Timeless Design Patterns for Residences

  1. Symmetry and Alignment

    “Beauty of form arising from balanced proportions.”
    Symmetry is the most important pattern because it brings peace and harmony to all interior living spaces. It creates complete whole spaces with nothing broken, truncated, or warped. Alignment includes creating visual endstops along centerlines of arches and vistas, and vertically aligning stacks of windows to create a restful balance in the room.

  1. No Lines Down the Middle
    This pattern helps make each room feel larger by placing odd numbers of windows and panes within the window, and even numbers of columns to preserve a feeling of release instead of confinement, and of wholeness instead of division.
    We live in a world of duality where we are constantly forced to choose.
    We relax when we are in a room which is unified instead of divided.
  1. Blending Indoors with Outdoors
    This is the first of three patterns having to do with the importance of gentle gradual transitions in every direction.
    Elegance and grace are not abrupt and hard.
    Using the same, or similar, floor materials inside to out. Creating outdoor rooms as a means of easing transition from inside to out, especially where floor area is limited and lot coverage is not. Extending exterior building walls outside to become low garden walls or having stone steps disappear for a while and then reappear on the other side of the lawn like a serpent’s tail on a lake’s surface.
  1. The “Egyptian Entry Sequence” or Sequential Enclosure
    A subtle, elegant, graceful way of slowly and progressively enfolding the entrant prior to their entering the front door. (You don’t have to tell your clients this method was developed for the entrance to a Pharaohs’ tomb.) First you define the walkway, then a low wall on one side, then the other, then the first wall increases in height, then the other, then there is a roof, then a turn and you are inside.
  1. Front Entry Porches
    Front porches serve three primary purposes. First, they make it very clear where the front door is by celebrating the entry with a warm welcome for guests. Second, they provide a welcome shelter from the elements while waiting for the doorbell to be answered. And third, they provide a transitional space between the semi-public front yard and the private interior of the home – another smoothing and soothing transitional space, where kids can swing on the porch and say “hi” to their neighbors while remaining in a psychologically safe place. This is an important way to build community spirit, too. Many of us insulate ourselves from our neighbors and our community by living only in the backyard.
  1. High Open Ceilings
    Higher than expected and generally not level, especially cofferred or vaulted, ceilings relax people by breaking the 8-foot flat-top box they are stuck in most of their lives. On upper floors, it’s easy to use open rafter framing or scissor trusses to provide this valued relief. It is more difficult on the ground floor where you must first decide which rooms require vaulted ceilings and then design the upper floor to cover only those rooms which do not need to be vaulted. Symmetry and gentle transitions are important at ceilings as well. Be careful not to create any acute angles where upsloping ceilings hit vertical walls. It’s usually better to balance roof pitches with false framing to match the pitch of the roof and create a false ridge.
  1. Lots of Glass
    Another means of relaxing people and breaking the box of modern life is by taking first floor sill heights down to 24 inches from the floor and up to within 12 inches of the plate height, repeating windows in an dd-numbered rhythm, and filling the wall with windows to expand the room into the landscape. It provides natural light throughout the house which is physically healthy and saves energy by providing daylighting.
  1. No Hallways
    Space is too precious to waste any of it and narrow corridors are a big waste of space. It is much better to allow circulation to pass through larger rooms, or widen a narrow corridor by just a few feet to become a usable room or “loft” or “overlook”, perfect for creating a quiet reading alcove or a homework center or a computer desk.
  1. Storage Walls
    Don’t just construct partitions, create “fat” walls with storage units on at least one side and better yet both sides. Closets, cabinets, bookshelves, and open display shelves can be nested, or back-to-back, or over-and-under. Another benefit of this pattern is that it creates a “Medieval” feeling of solidity because you pass through what appear to be three-foot thick walls instead of six-inch thick partitions. This thickness also provides a great opportunity to locate three steps up or down for floor height transitions. Three steps don’t require a handrail and 3 feet allows you to make the treads 18 inches instead of the standard 12 inches. Barrel-vaulted ceilings in these thick openings between rooms increase the solid feeling of the wall.
  1. Separation of Service Spaces
    The next two patterns work together to separate the living spaces from necessary services that must be convenient but need not be ugly or in your face. Hiding a coat closet or powder room under a stair landing or in a vestibule between living rooms created by pattern #9 gives a sense of elegance with secondary services out of the way.
  1. No Stairs in the Foyer
    Stairs are service spaces like garages, powder rooms, and coat closets. They connect the more public (usually downstairs) areas of the house, the family/breakfast/kitchen area, with more private bedrooms (usually upstairs). The kind of “hollywood” grand staircases from “Gone with the Wind”, are a huge waste of money and space in a reasonably sized home. When the best reason to place stairs in the foyer is so you at least look at your expensive unused formal living and dining rooms, it’s time to get rid of them.
  1. Driveway Down the Side to a Rear Garage
    With garage doors and the large paved areas required for autocourts being service areas, why not hide them behind the building? This makes sense when you consider the formal living and dining rooms are most likely to be facing the street, while the kitchen/breakfast/family room is often open to the private rear yard. A rear-yard garage would be close to the kitchen. And a rear garage can provide a visual shield from ugly or higher-elevated neighbors or strong prevailing winds.
  1. Two-story Foyers
    Creating a dramatic first impression, two-story foyers have exactly the desired effect of making the entrant stop when first entering the building. Two-story foyers allow for a very bright space with high clerestorey windows or high transom windows above the front door and often an overlooking balcony adding to the romance of the home both from below and above. This also provides natural ventilation by allowing warm air to rise cooling the lower floor and providing further energy conservation.
  1. The Perfect Master Suite
    Obviously, this is not for everyone. But it does seem to have almost universal appeal. From the house, you approach double entry doors through an arched entry vestibule and open the door into an entry foyer from which you can either continue straight ahead through a wide high archway into a sitting area with a raised fireplace, bookshelves, and an in-swing french door to a shallow wrought-iron balcony with the best exterior view. As you enter the sitting area, you can turn around toward the french doors and see the bed itself is placed out of sight from the entryway with a wide, deep, arched soffit overhead creating a cozy romantic setting. From the entry foyer, you could also enter directly into the dressing room with a romantic window seat, tailor mirrors, and a built-in dresser which leads you back into a large walk-in closet with iron and layout area. Or, from the foyer, you could enter the master bath with its high clerestorey windows and possibly a skylight over the shower which gives both visual privacy and plenty of light (a Moorish feeling).
  1. Historical Exterior Stylings
    Relax people by giving them something they have seen before – something they can feel peaceful with. It could be any style as long as they feel comfortable when picturing their home in their mind’s eye – feeling this is their place, their personal image of “home.”

A Disclaimer

There are many ways to approach the design of a home. I recognize that most of these ideas are ancient timeless aspects of good design. However, they are also my design patterns and they have created so much pleasure for so many of my clients that I want to state them again here for all to read, understand, and hopefully use themselves.



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