Go with the Flow: What to Consider When Designing Your Home’s Layout…

The quality of your experience living in a home has far more to do with the way it’s laid out than with its size. Think about it: It doesn’t matter how enormous your living room is if you bang your shins on the coffee table every time you try to get to the TV.

“Circulation” is how architects refer to the flow of a building and how people interact with it. Whether you are moving horizontally via entrances, hallways, and corridors or vertically, via stairs, sticking to sound design principles will make living in your home far easier and more enjoyable.

General Rules for Good Flow

Before you make any firm decisions about the design of your new home or extension, you need to consider both the position of rooms and their relationship to each other. Think about the following:

  • Future-proof your home: Minimise the need for retrofits to meet your needs in later life, or to cater for future inhabitants with small children or mobility aids. This means level surfaces, downstairs bathrooms, and wheelchair-friendly doors.
  • Position rooms wisely: Keep bedrooms as far from possible from places where you entertain. Keep kitchens close to dining and living areas. Don’t put bathrooms next to dining rooms or living rooms.
  • Focus on good furniture placement: Ensure furniture does not prevent people from moving easily around a space.
  • Think about lighting: Lighting is a key element for defining spaces. Safe navigation is the primary consideration for circulation areas, and the positioning of switches and controls should support this movement—switches at each end of a flight of stairs or a hallway, for example.
  • Apportion space logically: Where are the most people likely to gather at any one time? Will they have room to move? What furniture will they require? Consider these questions before you decide the relative size of your spaces.
  • Consider your lifestyle: Do you work from home? Your work space will need adequate light. Is entertaining important? Navigating between the kitchen and living/dining areas needs to be easy.

Entrances & Hallways

Hallways and corridors are where good flow really shines. Harmony is key in your hallway. Use similar colours and textures to maintain a sense of continuity and provide direction in your entrance hall. Avoid clutter by planning storage solutions for things like sports kit, shoes, and school bags. The space under your stairs offers great opportunities for maintaining the flow in your hall. Make sure any furniture in this area is sleekly designed and fully utilised. You can enhance the sense of flow by starting from the outside, with an attractive canopy or porch that complements the design theme of your hallway.

Tip: A glazed door at the end of a corridor gives a sense of the space beyond.

Bedrooms

Even if your bedroom is small, don’t push the bed against the wall. You should try to ensure that your bed has a minimum of 24 inches (60cm)  around it and that it is at least 36 inches (90cm) away from the door. That is the minimum required to get in and out of bed easily.

As with all rooms, try to minimise the need to change direction when accessing different areas of your bedroom.

Bathrooms

Your bathroom is unlikely to be your biggest room, but there are plenty of tricks for creating a more efficient flow even in the tightest of spaces. You may just need to use pocket doors (which slide into a compartment in the wall) instead of swing doors and install folding doors on cabinets. If you only have enough room to fit a small tub and a toilet, use thin glass panels instead of shower doors.

Kitchens

If you plan to have an island in your kitchen, it should be your focus when planning the flow of the room. Not only is it an invaluable work and storage space, it also requires at least 42 inches (105cm) of space around it for ease of movement. Make sure that your island seating does not obstruct your dining table (and vice versa) and can be used simultaneously if necessary.

Living Room

The first impression you get from a living room with good flow should be how free of clutter it is. Your living room should have a walk space of at least three feet (90cm) wide, to ensure that people are unlikely to collide with furniture and other items when moving around it.

Keep furniture from touching walls. A couch, for example, should be at least a foot (30cm) away from the wall, to make it more appealing. If your living room is small, consider a round coffee table to allow for easy movement without taking up too much of your available space. Remember any drawers or doors on furniture will also need space for opening.

Another feature you need to consider is your living-room rug. Position it so that the legs of any furniture you place on it are completely on it. This prevents wobbling. You should also make sure that rug corners do not encroach on walkways.

Dining Room

The focus here is on the dining area, naturally enough, so keep adequate circulation space around the dining table (36’ inches/90cm) between the chairs and the wall, and (48 inches/120 cm between the table and the main doorway). This means that people can join and leave the table without disturbing others sitting there. Ideally, every diner should have at least 24 inches (60cm) of dining space. This kind of spacing is not always possible, however, so the solution might be to choose smaller dining furniture and omit any items that don’t work hard for the room they take up.

Ultimately, the less obstructed your home is, the more comfortable you will feel in it. You may not be conscious of it all the time, but barriers to using your home in a natural way (such as having squeeze past furniture just to use your dining table) take away from the feelings of well-being you should have in your home. Getting rid of clutter and creating a natural, easy flow in your home are crucial to encouraging a positive atmosphere for everyone who uses it.