Denise O’Connor of Optimise Design offers advice on maximising space in Irish homes - and suggests pulling the plug on en-suite bathrooms
Why are we continuing to build the same kind of houses in Ireland, over and over? Our lifestyles have changed dramatically since the 1950s –yet, there has been little evolution in the design of new homes.
The way we live, work and interact has completely changed, but our homes are seriously struggling to catch up.
In previous generations, homes were sold with room to manoeuvre; attics were there to be converted, and homes came with garages or large gardens - which meant there was scope to extend or convert to suit a growing family’s needs over time.
In recent years, though, this has not been the case. Every square metre built and sold got used straight away, and gardens were so small that once you outgrew your home, your only option was to move on.
This model is not successful; a new generation of buyers wants to be able to put down roots and make their home their own.
More so, how do we square this with the current debate and calls for smaller apartments, especially in Dublin, when we just got rid of tiny one-bed boxes? It’s down to the definition of tiny – how is it designed and who is it for?
Councils now have standards for minimum bedroom sizes and living spaces needed per individual, which is good. But, the call for smaller units is happening around the world – mostly for big-city living. The response in the USA, for example, is to create what’s called micro accommodation, where facilities like laundry and kitchens are shared. These homes are mainly for rent, and rent includes everything, such as Wi-Fi and other utilities, which means people can afford to live near their work and socialise easily at weekends to suit their lifestyle. It’s about working out what people need from their accommodation to suit their lifestyle.
However, this is exactly what architects, designers and developers did not do in Ireland. They never asked who will live in this house, and what do they need from it?
Developers’ aims were to sell as many units as possible. The end user was rarely considered, for example, many four-bed family homes built in the last ten to 15 years were built over three levels – all corridors, stairs and en-suites, with really small kitchens, no utility rooms and so totally impractical for families – no places for buggies, children’s toys, etc., utterly lacking in storage.
Recent years have shown that this model is just not successful for modern living. Property is like a product and it’s necessary to know how people are likely to live,designing the accommodation to suit those needs. Today’s home owner is also a more educated and considered buyer, less concerned with superficial aesthetics and more concerned with functionality and longevity.
Here are some of the key trends and influences that are changing how homes are being built around the world today, to suit lifestyle needs, and all have been used as inspiration for the DFS Showhouse on view at the tsb Permanent Ideal Home Show over this Bank Holiday Weekend in the RDS.
1. Micro living: A super functional use of space with communal services such as kitchens, laundry and storage to maximise living space. For example, 50% of New Yorkers live alone, as do 43% in London. Accommodation is getting smaller and more innovative with use of space.
2. Indoor/outdoor living: Treating our gardens as additional living spaces. Top of our clients’ list in terms of renovation projects is a redesign of their garden. Irish people are embracing outdoor living with covered spaces, while outdoor kitchens and fireplaces are becoming more and more popular, as it extends the living space.
3. Designated Storage: A super-organised home, with designated storage solutions for different elements of everyday life. Family life is so busy, efficiency and organisation are the key to minimising stress and creating a happy home. Rooms for coats, schoolbags sports equipment, as well as utility and laundry rooms with ample space to hang and dry laundry. Larder and pantry storage are all high on the list of priorities for households. With the right kind of storage, we don’t need as many living spaces.
4. Flexibility – Life moves fast and our homes need to keep up. People are buying to stay long-term, and they want their homes to be adaptable. Flexibility of space and how it can be manipulated is critical to the success of today’s homes.
5. Legacy – People are buying to put down roots. They need to feel they can add value over time, and hand their home on to their children.
So, what’s the solution then for people stuck in homes with no space to expand? Often, it’s a radical overhaul of the internal space – in many cases it comes down to storage, creating utility rooms and sacrificing en suites – en suites don’t improve life overall, a much better use of those spaces is to create laundry or storage rooms.
Another issue is the house orientation, for example, north-facing gardens don’t work - house orientation on a site really needs to be right.
Ultimately, the people designing, building and selling homes need to take more care from the beginning.
The layout of the home is critical – it needs to suit the end user of the property – the potential buyer and to be designed the very best way possible for that occupant.
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