How architects design livable homes – an inside story

How architects Design Livable Homes – An inside Story

 Objective of this article

  1.  Describe how changing lifestyles since 1900 are reflected in today's housing.
  2.  Describe the various zones in a home and evaluate their importance.
  3. Distinguish between open and closed floor plans.
  4.  Identify factors to consider when evaluating a floor plan.
  5. Analyze the advantages and drawbacks of various floor plan options
  6. Identify recent developments in housing design.

Many housing designs are available to you and your family. They may feature elements of traditional interior and exterior designs or of more modern styles, In addition, home builders and designers are continually working on new designs that will meet the needs of households in the future. Each household must decide which home design most is appealing, which offers the most livability for the money to be spent, and which is best suited to the needs of those who will live there.

Social trends help shape people's housing needs. Economic conditions, lifestyle changes, physical needs, and advances in technology are just some of the factors that influence buyers. Changes in housing and home design take place more gradually than do some other changes such as clothing styles. A look at homes through the 20th century, however, shows that just as the outward appearance of a home often reflects its era, so does the way in which space within a home is designed and used.


WHEN SOCIETY BECAME less agricultural and more industrial after 1900, cities grew as people sought jobs there. As an alternative to living in the crowded tenements that sprang up in the cities, people wanted homes of their own. Because city lots were expensive, developers built small houses on the outskirts where land cost less. Gradually, residential districts, called "suburbs," were created around most cities. If suburban residents worked in the city, they commuted to their jobs by car or public transportation.

The small houses in the suburbs were built to accommodate only the nuclear family. In contrast, the large farmhouses of rural America were almost the equivalent of boardinghouses. Commonly, the main home and outbuildings housed the immidiate family as well as the extended family and, in some cases, the hired help.

Some of the rooms featured in yesterday's homes are no longer used for the same purposes. For example, years ago, many people used cellars to store food; now, refrigerators and freezers preserve food. Many homes featured large front porches for socializing. Today, backyard patios and decks have become increasingly popular. Few homes today have a formal parlor for people to gather in, but many have a casual family room.

Large Victorian homes were divided into such specialized rooms as a dining room, kitchen, parlor library and music room. today's houses are more likely to have open space and multipurpose rooms. The dining area, living area, and kitchen, for example, may be included in one large open area, often called a "great room."

Many homes in the 18th and 19th centuries were two or more stories high, which kept family activities separated. The bedrooms (and bathroom, when it was installed inside) were all upstairs. Many of today's homes are on one level or have split levels. If two-storied, the home may have some sleeping space and a bathroom on the first floor, as well as on the second.


Designing and building functional homes to meet the needs of all people regardless of age, type of family, or physical need---has become more of a challenge than ever. Home designers and builders must think through numerous situations that could have an impact on design. For example, how might a home with an open lc-lichen and family room design benefit a single-parent family or a household in which older people live independently? A single parent might want to be near the children while preparing meals. An older person would find it easier to move around in a home with a more open design. In addition to such factors as these, designers and builders must consider the cost factor in order to develop affordable, functional housing.


As you read through the following pages, you will discover a number of universal elements essential to making homes functional, livable, and comfortable for those who inhabit them.


MOST OF THE CHANGES just discussed have to do with the way space within the home is organized. Although Articles 5 and 6 focus on exterior style details, the fact is, well-designed homes are planned from the inside out. That is, successful architects begin by thinking about how a home will be used. They carefully consider the needs and lifestyle of the home's potential occupants in order to decide on the number and types of rooms, their size and shape, and how they should be arranged. The end result is a floor plan, a diagram of a home or other structure that shows the arrangement of rooms.


As you will see, although homes can be as unusual as the people who live in them, well-designed floor plans have some characteristics in common.




Today's homes must fulfill numerous functions in a limited space. When several activities are going on at the same time, as often happens, there may be a conflict. For example, some activities are noisy, while others require quiet and privacy. Families with teenage children, for instance, need an area where the teens and their friends gather, and another where parents can read or listen to music at the same time. The need to take different activities into account adds to the challenge of designing a home.


