Floor Plan Design

What Makes a Good Floor Plan?

In Design Theory by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

A quality floor plan is an important part of a complete set of drawings. It is typically the starting point for any home design or renovation project. For this reason, it’s crucial for it to have a well articulated layout and graphic consistency so it is easy to read.

In addition to efficient flow, a good floor plan has appropriate room sizes and proportions, minimized corridors, adequate storage space, and provides universal accessibility. A good floor plan also addresses exterior views and solar orientation to make the most of the surrounding landscape.

Graphic quality also matters. Floor plans that are well-presented graphically are easier to read and convey the necessary information for understanding the design intent. Keep reading as we’ll cover each of these features in more detail.

Anatomy of a Floor Plan

Floor plans are made up of various elements that articulate the designer’s intent. These include the location of walls, windows, doors, and the various rooms and spaces that they describe. The layout of each of these elements identifies the size and scale of each of these spaces.

A floor plan serves as the foundation for the general form of a home. The location of the walls, both interior and exterior, help define the three-dimensional structure that results from the layout. In order for a floor plan to be successful, it needs to be well organized and thought out.

Design Concept

A well-designed house plan has a clear concept that is elaborated throughout the building. Concepts can be obvious or they can be more subtle, so that people perceive them in a more subconscious way. Either way, if the concept is carried through in the design of the floor plan, it will provide order to the layout.

Order can be achieved through various design concepts such as the use of a grid system, linear schemes, radial schemes, symmetry, or a combination of these. What’s important is that the concept be well-articulated throughout the plan so that it creates a sense of order, something our minds naturally seek.

A basic example of a designed concept that provides order is the four-square plan common in more traditional architecture. This plan typically has a central hall with a monumental stair in the center between the four corner rooms. This layout is easy to understand and feels well-organized.

Defined Entrance

The entrance is the starting point when entering a home. It’s important for the entrance to be located in such a way as to invite the user in. It needs to be clearly articulated both in plan and elevation so that it is immediately identifiable.

Whether centered on the wall in a more traditional layout, off-center, or located at the corner, the entrance provides a transition from the exterior landscape to the home interior. The experience after entering through the door creates an immediate impression on guests.

Is the entrance followed by a mud room that offers a place for guests to leave their jackets and perhaps store their shoes? What are the views upon entering the home? A good floor plan will avoid views of the kitchen, bathroom, or dining room upon entering. Rather, it will provide a view of living spaces such as the living room or family room or a monumental stair.

Clear Orientation

Orientation is important not only when entering a home, but also as a person makes his or her way around the plan. A good floor plan will be organized in such a way that a guest will understand the layout of the home even when entering for the first time.

Symmetry can help orient a guest more quickly as can an open floor plan since spaces are immediately in view, but they may not always be right for everyone. You may prefer a more enclosed layout for greater privacy or a more modern layout which favors dynamism over symmetry.

Efficient Flow

Similar to orientation, flow can make a floor plan easier to understand and navigate through. Flow refers to the sequencing of spaces and how they relate to one another. Good flow is the result of grouping spaces in an intuitive manner so that a person immediately understands the connection.

From a functional standpoint, flow allows a guest to transition effortlessly from space to space in a logical way. When a plan flows well, you leave one room and enter another and that next room just feels like the appropriate one to be entering. A good floor plan places rooms in a logical progression.

Interconnecting Spaces

How spaces connect with one another affects flow. Spaces can either connect directly or through smaller intermediary spaces such as foyers or corridors. The size of the interconnecting spaces can also affect how a person perceives the transition.

It’s important that rooms that connect with one another make sense from a functional standpoint. There should be some type of relationship between one room and the next in terms of the purpose they serve. While connecting the kitchen to the dining room makes logical sense, for example, connecting to the living room or family room makes less sense. 

A common way of planning for interconnections is by creating a bubble diagram before the floor plan is even created. A bubble diagram is essentially a conceptual organizational chart of all spaces shown as ovals (bubbles) with lines to indicate connection points between the spaces.

Once the diagram is fully thought out, it can be converted into a floor plan where the ovals or bubbles become rooms and the connecting lines become doors, foyers, or hallways between the spaces. While conceptual, a bubble diagram can serve as an early-stage organizational tool.

