Home hacks?
November 2, 2005 12:17 PM   Subscribe

What sort of "neat" things and convenience features would you design into your dream home?

We're in the early stages of designing a new house. At this point we're putting together a wish list to give the architect a starting point.

As well as making the house aesthetically pleasing and energy efficient, I also want it to work for us. I want there to be a "flow" to it that ultimately makes life easier.

I'm looking for tips, for ideas. Not so much "I hear Ikea cabinets are nice" or "use high R-values for insulation" but things like "put the laundry on the same floor as the bedrooms so you don't have to lug all your clothes up and down stairs" or "put a mail sorting station by the door with a paper recycling bin nearby, racks for your keys, and chargers for cell phones and PDAs."

I want to build a "better" house. If I were designing a car I would be looking for cup holders and cell phone outlets, not fuzzy dice and leather seats.

An additional related question, is there anything really useful that I can do with home automation? Most applications I've seen (turning up the heat via the web, turning off the garage lights from the toilet) seem more like the classic "because I CAN do it" reason that we nerds love so much. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm not sure it justifies the expense.
posted by bondcliff to Home & Garden (120 answers total) 166 users marked this as a favorite
We're house shopping right now, and the nicest things we hadn't thought about before are: 1) a secret room hidden behind a swing-out bookcase and 2) a "mud room" between the garage door and the closest really livable space. This space is often multi-purposed with both a coat-hanging closet and main-floor laundry (strip off muddy stuff and have it right where it needs to be washed!). We frequently see pet beds and food dishes in these areas too.

You may also, cost-permitting, want to look into constructing with concrete.
posted by clever sheep at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2005

Underfloor heating.
posted by Human Flesh at 12:31 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

In my dreamhouse, the plumbing would be separated such that flushing the toilet on the second floor didn't scald the person showering on the third. I gather from previous reading that this is possible, and only slightly expensive, provided sufficient space is left for the extra pipes. It doesn't apparently, solve the problem of the person flushing the toilet immediately *next* to the shower, since each bathroom gets its own plumbing, separate from the rest of the house, but not each individual plumbing using item, but you can tell someone is showering if you're two feet away, while it's not necessarily true if you're 2 floors away.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2005

Check out the Dilbert Ultimate House (especially the guided tour) for some neat, modern ideas. (The design of the site is kind of kludgy, but look around.) I like the idea of a "great room," workshop, and plumbing closet.
posted by Brian James at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2005

Built-in bookshelves. I've loved them when I had them in rentals, and missed them elsewhere.

A staging area for garbage/recycling/pet "stuff" that is somehow not on the same ventilation loop as the rest of the house.

Don't forget Murphy beds for your army of minions.
posted by bobot at 12:35 PM on November 2, 2005

Coloured faucets - LEDs colour the water coming out, a thermocoupler detects the temperature of the water and lights up the appropriate LEDs.

Voice command for lights, media center.

A larger "lobby" area for the main entrance is nice; closets/coat-rack, umbrella/staff stand, some place for a large number of visitor's shoes, someplace to sit to put on/take off shoes.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:35 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

My dad swears by the time controlled thermostat we used to have. He had it programmed to go down into the 60s when we were asleep then heat up in the morning. He claims it was better than an alarm clock for getting out of bed.
posted by matkline at 12:35 PM on November 2, 2005

Best answer: Consider a galley kitchen. They're the most efficient design possible. Have a hole in the main cutting surface with a garbage can underneath it. Consider an area nearby for the following countertop appliances: food processor, blender, toaster, coffee machine. Have enough outlets plus a few right there for this purpose.

Ensure all the surfaces in the kitchen don't have cracks towards the back, or a "rim" around the edge that will make washing difficult. I've always liked the idea of an entire coutner being a cutting board. People will tell you it's hard to wash, but a spray bottle of bleach and an attentive mind will make it well worth it.

Lots of open storage place in the kitchen is great. My roommate and I have a big shelf full of pots, pans, bowls, etc... that I couldn't live without. Also, a big shelf at eye level above the main cutting/preparation surface for olive oil/vinegar/spices/etc... is just too convenient.

If you have a fireplace, establish a line of sight to it from one end of the house to another, if possible. It should be something you want to gravitate to.

Provide no place for a television.

Consider the layout of your bedroom. When you grab something out of the closet and run out the door, will you need to go around the bed? That's not great.
posted by jon_kill at 12:36 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

This might be common in the States but I've promised myself that when we move I'll get an electrician in to wire up all of the lamps in any one room to a single lightswitch at the door. Lamps can still be shut on or off "locally" but rather than fumbling with a lamp switch coming home/upstairs in the dark, I'd have that single switch by the door.
posted by ceri richard at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2005

I'd suggest you check out Sarah Susanka's books and excellent website on "Not So Big" Living/Design/Etc. Something she rightfully points out is that people often end up with a much much bigger house than they really need/use. It turns out we tend to do most of our "living" in very specific areas and types of areas.
I'd also consider at least a nod to some "universal design" concepts. I don't know how old you are, or how long you want to live there, but someday you (or the folks you sell your house to) may be disabled in some fashion.
This is something I have become painfully aware of now that my mother is confined to a wheelchair. Some of the things I'm talking about are:
- access: can someone get into/out of the house without having to navigate stairs?
- wider doorways and low/no thresholds will make wheelchair access and walker usage easier
- no cabinet under a bathroom sink makes it much easier for a person in a wheelchair to reach the faucets and wash up.
- a pedal-activated faucet in the kitchen - this works for disabled and non-disabled alike, and is very sanitary (think about when you've gutted a chicken and want to wash up)
- at least one lower counter in the kitchen, this is also useful for baking (if you make approximately hip height), and you can really knead/roll out stuff easily at that height.
Think also about siting the house very carefully to take full advantage of views, solar gain, etc. Also consider "outdoor" rooms - not just decks/patios/porches, but distinct areas of the lot that offer a different feel (through landscaping/hardscaping etc).
posted by dbmcd at 12:41 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Put a good reading light over the toilet. :)

A bathroom adjacent to garage/work areas.

You can never have enough storage space.

Engineered trusses are fine, but an attic is much more useful.

Cat 5 or 6 *everywhere* , use it for phones, ethernet, everything. Use multiple drops per room. Same thing if you're going to wire in cable- you never know when you're going to want the TV/phone/computer somewhere else.

A corollary: AC outlets *everywhere*, as well.

Often forgotten, but useful: a people door to the outside from the garage as well as the big 'car door'.

One large closet is more useful than two tiny ones. Any space less than 10 square feet should be reconsidered/left out.

If you have an office with computer equipment- Isolated grounds.
posted by pjern at 12:42 PM on November 2, 2005

I would advocate putting cable troughs along all the walls with a hinged cover. That way, when you're putting a lamp way over there, the cord only has to be visble between the lamp and the wall. The rest of the run is hidden under the flooring. The same is true of running whatever kind of cable that you'll need in 10 years that you never knew you would need.

Also, put in way more outlets than you could possibly ever use. You'll still run out.

And make the bathroom 1.5 times the biggest size you could possibly want the bathroom to be.
posted by ba at 12:42 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

Oh and I've a yen for a pull-out ironing board in the kitchen. I saw one on a home improvement show once. It was almost a full size board but the sturdy legs folded up under the board for storage. No more schlepping the damn thing from the cupboard under the stairs.
posted by ceri richard at 12:42 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

Separate the sink + toilet room from the bathing room, but have a sink in the bathing room as well OR 2 sinks in the other room

A chute on the second floor leading to the laundry room on the 1st

Radiant heat that can be switched to a different heating method easily (i.e. oil to solar or gas)

2 sinks in the kitchen (prep and washing up)
posted by miss tea at 12:43 PM on November 2, 2005

Dish rack sits over sink and is actually the shelving for the dishes as well. Apparently this is common in one more European countries.
posted by user92371 at 12:47 PM on November 2, 2005

Lots of electrical outlets.
Conduits for stringing whatever sorts of cable you might someday need.
A sunken room for cat litter boxes, with exhaust fans built into the walls.
A Bat-pole. A dumbwaiter.
Drains built into the floor in every bathroom and the laundry room.
Light switches both inside and outside rooms (XORed together).
posted by Aknaton at 12:48 PM on November 2, 2005

Flexibility for future changes. (a.k.a. "ditto" on the "Conduits for stringing whatever sorts of cable you might someday need.")

Build in the "plumbing" for central vacuum, even if you're not currently planning to install the machinery -- this is simple to do when the house is being built and a big headache if you want to do it later.
posted by winston at 12:50 PM on November 2, 2005

The secret room would be cool but very hard to get away with in a new house. Secret rooms tend not to have good fire exit routes.
posted by winston at 12:51 PM on November 2, 2005

- A laundry chute upstairs leading to the laundry room downstairs. Extra fancy would be separate chutes for colors/whites
- A real ice maker in the kitchen - not the crappy one built into the fridge. They look almost like a small dishwasher when built into the kitchen.
- If I were building a dream-house, I'd focus a lot of my time on the my patio. I love a nice patio. A particularly nice addition is a gas-powered outdoor firepit. The coolest one I've seen is a round brick firepit filled with sand - the gas came through a coil of pipes undernead the sand. The effect was fire dancing on top of the sand.
- Another cool thing I've seen, but only once, was a digital thermostat/pressure gauge in the shower. I could choose the exact temperature and pick one of 4 pressure settings. It was awesome, but I've never seen it anywhere else.
posted by mullacc at 12:54 PM on November 2, 2005

Install a high, arching faucet over the kitchen sink for filling and washing large pots/pitchers/vases. Better yet, run an extra pipe all the way over to the top of the stove itself, so you don't have to carry big pots full of water.

