few days later as if she never got an answer in the first place.
Less juicy, I realize, but I also learned they don’t actually eat at their dining table, but want one big enough to seat eight for game-nights. And they don’t need a television anywhere in this space because they have a dedicated TV room in the works off their master suite. (Still, Sara deemed “TV above the fireplace” as Mac’s “worst design idea”). They want to create as open a flow as possible from room to room to unite the rooms while entertaining (the biggest assignment for these two rooms), but still want them visually defined as separate spaces.
Seeing and Measuring the Space
In our first meet and greet, I also took in the space – first visually, and then inch by inch. Since we very recently covered our general design process here, I’ll try not to bore you with repeats. Instead, I’m gonna list out every measurement I took while exploring Sara and Mac’s space. Also boring? How about we just take a quick look at my go-to, time-saving tools for this step of the process and why I love them:
- Digital Measure: Game changer for quick measuring and easily measuring things out of reach (ceiling heights).
- iPad Pro/Pen (or I suppose any pad with a stylus): I’ll often do a quick, plan-view sketch for overall dimensions and layout, but then photos of every wall and draw dimensions directly on the pictures. Saves time, sure, but I do this so that I’m constantly looking at what’s actually in the space vs my own elevation drawing, increasing the odds I won’t miss the fact there’s an outlet or vent yet to be accounted for, etc.
- Tape Measure: You’ll still need it.
Later, I’ll refer to these images and measurements to create a 3D model.
Visually inspecting, I immediately loved the true-to era touches of their 1921 house… the built-in shelves, the fireplace and the newly-added window casing that matched original windows elsewhere in the house. I love that they went with a classic wood floor, too. I personally veer toward staying true to a home’s original character for the more permanent design decisions, which allows for more room to play with trends/modern elements in the furnishing and easy-to-update details. Mac said he wants a “sharp”-feeling space and is wary of anything too traditional (all of which confuddled Sara). To me, that means modern pops are in store, but this classic “blank slate” is a great canvas! But let’s not get too carried away with “pops” until we even know what fits in this space! Quick reminder, here’s what we’re working with:
Layout is one of Mac and Sara’s shared challenges, and I see why. Long, narrow spaces are always hard, plus the opening to the dining room isn’t centered to the living room, further reducing allotted space for furniture in the living room’s size due to needing to keep a clear path for walking from room to room. They’ve tossed their hands up when it comes to where to place their sofa and how to include any other furniture in such a narrow room, without closing it off to an open flow.
My first instinct was that their sofa isn’t necessarily in the wrong spot, but it’s definitely the wrong size for the narrow space they have due to their front door (see above). But they are obsessed with their sofa (by Article), so that’s great insight to have. I also noted the rug (from Neon Dove), though perfect in style for the home wasn’t anchoring the space well due to it’s size (but should work well in a different room). And while I love their vintage coffee table, it might also serve better in another space. I started thinking that using a round coffee table in here could immediately permit better flow. They also have a LOT of mantel space to cover so immediately started brainstorming something that could be a moment for that area. I love using mirrors in small spaces (visually expanding) and that mantel looks like the perfect plot of real estate for such a thing. And as far as the living room and dining room flowing, there would need to be some sort of piece or pieces in the middle that worked for both areas or was low enough to create a visual bridge… or both.
Research & Modeling
Now, it’s my turn to play (within their boundaries). From my measurements, I created a quick, simple model, within which I played with furniture scale and layout (The program I use is called SketchUp! My life-saving tool of choice). Designers, let’s not forget “space planning” didn’t start here, behind your computer screen. “Walk around” imaginary furniture and feel the room while you’re in it measuring, as space isn’t a 2D process of discovery! Going into this, I knew Sara didn’t love an “asymmetrical” look to a room (i.e. a single chair opposite a sofa) so symmetry was kept in mind. Here are the possible layouts I proposed:
And here’s a sketch I made of an idea they had proposed in our initial meeting:
When I took the ideas back to Mac and Sara, I was able to show them that placing the sofa in front of the fireplace would mean visually closing off the room and invading the path to the dining room. It would mean walking into the side of a sofa when entering the front door. Seeing the diagram, they immediately understood. Magically, and I don’t think I did tooooo much nudging, we all ended up sharing the same favorite two options: Layout C and Layout D. Layouts A and B divided the spaces too much due to a visual “wall” created by the floating sofa. In a bigger house, this could be fine. But we need all the visual space we can get.
They were pretty torn 50/50 between the favorite layouts. I leaned visually toward option C, but functionally toward Design D. Design C was the best solution for truly opening up the space and a chaise/daybed could be utilized from either room. It’s a less-predictable setup and would break up a series of chairs in the visual line from living into dining room. But functionally, a bench-like daybed is never going to be as comfortable as something with back support. Chairs could rotate between rooms if needed and just the right chairs would mean even a “predictable” setup is still “sharp” (don’t worry, we’ll go deeper into their design desires in another post next week). Regardless of ultimate layout, to break up said “series of chairs,” I pitched a bench at the dining table to reduce our chair-footprint. Mac and Sara both went for it. They’re still torn on layout, though. I know either layout could work, so we’ve moved forward sourcing for both options and we’ll see if there’s a piece or pieces that speak to them and solidify this decision.
Knowing the scales of what I’m shopping for and armed with lots of Pinned imagery and description from their questionnaires, I’ve leapt into the fun part. SOURCING! But, more on that next week. We’ll dive into the directions I’m steering toward and some of the initial (and abundant) feedback received from our backseat drivers; the eloquently-spoken Mac and the “bit-more-curt” Sara. Who will be left most satisfied? (Sara here one last time with an answer to that question: Me *thumbs up emoji*)