One solution is to divide the home into zones. Usually three zones are identified: private, service, and social. Each zone contains rooms or areas with similar functions. By keeping the three zones distinct, as shown in Figure 7.1, activities are less likely to cause conflict.


The private zone provides quiet, comfortable areas for sleeping and relaxing, as well as privacy for bathing and dressing. In most homes, the bedrooms and bathrooms are the core of the private zone.


The service zone is where household work is done. It includes the kitchen, one of the busiest and sometimes noisiest areas of the home. A laundry room, workshop, or garage may also be part of the service zone.

The social zone is the part of the home used for activities and entertainment A living room, for example, would be considered part of the social zone, as would a dining room, family room, recreation room, or entrance hall. Patios and decks can also be considered social areas.


Setting aside separate zones for privacy, service, and socialization has advantages for daily living. For example, in the evening, television noise or kitchen clatter is less likely to disturb a young child sleeping in the bedroom. Furthermore, zones enhance the convenience of the home because they allow similar activities to take place near one another.


There are many variations on the zone concept. In a home with two or more levels, some zones may be repeated. For example, there may be one private zone on the main floor, where the master bedroom is located, and another for the second-floor bedrooms.


In small homes, such as mobile homes or apartments, there may be little physical separation between zones. Still, a thoughtful design can establish clearly defined spaces for specific purposes. Even in a oneroom apartment, a folding screen or bookcase can divide the space into private and social areas.





As you read earlier, today's homes often include multipurpose areas. The living room and dining room may be combined into one L-shaped room. The kitchen and family room may be separated by a low divider instead of a full wall, or they may he completely open. When few dividing wags separate rooms, that part of the home is said to have an open plan. In a closed plan, rooms are separated and self-contained.


Each type of plan has advantages and drawbacks. Open plans seem more spacious. Closed plans allow for greater privacy and better separation between zones. Many homes combine the two, with an open plan in the social zone and a closed plan in the private zone.





Because the space in any home is limited, it's important that it be used wisely. The easiest way to evaluate how space is used in a home is to look at the floor plan. A floor plan is drawn as if the roof has been taken off, providing a downward view into the house. One-level floor plans show a single view for a two-level home, there are two views of the floor plan, one of the lower level and a second of the upper level. By studying the floor plan, an evaluation can be made about whether the layout of a home is functional and well suited to the needs of those who will live there.


One of the most important considerations when evaluating a floor plan is circulation, the paths people take as they walk from room to room during everyday activities. A well-designed floor plan provides convenient pathways to all areas of the home. At the same time, hallways should be as short as possible to avoid wasted space. Easy access should be provided between closely related areas. It should be easy to get from the kitchen to the dining area, for instance, and from each bedroom to a bathroom.




Many people prefer a home that is all on one level. Many apartments fit in this category, as do mobile homes and ranch-style houses. All parts of the living area are easily accessible without going up or down stairs. Eliminating stairways also increases the usable space in the home. In a ranch house or ground-floor apartment, the architect can plan for any number of rooms to have direct access to outdoor patios. Exterior maintenance of a one-story house, such as painting, cleaning gutters, and changing window screens, is simpler than with a two-story house. A one-level home is generally the design of choice for older people who do not want to contend with stairs or for middle-aged people who want a home that can be adapted to their needs as they age.



Many single-family homes and multifamily units have two levels of living space. The traditional approach has been to place the social and service zones on the first floor and the bedrooms on the second floor. This floor plan option is a popular one because it maintains privacy. However, stairs must be climbed to reach any of the bedrooms. A more accessible design includes at least one bedroom and a full bathroom on the first floor. Such a plan works well for older people who want to avoid stairs.