Build chutes and dumbwaiters for moving things from one floor to another.

The answer to "How many electrical sockets do I need?" is always "One more." Don't skimp, especially in the rooms where you'll be installing your computer and your entertainment center. Put a couple higher on the wall, too, instead of at the baseboard. Your back will thank you.

On a similar note, the standard height for bathroom sinks is, for some reason, too low for most adults to use without bending. Put the sink higher so you can stand erect while you wash your face and brush your teeth.

Install a drinking fountain in a main hallway. The convenience will encourage you to drink more water.

Put a bookshelf in the bathroom, and keep your "Calvin & Hobbes" and "Far Side" collections there.

These are all features that I've seen and admired in other people's houses, and would like to have in my own. I think we can come up with even more useful ideas with a little information about your living situation. Is it you and a partner? Roommates? Kids? Pets?

[On preview, I seem to have repeated some others' suggestions, but I'll leave my piece the way it is. Just assume that any duplicates are particularly good ideas.]
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Our laundry room is in our (walk-in) basement/family room and has a small bathroom with a utility shower. You can walk right in out of the yard, toss your dirty clothes in the washer and hop right into the shower without traipsing crap through the house. Love it.

Also if you have enough land, consider an outbuilding for your lawn/outdoor stuff. It's much easier than cramming it in the garage.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:55 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

An actual bed-room... the entire room as a wall-to-wall bed.
posted by panoptican at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2005

His and hers sinks in the bathroom; I'm so tired of my husband waiting impatiently to wash his face while I put on my mascara. And while we're mentioning his 'n hers: 2 showerheads in the master bath would be nice as well. Showering together is no fun if someone has to stand there wet & shivering.
posted by junkbox at 1:04 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

A recessed sink in the bathroom.

stereo speaker plug-ins in each room, run to a central stereo. Each room has a on/off switch for the speakers.

Built-in main computer area with either good WiFi, or cabled access throughout house.

Skylights, as many as possible

Japanese soaking tub



lots of indirect lighting, or track lighting
posted by edgeways at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2005

A dish drying cupboard above the kitchen sink(s) will make life a little bit easier and perhaps gives your home a little bit of nordic flair.
posted by lazy-ville at 1:07 PM on November 2, 2005

Plan out your lightswitch setup carefully. Nothing worse than five light switches that handle the various lights in a tiny foyer when one or two would do the job just fine.

A big mud room/foyer is a luxury rarely planned for in cookie-cutter houses these days. Being able to sit while you put your boots on is great, and not elbowing your little brother in the face while getting your winter coat on is a bonus. (Well, depending on what kind of a kid you were.)

One thing you may want to think about re: home automation is a whole-house stereo setup, so the music can follow you wherever you go. This may or may not be a nice feature for you.

Think about incorporating some energy-efficiency techniques into your home as well. For example, the past summer has made me wonder about ways to bleed heat out of a house. The possibilities range from simple actions (the thermal chimney from the link) to radical reimaginings of house ventilation (solar chimneys).
posted by chrominance at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2005

My favorite piece of home automation: Laundry Chute. (Disregard if there's only a single floor). Seriously, the only piece of home automation that's worth anything, besides time-settable thermostat, which is really an energy-saver more than anything else.

My favorite "don't fight with the wife / husband" device: separate office from the public parts of the house.

My favorite kitchen set up: slab electric range (more efficient than gas, and sooooo easy to clean), pantry, more drawers than usual. Don't know why, but I'm always out of drawers in the kitchen. 2 is not enough!! Make sure the kitchen to patio/grill path is clear and unobstructed. Also make sure you have a patio/ porch/balcony/grill.

My favorite architectural detail for entertainment space: transparent wall / removable wall to patio. Do not do the cheap thing and put in sliding doors. Put in the accordian fold / slide wall. Nothing beats opening part of the house up for a party or dinner. Depends on the bugs in your locale though, you might need a transparent wall to a screened porch instead.

My favorite architectural detail for bedroom space: Large trees outside the window. I want branches and leaves to be nearly touchable from my window. Treehouses are best, but this is a good compromise.

My favorite baths have big tubs and 2 headed showers.
posted by zpousman at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a sauna would give your house even more nordic flair and is a great thing to have. But I'm finnish, so I would say that.
posted by lazy-ville at 1:10 PM on November 2, 2005

Along the same lines as the dish-drying cabinet suggestions: I've dreamed for years of having two dishwashers, eliminating the need for frequent double-handling of dishes. At any time, one of the dishwashers would be a source of clean dishes, and one would be a receptacle of dirties.
posted by gorillawarfare at 1:12 PM on November 2, 2005

Response by poster: This is turning out really well so far. Thanks and keep 'em coming.

Some answers/comments:

Lifestyle: Me, wife, son. No more kids or plans to have kids. We're not building it with resale in mind, we're planning on staying. Great chunk of property (lake view!) in a neighborhood we love. Some day we'll sell it but that's not a big concern right now.

We're planning on going green where we can. Passive solar, ground source heat pump, heat reclaimers, high R-values, etc. Radiant heat is a strong contender right now. Don't have the exposure for panels, unfortunately.

We love to cook, so I'm putting a lot of thought into the kitchen. That's going to be a whole 'nother thread, I think. Eschewing the "kitchen triangle" in favor of more logical cook, prep, clean-up stations. Hoping for 30-inch deep counters and a prep-sink with built in cutting board and a slide out compost bin. Walk-in pantry, baking station w/stone surface, storage for everything.

re: Not So Big House books. Got them all, love them. That's been our bible from the start. We even found our architect through her website.

Put a bookshelf in the bathroom, and keep your "Calvin & Hobbes" and "Far Side" collections there.

It has been my plan for some time to have a nice fancy antique dictionary stand at the end of a hallway with the leather bound Far Side collection on it.

Planning on an attached garage with a mudroom. Coat racks, bench, etc.

There will be no shortage of outlets. In fact, we're thinking of building the entire house out of Romex and switch plates.

Cat-5? I've been debating that. WiFi seems just as good right now and is only getting better.

I'm hoping for plenty of conduit throughout. Building for the unknown future.

I really want a secret room, or at least a secret something.

There will be built-ins, window seats and bookshelves.

Already have a time-controlled thermostat and the new house will have whatever energy saving devices we can afford.

I expect next week I'll ask another question, "how can I can I afford my dream home?"
posted by bondcliff at 1:14 PM on November 2, 2005

Response by poster: Better yet, run an extra pipe all the way over to the top of the stove itself, so you don't have to carry big pots full of water.

I've been seeing this a lot in the kitchen design books I've been reading. I think it's a great idea, but I know me, and I know at least once a week I'd be filling up a pot, get distracted, and come down an hour later to a flooded kitchen.
posted by bondcliff at 1:18 PM on November 2, 2005

I forgot the roof-top patio
posted by winston at 1:19 PM on November 2, 2005

I've always thought Recirculating heated water was nice.

I'd put in at least two Cat5 lines to every room, and a dedicated 15a circut in a centralized wiring closet/location - Wired ethernet is faster, more reliable, and cheaper, IMO. It's also dirt cheap/easy to DIY this when the studs are up, but before the drywallers come in. Some states don't even require you to put up boxes for Low Voltage wiring.

Incorporating a greenhouse of some sort along with a Trombe wall is a lot cheaper/more reliable than most active solar techniques.
posted by Orb2069 at 1:19 PM on November 2, 2005

Storage, storage, storage. Dressing room or at least a dedicated dressing area. To keep surfaces clear, mount lighting on walls next to beds instead of using lamps.

Dishwasher to the right of the kitchen sink, if you're right-handed. Deep drawers in kitchen -- excellent for pans. Clearance for all cab doors to open properly. Microwave in upper kitchen cabinet is probably too high. Smooth kitchen countertop. No white grout anywhere; preferably NO grout. Powerful kitchen ventilation. Space for the amount of trash and recycling you actually have.

A big-enough washer and dryer. Ventilation in laundry area if you do hot washes. Surface for foldong clothes. Iron and board stored where they'll be used.

Storage for cleaning supplies and vacuum on each floor.

Bathroom: plan on places to stash everyone's stuff. Thermostatic shower valves to prevent temp. fluctuation. A urinal if you have lots of males, or one with bad aim. Separate shower and tub, if anyone likes to taking baths.

Wiring for speakers wherever you like to hear music. Closet or other area for guests' coats. Phones all over the place. Landscaping and exterior lighting. If you like to watch TV, think about its placement now. An attic fan if appropriate for climate -- can save a lot on AC.
posted by wryly at 1:22 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've always wanted dual shower heads or two little Japanese-style washing stations in my bathroom. That way two people can wash without the other standing out of the water and freezing to death. A cypress tub is always nice, too. Wood feels warm and smooth against bare skin.

I also like the idea of heating and cooling individual rooms rather than the whole house. I do that now with space heaters and it saves a lot of money. Perhaps there is a way this could work with central heating/cooling.

