Finalizing Our Floor Plans and Some Design Details

Making the most of less than ideal features

Kate Heffernan
Oct 1, 2017 · 11 min read

I just really love a floor plan. I can picture a tiny version of myself walking around the hallways or sitting on a tiny couch watching an even smaller Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec… annnyway. I hate it when listings don’t include a floor plan of the space. You can’t tell anything about a place without knowing the layout. It’s so important to the way a home feels and how you live in it. Our current apartment in Brooklyn has the bedroom and (astonishingly tiny) bathroom on opposite ends of the place and it drives me totally bonkers.

Even when an apartment is otherwise pretty nice, if they layout sucks it can really ruin a place. When Andrew and I first moved to Brookyn it was right after the financial crisis and rents had plummeted. This allowed us to rent a bonafide fancy ass apartment. It had big beautiful windows, high ceilings and a mezzanine level that was open to below (it was actually pretty poorly built building but still, huge compared to what we were used to).

How cute is everyone packed into that little living room? I thought I was living large! Sometimes Andrew did in fact come down stairs to interact with others. (on the left: doing an Obama puzzle in Jan of 2009, simpler times.)

We were there for about 2 years and while I’m not complaining, it was a lovely place to live, the mezzanine space really drove me crazy. Andrew had a desk up there and it was pretty cute and instagramable (of course this was before instagram 👵🏻 and thus pointless!) but the space just didn’t work. I hated it when he would work up there because he seemed so far away. The stairs were steep and dangerous and while it felt somewhat separate we couldn’t actually use it as a separate the space. It wasn’t private enough for a guest room and Andrew still had to wear headphones if he wanted to play loud (very annoying) video games up there. Our next apartment was significantly less fancy but was all on one floor and I really preferred it.

All this is to say that I really see the floor plan as being absolutely critical and I don’t believe you can overthink it. For our new house I spent a lot of time sweating the details and trying to make the most of the small space. I wanted the living space to feel big and open and keep the bedrooms cozy and comfortable. I wanted the house to feel simple and easy and not like I shoehorned in everything I could think of. It is amazing how much effort it takes to achieve something that looks and feels effortless.

In my head the changes to the floor plan were really minimal. I mean these are just tweaks right?

If you are looking at this gif and saying, “Kate, you moved every freakin wall in the house, these are not just tweaks”, I would say to you, “where the heck were you last January when I was making these plans?!” So yah, I moved all the walls. They were in bad spots! I moved all the windows too which were also terrible. Let me show you a little something:

Please observe the location of the mudroom door on the left side of this elevation. Notice that we moved it about a foot to the left (let’s just put aside that I ended up completely changing the mudroom from the architect’s plans see below, and the question of why anyone would put a door off center on this wall in the first place, deep breath— this is just to illustrate a point). Moving a door 1' to the left is actually a royal pain in the ass.

This is what it looks like under the sheet rock (plus insulation, plumbing and electric). To move this door 12 inches over, they have to open up the wall, move the rough opening and build new studs and a header. When you are moving things left or right, your dealing with parts of the wall that might be load bearing (and likely have plumbing and electric running through them). Maybe you know this. I guess on some level I did too but seeing it happen was striking.

This holds true with windows as well. So if you’re like me, and you want to move every window and door in your house to slightly different (but WAY BETTER) spots, you’re basically talking about rebuilding every wall in the house. Here’s a pointer though if you don’t want to undertake such a project but you just want more windows/more light: windows can (relatively) easily be extended down to the floor.

As you can see, a window looks similar to a door (but purple!). Same thing though where the studs that hold up the header are what is baring the load on the wall. The “rough sill” is basically just there for the frame to sit on. You can fairly easily make this window bigger and more impactful but moving the rough sill down to making the opening bigger. This does not require moving or rebuilding any studs and shouldn’t mess with any load baring walls.

Anyway, I didn’t do this. But it’s a great idea!

Ok so this is where I netted out on the final floor plan with the architect.

I was pretty happy with it. I would say there were three, maybe four things that kind of irked me.

  1. That pesky master bath (which I know I’ve mentioned before). That layout was wonky but it would soon be resolved with a bit of extra space. More on this at a later date.
  2. The post on the kitchen island. This is a long story and we just don’t have the time on this post, but basically, we had to throw some money at this one and buy some big ass beams to span the room.
  3. The mudroom entryway, which we would use as our main door, didn’t have any kind of overhang. Since this is a weekend place that we’re always in and out of, I could just see myself late on a Friday night with bags in my hands, rain pouring down on my head, struggling with the keys and cursing myself for prioritizing a clean design over something to shield me from the rain.
  4. The fireplace was way off center in the living room. I felt like I was going to want to put a couch in front of the fireplace and all the furniture would be crowded on one end of the room. It is kind of laughable how the only freaking thing that we did’t change about the house was the chimney and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to move it 12 inches to the right!

Let’s just discuss the last two for now.

