Beauty is Within

Beauty is Within

Aesthetics and Livability

Let’s look at a few of the sometimes overlooked or underappreciated floor plan design factors that drive cost.

Staircase - Grand Manor #9286Staircase design, construction, and materials run the gamut of pricing. One guideline often used relates to the staircase’s public visibility – the more prominent the staircase placement, the more attention it usually gets. In some homes, the staircase is a signature design element; in others it is primarily functional. Simple and straight is the least costly staircase design, but that layout doesn’t work for some home designs. U-shaped staircases and L-shaped staircases with a 90-degree turn are also common but require a landing, which adds some cost. Flared and curving staircases can be stunning but are expensive.

This elegant staircase (at right) is from the Grand Manor (plan #9286).

Staircase finish materials can have a large impact on the staircase cost. Having a wall on either side of the staircase is less expensive than a railing with balusters, cables, or glass panels. Carpeted stairs are usually less expensive than finished woods, Corian, stone, or glass. Regarding steps leading down to a basement foundation, if there is a door at the top of those stairs, they need not be carpeted.

Stair Carpeting

“Waterfall” carpeted steps are less expensive than “cap and band” carpeted steps.

Ceilings. Most new homes today feature 9-foot tall ceilings on the main floor, though some rooms may have even higher ceiling for dramatic effect. Those 9-foot ceilings make rooms appear and feel larger, but the longer framing lumber and larger sheets of drywall mean homes with 9-foot or taller ceilings will cost more than if they were built with 8-foot tall ceilings. Detailed ceilings (e.g., boxed, trayed) look great, but add expense as well. And even though cathedral ceilings may follow the home’s actual rooflines, they are considerably more expensive than standard, flat ceilings.

Ceilings are truly special in the Westcott Manor (plan #9171). There’s the Family room’s cathedral ceiling as well as cathedral ceilings over the tub in the suite bath and over the sink area in the compartmented bathroom shared by Bedrooms 2 and 3. Bedroom 3 also has a ceiling that slopes to 11-feet high in the center, as does the suite’s tray ceiling. 

Westcott Manor - #9171

Natural Light. The physical and mental virtues of our exposure to natural light are well-documented, but there’s a cost to having larger or more windows in our homes. You may notice that some Design Basics’ home designs have the suffix “BL” (Better Living) following the plan number. Looking carefully, you’ll see additional windows on those home plans. Take the Cavanaugh plan for example. The BL version of that plan shows added windows in several rooms. Importantly, those windows are on other exterior walls, providing natural light from another direction, which is especially appreciated if the only windows in that room faced north. Additionally, having windows on two separate walls allows for natural cross ventilation of those spaces, improving the flow of fresh air in your home and those breezes make it feel cooler on warm days, so you may not feel the need for turning on the air conditioner.

At left, the Cavanaugh (plan #8540), and the Cavanaugh BL version (plan #8540BL) at right. Notice on the BL version the added windows on the right side (eating area and den), plus an additional window in the Suite bedroom.

Upstairs, both bedrooms gain windows on the outside walls in the BL version of the plan. There’s even a window to brighten the optional expansion area in the BL design!

Cavanaugh - #8540
Cavanaugh - #8540
Cavanaugh BL - #8540BL
Cavanaugh BL - #8540BL
First impressions matter.

The Durango (plan #50020 below left) impresses, with its dramatic, curving, window-lined back wall and radius peninsula kitchen. It also costs as much to build as the larger Durango Point (plan #50043 below right) that provides a more spacious eating area.

Durango - #50020
Durango Point - #50043

Arches and columns can add distinction – and cost. As seen in the Murnane Manor (plan #42156), arched openings line the home’s front entry, with arches on either side of the formal dining room resting atop columns. Echoing that theme, arched recesses for a hutch space and display niche add further “Wow!” It’s a matter of your investment priorities, the look you’re after, your budget, and how you want your home to live.