I have a pull-out pantry in the kitchen and I LOVE it. There are no mystery cans left in the back and I can see and access everything very easily. I thought that it might be too heavy for me, but it still glides easily in and out when fully loaded. If I could do it all over again I would have each shelf in the kitchen pull out as well.
posted by Alison at 1:24 PM on November 2, 2005

If you're building green a proper heat storing fireplace will not only be nice, but also practical and economical and can also include an oven where you can cook stuff.
posted by lazy-ville at 1:26 PM on November 2, 2005

Thermostats in every room (or otherwise a solution allowing you to keep the bedrooms and the bathrooms warm at night and the rest of the house cool.)

Big block carbon filter on the water line entering the house.

Double-paned windows that flip in for easy cleaning.

On-demand water heater.

A door or other separation between the toilet and the sink where you brush your teeth (there's enough tiny spray from flushing that if your toothbrush is open to the air a few feet away, you're pretty much brushing with toilet water.)

Pressure-assisted toilets.

Sink and bath fixtures that let you adjust the temperature of the water independent of the flow.

Jacuzzi. Shower head overhead or high enough that a tall person doesn't have to bend to wash his or her head. Shower heads on opposite sides if you like showering with company.

Pergo flooring for most of it.


Panic room.

Solar panels (and passive solar heating.)

Housewide power correction at the source -- I'm blanking on the right term for it.

Urinals in the bathrooms (for water savings, assuming men are going to be living there.)

Here's an interesting (if old) thread from talk.bizarre, of all places, on the subject.

Books I'd consult if I were doing this: The Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook, Don Aslett's Make Your House Do the Housework and Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts.

On preview, you have to encrypt wireless net connections if you don't want the possibility of someone eavesdropping (or using your net for things you could be blamed for.) (And most of the current encryption schemes are broken.) Yeah, there are conveniences to wireless in the home, but one of the biggies is being able to place your computer where you don't already have a cable. Since you're designing from scratch, that's less of a problem for you. And Cat6 offers up to a Gbps, which is liable to keep ahead of your needs for a while.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:33 PM on November 2, 2005

Best answer: Put a "charging station" in the entry/mudroom. Have a shelf/cubby for charging phones, laptops, and other devices.

Don't skimp on the laundry room - build enough space for sorting clothes pre wash, folding post, and an ironing station.
posted by cptnrandy at 1:33 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been playing with x10 stuff and the home automation stuff I like and find actually useful is the timed lighting. Set up x10 for the outside perimeter house lighting. I hate having to remember to turn on the front porch lights when I order a pizza -- just run some software to figure out when sunset occurs, and then have it fire up the lights outside 20 minutes afterwards, and shut them down at 11, midnight, or pre-sunrise.

I think on-demand hot water heating would be great, so you'd never run out or have to waste energy keeping a tank hot. People mentioned conduits, but defintely put some above your fireplace (so you can mount a tv flush above it) running down to one side.

My new house has a huge master area and the one thing that feels really great is having his and her closets. I get two huge closets to myself and she gets a walk-in that is so big we put a bench in the middle of it. The master bath is large as well, big enough to put some palm trees near the jet tub. I wish we had a nicer shower, one of those custom jobs with the multiple heads and high pressure.
posted by mathowie at 1:34 PM on November 2, 2005

I'd want little fold-out shelves in every room in the house so that when I've got a recipe up on my laptop, I can just put it someplace in the room that is not going to have a cup of coffee on it and see it. When I move the laptop, I fold the shelf up into the wall. alternately, some xwindows solution that does this, but I usually just tote my laptop around.
I'd like to never be in a house without a mud room type place where people can come in, take off shoes, coat, hat, etc and come into the house dressed to be indoors. That way the house isn't full of muddy shoes and giant parkas. This room should have at least a shelf and a closet. Outgoing mail/packages/movies/library books go in this room when they're on their way out.

I'd want a big outlet strip on the kitchen counter for all the appliances that plug in and I'd like under-cabinet lighting so I can see them all.

My ideal kitchen would have places to put lots of bulk foods in addition to all the cans/boxes/whatever, so undercounter storage for 20 lbs of flour, sugar, dog food, birdseed, would be really great.

I'd pay a lot more attention to passive solar (I live someplace cold 4-6 months out of the year) as a way to maximize house placement. Putting more south-facing windows, using good curtains to regulate heat gain/loss [that's something I'd like automation for "lower blinds at dusk, raise blinds before I wake up" would be really grand] and paying attention to airflow to maximize cooling in the summer. Using planting to do some of this (trees that drop leaves to block really sunny windows in the summer) is helpful.

Heating zones so rooms I don't use usually don't have to be heated with everything else. Guest bathroom that is all set up for guests so you can just say "all of this is for you"to a) not have to clean your own bathroom every time guests come b) let guests put their bathroom stuff all over everyplace and hog the room without impacting household schedules. I'd probably put a tankless hot water heater in there so that it had its own hot water. In fact on the subject of hot water, my pal in australia had a system that had a thermostat on it. You could ratchet the heat up for dishwashing/baths and turn it way way down the rest of the time. Seemed smart as hell but I've never seen this in the US.
posted by jessamyn at 1:35 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

think about how you live - what you do and how you behave inside the house. then work out how many rooms you really need. don't make a room for every different action, but instead plan things so that you end up with as few rooms as possible. in this way you end up with more space (personally, i think open space is the most under-rated thing in a home) and more time together even when you're doing different things. we reduced the number of rooms in the place we bought from 6 to 4 (excluding bathrooms) and it was a huge improvement.

(opening spaces also improves natural lighting, often).

also, rather mundane, but put electric sockets everywhere. and if you have computers, worry a little about wiring. we have a conduit under the kitchen that carries ethernet that made life easier.

on a more abstract level, you might want to think about forms. our place is kind of curled up (around a central shaft in the building). so it doesn't have long pasages or views. instead, the recurring form is an L. recognising that, and running with it, helps give the place a certain internal cinsistency imho.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:41 PM on November 2, 2005

I really want a secret room, or at least a secret something.

Excellent choice. Assuming you're merely a mild-mannered citizen and have no need for a crimelab, consider hiding either your television/entertainment console or wet bar behind a powered, sliding panel or bookshelf. And whatever it turns out to be, you know that the switch absolutely must be one of these.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:42 PM on November 2, 2005

On a home show, I once saw a really cool feature. It was a tiny door directly from the garage into the pantry. This way, when you are bringing home your groceries, you can load them directly into the pantry.

Another idea I like is to have all of the essential features on one floor; Master bedroom, bath, kitchen, laundry. This way if you stay in the house until you get old, you won't have to trudge up and down stairs all the time. Put kids bedrooms, family rooms, etc up or down.

I think it is essential that all master bathrooms have a water closet. This is the separate little room where the toilet is. This way someone can use the toilet undisturbed, while others are in the bathroom. It also helps contain smells, etc.

I would put the master closet off the master bath. I have this in my current apartment, and I love it.
posted by bove at 1:43 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hydroponics laboratory.
posted by baphomet at 1:48 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

In the kitchen, I'd have a really deep big kitchen sink. It's nice because there's less splashing of water around the counter.

A window in the bathroom that gets the morning sunlight --- There's nothing better than waking up to a shower full of sunshine. Also, can you use the hot water pipes to heat your towels?
posted by hooray at 1:51 PM on November 2, 2005

A couple other things I forgot--

Put an electric ventilation fan and heater in the bathroom. Flip a couple of switches, and humidity and smells can go out while warm air comes in.

An intercom might be fun, if you're lazy.

I don't know if they sell these here in the States, but I saw it in Japan and it's absolutely brilliant-- the toilet handle, depending on which way you turn it, will produce either a "small flush" or a "large flush." The water savings must be phenomenal.

Unobtrusively install some rails or handholds around your bed, and possibly even on the ceiling above it. Perfect for more... active pursuits.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:52 PM on November 2, 2005

on the toilet flushing problem mentioned above... i think this was long ago solved by shower valves that monitor the cold water pressure and automagically modulate the hot water pressure, rather than through a completely separate plumbing system.

standard issue in higher-end new homes.

posted by joeblough at 1:53 PM on November 2, 2005

Response by poster: Some more info on our situation:

We live outside of Boston.

Architect has experience with passive solar, and our yard is perfect for south facing windows.

Trees to the south block the direct sun in the summertime and we get sun when the leaves are gone in the winter. To the north is our obnoxious neighbor's house, which we plan to block with the garage. To the west is the lake and to the east we have views to the back yard. There is a gru here. You have: no tea.

TV isn't a primary concern, though we plan on having the basement be built so that the utilities are in one corner, the outside access is where the shop will be, and the side with the stairs will be relatively free of stuff so I can finish it off into a home theater / playroom for Bondcliff.

Due to Mass. environmental regulations and the proximity to the town water supply, we're currently limited to a two bedroom house. We have a half acre and we're not on sewers. We're looking into options to upgrade the septic system (my last question was about that) in order to get approval for another bedroom. If all else fails, we should be able to build extra rooms that are not considered bedrooms. Contrary to popular belief, at least in MA it has nothing to do with closets.

We're not a fan of outdoor lighting so any outside lights will be motion sensors, with the exception of maybe a front door light that we can put on for the pizza guy.

Planning on plenty of task lighting in the kitchen, walk-in closet in the bedroom, and a large master bath with soaking tub or jacuzzi.

I'm not allowed to have a moat and a drawbridge.