As you read in article, a split-level home has three or more levels of living space, each separated by a short flight of stairs. The split-level design uses space very efficiently. In a typical split-level home, the entrance, living room, dining area, and kitchen are at ground level. The bedrooms are a short flight above. Persons entering the foyer area must go either up or down a short flight of stairs to reach one of the main levels. This arrangement has the advantage of keeping the entry separate from the living room.

The upper level usually contains the living room, kitchen, dining area, and bedrooms, while the lower level contains the laundry and utility area, family room, perhaps a bathroom, and often another bedroom. However, no part of the home is accessible to someone who cannot climb stairs.





In housing design have been sparked mostly by home buyers. Home builders and designers are incorporating many of these features into new homes.

An increasingly popular design feature in two-level homes is a laundry area on the second floor. This is a sensible option since much of a household's laundry originates in or near the bedrooms and baths. A laundry area nearby eliminates carrying heavy loads of laundry down flights of stairs, then backup.


Another feature that has been received enthusiastically is the office or computer room. With an increasing number of families owning a personal computer, a home office or computer room is often demanded by home buyers.


According to the American Institute of Architects, an interesting trend for the future is directed at single dwellings designed for more than one family. For example, a home with two separate living areas and shared common spaces might be desirable for a large extended family that includes two or more nuclear families. Each family would have its own private living area, while a large common area would serve as a place where the families can get together for meals and socializing.


Design elements must be compatible for a home design to function properly. People want a desirable floor plan that conforms to their lifestyle. They may want rooms that can be adapted to certain uses—a desire that varies from person to person. One person's main requirement may be a large office, while for another, it might be a second-floor laundry room. All people in the market for a home likely want comfort and an efficient use of space. Architects may always be searching for new designs that improve interior spaces of homes.



  1. Social trends brought many changes to housing in America after 1900.
  2.  Today's homes must use space wisely to meet needs and wants in a comfortable, convenient way.
  3. The three principal space zones are private, service, and social.
  4. A floor plan is useful in evaluating the use of space in a particular home. Four primary floor plan options are the one-level, two-level, split-level, and split-entry home.
  5. Home buyers are dictating new developments in housing design, which include features that make living as simple and comfortable as Possible for everyone in the home.



  1. Give three examples of how changes in lifestyles since 1900 have affected housing design features.
  2. What considerations does an architect use as a starting point when designing a home?
  3. Describe the characteristics of private, service, and social zones.
  4. What is the difference between open and closed plans?
  5. Name three basic characteristics to look for when evaluating a floor plan.
  6. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the one-level design?
  7. Why is the two-level home a popular design?
  8. What advantages make the split-level home popular?
  9. Identify one advantage and one disadvantage of split-entry homes.
  10. Give an example of an innovative design feature that an architect might incorporate in the plan for a new home.



  1. If you could live in a home with one of the floor plans described in this article, which would you choose? What is it about your family's lifestyle that leads you to this choice?
  2. Which of the three space zones is most important to you? For which zone would you allow the most space in a home of your own? Explain your answer, then give an example of how you might create this zone.
  3. Would your lifestyle be suited to a home with an open plan? Why or why not?
  4. What effect would an open-plan design have on the circulation pattern of a home? A closed-plan design? 




  1. Floor Plan Evaluation Select a floor plan from a magazine or newspaper that fits one of the floor plan options described in this article. Study the floor plan and make a list of its good features. Then list the features you feel need improvement. Suggest changes that would overcome the problems. Sketch a new floor plan showing your modifications.
  2. Floor Plan Brochure Assume you're a home builder who has constructed a development that features one-story, two-story, split-level, and split-entry homes. Prepare the brochure to promote your development by creating the drawings and writing the descriptions of the homes in this development. In your descriptions, suggest particular layouts for specific clients, depending on their ages, needs, and wants. 




  1. Writing - Write an advertisement for a home with the floor-plan option of your choice. Be specific about why this home is livable and why it's the best choice for your audience. You may wish to include in your advertisement a photograph or drawing of the home and a diagram of the floor plan.  
  2. Art- Design an innovative new home that will house two or more families.

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