Murnane Manor - #42156

Rear Entry Foyer. For homes with attached garages, we go in and out of our homes through the garage over 90% of the time, and that rear foyer entry has become a design focal point. Facilitating how people actually live in their homes, top rear foyer designs will provide a place for coats, a bench for tying or removing shoes, and a drop zone for organization and minimizing clutter. These must-have amenities do add to your home’s price, however, compared to dated home plans where a laundry/mudroom is your entry from the garage. Laundry rooms are a top priority among new home buyers, they just need to be elsewhere. Those laundry rooms are also an expense consideration, especially because laundry room amenities may add to your home’s price twice – the cost of the amenities themselves, plus they often require a larger space, increasing the home’s square footage.

Locklear - #42074

The Locklear (plan #42074) presents an accommodating rear foyer with drop zone, bench topped by lockers or cubbies, and coat closet. The laundry room is separate and provides storage, hanging, folding counter, sink, and window, all of which add to the home’s price.

Bathrooms can have a significant impact on your new home investment. The Cedar Ridge’s (plan #42434) Suite 1 bathroom is accessed via a pocket door, which costs more than a hinged door, but eliminates the door swing conflict potential for someone standing before the first sink. It also has the expense of an extra wall and door to enclose the toilet area, which many buyers value. Three-foot by five-foot showers are pretty much the minimum size today in suite bathrooms. Fortunately, that’s a standard size for shower pans, eliminating the expense of needing a “job-built” shower. An alternate layout loses the private toilet area and some linen storage in favor of adding a soaking tub (and some expense).

Cedar Ridge - #42434
Cedar Ridge - #42434 alt bath

Fireplaces. As shown in the Moss Bluff II (plan #43066 below left), fireplaces positioned inside the home avoid the expense of having to trim around the bump out of a fireplace on the outside (example Portsmouth - plan #8638 - images below right). In addition, the dining area cantilevers (extends beyond) the foundation, avoiding an expensive foundation jog. And the large walk-in pantry provides the kitchen storage you want cheaper than adding expensive cabinetry.

Moss Bluff - #43066
Portsmouth - #8638 Elevation
Portsmouth - #8638 ML

Next time we dive deeper than the obvious when we address how the type and size of home influence its price.

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Cover photo: Perrypointe (plan #56399)

Design Concept: Rear Foyers

Design Concept: Rear Foyers

Problem: Most families enter their home through the garage, but once you get inside, where does your stuff go? Where do you hang your jackets, stash your shoes, backpacks, handbags, etc.? And, when you leave in the morning how can you make it more convenient to get out the door on time with everything you need?

Solution: The Rear Foyer Design, with a Drop Zone, offers organization and convenience for families of all sizes. When you include hooks for hanging, cubbies or baskets for small items, a spot for shoes, and a handy bench, you have taken your rear foyer design to the next level. Everyone can get out the door on time with everything!

If you've taken our Finally About Me® Quiz to identify your home buyer personality, you can appreciate the different styles of Rear Foyer design depicted here. The four personas are: Claire, Margo, Elise, and Maggie.

A 'Claire' persona prefers a formal, sophisticated style, which is reflected in the design using elegant cabinetry and doors to close off the clutter; while a 'Margo' prefers the contemporary look with sleek design, vibrant colors, and contrasting textures. An 'Elise' or a 'Maggie' tends toward a more practical design where items are easily accessible yet organized.

Rear Entry Foyer - Claire

Claire Rear Foyer Design

Rear Foyer - Margo

Margo Rear Foyer Design

Rear Foyer - Elise, Maggie

Maggie and Elise Rear Foyer Design

Take our Finally About Me® Quiz on our website to discover your design style!

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Design Concept: Drop Zone

Design Concept: Drop Zone

Problem: Statements like, "When I get home, everything seems to end up on the kitchen table," or "Everything the kids walk in with gets left on the island," these and similar comments inspired one of our most popular Woman-Centric design innovations, the Drop Zone concept.