I think Cat-6 wins out over Wifi. Hopefully the contractor will allow me to install it myself. Not sure how the liability insurance works in that regard.
posted by bondcliff at 1:53 PM on November 2, 2005

Random thing I've always wanted, is a squat toliet for my dog. Train the dog to use this, and when the weather is crappy outside, or the dog wants to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, there ya go. Combined with an automatic flush sensor you have end up with a litter box for any dog.
posted by KirTakat at 1:56 PM on November 2, 2005

We've already built you a million dollar house, it looks like, but, in addition:
-- A screened porch with a fireplace. Great place to sit on long summer evenings without bugs bothering you, and nice to have a little heat if it gets chilly.
-- Grey-water heat recovery. Think about all the hot and warm water that goes down the drain. A simple heat exchanger arrangement captures a lot of the heat and uses it to preheat water going into your water heater.
-- Central vacuum cleaning system. The noisy giant sucking machine goes in the basement, you have outlets at various locations and can vacuum upstairs quietly, without tripping over the electric cord, etc.
-- A design without hallways -- organize rooms around a central hallway/stairwell. Makes it easy to communicate between most spaces in even a pretty large house. Use skylights and interior windows to bring light into dark corners.
-- Handicapped accessibility features: they add value; you may need them yourself someday; you may have handicapped friends that visit -- rather than front steps, design the front walk to naturally come to the door level; make doors wide enough and bathrooms big enough; locate at least one bedroom and full bath on the first floor.
-- Double wall ovens, both with convection heat, and a built-in counter cooktop. Beats any kind of stove where you have to crouch and bend to get at the oven.
posted by beagle at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

related to what others have said..

our kitchen works really well, but is kind of difficult to describe. so i'll try some ascii art:
+=====+|ooooo||o   o||o   o+=====+|o   Xo     ||o   Xo  HH ||o       HH ||o    +-----++-- --+
(thanks for live preview matt). anyway, the idea is that on the left is a "galley kitchen", with working surfaces as o and the cooker as X. the right hand side of the galley, with the cooker, sticks out into "the middle of the room". to the other side of that sticking-outness is an area with a table and chairs (HH, in the centre of that area, but i ran out of space in my diagram).

so, getting to the point, when we have friends round and we're cookng something, people tend to be in the kitchen, sitting round the table, and the person cooking tends to spend time at the cooker, looking both at what's cooking and also at the people. so everything stays integrated - you don't feel like you're leaving the fun just to prepare some food.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2005

ah fuck. that worked on preview.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2005

Seeing your update:
On walk-in closets: I see a lot of house designs where they are accessed through the master bath, which makes no sense. They should be off the bedroom, OR -- consider bedroom closets big enough for your seasonal needs and a walk-in someplace else in the house for general use. Most of what's in that walk-in is rarely used.
Be sure not to put a window or skylight in the walk-in (mistake I made -- light discolors some fabrics so you end up with a permanent shade on the window).
posted by beagle at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2005

Do you have a cat? The best custom feature I ever saw in a house was a cat box, built into the wall in the laundry room, which shared a wall with the garage. There was a swing door for the cat inside the house, but the catbox itself was contained in a cubbyhole in the garage. An access panel at the back (in the garage) opened for cleaning. It vented to the garage. It's my dream catbox solution.

I would upsize closets and downsize bathrooms. Those enormous McMansion bathrooms are just too big and never get warm. I would definitely put in heated tile floors in the bathroom.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

For a secret something- consider building a secret storage area behind/beneath one or more stair treads.

Carefully consider your windows, not only for insulation value, but also plan what kind of treatment you will have (drapes, mini-blinds, etc). Make sure the trim on the window frame is dimensioned properly so your choice will not stick out too far or interfer with the window controls, like the crank handle on casement windows. If I could've afforded it I'd have liked those ones with the mini-blinds built into the glass.
posted by pgoes at 2:07 PM on November 2, 2005

Friend of mine who's a writer actually had a sliding bookcase installed in her office. There's a library behind the bookcase. It's really pretty neat, and I envy it.

Secret passageway or room of some sort is definitely the way to go.
posted by kindall at 2:16 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I strongly third (fourth?) universal design. At the very least, make it visitable. The more accessible our house has become, the more everyone has enjoyed it. Moving things (wheelchairs, strollers, new fridges, toys) in and out of and around the house is a breeze and the place definitely has that “flow” you’d like. The other change we made was to a tankless hot water system. Cheaper, neater, more flexible.
posted by firstdrop at 2:49 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing that since you have the Susanka books, you probably already have Patterns of Home? If not, definitely pick up a copy. I found the discussion of incorporating private spaces into the public rooms of your house very enlightening. Fine Homebuilding and Inspired House, both magazines by Taunton Press, also have lots of great ideas.

Some things I would like in a house:

A first-floor guest bedroom for aging parents that visit with a full, handicap-accessible bathroom. (Heck, I'd install an elevator if money were no object.)
Second-floor laundry.
Two bathrooms on the second floor--one master, one kid.
A library with Vitsoe shelving.
A dining room with a spectacular view.
Fireplace in the master bedroom.
Well-organized closets.
Tankless water heater.
A cat bathroom. (Don't laugh, I've seen it done. I think it was in Fine Homebuilding. A guy turned the space under his stairs into a litterbox corral with high-powered exhaust fan and self-scooping litterboxes.)
A garage that opens at the back of the house with a second story for a work space or kids playroom.
A wicked bad kitchen with cabinetry from Johnny Grey.

PS Check out The Hidden Door Company if you're serious about that secret room.
posted by Sully6 at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Glad to see you're going with ground source heat pumps, that would have been my first recommendation. You may be able to get a decent grant for their installation, too: here in the UK you can get up to 49% of your costs refunded. Or you used to be able to, anyway.

A lot of home automation stuff can be added at a later date without any major renovation required. A practical example which I love about our system: I can send a text message containing the word "coffee" to my computer when I leave the tube and, when I get home 10 minutes later, there's a pot of fresh coffee waiting for me.

Electrochromatic glass.
posted by blag at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2005

Faint of Butt writes "An intercom might be fun, if you're lazy.

Whoa, yeah - I *always* wanted one of those as a youngster; you sometimes see them on the old-fashioned films (set in the early 1900s?) where they'd have some kind of buzzer system to summon the servants. Something a bit more hi-tech would be cool!

A couple of other suggestions which haven't been mentioned:
1) Where would your post come in? Do you have a mailbox down the end of the drive, or does it come through the front door directly? If the former, then some kind of underground conveyance tube would be groovy (e.g. a computer controlled lego truck or something into which the letters would drop and be transported to a receptacle in the house)
2) Think of all the chores you may have - taking out the rubbish, collecting mail (see 1), collecting milk, chopping ( and storing?) wood for the fire, bringing in the shopping... how can you make these easier, or less arduous?
3) Something I haven't seen mentioned yet... automate your window coverings! A light-sensitive curtain mechanism (with manual override, natch) would be great... especially if you could control it from the sofa. Perhaps even remote control, so that when you're watching TV and the sun changes angle and causes a glare, you could zap the curtain closed without moving from your LayZBoy chair...
4) On a similar note, you can apparently get remote control (or motion sensitive?) lights. Could be fun/interesting/useful.
5) A panic room? :-)

I'd love to have this kind of opportunity - and the money to pull it off! Don't forget that we'd love to see the plans... and a guided tour when it's all done! :-)
posted by Chunder at 3:26 PM on November 2, 2005

Wow. This makes me want to move now.

Built-ins for A/V stuff so it can be hidden from view (and make sure to wire the hell out of your place as noted).

Since the kitchen is an important room for you I strongly recommend you design it so that you can put a couch--even a small one--in the kitchen. We've done this and since everyone inevitably hangs out in the kitchen it makes things tres cozy.

Do you entertain? If you do you might want to give consideration to a floor plan that's both livable and friendly for having lots of people over (think open flow).

The his/her closet suggestion is wonderful--or at least a very large walk-in off the master bedroom--this will pay off in reduced clutter in a big way.
posted by donovan at 3:26 PM on November 2, 2005

I'm actually in the prep stages of a major remodel. Here's stuff on my wishlist:

1. Media closet/Head-end. Nothing fancy, but at least the routers/hubs/old CDs will be out of sight. However, I've found that complete whole-house audio/video is ridiculously expensive. I may go with a hybrid approach allowing remote access to a media server in the closet, but local equipment for radio/VCR/DVD/retro media play.

2. Screened-in porch.

3. Glass wall leading onto screened-in porch

4. Butcher-block kitchen island. This is a much cheaper option than other counter surfaces. We're going to build it a few inches below standard counter height because my wife is short.

5. Lots of built-ins. We're going to have about 36 sqft of built-in cabinets apart from the kitchen, a giant built-in desk for two, built-in bookcases. It's a small house and this will be more efficient.

6. Good flow. We're actually dealing with some crackheaded design decisions by the original builder that resulted in a tiny "circulation space" with 11 distinct wall surfaces. Ack. Ideally that space wouldn't exist; when we're done with it, it will be smaller and have 4 walls. Also, the only "dead end" rooms will be bedrooms and bathrooms, so that when we have parties, nobody gets jammed into a corner. The kitchen will open on to the rest of the common area.

7. A frill, but I really want a RFID door lock.

8. A lofted nook. Something that's too small to call a room, but is some semi-private space where you can feel apart. If we build this, it'll be the guest-room substitute.