Appropriate Room Sizes

A good floor plan has rooms that are appropriately sized for their intended use. Rooms that are too small feel cramped and may not allow for the proper use of their intended function. It may be impossible to fit the required furniture into the room if it is too small.

On the other hand, if a room is too large for its intended use, it may feel cold and uninviting. Even after filling it with furniture and other fixtures, it may not function well as the furniture will be too separated to work. One way to scale a room is by laying out the furniture first and then determining the proportions.

Room Proportions

While room proportions affect the size, a room can be the same square footage but feel different depending on the proportions of the enclosing walls. If a room is square or slightly rectangular it feels more balanced. Once it becomes longer in one dimension and narrower in the other, it can begin to feel like a corridor or hallway which is never a good thing unless that’s the intended use.

Human scale is also important to keep in mind when proportioning rooms. This is true not only in plan, but also in elevation as the height of a room will also affect the experience. If the ceiling is too low, it will feel cramped, if it is too high it may also not feel appropriate for the space.

Minimized Corridors

Corridors and hallways play an important role in terms of circulation and in connecting or separating spaces from one another. However, they are only transitional and should be minimized in order to allow for more useful living space.

The balance between the functional requirements of corridors and their size is a tricky one, but good floor plans will provide enough to serve their purpose and meet code requirements while utilizing the square footage to enhance other areas of the home such as living spaces and rooms.

Adequate Storage Space

Storage space in home design is typically an afterthought, but it shouldn’t be. Usually the larger living spaces which are considered more important programmatically, as they should be, take precedence over storage. However, that doesn’t mean that storage space shouldn’t be planned for in a home either.

Anyone who has lived in a house where storage space becomes a precious commodity because there is no more room to store things knows this all too well. Set room aside for storage use and plan the location, required size and number. As you massage the plan you may find that the sizes need to change a bit, but at least you should come close to meeting the intended goal.

Exterior Views

A well-designed floor plan takes advantage of exterior views. It works with the surrounding landscape to create a visual and sometimes physical connection between the exterior of a home and the interior. Oftentimes, the connection is transitional, where an inside space is connected directly to the outside landscape.

Connections with exterior views can be achieved through strategic glazing placement or by shifting of the floor plate to directly align with the outdoor views. This shift in the floor plate creates a dynamism which can help to break the regularity of the main layout. The footprint of the home may also shift altogether to align with views or work with important topological features.

Solar Direction 

Similar to views, solar orientation can play a role in the layout of the floor plan, the amount of glazing on the exterior walls, and the orientation of the building relative to the path of the sun. In northern hemispheres for example, the path of the sun is typically East-West on the South side of buildings.

Depending on the climate and specific location, this may mean providing more glazing to capture the sunlight on the North side of the building and reducing glazing on the South side to reduce heat gain. In very cold climates, however, it may make sense to do the opposite to capture the sun’s natural warmth and reduce internal heat loss due to excessive glazing on the North side. 

Good Graphic Presentation

We’ve mainly talked about the layout aspects of a good plan, however, the graphic presentation can also play a role in how well a floor plan conveys the design intent. A good floor plan is easy to read and has complete, concise information. It is drawn at a proper scale relative to the page so that it is easy to read and understand.

A good floor plan also has graphic consistency to avoid ambiguity in the designer’s intent. Line weight, that is the thickness of lines, should be consistent and hierarchical so that those items that need to stand out the most or are closer have bolder lines and those that are less critical or further away have thinner lines.

Reference symbols should also be included where necessary to bring the reader to more detailed pages or provide additional information. Finally, dimensioning should be well organized so that smaller dimensions are closer to the plan while larger dimensions are further away. Dimensions should be located such that they do not interfere or overlap with other items on the plan.

Final Notes

At the end of the day, a floor plan needs to convey the designers intent in a way that is easy to read and interpret. This is achieved both by graphic presentation and through the design concept itself. The design concept needs to be well-articulated and carried through consistently on the floor plan.

Order is an important part of any plan layout and it is what ties a design concept together so that the people who use the space are able to make logical sense of it. The human mind seeks order and looks for design patterns when experiencing a space. A floor plan that is able to convey this well and make use of the surrounding landscape and natural light is likely to be successful.

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