Special considerations that apply when designing living rooms
Of all the spaces within a typical home, the living room offers designers and clients the best opportunity to exercise their creativity. Unlike a kitchen, dining room, or bathroom, a living room can be configured in almost any imaginable fashion. However, it is conventional to base the design of a living room around tables and chairs of varying proportions. Selecting furniture – a topic we will look at in greater depth later on in the course – is a matter of balancing style with comfort and practicality. In terms of a living room, it is important to consider how the furniture will be used and how people will interact when using the space. For example, if a living room is designed for a couple who intend to use it as a space in which to relax after a hard day at work, it makes little sense to base the design around two armchairs positioned several feet away from one another. In designing this kind of space, you need to think about who will be socialising in the space and the degree to which they are intimate with one another.
Furniture arrangements can be classed as symmetrical or asymmetrical. The right choice will depend on the kind of mood the client is hoping to create and how they want the space to be divided. Maintaining complete symmetry, particularly if the furniture has clean lines, will create a formal atmosphere. One or more collections of assorted items will give a more laid-back feel, but if overdone will appear sloppy. If a client wants attention drawn to an object or piece of furniture positioned in the centre of the room, a designer may work with double axis that run both ways. They will then place the object at the point of the intersection. “Local symmetry” can also work well. For example, positioning a group of chairs in such a way that there is an axis of symmetry can provide a neat focal point within an otherwise casual space.
Special considerations that apply when designing bedrooms
A bedroom needs to trigger feelings of rest and relaxation and encourage comfortable sleep. The focal point and most important piece of furniture is the bed. It must be positioned in such a way that those sleeping in the room can access it easily. Factors to consider include how much space must be made available either on one side of the bed (if a single bed) or both sides (if two people are to share the bed). There are industry-standard sizes for single, Queen, double and King-sized beds and these are useful when putting together an initial floor plan. However, a designer should never assume that a client will choose a bed in line with these measurements. It is important that, from an early stage, the designer knows precisely what kind of bed the client requires. There are now more types of bed available than ever before, including those which can be adjusted by the user to accommodate height and angle preferences. Of course, it is vital to make sure that the bed will fit through the door. If the assembled bed is too large to pass through the door, the designer needs to ensure that it can at least be assembled within the room.
The inclusion of other furniture will depend upon both the size of the room and its intended use. For example, a large bedroom to be used by someone with a strong interest in fashion will probably feature a wardrobe, a vanity unit, or both. Bedrooms are often used to store personal items, predominantly clothing, so storage is a key consideration. If there is sufficient space, dressers and cupboards are the most common storage solutions. In smaller spaces or where a “clean” look is required, under-bed storage is another option.
Fact: In Britain, 70% of people sleep for less than seven hours each night.
Source: The Sleep Council
Most bedrooms include only one bed and it is common design practice to locate it in the centre of the room. This allows for the maximum possible amount of space on either side. If two people are sharing the bed, it also allows for the placement of bedside tables and lamps on each side. If there are two or more beds in a room, it is important to allow enough space between them so that each person can get in and out of bed. It is also common to place a shared table between two twin beds.
Special considerations that apply when designing bathrooms
Activity: What Problems Might you Encounter when Designing a Bathroom?
(Time: 5+ Minutes)
Imagine that you have been asked to redesign a client’s bathroom. What would you need to consider when drawing up a design? Think about the systems you find in the average bathroom and how a bathroom is typically used.
A bathroom is subjected to daily use, so it needs to be designed with both practicality and comfort in mind. Although the average bathroom consists of a toilet, sink and a bath or shower unit, there are several other potential configurations, depending on a client’s space and budget. For example, “powder-room” style bathrooms contain only a toilet and a sink, whereas “master suites” may contain duel sinks, a shower, separate bath, a bidet and a walk-in storage space.
Privacy is a key consideration, when designing a bathroom. For example, if two people share a bathroom on a regular basis (in the case of an en-suite), it is preferable to place the toilet in a separate enclosed space, rather than directly next to other fixtures.
Safety is also paramount. When someone uses a bath or shower, some water will invariably end up on the floor. Surfaces must be water-resistant and floors must be slip-resistant. Lighting should be chosen with both safety and comfort in mind. There should be a main light source positioned on the ceiling and smaller lights over the shower or bath. If lighting is to be used next to wall mirrors, it should be positioned to the side rather than over the top.
The transition between the bathroom and adjoining rooms also requires careful thought. For example, a marble-tiled bathroom may be positioned just off a carpeted corridor. This is not a problem in itself, but a designer needs to ensure that there is no discernible “step down” between one room and another.
A bathroom’s plumbing system will dictate how it can be designed or remodelled, especially if the bathroom is to be updated after a number of years. For example, some older bathrooms feature tiles that are positioned on top of concrete, which makes them hard to replace. Plumbing supply lines may be hidden, unhidden, or even made into a feature, depending on the client’s desired aesthetic. Whatever their preferences, it is necessary to take a full survey of the system when commencing design work.
Special considerations that apply when designing an office
An office space usually contains the following three components- a working area that includes a flat surface, storage space for papers and files and space for a computer. Although people are increasingly flexible when it comes to where and how they work – for instance, they may prefer to use a laptop as opposed to a desktop PC - this three-point model still accommodates most office-based professionals.