9. An entry area (what we called the front hall when I was a kid, or a genkan in Japan) Not a mud room, which I think of as a back-door amenity, but a way to make the front entry more useful--gives you a place to deal with winter clothes and shoes, greet visitors without letting them see all the way into the house, etc.

I recently went on an architectural homes tour--all new homes or new remodels. One of the new homes had a secret room. Cool!
posted by adamrice at 3:40 PM on November 2, 2005

I don't know about a web interface, but my brother-in-law owns a ski cottage in New Hampshire equipped with a phone-activated thermostat. The cabin is a three-hour drive from his house, and obviously it gets cold when no one's there. When he drives up, he calls the house from his cell phone about an hour before he'll arrive, punches in a code, and the system turns on the heat to warm the house for his arrival. (I think it's connected to his Jacuzzi, too.)
posted by cribcage at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing I miss most about my grandmother's house is the section of the countertop that was solid marble. Perfect if you are a serious baker.

Also, build 1 1/2 times as much kitchen storage as you think you'll need.

Consider putting the toilet in a separate enclosed space inside the bathroom. (Like a small closet with a door for extra privacy when someone else might need to use the rest of the room.

You don't say how old your son is, but someday he'll be a teenager, if he isn't already. Think about a space where he could entertain his friends that is somewhat self contained while still being part of the rest of the house. As a teen I had friends who had a "rumpus room" (what would now be an entertainment room) that had a separate door to the outside and a mini-fridge, but which also connected to the rest of the house glass french doors. The doors could be closed, giving the illusion of some privacy/some noise relief for the adults while enabling them to keep an eye on whatever might be going on in that room.
posted by anastasiav at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2005

Two diswashers! Two dishwashers! Why did I never think of that? Genius.
posted by blag at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2005

Make the thresholds passable by a vacuum cleaning robot.
posted by springload at 5:30 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Beyond reasonable design of overhangs, forget passive solar. Super insulation makes it irrelevant - don't make design or dollar sacrifices for something you don't need.

Design your wall sections based on the latest actual building science on moisture and thermal movement, not traditional building practices. Get your HVAC system engineered, not rule-of-thumbed by your contractor or architect. If your architect is not intimately familiar with www.building science.com, get somebody else who is.

Eliminate wood on the exterior of your house to the greatest extent possible because of maintenance - maximize it on the inside for warmth and beauty if you're so inclined.

Window seats.
posted by Jackson at 6:02 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

- A laundry room with a large, deep sink and a ironing board that folds into the wall, with a LARGE utility closet to house vacuum, brooms, etc.
- walk-in pantry
- a bar
- master bedroom on opposite side of house from other bedrooms
- seperate hot water heater for the master bathroom (especially good if you do the previous suggestion.. water is slow!)
- a normal oven and a convection oven/microwave combo. My parents have one and its freakin awesome for Thanksgiving dinner
- pre-wired for surround sound in the family room
- his and hers walk-in closets
- Seperate shower and large whirlpool tub (big enough for two)
- Shower w/ 2 showerheads.. bonus points for jets coming from the walls and overhead
- linen closet inside the bathroom - why this isn't standard I will never understand
posted by gatorae at 6:19 PM on November 2, 2005

I am having a new home built too. It should be ready in about 2.5 months, and I haven't started planning any of these upgrades & editions, I'm so behind...
posted by growabrain at 7:29 PM on November 2, 2005

I'm too lazy to read all of the answers, so some of these are echoes:

Laundry chute - Had one once; it was a boon.
Central vacuum - it's worth the trouble.
Ceiling lights in every room - builders not putting them in as a matter of course is stupid.
Screened porch - much, much better than a deck.
Motion sensor outside lights - for your convenience, not just for security.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:47 PM on November 2, 2005

Glass-framed steam shower.

Pressure-assisted toilets: Toto UltraMax. I am flabbergasted that I have been unable to clog it.

Lots of conduit, as has been mentioned.

Re light switches/home automation: X10 has problems, I recommend using Insteon dimmer switches and dimmable recessed lighting wherever possible. Slightly dimmed lighting allows a really warm feel, and the switches are programmable, so you can make any switch do anything you want (very nice for rooms with lots of lights), and you can control lights from the bed/sofa/chairs. I'm working on motion-controlled lighting next, but am not far enough with that to have useful input.
posted by trevyn at 7:49 PM on November 2, 2005

Glass garage door in dining room (think very large window) that can be opened up to give easy access to the patio.
posted by furtive at 8:31 PM on November 2, 2005

- Pocket doors
- Instant hot water at the kitchen sink
- Undermounted sinks
- Big, fairly deep drawer for plastic container storage

And a lot of what they ^ said.
posted by deborah at 8:37 PM on November 2, 2005

Put your dresser in the bathroom.

That's where you need to change clothes, right? Granted, you will probably have a bathroom attached to the master bedroom, but your guests will appreciate it in the second or third bathrooms.

I have never seen a house where this was done, but if I ever get a bathroom big enough to do it, I think it'll save me a lot of furtive naked dashing across the hallway.
posted by Hildago at 8:39 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

His and Hers bathrooms -- a shower and exercise room for you, bath and sauna and bidet and makeup table (with chair and mirror lights) for her.

Make sure your fireplace has a fresh air vent direct to outside so it isn't sucking air from the house interior.

If you have a room (e.g., living room or den) where you are planning to have an island of seating, put an electrical outlet in the floor so you don't have to string cords from a wall outlet.

I second the extra water heater near the master bath and a suite over the garage.

Plan a workshop/shed for lawn equipment and such. You may get an insurance break if you store gasoline, paint, etc. away from your house.

Design your breaker panel so you can hook up a generator in case you lose power for an extended length of time. You can't use your plumbing if you don't have the pumps in your septic system working.
posted by forrest at 8:40 PM on November 2, 2005

That's where you need to change clothes, right?

Ummmm... no. Why would I change my clothes in the steamy, steamy bathroom? Everything in that dresser would be damp from the steam, and then I'd be damp the whole day through. Yuck. Damp underwear. Bleah. I put a towel around my hair, put on my bathrobe, and walk across the hall to my nice dry bedroom where I get dressed.

Plus, the ongoing exposure to steam wouldn't be good for either the (presumably) wood or imitation wood dresser or for the clothes. They might even get a bit moldy.

posted by anastasiav at 8:54 PM on November 2, 2005 [2 favorites]

For the person who mentioned a Japanese toilet - there's a common design with a sink built onto the tank, so the water you use afterwards to wash your hands goes into the tank for the next flush. Also a nice green option.

Separate hobby rooms/dens/private rooms, whatever you want to call it. At least for you and your wife. This is a room where you can go if one of you is being driven nuts by the other/needs quiet/needs privacy. You could have hobbies in there or a chaise lounge with a favorite book... whatever you want. And by having one for each of you, there's no worry about one person's stuff cluttering the other person's. Definitely a feature in my dream house.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:37 PM on November 2, 2005

This is such a fun thread! A few thoughts:
- You mentioned having a power strip in the kitchen. I've recently seen a hidden popup outlet stalk that's cut into the countertop -- it's very cool, practical and space-efficient!
- If your kitchen is going to be open and there's a bar between it and the dining/living areas, have a lip or raised surface on the outward part of the bar, so when you're cooking or clearing, the mess is concealed.
- I'm a big fan of water features as a great source of soothing white noise. Consider one near your bed, possibly on a timer.
- If your new place is in Boston, never mind, but ... if your climate permits, maybe an outdoor shower? If you've ever taken one, it's heaven!
posted by rob511 at 1:25 AM on November 3, 2005

We are in the process of designing our new home at the moment, so all these are gold to me.

From experience, I second the suggestion to include Cat5/6 wiring. WiFi is good, but it won't run your phone, not to mention that there seems something intrinsically wrong about using it for desktop computers to me. We wired our existing home with Cat 5 and the only thing I regret is that we didn't put more points in. The new house will have both Cat5 and WiFi without doubt. About the only other firm decision we have made is "instant" hot water rather than a storage system. Lots of food for thought here too.

Also, work out how many power outlets you need, then double it. We put twice as many as standard in this house and still don't have enough.

Oh and you can never ever have too much storage space.
posted by dg at 2:52 AM on November 3, 2005

Kitchen Design: Create separate areas for food 'consumption' and food 'production'.
  • Food 'consumption' has -- all within reach of each other -- the fridge, dishwasher, microwave (used 99% for reheating), sink, plastic wrap, dishes, silverware, ready-to-eat food (tuna cans, fruit, nuts, etc). Thus, emptying the dishwasher means moving dishes to the shelves right above it, not walking across the room. After dinner, standing in one place you can put leftovers in containers, put them in the fridge, rinse dishes, put them in the dishwasher. To eat, grab dish, silverware, plate, food from (fridge/cabinet), etc.
  • Food 'production' has -- all within reach -- stove, pots, raw ingredients, spices, cutting board, knives, measuring tools, processing tools (mixer, etc), sink (sink goes right between these two areas), etc. Again, if you need someting, just reach for it.
In general, save time in repetitive tasks by putting the most commonly used items in the easiest to reach places. We store silverware -- the most used items --out in the open in vertical containers (essentially large glasses) on the counter, right over the dishwasher.

