If your family wants spaces your home doesn’t provide, it’s tempting to just add on. Sometimes that’s the best solution, but often a close look at the current floor plan will reveal less expensive ways to meet your needs. Additions cost you twice—once when you pay for the construction, then endlessly as you pay to heat, cool, light, and maintain that new space. And any time you add indoor space, you’re losing outdoor space. So before you spend a lot of money and time, take time to consider your options. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could meet your needs without adding on?

When people want more space, often it’s because their home’s design doesn’t meet their current needs. Do you have a living room that is rarely used? Perhaps with minor modifications it could become your new home office. Is the house chopped up into a warren of tiny rooms? Opening some of them up could create a more spacious feeling. Would your formal dining room get more use if you removed the wall dividing it from the kitchen? Or maybe some rooms are in the wrong place—like a sunny, south-facing bedroom that you’re never in during the day. Changing how you use your rooms is like no-cost remodeling.

How to Approach Redesign

Look at your home in relation to your goals. How well does each space meet your needs? What has to change? Think carefully about each space; pay attention to the following things:

  • Function. How is the space used on a typical day? Do those activities change with the seasons? With holidays or other special occasions? Could a single-use space accommodate different activities at different times?
  • Floor area. How many people are in the room for typical activities? For special occasions? The type and placement of furniture, and the way people move within the space, help determine how big an area you actually need.
  • Adjacencies. What needs to be nearby? Do you need to serve a meal, communicate with your family, or keep an eye on the kids from this room? Should some areas be separated, such as the media room and bedrooms?
  • People flow. How do guests and family members enter your home? The way people walk from one room to another has both practical and aesthetic aspects. Consider the experience you want a friend or a business visitor to have while moving through your home.
  • Orientation to the outside. Are the views, sunlight, and fresh air appropriate for the way you will use this space? Do you have access to the outdoors?

It’s Easy to Try Changes on Paper

Design is fun. Get the whole family involved. Respect everyone’s input, and make room for flashes of creative insight. Here’s an easy way to do it.

First, document how you currently use your home:

  1. Start with the floor plan of your house as it is. If you have a set of plans, get them out and have usable copies made. If you don’t have floor plans, measure your house and draw your floor plan on graph paper to scale. A scale of ¼ inch to 1 foot is common, but a scale of ½ inch to 1 foot might be easier to play with if it fits on the paper. Make a few copies. Draw the footprint of each piece of your furniture to scale on another sheet of graph paper and cut it out as you would a paper doll.
  2. Now position your cutout furniture on the floor plan to represent how it’s currently arranged (use double-sided removable tape or poster putty). This will serve as a point of reference. Pay attention to how much space there is between the pieces of furniture. Is there room to walk between them?
  3. Copy the plan (you can trace or photocopy it) with the furniture in place so you’ll have it to refer to.

Now comes the fun part—trying out different arrangements. Look back at your goals and your analysis of room function, area, adjacencies, flow, and outdoor orientation as you play with new possibilities. Remember to include the whole family.

  1. Explore changing the uses of rooms by moving the cutout furniture to other rooms that have a better orientation or location for a given activity.
  2. Consider how changing doorways, adding openings, or even moving walls might help improve the design. Or how about popping out a window seat or adding a nook?
  3. Look at several arrangements, even if your first idea seems perfect; you may come up with something even better.

The goal is to find out how little you’d need to change in order to make the best use of the space you already have in your home. The fewer changes you make, the more you will save in money and energy.

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