As designers, one of the key tasks we have to take on is the ability to make quick informative choice decisions. Why so? The answer is simple – to understand the potential of the space and to advise on the costs and ideas associated with it. When we visit a site, we don’t usually have the luxury to doodle around waiting for our ideas to materialize while the decision to purchase is held in limbo. We need to first understand the requirements of the client and to identify whether we are able to add value to the property that fits the client’s needs, and whether the project would be viable in terms of construction and cost-management.
So what are the things that typically go through one’s mind when making these decisions? The basic key components in creating value are found in every site. The secret is how to look for them, and how to unlock them. Never limit your design to the latest AV equipment, window dressing or furniture style. These loose items are what constitute the details and trimmings, which address the fancy of the owner.
True design begins with the manipulation of the space and understanding what we can do with it. By breaking the key elements down to its core components, we can categorize design in terms of Spatial Elements (Light, Sound and Air).
These three basic elements are found in every home and what we need to quickly do is to determine whether the space is suitable for living and purchase. To do so, we need to first understand how light travels, the audial elements of the space, and the quality of the air we breathe.
There is no element that can accentuate the beauty of a space more than Natural Daylight. However, daylight does come with a price, and that is the heat and glare from the sun. Therefore, it is important to understand the cardinal directions of the property as well as the movement of sun throughout the year. We need to ascertain in which direction the sun rises and where it sets, as these directions would determine whether we would need to realign the spaces within the home or whether the current home configuration is suitable.
For example, it is ideal to keep the bedrooms directly away from the East and West corners, as these directions typically signify the sun rise and setting directions. The reason why is due to the amount of glare the bedrooms are exposed to during the morning hours or having to deal with the tremendous amount of heat gain the room has to absorb throughout the day.
Bedrooms should ideally be placed in the North and South corners depending on which hemisphere you live in. Dining and breakfast areas may be placed in the East, while Kitchens are ideally located in the West to benefit from the western sun. Key living areas should be put in the North corners where the light is generally more stable, thereby giving a more consistent lighting ambiance without the heat gain.
The next time you look at a prospective home, you can identify for yourself how the room arrangements line up in relation to the external environment, as any major change in the arrangement may be a costly affair.
The next item with light to look at is the use of skylights. By letting in natural daylight into the heart of the home, you have a unique source of light that is able to penetrate all areas of the home. Whilst there may be some argument that skylights cause increased heat gain, this can easily be resolved through the selection of glass types, and would not be any different from heat gain from your window glazing. The pros of introducing a skylight thus do outweigh the cons in terms of the amount of energy that is saved in terms of lighting, as well as the physical aesthetic quality a room is able to adopt with the illumination by natural lighting as compared to bulbs. Therefore, if the opportunity arises to introduce a skylight into the home, it may be an investment worth looking into.
The next item on the list is the Element of Sound. One of the things I do when I enter any home is to hear the sound and noise within the area. Not just the external sound but the internal sound of the home. The first steps would be to walk through the space and try to get a grasp on how sound travels through the space, how it echoes and what you hear back in return.
Dealing with external sound can be one of the easiest problems to tackle. Whether we live by a highway or a playground, external sounds can be easily deflected through natural means such as tall trees or double glazing to limit the amount of sound entering the home.
It is the internal sound component that we need to identify and then to understand how to control it. Remember, in every home there will be more than one party living in it, each with their own set of activities. So the key element to look at first is how you can space-plan the different components of the home into different levels of sound requirements.
For example, bedrooms can take the least amount of sound, but in the modern day where the TV is an integral part of the bedroom, how do we create a separate zone to limit sound contamination? Similarly, the living and dining areas require a sound level which offers an audible comfort level for conversing, while play areas such as games and TV rooms would need to be insulated from the rest of the home.
To begin, we need to understand the natural acoustics of the home. If we have a space where the reverberation is too great, control the bouncing effect by creating barriers between rooms, such as a standalone bookcase, wall paintings or two levels of curtains (day and night curtains). By creating more barriers, you limit the amount of space that sound is able to travel, therefore limiting the echo effect.
For bedrooms, consider the use of fabric panel headboards and panels for the cabinets surrounding the room, in order to limit the amount of sound bouncing throughout the bedroom. In doing so, you can then create a more toned-down effect, thereby allowing one person to rest while another watches their favourite midnight show.
As for high impact areas such as TV rooms, ideally one should invest in a reasonable quality AV system, which is able to calculate the intensity of sound in relation to the viewer, therefore creating a thrilling experience when watching your favourite show but also limiting the amount of sound contamination to the rest of the space. This technique focuses on the control of the sound direction and intensity, such that you focus sound to a specific spot rather than blaring through the entire home.
Thus when you view any home, note that sound is existent in the space, and try to judge for yourself how to best control it for the benefit of all living there.
Finally, the last element I look out for is Air. By the term air, I not only refer to the smell around the area, but more so, I refer to the Quality of the Air. There are a few things to look out for when testing the air quality around a house. First is to open the windows of the main area and see if there are any hints of a crossing breeze. The next step is to open all the windows in the areas directly connected to the main living area, such as the staircase, dining room or even kitchen, to see how the air is flowing.
If we enter a scenario where there is literally no breeze for an extended period of time, then we know the air is stagnant and we would probably be wise to move off to the next site. Once we have identified the direction of the air flow, look at how the air flow is moving in relation to the layout. Is the air moving through the living area towards the kitchen and out, or vice versa? If the air is flowing from the back towards the living areas, this would not be ideal, as with the air comes the smells and smokes from the daily grind. In situations as such, we will need to create barriers to limit the air movement, thereby requiring additional openings elsewhere to supplement the air flow to the living rooms.
The next stage is to walk through the bedrooms and bathrooms to see if there is any stagnation. This can be identified through a stale odour lingering in the air. Why is this important? The natural ventilation of the house within itself can affect the health of the inhabitants, so a house void of these odours not only contributes a better living environment, but would also not require as much expenditure to rectify the problems.
Therefore when we look at a house to purchase, don’t just look at the aesthetics and materials, but understand your environment and look at what you can or have to do to enhance it further. Understand how light works and how you can bring it in or cut it out. Feel the home and soak in the air and sound, as every space has an inherent quality to it, so ask yourself how you feel rather than what you see. Once you get a grasp of how you feel in the space, you will get a general idea of what to do next, which will in turn answer the next set of questions – is it worth buying?