When we are thinking about a project we tend to naturally think about what we will change. However, in every project there are things that we can’t change. It can be all too easy to ignore these, but what we have found that actually it is much better to recognise them and instead build the project around them. In this way, they can become powerful elements of the overall design. We talk about these in our design fundamentals article.
In this article, we look at some of the things that people often ignore since they think they are given. However, sometimes we do like to fundamentally change a project by tackling these factors. Quite often this involves re-thinking about how we arrive on a site.
It’s often assumed that the way you access a home cannot be changed, but this is not always the case.
In fact, one of the first things we like to look at when we start work on a project is how it’s accessed. This is important because it’s the start of the story of a house.
When the place of arrival doesn’t set the scene
On barns and farmhouses, the place of arrival may be utilitarian. In the past, key considerations will have been where the animals were coming from and getting easy access into and out of the building. When a building is no longer being used for farming purposes, we have different criteria.
For example, in the past it would have been practical to come off the road straight into the building. Today, we might want to have a sense of arrival. We might like to enter the site further away from the building so we can create a drive that shows the building in the context of its landscape.
On the other hand, sometimes people’s drives go over a lot of external space that would be better used as a garden. In these cases, we might want to access the site nearer the building and have a smaller drive that comes in at a better angle.
Getting front doors and back doors right
It’s also essential to consider how you use doors to access your home because there are two types of door in your home.
There is the door you use when you’re entering or leaving your plot. There are certain things you need near this entrance door. You want somewhere to hang coats and stow shoes. It would be handy if your kitchen was near the entrance in case you’re carrying heavy shopping.
The other type of door is the door you predominantly use to go into your garden – back doors, conservatory doors, French doors, for example. These doors often work well as glazed doors rather than solid ones, so you get views into your garden from your house.
We sometimes find that people are using garden doors as entrance doors because that’s the most practical thing to do – they park at the back of their house, for example, so it makes sense to come in through the back. Yet, garden doors often aren’t a good start to the story of a home. Invariably too, the practical hooks and cupboards remain by the original entrance door and are hardly ever used, while there’s a lot of clutter by the door that is being used.
In these cases, we have to ask how best to fix this. Can we return the house so the original front door becomes the main point of entry again? Do we need to change where cars are parked to achieve that? Or do we accept that the back door actually makes better sense as the main entrance door? In which case, how can we reorganise the exterior of the house to make it plain which is the main entrance? Inside, how do we reorganise the space to create the practical entrance people need?
Making an entrance
Getting the entrances and exits right is why we will often try a few different ways of coming in when we first visit a site.
It’s vitally important to get this thinking right on a project because it probably won’t be thought about again until the house is next renovated, which may not be for 20 or 30 years or even longer. That’s a long time for something that doesn’t quite work.