Architect Matt White uses his basement space to accommodate these brilliant hideaway desks/storage units — going some way to solving the problem of messy playrooms in one go

Create large, flowing, multifunctional spaces

Merry Albright

“When I’m putting together family space ideas I always think about how my own family functions in real life. For example, a big porch is perfect for putting on wellies, and a spacious hallway works well when the children come home from school and need to dump bags and so on. If you can squeeze a boot room or large cupboard close to the entrance space it makes life a lot easier.

Lots of our clients now ask for open plan floorplans, but we try to investigate if they mean completely open plan or rather a combination of some large, flowing multifunctional spaces mixed with a few more intimate rooms. A separate office or playroom can help give some clarity/sanity to life with children. Even a little niche with a simple desk or a defined corner with a big toy cupboard would work. I would also rather have a utility room and laundry space which is separate to the kitchen/living area. Traditional living rooms are also still popular for family homes — a cosy and well-proportioned room which is separate to the open plan areas.

I like incorporating views through open plan spaces so you can see out of the room itself — omit internal doors and align the openings and corridors so you can always see beyond, which is simple but very effective. Another way to add intrigue and a sense of ‘beyond’ is by including internal windows so you get a glimpse of the space next door. Even generous rooms can feel enclosed unless you create a sense of journey.

For us, family homes tend to work best if they are well connected to the outside — in my experience children (and pets) like coming and going. I always try to make sure I can see where the children are from the house — even if it means changing the kitchen layout or adding a longer window somewhere.

oak frame open plan kitchen

Homes designed with families in mind have to work well on a practical level, enabling parents to see children where possible

Bedrooms are probably less important than the living spaces and in most family homes we build there is typically one vaulted bedroom for the adults but the children’s rooms are much simpler, with less oak framing. I guess the trick is to remember that children grow up and so while you might be happy to share a bathroom when they are cute little babies it is probably a less attractive proposition (for both parties) once they reach adolescence!

teepee in a children's bedroom

Children’s bedrooms don’t have to be large, but that shouldn’t rule out fun being incorporated

My husband Ben and I are currently building our own family home and we really wanted to capture a feeling of adventure for the children. We have designed a large open plan kitchen with a ‘snug’ zone (for watching films as a family) on one side. There is also a utility room, boot room, office and playroom, so we can all happily live and work together. But we have also added a veranda with a swing (perfect for our daydreaming in the sunshine) and secret cupboards that run from one room to another — just for fun. And I am not sure who is more excited by the extra-long handrail that is perfect for sliding down St. Trinian’s style — them or us!”

Merry Albright, Border Oak

Traditional values still count

Neil Dawson Snook

“Traditional values are still very relevant — namely the idea of the kitchen being the heart of the home and the idea of an open fire so the family can congregate and socialise of an evening. With modern-day insulation and more efficient underfloor heating systems, fireplaces are in many places irrelevant — however we always include them as a comforting point of reference in living spaces. It is about what they represent rather than the heat they give off.”

Neil Dawson, Snook Architects

Forget the estate agent — have fun!

Des Staff

“Family homes should be functional, practical, durable, comfortable but also fun! Is that not what having a family is all about?

So many of today’s houses are a bit too serious and more concerned with what the next purchasers may think rather than what you would like. I generally find that those who design their houses well for the way they want to live, to suit the family, will find that those coming along next will also love it.

This house (below) which I designed for a client is bright, cheery and inviting. It has a slide which is a daily used shortcut from the bedrooms to the kitchen table. The sloping site and L-shaped return forms a natural amphitheatre that is used as a basketball court with the wide steps up to the garden acting as tiered seating for the crowd.

kitchen in a family home with a slide

A slide in this home provides a fun shortcut to the kitchen

A zip wire zooms kids from the top of the garden into the house. Sadly the fireman’s pole going from the attic floor to ground was a bit too much for an otherwise cooperative Building Control department. The kids who live in this house love it. So why not loosen up, forget the estate agent and have some fun!”

Des Ewing, Des Ewing Residential Architects

A family home must have a heart

Architect Darren Bray

“The thing that makes the modern family home has to be the use of flexible open plan space, creating greater social interaction that fits with a 21st-century family. But a great family home must have a heart: the space where everyone gathers on those cold, dark winter evenings, to interact, share the stories and experiences of the day or week.

Flowing open plan spaces that contain living/dining/kitchen plus study are vital for our social discourse, while we cook, eat, watch TV and work. Light is the other key component to a successful family home. It is critical to the wellbeing of the inhabitants.

open plan kitchen with sliding doors to garden

It’s a classic design cliché, but think about where the family are gathering of an early evening after days at work and school. This might well be in the kitchen — if so, design it with that in mind

It’s also really important to design in spaces where members of the family can retreat, switch off and contemplate life. So the snug or secret window seat is vital for those of us who like to escape for some quiet time and switch off from our 24/7 devices.”

Darren Bray, PAD Studio

Choose flooring carefully

Harvey Booth from Kahrs

“Smooth floors provide a very practical option for the family home and wood, in particular, is a great option.  As well as a natural look that’s warm, tactile and healthy, wood is very easy to look after. There’s nowhere for dirt and dust to hide, and it can be kept spotless by vacuuming and cleaning with a well-wrung mop.

For a busy, family home, a rustic wood design in a mid-toned shade (as seen in the Kährs floor below) will disguise foot and paw prints. It’s worth investing in a quality, branded floor with a durable lacquer or oiled pre-finish, as the construction and finish will be superior. If you choose an oiled floor, you will need to periodically replenish the surface treatment but this will effectively top-up the protection. Many treatments can be added to water, so can be applied really easily with a mop, and don’t forget finishing accessories like beading and skirtings — they can make a real difference to the finished look and many ranges now include options that match floors for a seamless installation and transition between rooms.”

Harvey Booth, Country Manager, Kährs UK and Ireland

Kahrs oak sienna european naturals flooring

Adjustable showers are ideal for kids

Joanne Savage

“While most bathrooms are small and lack natural light, you can create a restful space even in the busiest family bath or shower room — it’s all about creating the illusion of space and light.

Be sure to keep it minimal. Banish clutter, choose fittings with clean lines to create a sense of space. Go for a shower with concealed pipes for a spa look, whether it’s over the bath or in a separate enclosure. Consider a shower with a bath fill to eliminate the need for taps.

Technology makes life easier and creates a streamlined look. Digital showers are super safe for all the family with push button controls and no fiddly levers. Choose a divert design to cater for everyone, a drencher head for a relaxing soak plus a hand-held adjustable shower for a quick pre-school splash. Adjustable showers are also ideal for kids of different heights. Switch between the two heads at the touch of a button and you can programme your preferred outlet to start first. Look for the functions that make life easier such as remote control, pause and timer features.

Lighting is very important in bathroom design but often overlooked. Go for dimmable lighting that you can change according to your mood and time of day.”

Joanne Savage, Aqualisa Brand & Design Director

Images: Jeremy Phillips; c/o Dew Ewing Architects; Nigel Rigden

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