Solution: According to a Recon Analytics study, people with an attached garage mostly go in and out of their home using the door between the home and the garage (rather than the front entry door). It is a vital transition space, offering storage and other amenities, making the Drop Zone a perfect spot to "drop" keys, mail, etc., that would otherwise end up on the kitchen counter (see the Peony - plan #42038 - at right). It can also be a handy spot for recharging electronic devices so they are ready to go when you head out the door!

Search our plans for Drop Zone designs. Or, talk with a plan specialist to make Plan Alterations to a different plan.

Peony - #42038

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Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Gainsville - #6651 floor plan

When building new, if you’ll have individual garage doors, don’t settle for less than nine-foot wide doors. Note also when the front door is open in this layout, the stairs going up are blocked.

It’s been a long day, and you still don’t know what you’re serving for dinner tonight. You slowly pull into the garage, careful to avoid running one of the side mirrors into the garage door frame (curse those eight-foot wide garage doors!).

Fortunately, your granddaughter’s asleep as you lift the carrier out of its car seat base. Bags in the other hand, you navigate around the shelves, then fumble with your elbow for the light switch in the mudroom. You nearly trip over your grandson’s tennis shoes. And yes, you can actually feel your blood pressure rising.

Deep breath. As the grocery bags begin to cut off circulation to your fingers, you wonder why the kitchen is so far away from the garage. Finally, you set the groceries on the kitchen floor, because there’s no room on top of the island. With a sigh, now you remember the family size cereal boxes don’t fit standing up in the pantry cabinet. Lack of storage…tiny closets…that’s the first thing you would change about this house.

Spencer, your grandson, is loading the dishwasher. “Well, at least we did something right, there,” you think to yourself. Of course, when that dishwasher door is open, you can’t get by. “Just like when the front door is open, resting against the first stair, blocking staircase access.  What were they thinking when they designed this house?” And to the other side of the entryway, the home office – the definition of clutter – and there’s no way to hide it with those glass doors. You wince, just imagining your friends coming over and walking by that room.

Bed-Dresser Conflict

Two feet between the bed and dresser is uncomfortably tight. If possible, look for one bedroom dimension of eleven feet, providing a three-foot pathway.

With Abbie still asleep, you carry her up to the nursery bedroom, turning sideways to squeeze between the bed and the dresser. “If beds are 6 feet long and dressers are 2 feet deep, why would they make these bedrooms so tight?” you wonder. And it’s cold – these secondary bedrooms – “Why can’t all of the rooms be the same temperature?” you ask.

Getting into some comfortable clothes always helps, and you grab your favorite navy-blue sweatpants. But as you’re changing, you realize those are the snug, black sweatpants. A single naked light bulb in your closet – what a joke. And your bathroom isn’t much better. No windows. No natural light. Yes, there are more light bulbs, but they’re all on one switch. Off or on – dark or really bright. Note to self, ask Frank about a dimmer switch.

Door-Stair Conflict

Door swing conflicts – when a walking path is blocked because a door was opened – are stressful.

Time to get dinner thrown together. Back in the kitchen, you’re looking for the salad tongs, and they’re in that one drawer. The one that always sticks when you open it and just doesn’t close right. As you dig through the drawer, the ice cream scoop falls out. Great. A new gouge in those birch wood floors. Why didn’t someone tell us birch was so soft and wouldn’t hold up like some other hardwoods?

You bend over to retrieve the ice cream scoop and notice the cobwebs in the toe-kick area under the cabinets, realizing it must have been a month since the hard floors had a good cleaning. And dusting? “Maybe, if I put that on my to-do list for the weekend…” you think.

Abbie had fun playing with her food and some of it actually got swallowed. Your grandkids bring you such joy, you feel your body releasing some of the stress. After dinner, there are a few chores left. There was just enough room for Spencer to fit the dinner dishes in the dishwasher, while you get the laundry started. You can’t wait for Friday when Frank gets back from that business trip. He’s still struggling with being a single dad.