Two last ideas we haven't yet tried:

Prep table that:
  • Has surface that you can cut on, put hot things on, and is of course water proof.
  • Rotates, so you can mix ingredient A, spin it, chop ingredient B, spin (all without walking around) ... then, when adding ingredients to the (e.g. stew), spin to ingredient A, add some, to B, add some, back to A, etc.
Finally, put heavy appliances (e.g food processor) on small carts with wheels that lock. Then you can have them wherever you need them. Cable management might be an
issue, though.
posted by guanxi at 7:16 AM on November 3, 2005 [3 favorites]

I have not seen this mentioned here as yet: In the shower, three rotating handles. The middle for pressure, the left and right for hot and cold. I tried this out at a friend's house and it was a memorable shower.
posted by MarkO at 7:24 AM on November 3, 2005

Put the bedrooms downstairs & the living spaces upstairs. That way the living spaces have the light & the bedrooms are darker.
posted by dame at 8:41 AM on November 3, 2005

Ummmm... no. Why would I change my clothes in the steamy, steamy bathroom? Everything in that dresser would be damp from the steam, and then I'd be damp the whole day through.

I see your point, but in practice that doesn't tend to happen. Even in Seattle, where there's plenty of moisture in the air already, things will stay dry (and wet towels will dry out overnight) if you run a vent while showering, then leave the door cracked after you're done. I can't speak to the condition of the wood, but I assume we've got the scientific know-how to get around that. We can put a man on the moon and so forth.
posted by Hildago at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2005

Vent your dryer directly outside. There's less to clean that way.
posted by kmsqrd at 10:03 AM on November 3, 2005

A couple of kitchen notes:

Consider replacing lower cupboards full of shelves with deep drawers--much of what we normally keep there is more accessible from a drawer (like pots and pans).

If you will have upper cupboards (something that is in the maximize storage plan I have advocated for the house we're building ourselves), this limits the natural light you can bring into your kitchen. A big window at the sink is fine, but to get more light, consider putting long windows as backspashes above the counter/under that upper cupboard. I have this along the two outside walls of my kitchen everyplace I can, saving only the amount of structure required to hold up that corner of the building. It really helps relieve the kitchen gloom without giving up storage.

Elsewhere, we love our in-floor heating. We have a catbox extension from our mudroom into the garage and all concerned enjoy it. Ours doesn't have a flap door, but is placed under a Victorian loveseat and is essentially invisible. We have separate offices and this alone has made it worth the effort of building the house. Our laundry is in the upstairs (next to our bedroom) bathroom. Because we're swimmers, we ran an extra shower curtain pole across the middle of our bathtub/shower (well above head height) to hang drying suits and towels. I also put a real, stainless single kitchen sink in that bathroom rather than one of those silly little decorative things that won't even hold both of your hands at once. The fellow in the home store was so appalled he almost refused to sell it to me, but I'm an artist and use it for paint cleanup as well as hand laundry and I love having all of that handy in the bathroom right next to my office.

Construction advice: take repeated photos of the guts of your walls at each stage of completion: structure, plumbing, wiring. I have a whole CD of reference shots that have already paid for the effort when we needed to install something unanticipated and needed to locate stuff that was already in that wall. It also has been useful with our insurance company.
posted by salt at 10:17 AM on November 3, 2005

Radiant heat- clean look, sooo nice to have a warm floor. Downside- sloooow response time. temp plunges and you freeze for a day and a half, temp climbs and you heat the outdoors.
hot water baseboard- nice heat, quiet, not so nice to look at.
forced air- noisy, drafty just say no!

Important work area for kitchen is the triangle from fridge to sink to stovetop. You want to have enough space to work without walking for miles to prepare a meal.
Tile or stone on either side of the stove for hot pans.

I like those appliance garages for that clean look on the counters.

We moved the cat box outside entirely and just put in a cat door.
posted by pointilist at 12:12 PM on November 3, 2005

Best answer: We built our own house and here are our house-hacks, in order of our love for them 6 years later:
  • Kitchen sink: get a standard stainless-steel sink welded to a 4'x8' stainless-steel sheet and folded, to make an integral sink/countertop/backsplash. The weld was seamless! It actually costs less per lineal foot than most other countertops.
  • Wall-mounted faucets: if water/gunk spills, it won't hide under the flange on the countertop. (You're plumber will object, because it takes two visits rather than one to install. But he probably will do multiple visits anyway, so ignore the whining.)
  • Floorlevel-sweep-away vacuum ports in kitchen, mudroom, front entrance, bathrooms. They are $40 more than the regular ports for a built-in vacuum, but infinitely more useful. Rather than take out the vacuum hose, you just grab the broom (stored closeby), sweep and turn on the vacuum with your toe.
  • For cooling the house in the summer, a big skylight hatch at the top of the house, and hallways/stairs layout so that when you open the bottom patio door, you get a natural updraft of warm air out of the house. On summer evenings, our house cools down in 15 minutes.
  • Mudroom and front foyer should be one-step lower than the rest of the house. (very japanese). Dirt stays off the higher floor, somehow.
  • Lots of blocking before you drywall, anywhere you think you might mount a towel-rack/book shelf/etc. You might as well use up that leftover lumber.
  • Anywhere you have tiles, use epoxy grout. It's used in public swimming pools: try to scratch epoxy grout with your fingernail, compared to standard grout - the difference is incredible. Grout price is 5X higher, but the grout costs nothing compared to the installation and tiles. Your tilesetter will whine - ignor him. I'd even try to get him to set the tiles in epoxy grout rather than mortar, but that will really cause whining.
  • Also, use vitreous tiles. You can tell if you spit on the unglazed back of the tile. If the surface darkens when wet, it's not vitreous.
  • For flat dishes (cookie sheets, drying racks, large platters) make a tall cupboard with many vertical dividers. That way, the flatware isn't stacked up high when you need to get to the bottom one (always).
  • If you string CAT6 cables (and cable TV/satellite) around every room, droop it between each stud. That way, when you cut open the drywall hole later, you don't need to fiddle with a short end.
  • Clothes dryer and range locations plumbed for both electricity and natural gas. You will change your mind later.
  • Non-electrical natural gas fireplaces, with thermostat and thermoelectric shut-off (no electric fan). During a recent ice-storm, when the electrical power went out, we still had heat in our house. All the other natural gas houses had forced air and without electricity, the fan doesn't work.
  • Forced air central heating, with a very good filter. It cleans you air as it circulates the air and heats it.
  • Line-of-sight from front door to back door: bad feng-shui, but when you leave the house, you can quickly see if the other door is locked.

    I'll stop here - this is long enough!

  • posted by mediaddict at 12:43 PM on November 3, 2005 [9 favorites]


    For the love of all that is holy and good in this terrible world, please have at least one "study" type room (can be a home office if you like) with built-in bookshelves. Nothing in this world screams "cozy" like a room with wall-to-wall books. Plus, you'll never have to worry about storing them and then trying to find them later. Built-in bookshelves are the perfect storage-as-design solution.

    Also, you mention energy-savings, but I didn't see windows on your list. Get the thickest, baddest mothers you can afford. Triple-paned. Quadruple-paned. Whatever you can get your hands on. And stick with standard sizes, single or double-hung (absolutely no casement-style windows if you know what's good for you.)
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:10 PM on November 3, 2005

    What great fun!

    I've given this a lot of thought over the years:

    A sunroom with windows on three sides. Great for coffee on a winter morning. Load up on sunlight and vitamin D, not to mention good cheer.

    Lots o' windows for lots o' sun. Skylights.

    Plant deciduous trees that cool in summer and allow sun in winter.

    Water garden outside for maximum tranquility (with moving water, of course).

    A good, wide and deep front porch with porch swings and nice furniture, with the ceiling painted sky blue. I've lived with and without, and with, it helps create community.

    A screened in porch on the back for summer evenings games of bridge or quoits.

    Walk-in pantry with a window at one end.

    First floor master bedroom and bath, if not for now, for when stairs become an issue.

    Wide wooden window sills for display, plants, etc.

    A window adorned with maybe four or five narrow clear glass shelves for displaying art glass, a bottle collection, anything that looks good when backlit.
    Cedar paneled closet for off-season clothing storage.

    An outside small door leading to a firewood bin next to fireplace so you don't have to carry logs through the house, leaving bits of bark in your path.

    Lots of open shelving in the kitchen so you can see what you have.

    Build narrow shelves between studs for canned goods, spices, medicines, etc. They can have doors or not.

    Or, in a corner, have a tall corner cabinet with a double-decker lazy susan for your spices.

    Slide out floors for bottom cabinets.

    In laundry room, have a cubby shelf for every member of the family, one for linens.

    A glassed anteroom one step lower than main floor will be an airlock to keep cold and heat from entering house when doors are opened.

    Lots of talk about mudrooms--they're the best, so are butler's pantries. Our forebears knew a thing or two about good living.

    Towel warmers in the bathroom; open recessed shelving for towels, closed shelving for toiletries, etc.

    What about a bidet?

    A built-in place for the toilet scrubber that is readily accessible but out of sight.

    A between-the-walls closet that's really like your hidden room, with concealed doors from the front part of the house and a concealed door in the back. Great for vacuums, Xmas decorations, all kinds of stuff, and it's accessible from the front or the back of the house. An old neighbor did this and had that white paneled-with-molding wall treatment and both doors were invisible to the naked eye.

