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Not quite pleased with his tried-and-true design for a ranch house to be built on eight narrow lots in an infill development, Brad Waldenmyer, of BNDW, LLC in Dover, Ohio, took his plan to the NAHB International Builders’ Show in Orlando earlier this year for some free, expert advice on how to improve it.
The existing design overpowered the streetscape, Waldenmyer said. The two-car garage looked too cumbersome for the development’s 65-foot-wide lots. He also was concerned about the laundry room’s location — in the back of the house off the master bathroom.
Waldenmyer was among 200 builders who brought their plans to IBS to have them reviewed by architects and designers from the NAHB Design Committee during two days of plan review workshop sessions held annually by the committee.
Each builder has about 25 minutes to discuss the plan one-on-one with a designer or architect who suggests how to tweak the plan. The builders can meet with as many different architects as feasible during the 25-minute session — essentially architectural review goes speed dating — to gather as many suggestions as possible.
Waldenmyer met with seven architects during his session, most of them offering similar advice on how to improve his 1,500-square-foot home. “There’s only so much you can put into that little package,” he acknowledged.
Postle discussed tweaks to the front elevation to make the garage look less massive; and improvements in the home’s flow and livability to make the plan more appealing to women, who tend to have the final word on home purchasing decisions.
“Many builders who come to the workshops have never discussed upgrading plans with changes like different locations for a laundry room or opening up walls in the kitchen to encourage more family interaction during dining and food preparation,” Postle said. “You can take a dated plan and open it up so it has the potential to really wow home buyers.”
A New Look for the Front Entrance
To deemphasize the garage, Postle suggested that Waldenmyer run the roof trusses from the entry to the back of the house on a 7-12 pitch, which would expand the dormer over the front door and add extra emphasis to the cathedral ceiling extending to the back of the home.
The changes, she said, would focus attention on the front entrance rather than the garage and also make the interior more appealing.
“In this plan, we were trying to make the home open up from the front entry. Those corridor views from the front entry make the home feel larger,” Postle said.
Her ideas didn’t stop there.
Postle also suggested that Waldenmyer make the front porch larger and install a ceiling fan. “Outdoor living areas are something we talk about with many builders because they are often forgotten when merchandising the home,” she said, adding that furnishing a porch increases usable square footage and “makes the home live larger.”
Not only did Waldenmyer enlarge the porch when building the home, he also added Craftsman columns.
“The changes really make a grand entry out of a small space,” Waldenmyer agreed.
A common faux pas among builders at plan reviews is that many of them don’t think about furniture placement.
“We always design with furniture,” she said. “Often, builders come to us with room and floor plans and haven’t given any thought to where the TV goes in the great room, where to put the couch and love seat or if the master bedroom has a good bed wall.”
“When you start to lay the furniture on someone else’s plan, you can see very quickly where things won’t work,” she said.
Postle concurred with Waldenmyer’s use of a “flex room” in his plan.
“We want to look at flexibility in the different spaces. The model home may have a formal dining room, but not everyone needs one, so we look at ways to market that space as a dining room, a home office, a parlor or a music room so that one plan can appeal to many different buyers,” she said.
The Laundry Room — Hugely Important, Often Poorly Designed
Waldenmyer wanted to locate the laundry room off the master bedroom rather than off the garage — its more typical “mud room” location. But he was concerned that the alternate location might be a problem.
“I tend to beat up the builders who come to the plan review workshops when it comes to things like laundry rooms and command centers,” Postle said, while agreeing that the laundry room location was “on the right track.”
“We try to put the laundry room on the same floor as the master suite, and we try to work it out so there is a pass-through from the master closet into the laundry room,” she said.
“You never want to come home after working all day and have to walk through the laundry room from the garage. The laundry is never done, so when you get home, you’re greeted by dirty laundry. It’s depressing,” she said.
“Home owners want a place to leave their coat, drop their purse, charge their cellphone and not be hit over the head with a to-do list the minute they get home,” Postle said.
Waldenmyer found his 25-minute speed-review session well worth the information overload.
“Every one of the reviewers did a good job and I was really happy with Postle’s designs,” he said.