You turn the big TV on in the great room, but with the dishwasher running, you have to crank up the volume, and Spencer has homework tonight. So, you decide to watch the TV in your bedroom, but same problem. Next to your bedroom, that washer and dryer are too loud to enjoy the TV. It’s great they put the washer and dryer up with the bedrooms, but really – a little laundry closet in a home this size?

Ah-ha! A relaxing, hot shower would be perfect. You turn on the fan because the mirrors fog over from the steam. There it is again – noise. Frank always said that bathroom fan must have come from an army surplus store. And then, just for good measure, the toilet flushes…all by itself.

Laundry Closet

Note the laundry closet’s proximity to the bedrooms – noisier than an enclosed laundry room – may possibly interrupt watching TV, sleeping, etc.

The next morning you wake up early. Finally, it’s quiet. No stress headache, like the one you had when you went to bed. Tablet in hand, you decide to take matters into your own hands and de-stress your home. Poor lighting? Frank can probably replace the bathroom switch with a dimmer, and maybe he could put a motion-sensor switch so lights automatically turn on when coming in from the garage. Another light bulb in your closet would be great, but that would probably mean hiring an electrician. And more windows? That sounds like a serious remodel.

Replacing the bathroom fan would help achieve serenity, and a new, quieter laundry pair and/or a quiet dishwasher would be heavenly. You make a note to talk with the heating contractor when they come out to inspect the furnace about the uneven temperatures. Maybe they can do something to remedy that problem.

You decide you’ll buy a couple deck boxes that could go under the deck, to stash garage items and free up some space in the garage. Saturday morning is going to be set aside for organizing the office. No exceptions. There was that ad you saw for a handyman service, maybe they could fix that kitchen drawer. You consider a little more seriously the kitchen remodel for improved storage and organization, but is the kitchen just too small in the first place?

Lighted Closet Rod

Closets are notoriously dark areas. Lighted hanging rods may be just the answer you’re looking for! Photo courtesy of Task Lighting

You start to create a cleaning schedule and realize it’s doable – you could give up a bit of Facebook time, and Frank and Spencer could take on a little more of the household cleaning. Feeling better already, having a plan for things you can do to de-stress your environment, you also realize there’s no practical solution for some of the design flaws such as the door swings that block traffic; room sizes; the wasted space of that big landing at the top of the stairs; even the skinny door into the main floor powder bath that’s too small for your dad’s walker. Those things just aren’t correctable. If you do buy a brand-new home someday, these things are going to be non-negotiable.

If our homes are our havens, our retreats, our sanctuaries from all that life throws at us, how is it that our homes are actually adding to our stress? Stress’ negative impacts on our health are widely known, yet still we under-appreciate the stresses our homes contribute. When remodeling, or purchasing an existing or brand-new home, looking at the home through the lens of stress will help you see the home in an entirely different light – helping you identify areas that cause or add to your stress, and the ways you could improve on the design of those spaces.

Livability at a Glance™ is our proprietary color-coded floor plan system that highlights four different lenses especially important to women: Entertaining, De-stressing, Storing, and Flexible Living. Discover your Lifestyle Profile by taking our Livability at a Glance Quiz, and then search plans using our Livability at a Glance Plan Search...a better way to search home plans.
Cover photo courtesy: <a href="">People photo created by jcomp -</a>
Your Laundry Room – Entryway Amenity?

Your Laundry Room – Entryway Amenity?

You’re unloading bags of mulch in the garage as your daughter and some of the neighbor kids are playing basketball in the driveway. Britany, one of the other moms, walks over and wants to talk. Recognizing this isn’t going to be a quick chat, you invite her inside. And it isn’t until you open the door in from the garage that it hits you – wet underwear hanging above the dryer and two overflowing baskets of laundry awaiting their turn, including sweaty workout clothes. What a multi-sensory experience!