    Soaring spaces are for public places. Humans yearn to curl up and cuddle into interesting nooks and crannies to dream of a better day for you and me.
    posted by wordswinker at 3:12 PM on November 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

    Civil_Disobedient writes "n. And stick with standard sizes, single or double-hung (absolutely no casement-style windows if you know what's good for you.)"

    Why the hate on for casement windows? They are the next best thing to a fixed window in terms of energy efficiency.
    posted by Mitheral at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2005

    A hydraulic lift or a grease pit in the garage for making oil changes easier/safer than using a jack and jack stands.
    posted by RakDaddy at 5:27 PM on November 3, 2005

    Why the hate on for casement windows?

    Because complexity+time = breakdown. The winding mechanism in particular.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:34 PM on November 3, 2005

    1. A bathroom with no bathtub or shower stall. Virtually everything in it is waterproof, the (cement, sometimes tiled or covered in rubber) floor is graded to a drain, and there's a showerhead on one wall.

    A "dry" area is strategically placed around a half-wall from the showerhead. That's where the TP and your towel goes.

    2. A lift in the garage. Possibly for maintenance, possibly so I could store a beater convertible out of the way for a few months each year.
    posted by toxic at 6:15 PM on November 3, 2005

    Best answer: So many great ideas here! Many of my preferences have already been mentioned, and the holy name of Susanka has already been invoked, so I only have one idea to add to the mix.

    I love it when a walk-in closet has a built-in dresser, full-length mirror, and either a window or skylight. Not earth-shattering, I know, but it's nice to be able to have all of your clothing in one place, and to be able to see it on in natural light when possible.
    posted by whatnot at 6:36 PM on November 3, 2005

    I've always wanted to build a wood house around some huge boulders and living trees -- so that they actually form walls and features. I'd like to shower in the nook between two huge rocks, with moss and stuff around, indoors, for example. Wooden stairs up a boulder face, to a bedroom that's a sleeping platform up on top, glassed in or lofted. And so on...

    Utterly impractical and hellaciously expensive, but hey, why not? Until I get that million-dollar advance for Memoirs of A Wonderchicken, it ain't gonna happen, I guess.

    There's a very funny bit from standup comic Dane Cook on his latest CD about this, by the way. Some hate him, but I think he's a very amusing young man.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:47 PM on November 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

    Because complexity+time = breakdown.

    Hinges are too complex?
    posted by lazy-ville at 8:28 PM on November 3, 2005

    In the front hall by the door, you need a built-in console table/shelf with a tip-down hinged door (like a drawer under the shelf).

    Then put an electrical outlet in it. It is for charging cell phones or your spare 'Pod.
    posted by Sallyfur at 8:51 PM on November 3, 2005

    Hinges are too complex?

    Reading is apparently a lost art.

    Repeat after me: Winding mechanism. Wine. Ding. Meck. A. Nizm.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:18 PM on November 3, 2005

    I must have misunderstood. I thought a casement window was a window that opens to the side on hinges, not some horrible mechanical monstrosity like that.
    posted by lazy-ville at 9:36 PM on November 3, 2005

    Lighting is hugely important in making a home feel cozy, and another thing that's easy to build in and very difficult to add later. The best recommendation I've seen is to think of lighting in terms of layers - little recessed lights, accent lights, pendant lamps, lights that point up from below, down from above, and glow from the corners. Basically, every time you add a feature or wall to your home, think of how many ways you can light it. Lights inside cabinets, especially deep ones. Lights from behind bathroom mirrors. Lights by the door lock, so your own shadow doesn't keep you from seeing where the keyhole is. And so on.

    Needlee to say, dimmers everywhere.
    posted by cali at 9:37 PM on November 3, 2005

    Best answer: I'm skipping to the bottom to point out that YES, home automation is worth it, aside from the fact that it's fun to do and plan. It's a single-time outlay, not super-expensive, and it provides a whole host of benefits.:

    0. I recommend looking into Indigo for all your X10 needs. it's a sweet piece of software. I would even consider getting a dedicated man mini to run it -- by the main door with bluetooth support.

    1. Efficiency. Turn off the lights when you leave a room automatically. Moderate heat -- leave the A/C and heat off while you're not in the house, call from up the street and have the house get itself warmed up for you.

    1.b. If you have solar, you can probably tweak up your home auto to get the best performance out of your panels by rotating them.

    2. Entertainment. Lighting profiles for different times of day or mood. Dim for reading and relaxing around the house, bright with music for parties. You can easily set your phone to choose a preslected profile.

    2.b. use your phone as an all purpose remote anywhere in the house. change lighting profiles (ready to sleep!) change itunes playlists (play the sleepytime ambient music now!) lock all the doors and activate the motion detectors! turn on the hot tub!

    3. Security. Put a bluetooth hub and contacts by your door, and it will open and close and lock and unlock itself based on the presence of your phone. (Of course, recognizing that it's *your* phone, your house can also play your music and your lighting profile.) No fumbling with keys, just walk away

    3.b Cheap webcams hooked up to your fast internet connections (archived offsite or securely onsite) and pointed at entry points and valuables can get footage of would-be burglars. (Put these on a UPS, plan for where you'll be putting them.)

    3.c While you're out of town vacationing, you can easily program your lighting system to indicate that you are having a quiet night in watching movies and not in New York. oh and your house can email you its status. woohoo!

    it's not that it's nerdy, it's just that you have to apply the nerdiness in such a way that you accrue benefits financially and practically, and that other people can use it intuitively. just think about it and you'll see that being able to program your house opens up a lot of potential cool features you might not have had otherwise.
    posted by spiderwire at 10:45 PM on November 3, 2005 [2 favorites]

    P.S. Are we or are we not the most obscene energy wasters on the planet?
    P.P.S. Can we all have invitations to your housewarming?

    posted by rob511 at 1:36 AM on November 4, 2005

    I thought a casement window was a window that opens to the side on hinges, not some horrible mechanical monstrosity like that.

    I apologize for the snarkiness, I thought you understood what I was referring to. The geared winding mechanism on casement windows is usually the first thing to wear out. Unfortunately, the design puts a lot of stress on the gears, particularly when you have a tight fit (it's the last inch or so just before the window is secured inside the frame that puts the most stress on it). Over time, the stress makes the window not close all the way, and you have to try and finagle your fingers around the inside edge to try and pull the window torwards you, while simultaneously winding the handle. See, you can't even just grab the sides and pull it closed quickly, because the gears inside the winding mechanism will stop the window from gaining any sort of momentum.

    Basically, a complete failure of design. And you can't put air conditioners inside 'em, either.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:35 AM on November 4, 2005

    Response by poster: This thread worked out better than I ever expected. And I made the sidebar! Thanks to everyone so far.

    Re: casement windows. I had no idea what they were called. I just called it "that fucking annoying kitchen window that won't close properly."

    We're planning on windows being a major part of the cost. The money we spend now will save us money in the long run.

    Sadly, we have no natural gas in the neighborhood nor do we want a tank of propane in the yard. We already own decent appliances for the kitchen so the new kitchen will be built to work around them.

    I'll look into home automation. All the things spiderwire mentioned sound neat, but none of them make me think "I gotta have that." We'll see. If I'm going to do it I guess now is the time to start thinking about it.

    So far our "must haves" are a screened in porch with views to the lake, a fireplace (or wood stove), a kitchen designed for efficency, lots of windows, a mud room, an attached garage with an entrance via the mudroom that enters into the main house and doesn't make us feel like we're coming in through a service entrance, semi-open floor plan, upstairs laundry, master suite w/ walk-in closet, bathroom w/ tub for two, patio/deck area with room to build an outdoor kitchen eventually, built-in library area w/ built-in bookshelves, "away" room/music room somewhat seperated from the main parts of the house, and a bunch of other things I can't think of right now.

    "if money wasn't an object" things would be a brick oven in the kitchen, a hot tub, the secret room, and an underground laboratory to work on my plans for world domination.

    Dimmers are nice but we're hoping to eliminate incandescents where we can and use mostly compact fluorescents, LEDs, and halogen. Not all of them can work with dimmers easily, as far as I know.

    There's so many great ideas here I'm reluctant to mark any of them as best answers because they're all "best" for someone and I've always felt the best AskMe questions were not just for the person asking. Maybe when the design is finalized I'll return and mark off the ones I ended up using.

    I'm hoping to keep track of the project on my website though I don't know how long before my excitement turns into tedium and work.
    posted by bondcliff at 7:15 AM on November 4, 2005

    Now I'm curious to know what a casement window is like. Because as far as I can tell there should be no reason to put gears and such inside a window.
    posted by lazy-ville at 7:54 AM on November 4, 2005

    A fire pole.
    posted by bshort at 8:23 AM on November 4, 2005

    Motion sensored indoor lighting. Our office has it and I think it's really smart. As soon as a room is empty for ten minutes the light goes off. As soon as someone walks in, it turns on. This probably works better for smaller rooms, but it's something to consider.

    Some night-time lighting that leads to the bathrooms would work well, too.
    posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2005

    One of my favorite things in our house growing up was a whole house fan in the attic. We didn't have air conditioning, and on those still hot days it was a lifesaver. Instant breeze in every room in the house. (And slamming doors everywhere, but what can you do?) I'm sure it cost virtually nothing to run as well.

