Designing a Home? Take a Vacation

There are few situations that cast a magnifying glass on family dynamics better than a family vacation. Make that a vacation with ten family members, across three generations, in a two bedroom cabin in the woods, and you’ve got yourself the setting for a Hollywood blockbuster! Whether it will be a heart-warming comedy or a blood chilling horror flick might be in the hands of your architect!

Don’t be jealous, but I recently found myself in such a fun, family-filled vacation situation. Fortunately, we all made it out alive and are amazingly still talking to one another! Looking back at how we all cohabitated for seven days, the architect in me couldn’t help but observe how the layout of space is so important when you’re trying to feed, sleep, bathe, and entertain so many people.

What I observed applies whether you are designing a vacation home or your own home where you might host guests from time to time.

Here’s what I learned. While we probably know these concepts make good sense in home design, living these for a week makes it worth sharing:

Feeding a crowd.

  • A kitchen that functions with at least two or more cooks is ideal when you have six adults, four kids, and no one can agree on what’s for dinner
  • A separate beverage fridge, or in our case a big ice chest full of drinks on the porch, worked great for keeping kids and parents out of the kitchen, plus we didn’t have the extra room to spare in the refrigerator
  • Don’t discount the value of floor space in the kitchen – it was so useful when bringing in groceries, loading and unloading large coolers and getting down low to get large pots out of the lower cabinets
  • The countertop with the coffee maker gets a lot of traffic in the morning – don’t put it in the traffic pattern between the sink and refrigerator, and for heaven’s sake put your coffee mugs close to the coffee pot!
  • A big island or peninsula countertop with seating on one side is great for serving meals buffet style and keeping extra people out of the kitchen
  • Multiple pantry areas are great for staying organized – we had one large cabinet for cooking ingredients and one large cabinet for snacks and junk food
  • Open concept from kitchen to dining and living room was a life saver for keeping an eye on the littles and saved my voice so I didn’t have to yell so loud at the mischievous angels
  • Glasses of milk will spill in dramatic fashion – plan for it and keep towels handy
  • Create a space for a trashcan that is accessible to everyone – you’ll use it all day, everyday

Sleep? Yes, please.

  • Bedrooms needed more floor space for luggage and for kiddos who want to sleep on air mattresses on the floor – this applies if your kids like to invite friends for sleep-overs too.
  • Room darkening curtains or shades were a must, especially during the summer when it doesn’t get dark until 9:30 pm.
  • Plan for lamps and side tables next to the bed, and locate electrical outlets to make plugging in charger cables easier. Doing advanced yoga moves to plug in my iPhone was not pretty.
  • A sleeping loft worked with two queen beds. However, the loft overlooked the living room, so when it was bedtime for the kids, it was bedtime for everyone

What’s that smell?

  • Bathrooms… thank goodness we had at least one bathtub and a hand shower for bathing our toddler. A standup shower stall in the upstairs bath seemed fine for adults and older kids
  • Bath vanities – the bigger the better, if possible give everyone a drawer so the countertop is not cluttered
  • Lots of hooks and towel bars are helpful in keeping towels organized, dry, and off the floor
  • If you have multiple people sharing a bathroom, invest in towel sets in several colors so each person can find their towel

Mom, I’m so bored.

  • A play-friendly covered porch and yard are wonderful for diffusing kids who have been cooped up in the car for hours
  • Having two separate doors from house to the covered porch were helpful for managing the running herds
  • Keep a pile of old wood and sharp sheet metal nearby – it makes for creative bike ramp construction
  • A good old-fashioned game of hide-and-seek still works for keeping kids entertained and off electronic devices – just anticipate where they might hide and make sure whatever heavy items that could fall on their heads are insured or replaceable (ha, just kidding!)
  • Providing enough seating for you and your guests is obvious, but making it stain resistant and indestructible for hyper kids is just smart
  • If you chose to have a coffee table, make it movable and not made of glass – someone at some point will fall on it, trip over it, or set something wet, hot, or cold on it (ask me how I know)
  • Make your entertainment equipment (e.g., dvd player, game consoles, TVs) either totally usable by kids, or put it where only adults can access it – you can’t underestimate how smart a two year old is or how many dvd boxes he can open in 30 seconds
  • Plan flooring surfaces and furniture with slips, falls, and tumbles in mind – kids love to jump off stairs, jump off couches, and run where they are not supposed to

It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself and your family members when you live in a different place, even for a short time. We can get in a rut where we currently live and it’s not until we have to adjust to new surroundings do we discover what’s really important in our own homes.

The next time you have the opportunity to take a vacation or visit a friend’s house, make notes on what you like and don’t like. Your list might come in handy some day when it’s time to remodel or design your dream home. When that day comes, give HPD a call and we’ll be glad to help!


Laura Davis About Laura Davis

Laura Davis is a registered architect and interior designer, as well as a founding member of HPD Architecture LLC. Laura enjoys working with existing spaces to bring new life to older properties.

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