A Recon Analytics study found that 92% of the time we go in and out of our homes through the garage. Yet, as compared with the front entry foyer, which gets so much attention in home design, that commonplace “laundry mudroom” is so often just an afterthought…someplace for the washer and dryer – check off that box.

Demand better! Who wants to be reminded of laundry to be put away or piling up yet to be washed every time they come home? Now that’s stressful! Laundry rooms are important, but surely there’s a better place for the laundry than your rear entry foyer. After all, would you display your washer and dryer openly in your front entry foyer?

The original Sinclair II (plan #1748-II) has a laundry/mudroom off the garage entry.

The new Sinclair Spring (plan #42375) presents a rear foyer entry with a seat and drop zone, plus a separate laundry room.

Rear Foyer - Elise, Maggie

Rear Entry Foyer with Drop Zone Design Concept

In fact, who came up with the term “mudroom” anyway. So inviting! Re-imagining that as our primary entry elevated its importance in terms of design, warranting a new descriptor – the “rear foyer.” Could it be more inviting? Could such a space be designed to actually reduce stress?

Many households have a family rule: no shoes worn in the home. A simple bench in the rear foyer provides a place to sit and untie shoes as well as an out-of-the-way place to perhaps store those shoes – right under the bench. You were carrying your bag and mail. A drop zone is handy for placing items as you take off your coat and can help keep clutter out of your kitchen, which is another stress reliever. The jury is out on whether traditional coat closets or a bank of coat hooks in the rear foyer are preferable, but a focus group we conducted of elementary age school kids’ moms taught us nothing was more stressful than getting the entire family out the door on time in the morning with everything. Their kids knew how to use hooks and cubbies at school, so adding “lockers” in the rear foyer was a natural solution. From science projects to gym clothes, everything can be staged in those lockers, eliminating morning stress of getting on the school bus with all they need.

So…where to put the washer and dryer? Ninety-one percent of home buyers want a laundry room (2019 National Association of Home Builders survey). Multi-tasking home buyers often prefer the laundry room near the kitchen, easing time pressures. Yet the trend today is having the laundry room near the bedrooms for convenience and minimizing steps lugging around laundry baskets, especially if all the bedrooms are upstairs. Homeowners report poor lighting to be a stressful aspect in laundry rooms, so a window, when possible, and attention to lighting is important. The noise common to washers and dryers can be a real source of stress particularly when the laundry room is near bedrooms. Choosing quieter appliances is money well-spent, and laundry machine pads placed underneath the feet of your washer and dryer can cut noise and vibration by 30% ($19 for a set of 4, Amazon). A solid-core door and door sweep that’s flush to the floor also have a significant noise dampening effect.

Zirkel Gables - #35092FB laundry​The Zirkel Gables (plan #35092FB) has a convenient dual-access laundry room, so that you’re just steps out of the dryer and hanging clothes in your closet. With natural light, folding counter, and storage, this well-appointed laundry room helps manage stress, as does its location, buffered from the bedroom by closet and bathroom!

When size allows, laundry room amenities can also dramatically reduce stress. A laundry room sink for delicates; storage for detergents, fabric softener, and dryer sheets; a folding counter; a place to hang clothes, laundry basket storage, even space for a chest freezer can all help lower stress levels. Even your laundry room’s appearance matters. From family photos, paint colors, and other wall art to your choice of flooring, attention to décor can help transform a mundane laundry room to a place that actually inspires!

For more on laundry room design, check out our article, Laundry Room - Dream or Nightmare?

Next week we'll present ideas for De-stressing for working from home arrangements.

Livability at a Glance™ is our proprietary color-coded floor plan system that highlights four different lenses especially important to women: Entertaining, De-stressing, Storing, and Flexible Living. Discover your Lifestyle Profile by taking our Livability at a Glance Quiz.

For more resources on thoughtful design and products:

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