New urban (infill) homes are typically smaller than suburban homes, with urban dwellers choosing richer lifestyles and experiences over increased work and commute times associated with larger homes in more distant suburban communities. That said, just because you enjoy urban living doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate spacious accommodations and luxury. You can have both, but it takes a little more thought and care in the design and construction of urban homes to achieve the same spacious and luxurious feel in a smaller footprint.
It’s been our experience that a focus on design and many fine details during construction can have a profound impact on the spacious and luxurious feel of a more compact home. You don’t need a McMansion to experience spacious luxury. And while many details contribute to a space efficient home, there are 5 ‘must have’ features that are essential to achieve spacious luxury within a smaller footprint new home.
- Open concept floor plan
- High ceilings
- Large windows with a view
- Open riser stair cases
- Finished basement
Open Concept Floor Plans
Open concept floor plans have become extremely popular in recent years, with most new developments featuring some aspects of an open floor plan. Usually these homes will feature a great room where the living room is integrated with the kitchen, creating more opportunity for social interaction. It is better for entertaining as well as keeping an eye on the kids while preparing a meal, for example. Of particular interest for this article is the extra natural light that open concept plans facilitate. Removal of interior walls allows sunlight from windows to flood into the space, creating an open and airy sense to the rooms.
Open concept plans are not, however, without risks. They can make it more challenging to keep tidy if they are not designed with effective storage and flows in mind. This is where we take a lot of care during the design as well as construction processes. Its not always possible to fully appreciate the implications of flow and storage on the liveability of a home during design. Once it all starts coming together things become much more apparent, and we have found ourselves moving (or removing) walls and adding small storage hooks or shelves in key places in order to enable more comfortable living.
High ceilings have also come into vogue in recent years and many new homes are built with 9 foot ceilings whether they benefit from the extra height or not. But just like open concept floor plans, if rooms with high ceilings are not constructed with care, many of the potential benefits may be compromised. Specifically, high ceilings create an open and airy feel to a room, but in many cases the builder must still accommodate utilities and vents, so bulk heads are constructed that obstruct line of site visibility across the ceiling, creating a cluttered appearance that takes away from the spacious feeling that the high ceiling would otherwise foster. We take great care to direct the inclusion of bulkheads so that they not interfere with the spacious aesthetic that we are trying to create. Instead we try to create a design feature – a kind of tray ceiling, to further add to the luxurious feel of the space.
Effectively opening a home to the greater space outside is the role of large windows in the design of a home. “Bringing the outside in”, not only makes the home feel more spacious, but it also adds natural light to the space and allows the owners to better appreciate the neighbourhood, including the mature trees and exciting diversity that typifies urban communities. The placement of these windows is crucial. If the windows are all on the north facing side of the home, or if they open up onto a view that you would rather not see – such as into a neighbour’s back yard, they won’t add much to the living experience and could cost significantly in terms of energy loss.
Large windows can be costly but it is important that you don’t skimp on quality, otherwise the energy cost of this home feature could become significant.
Open Riser Stair Cases
Quality open riser stair cases may add significantly to the build cost of a property, but having witnessed the impact of these on the spaciousness and quality feel of a home, I am surprised that builders don’t make more use of them. Especially in the case of more compact homes, where stair cases consume a greater proportion of the building foot print, it is important to reduce the impact of stairs. Besides, converting stairs into a design feature that complements the home decor, rather than simply fulfill a utilitarian purpose, can really add to the beauty of a home.
Home design and decor publications dealing with space efficient design often suggest creative storage options that make use of the poorly utilized space under stairs. While this approach is better than not utilizing the space at all, we find that it adds much more to the perception of space and quality to instead allow light to fill the space. Moreover, high quality risers and railing systems can create a stunning piece of built in furniture for all to admire.
Obviously finishing a basement adds more livable space to a home, but we have found that designing for a finished basement as part of the initial home design is important to ensure they meet the needs in the most effective way possible. Although basements are not generally considered in an assessment of a home’s square footage, when properly finished, should be included in a calculation of livable space. We optionally include an office/ bedroom as well as an entertainment room in the basements of most of our homes, and in order to fully support the bedroom option we build in a full bathroom in the basement. This approach provides a space that easily adapts to changing family circumstances and needs.