Is it possible to double your home’s living area without adding a single square foot?
Arrol Gellner from Architext says “Yes, and it’s no joke”!!
Arrol wrote a fantastic two-part blog that I wanted to share with you here:
To pull it off, though, you need to change the way you think about the property right outside your home’s walls. Rather than seeing it as leftover land to be prettied up with a few flower beds, consider it an integral, functioning extension of your home’s interior.
The ground outside every house offers tremendous potential living space — often several times the total square footage of the house itself. Yet more often than not, this valuable real estate is drastically underutilized. Even when a property is nominally “landscaped,” it’s usually treated as a static showpiece filled with cutely shaped planting beds, meandering plots of grass, and other two-dimensional treatments, none of which improve its usefulness as living space.
It’s understandable why so few people make full use of their outdoor area. For one, many older homes provide only a minimal connection to the outside — often nothing more than a front door and a back door.
Because the floors in older houses also tend to be raised off the ground a few feet, access to outdoor areas can be awkward even when more exterior doors are present. Yet even in newer homes, with more generous access to the outdoors, the surrounding property is seldom treated as a true extension of the indoor living area.
So how can you better utilize the land outside your own house?
First, conduct a survey of every ground-floor room that has the potential to access the outdoors. When I make this suggestion to clients, I’m always amazed at how few of them have ever considered converting windows to doors, even when the potential gain was staring them right in the face.
Often, this simple swap will completely transform a house, improving the traffic flow, making the rooms feel larger, bringing in more light and better views, and most importantly, enabling the full use of your outdoor areas.
Improving access to the outdoors is also among the simplest and most cost effective of remodeling projects. As long as the new door (or doors) aren’t any wider than the existing window opening, no structural changes are necessary. The section of wall below the window is simply removed and a door unit installed in its place.
If you’re worried about the security of glass doors, note that they’re typically more burglar resistant than the windows they replace, as building codes require the glass in doors to be tempered.
Another common objection — the loss of wall space for furniture — is a very modest price to pay for a vast improvement in livability.
Once you’ve decided on where the doors will be, consider how you’ll make the transition to the garden. If the floor of your house is considerably higher than the ground outside, a deck or terrace with a number of descending levels will bring you gracefully down to ground level. If this transitional space can serve exterior doors from more than one room, all the better.
[Previously], we noted how few people truly take advantage of the land around their homes, and we saw how a simple change like replacing certain windows with doors could radically increase the usefulness of outdoor areas.
[Now], we’ll look at ways to make the land outside your walls serve as an extension of the interior floor plan — to create genuine function in outdoor areas, rather than just providing the usual eye candy of cutesy-pie flower beds and lawns.
On any given residential lot, the land outside the house typically ranges from two to four times the area of the house itself. Yet remarkably few houses have outdoor areas that are truly functional complements to the interior floor plan. Here are some ways to make sure you’re getting all you can out of your property:
- Decide which rooms have the most potential for access to the exterior. Consider such factors as how high the floor is off the ground, how you’ll ensure privacy, how much space is available for a deck or terrace beyond the door, what the solar orientation of that area is, and how it will transition to the rest of the garden. Don’t rule out any area for direct access to the outdoors — the living room, dining room and bedrooms are obvious candidates, but a breakfast room or even a bathroom might benefit as well.
- Once you know where the new exterior doors will be, lay out the garden as a series of rooms, just as you would an interior floor plan. Draw up a list of functional requirements — say, a deck area with room for outdoor dining, a barbecue area, a flower or vegetable garden, tools storage, hot tub, or what have you — and arrange these areas with regard to access, function, privacy and solar orientation, just as you would arrange the rooms in a house.
- Plan for a central area (the main “outdoor room”) that’s at least as big as a real room — that is, a minimum of 12 feet square — and preferably bigger. The shape should be squarish to rectangular. Avoid skinny decks or terraces that surround the house like a gangway — they won’t accommodate furniture, and hence won’t be used. On the other hand, don’t pave over huge areas with decking or hardscape. Any area bigger than about 20 feet by 20 feet will start to feel vast and exposed, and won’t be a comfortable gathering place.
- Make steps leading from raised decks or terraces to the ground as wide as possible, but never less than 6 feet. Full-width steps on one or more sides of the deck will yield the smoothest transition to ground level.
- Define the various functional areas by using different paving materials or levels as appropriate. Add three-dimensional elements such as benches, planters, or other permanent features to give each outdoor room its own identity and sense of enclosure.
- Avoid leftover bits of unusable “negative” space such as pointy triangular areas, narrow strips with no purpose, and the like. These are just as undesirable on the outside of a house as they are on the inside.
Read Arrol Gellner’s blog at arrolgellner.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter: @ArrolGellner.
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