    A few other "hacks", that are not really generally applicable but just clever:

    1) Part of the first floor has no heat and is really only used during the summer. That makes it not count as much on the taxes (or something). Kind of extreme, I suppose.
    2) The pantry has a full set of water connections. In case of in-laws moving in, you turn the home office into their room, and the adjacent pantry into their bathroom. All it takes is some finish plumbing and some sheetrocking.
    3) The home office has a separate entrance. This is to satisfy a technicality in the zoning law so my dad could run his real estate office out of the house.
    posted by smackfu at 2:07 PM on November 4, 2005

    If you haven't already, check out dwell magazine, for lots of great articles on modern architecture and design around the world.

    The double dishwasher is great, but instead of having two full-size dishwashers, you can get dishdrawers. They are more economical, since you can run just one drawer when you don't have a full load of dishes. They are currently only manufactured by Fisher and Paykel, but I'm told the patent is due to expire soon, so there should be cheaper copies available then.
    posted by Joh at 11:48 PM on November 4, 2005

    You would be doing yourself a huge favor to check out A Pattern Language. I'm shocked nobody's mentioned it yet. Your library might have a copy, but it's really worth owning one.

    We're building a house right now, and we're really excited about our huge mud room (1/5 of the first floor) with a massive pantry. I'm still lobbying for a fireman's pole, but we'll see what comes of that.
    posted by Alt F4 at 4:17 AM on November 5, 2005

    weird. i was pretty sure someone did mention a pattern language, since i went to amazon and added it to my wish list when i first read this thread (i thought!).
    posted by andrew cooke at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2005

    A few thoughts...

    0. The absolute *best* item I bought for my house was a small, used hot tub. I visit it several times a day in winter, which allows me to keep the house thermostat turned down. In summer I turn the tub heat down, and use it for cool soaks on hot days.

    1. A bidet. After spending time in France, I realize what we American Girls are missing. Alas, I didn't discover this until too late.

    2. I love having lots of windows. The amount of light in my house makes a huge difference in my mood during the winter months.

    3. A bathroom cabinet, medicine or otherwise, with outlets *inside* for hairdriers, shavers, electric toothbrushes, etc. That way your small appliances aren't cluttering up the counter/sink, and they are always plugged in and ready to go.

    Best wishes for a happy home.
    posted by shifafa at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2005

    You've gotten lots of good info, but I can't resist adding my two cents. We got to design our dream house and tried to give it a lot of thought beforehand. Things we did right; in-floor heating, tons of outlets and phone/cable jacks (in every room, you never know what you might want later), next to no carpet - hardwood floors are much less work and you can always add carpets later, deep sinks (bar sinks work well in bathrooms), a big covered front porch (I said it had to hold 4 people and a bag of groceries in the rain), large kitchen...even though we can't/don't cook the kitchen is still where folks gather, a lowered section of the kitchen counter...I'm short and we had kids who loved it, but also with a pull out bread board there you could sit down to chop stuff, a hidden wall safe, very sturdy hand rails on the stairs (kids use them like launching pads), deep window sills allow you put things there (I liked having pretty glass vases, ect. in those windows), water faucets and electrical outlets on every wall outside, speakers in the ceilings (and outside), a separate pantry area for the food shelves, the freezer and the cat box, and we gave a lot of thought to what was going to be easy to clean. No sense having a great house that you hate cleaning.
    The secret room is a wonderful idea, but we couldn't pull it off. I also wanted a laundry chute, but they are a fire hazard and we couldn't have one. Also check with your builder, we ended up with an excessive amout of fans and vents just because of local codes. There are many things that will be out of your control. Just be ready.
    And then maybe the best advice is to go to the library and look at old magazines. Look at what has held up. If it looked good in the 1970's and still looks good chances are that you'll be able to live with it in the future. That's how we choose white for the stove and fridge, ect. because while colors might look good today, you might wake up one morning to find harvest gold in your life! That's also how we choose to go with lots of wood. Unpainted wood window frames, hardwood floors and stairs continue to look good through any era.
    This is usually one of those things you only get to do once, so it's nice to be asked. We learned a ton and don't get to share that info often. Enjoy your home. It will take more money and more time than you think possible, but it will SO be worth it.
    posted by what-i-found at 1:20 PM on November 6, 2005

    Best answer: My father-in-law is a builder, and he recently built his own dream home, which has many of the above-mentioned features and a few that haven't yet come up, including:
  • A central vacuum system. It is really nice to be able to vacuum without lugging around some monstrosity.

  • A system that brings fresh air into the house and circulates it (like AC but not cooled); the neat thing is it uses the warm exhaust to heat the incoming fresh air so that there is very little heat loss; the system is astonishingly efficient. (This has a name but I can't remember it.)

  • Bamboo floors. Eco-friendly and great looking.

  • A piano nook. A raised area off the side of the living room designed for a piano.

  • A covered walkway from the garage to the house.

  • An extremely quiet dishwasher.

  • The laundry room is upstairs by the bedrooms, so you don't have to carry around your dirty clothes (or send them down a chute).

  • It's a great house.
    posted by huzzahhuzzah at 10:11 PM on November 6, 2005

    My one suggestion would be to build a roof deck, accessible from both inside and outside the home, especially if your house is going to have two or three stories.

    You get:
    • a 360 degree view (!!!)
    • a sun-deck upon which you can watch the sunrise, sunset
    • a moon-deck where you can set up a telescope and it becomes an observatory, or lie on pads to watch eclipses, meteor showers and other nighttime sky phenomena
    • a general-purpose porch in which to read, relax, sunbathe, have tea, grow a small garden, tinker with your other home hacks, and more
    What I love about the idea of a roof deck is the beauty and efficiency of its possibilities. And it's also like a secret not-so-secret room. I know *I'm* going to have one if when I build my own house one day!
    posted by Lush at 11:42 PM on November 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

    One more vote for easy access to wiring.

    If there's a way to have teevee / cable connection wireless, that would be cool. I'd love to be able to move the teevee to whichever room I wanted to use it in and still have cable.

    I'd like to combine dining room and library; books do furnish a room. That Vitsoe shelving is some slick.

    I'd put the washer/dryer in a bathroom (behind bifold doors?) to make the bathroom feel more spacious, and have use of a sink. I'd really like to have a foldout ironing board with space for the iron, and a space to fold clothes..

    I would have a Jotul type woodstove/fireplace in my bedroom. I once stayed in a camp where there was a bathroom with one. Spiffy.

    No such thing as too much storage space.

    I want a charging dock for phones, chargeable toys, chargeable dustbuster, etc. Just a shelf in a convenient spot w/ lots of plugs. It should be somewhere where it's not too ugly, but easy to remember to charge the dang phone, and remember to take it when I leave

    Cat bathroom: When I got a dog, I turned a bit of unused space into a cat room with litter box below and a shelf above for food. Cat acted ungrateful, but I know she liked it.

    I'd like to be able to tell if the doors are locked from 1 central location.

    I hate the way there are too many panels in rooms - heat, outlets, lights, security, etc. Not a problem in my old house, but in a new house, I'd try to centralize. Some might go behind a small door that could be painted to match the wall.

    The house doesn't have to be huge. I find some big houses inefficient and adverse to community.

    Bookshelf in kitchen just for cookbooks. Shelf near the door for stuff in transition - library books, borrowed items to be returned, dry cleaning, etc.

    A closet for tools, with hooks to hang stuff, bins, sheves for jars of screws, nails, etc.

    Someplace in the house, put some cement in, and do handprints, footprints and signatures of all family members.
    posted by theora55 at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2005

    A few more comments:
    Regarding propane, the tank can be buried to be virtually invisible. Sooner or later you'll get tired of cooking electric (unless you go induction, which is another story).

    About windows: study the site for the best views and put them to capture those views; don't just put them in where they make the house look good from the outside, a common mistake. Avoid mullions of all kinds especially the snap-in kind. Casement has its problems but does allow the whole window to be one pane, best for views. Think about which windows really have to be openable for breeze or whatever, and make the rest just fixed single panes.

    About the front door: too many houses have a grand ceremonial looking front door nobody ever uses. Lay things out so that you as well as visitors use the same door. (This point comes from "House" by Tracy Kidder, which is another book worth reading for the process of designing one's dream house. The house in the book is over in Amherst MA.)
    posted by beagle at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2005

    We included a roof deck when we built our house. While it has a great view and it makes it very convenient to monitor the roof condition, we don't use it as much a I thought we would. We use it maybe 3 times in the summer, whereas the backyard gets used almost every day.

    In our case, the building bylaws meant that a house with a roof deck could have higher ceilings inside (because the peak of the roof is lower).
    posted by mediaddict at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2005

    Since power cord management has come up a few times, I thought I'd pass along these links I've bookmarked for future reference...

    Wiremold: loads of options for hiding cable or adding good looking or hidden multi-taps.

    Cableyoyo: spiff up your charging station.
    posted by schoolgirl report at 6:23 PM on November 8, 2005

    Best answer: Straight from Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language":

    - Windows on two sides of every room. Light affects mood big-time.
    - Put a semi-roof over the front door. That way your guests won't be drenched while they wait for you to open the door, and the house looks more inviting.
    - Built-in seats under windows. Excellent place to sit and read or just admire the view.
    - Don't put the master bedroom next to other occupied rooms. A couple need their privacy.
    - Put lights where people are. Don't use uniform lightning. It will just remind you of hospitals and warehouses.
    posted by Harald74 at 1:56 AM on November 9, 2005 [3 favorites]

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