The mudroom entrance

As I said, I wanted some kind of overhang on the entrance but I also never loved how when you walked in you were just facing a bunch of coat closets. Not exactly welcoming. I started in looking at a few overhang options that would keep a minimalist look.

Something like this could work if I lived in sunny California but it felt like it just wouldn’t cut it in the Hudson Valley. I needed a little alcove.

Then I saw this photo. How cool is this? I realized that if I just shifted the entrance to the other side of the mudroom I could extend the existing roofline and create an alcove. This side of the house was closer to the garage anyway so it made a ton of sense. I also loved that elevation of the house so I liked the idea of making that the “front”.

original plan on the left, new plan on the right

This fixed so many issues. For one thing I didn’t feel like I needed so much patio on the front of the house, especially around that front corner. Patios are expensive and I didn’t feel like that corner was very useful. The front door now opened up to show a view into the house and the fireplace. Much nicer. I was able to build out a dope little alcove while keeping the same simple roofline.

Here’s what I showed to the GC to explain my plan:

autocad drawing

I think the proportions are better as well. The mudroom on the little house was just this little nub on the side, this gives it a bit more balance.

Finishing inspiration photo and sketch up model

Cool right?? I think it’s going to be really good.

Please disregard how messy this worksite is at the moment.

This alcove remains the least finished part of the house at this point but the inside will have 3" wide tongue and groove red cedar and a door which I’m thinking about painting green… tbd on that. We’ll have to build out 2 steps up to the entrance but the grade around the entire house will come up a little bit, it’s pretty dug out right now.

Fireplace placement

This one has been nagging me since the first time we saw the house. I love the chimney from the outside but on the interior it’s way off center in the sitting area. Again, let’s not upset ourselves by wondering why someone would even place it here in the first place ~pulls out hair~, let’s just figure out how we can fix it. Here’s what it looked like before:

maddening… also Lemon ❤

And as you can see from the floor plan, it’s shifted pretty far to one side.

The fireplace here is 6 feet off the center of the room

So, while I had no intention of moving the chimney outside, I decided I could fake it and make the fireplace seem like a much larger asymmetric unit inside by building out on one side of the fireplace. Again, inspiration photos come into play:

Feeling kind of basic with my Fixer Uper inspo, but sometimes jojo just gets it right.

Who says the fireplace opening needs to be in the middle? Not me. I decided to center the fireplace UNIT right between the window and door in our new floor plan.

2 feet off center instead of the 6 before

So much better! This is way closer to center. Now, a lot of people use this extra space to hold wood which also looks great on instagram. There are two problems with this: 1. Logs are long and thus would need a very deep shelf and this would take up too much of my livingroom. 2. With that much wood stacked in there all the time, I’m sorry but there are going to be creepy crawly bugs and spiders on those logs all the time. Yuck. Because of these inconvenient truths, many dummies will go this route:

image credit redacted to protect this dummy’s identity

I simply couldn’t stomach it. This will be a real fire place. With real wood. None of this BS. Let’s see, what is about 8 inches deep that I could put on some shelves… That’s right. Books.

This beautiful design came from Andrew’s beautiful brain nearly a year ago:

Isn’t it lovely? He spends most of his time coding but he’s got an incredible design sense. Also, look at that perspective drawing! Swoon. Since last year the design has changed a bit but the same concept holds. Here is the current design:

We added a bench to run under the window to tie in that space and brought the fireplace material to the outsides of the book shelf to make it feel like a single unit.

You may also notice the weird angle of the ceiling here. Well we had a last minute change to partially vault the ceiling in the living room. It’s a little weird because we could only do half the room but I think it’s going to be great. I’m just embracing the asymmetry the same way I do with my eyebrows. They don’t match ok? This is my reality. Here’s the sketchup rendering:

I figured since the bench would stick out further than normal shelves, I could use that area to put actual logs, not just fake nubs. Here’s how it currently stands:

Can you see the outline of the fireplace unit?

I’m still trying to figure out what the surface material will be. Part of me wants to do poured concrete but true board formed poured concrete is a real pain in the ass and expensive. You have to build a mold out of wood and pour the concrete in from the top which can be tricky esp when it goes to the ceiling and it can be a real mess. If we went with concrete, we’d probably just do a skim coat which is just a thin layer applied with a trowel and I think I’d want to dye it a lighter gray/white.

Poured form concrete on the left, probably a skim coat on the right

I’m also considering plaster which I think can have a very similar effect but might be easier/cheaper to execute.

Maybe these are plaster?

To be honest it’s pretty hard for me to tell the difference by just looking at photos but you guys get the vibe. I will keep you guys posted on what we do here and if anyone has any experience with skim coating concrete vs. plaster let me know!

Anyway, lots of decisions still to be made but I’m really happy with how these two things panned out. I feel like my best creative moments come when I have restrictions that I’m working with. The idea of building a house from scratch where you can place whatever you want wherever you want scares the crap out of me. To me most of the interesting things in our house have come from creative solutions to some kind of restriction. I know I’ve said this before on this blog but it’s true!