As an Architect, in designing new homes for clients, they first come to me with standard tastes you would see on any house in any neighborhood. What I try to do is to expand their architectural vocabulary and be bold in what they’re trying to do, without spending a lot more money. Part of that is to make their house look bigger from the street and live bigger inside. You can get a lot of “wow” factor if you try some simple things in your home design.
1. Make your house longer, not square. Most people want to make their houses more square in design, in the preconceived notion of saving costs. While this may be overall true, it also makes your house very small looking (and boring). For a 2500 square foot house instead of designing it 50 foot by 50 foot, make your house longer like 75 foot long by 33 wide. You’d be surprised how much more elegant and more expensive it looks for not that much more money. It also gives you a bonus of giving windows into almost every room in your home, giving light and visual space to them.
2. Use the Split level home concept. The split level home was more prevalent in the 1960’s than it is today, but it has a lot of advantages if you modernize it. The Split Level pulls the basement out of the ground. In most of the northern part of the country (I’m from Indiana), you need at least a 30″ or deeper footing to get below the local frost line. Well, let that be the staring point of your basement (or as I like to call it, the Lower Level). That means the Lower Level is 2 feet below grade, which means you can have full size windows. The Lower Level foundation wall is 30″ tall, the rest of the wall height can be wood instead of concrete (whether 8′ or 9′ tall) which saves costs. If you use 8′ tall lower level (to reduce costs) there is a design I like to use to eliminate bulkheads for HVAC;…incorporate the ducts in a floor truss system. I love to use 16” high floor trusses, 24″ on center, and keeping the trusses in the same orientation throughout the house. It gives plenty of space for the HVAC ducts in the floor truss system, and no bulkheads, meaning less cost since you have flat ceilings and no extra framing for those bulkheads. If you need space for the HVAC to “step over” each other, do that in the mechanical room.
3. With the split level home, The 2nd Floor (or the “Main Level” as I like to call it) it anywhere from 7 to 9 feet above grade, not only giving it a commanding view of the property all around, it also looks like a 2 story building, for a 1 story price. You can leave windows open at night because the window sills are 10 feet above grade. You have a lot of visual privacy because people on the street don’t have a direct view into the house. When you sit down they can’t see you, even if you have lots of windows. On the Main Level I love to use vaulted roof trusses on the Main Level to give more visual height in the rooms.
4. Use wide overhangs. Wide overhangs were more prevalent during the Prairie Style period This may seem strange, but wide overhangs (like 4′ wide) make you house look bigger both inside and outside. As I stated above, I love vaulted roof trusses. I start with an 8′ tall wall (rather than 9′). With a 4 foot overhang and vaulted roof trusses, the wall height on the inside is now 10′ (8′ wall, 2′ in the roof truss), with the ceiling peak at 15′. This is because the roof started “going up” further away from the exterior wall. I’m getting 10 to 15 foot ceilings for an 8 foot tall wall price. The wide overhangs also help in summer, by shielding the windows in shade, keeping direct sunlight outside.
5. Incorporate decks and screen porches into the design. Don’t make decks and screen porches an afterthought, but incorporate them into the design, that is, put brick or siding on them, put a roof over them, and make the openings look like windows, but don’t put in the glass. And consider putting them on the front of the house, not the rear. I designed a house for my parents which was 1300 square feet on the Main Level, but added the screen porch on the front of the house. The house was 72 feet long in the front (24′ screen porch, 16′ Great Room, 8′ Entry, 24′ Garage) and it looks huge. (if you want to see it, go to my Web Site (Web address down below), Home Page, near the middle of the page, “Click Here for More House Photos”, and it’s the 1st photo. The screen porch is to the left) The Screen Porch interior is finished in moisture resistant drywall, so interior feels like any other room in the house, (it also has vaulted ceilings) but it’s not heated or cooled. It is the most lived in space of the home. Having the screen porch or deck on the front of the home gives you more community with your neighbors, while it can give you more privacy. On my home, the deck has a solid wall from grade to 42″ above the deck floor. This gives visual privacy when sitting down, but when I stand up, I can converse with then neighbors (42″ is also leaning height for your elbows). As a bonus, with the split level home, the space below the deck (since it has siding and the floor 7′ above grade) and the roof above the deck, I have an 18 wide 28 foot long shed below the deck for lawn mowers, bikes, tools, which I don’t have to keep in the garage.
6. Downplay the garage. There’s nothing visually pleasing about a garage. The most important rooms of the home (Great Room, Dining Room, maybe the Screen Porch) should have the most visual presence on your home. Having a monster 24 foot by 36 foot garage sticking out the front of you house is not good looking. Set it back from the front of the home, and if you can, put toward the rear of the house. Use a side entry on the garage doors if you can. And put lots of normal windows like the rest of the house. Try to make it look like any other room from the street. By down playing the garage and making look like another room on your home, it’ll make your house seem bigger when it really isn’t. If you’re one of the homeowners who eventually turn their garage into living space, having the garage look like a normal room from the outside makes it easy for this conversions. Just remove the garage doors and install window sizes like the rest of your home.
7. Use lots of repetitive windows. By using the same window size over and over in a long pattern, it’ll make the house seem longer. And these don’t need to be operable windows. Fixed windows are less expensive the operable windows.