Those with minimalist working styles may choose to use a lightweight desk with no drawers, but the majority of workers will need some integrated space instead of, or alongside, freestanding storage space. Office furniture can be broadly divided into those with vertical or lateral storage space. Units with lateral openings feature drawers that run across the unit’s broadest dimension, whereas those with vertical storage open along the narrowest side. The best choice for any given space will depend on the client’s requirements and how much room they have available. In small workspaces, efficient storage is key, so a typical setup makes use of a unit with drawers which doubles as a flat work surface. Traditionally, most commercial storage units were grey, but they are now available in an infinite variety of surfaces and materials.
Freestanding office furniture is a good choice for medium or large-sized spaces, because this allows workers the flexibility to conduct meetings or move their equipment around as required. During the design stage, the client and designer will need to work together to establish how the space will be used and how movable the furniture needs to be. For example, if the room is used for meetings of varying sizes, it is sensible to incorporate lightweight furniture that can be repositioned or even folded away when not in use. However, if a space is used as a main office by a single individual, a heavy wooden desk may be entirely appropriate, since the layout needs to accommodate only one person.
Lighting and ventilation are also factors a designer needs to consider, when putting together an initial floor plan and colour scheme. For instance, if an office window is positioned in such a way that the sunlight entering the room is particularly strong at certain times of the day, it may make sense to readjust the furniture layout, to install blinds, or both. Strip lighting may be the economical choice for offices, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that it triggers migraines and even panic attacks in some individuals, so other options should be considered. The general consensus in the design industry is that natural light is the healthiest means of illuminating a room. Ventilation is also key, as a stuffy office will impair productivity. A designer needs to think about air flow, whether this is via windows, ducts, air conditioning, or a combination.
Special considerations to bear in mind when designing other commercial spaces
Other types of commercial environment, such as restaurants and exhibition spaces, require a designer to possess specialist knowledge. It takes considerable experience to oversee projects of this scale and mistakes can be costly. It would be unwise for a designer who has only worked in residential settings to try and overhaul a large restaurant. There are practical considerations involved that do not apply to residential or office spaces, such as acoustics and specialist equipment e.g. large-scale kitchens. Moreover, it is much more likely that a designer will be collaborating with structural engineers, architects and health and safety inspectors when working on a project of this type.
At the same time, there are some design principles that apply regardless of the space in which a designer is working. For both residential and commercial spaces, a designer must always begin with the intended purpose of the space in mind. When working in a residential setting, this concerns the client’s lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. When designing a restaurant, art gallery, or other commercial space, the key factors to bear in mind include the clientele, the nature of the business, the intended “vibe” and the client’s business goals.
Designing accessible spaces
Over the past few decades, there has been an increasing emphasis on making public spaces accessible for people with disabilities. If a building excludes users as a function of their disability status, the builders may be breaching the Equality Act 2010. Technically, this Act refers to access to services rather than buildings per se, but in reality, it has significant implications for the way in which businesses and public bodies create and update spaces. Builders must comply with Building Regulations and British and European standards. Specifically, they must adhere to “Part M: Access to and use of buildings”. This applies to new builds and any new building works carried out on existing buildings.
The regulations are extensive, but a few of the implications for accessible interior design can be summarised as follows:-
The transition from the outside of the building to the interior must be carefully considered: The regulations stipulate that entrances ought to be step-free where possible and that the gradient leading up to an entrance be as shallow as possible. This means that a designer needs to ensure that there is no sudden increase in floor surface height between the outside and inside of the building.
Openings to communal areas need to be adequately sized to allow access: When making a floor plan, a designer needs to implement the minimum acceptable requirements as set out in the legislation. For instance, a door leading into such an area needs to have a clear opening width of at least 775mm. In addition, the floor surface must not present any obstacle to those using wheelchairs. For example, a smooth laminate surface is a much better choice than a long-pile carpet. These requirements have a direct impact on the kind of colour scheme and textures a designer will incorporate into their plans.
One of the ground-floor WCs must be designed with access in mind: At least one of the ground-floor WCs must have a minimum clear opening width in line with the figures set out in legislation documents. This may affect the way in which a designer chooses to use colour. For example, if access requirements mean that a space is larger than a client originally envisaged, a designer may suggest using darker colours to create a cosier ambience. Toilets, showers and other features also need to be laid out with access in mind, which directly impacts upon a designer’s plans for a room’s layout.
Sockets, entry phones and other controls must be accessible: All switches and sockets located in habitable rooms must be positioned so that their centre line is 450-1200mm above floor level.
Activity: Making a Space Accessible
(Time: 10+ Minutes)
Other than the ideas given above, can you think of any other ways in which a public building could be made more accessible? If you are not sure where to start, think about a place you visit often, such as a school, library, or community leisure centre. What adjustments have been made? Do you think they are effective? If you were in charge of redesigning the space, would you suggest any improvements?
Other guidelines for best practice include:-
Ensuring that the interior of a building can be seen from the outside: This will ensure that people with access requirements can ascertain that they will be able to use the space, before accessing the building.
Clear signage should be used throughout a building: Signs should indicate where visitors can find an accessible WC, a lift and other features that contribute to the accessibility of a space.
Doors should not be difficult to open: People with physical disabilities typically find doors easier to use if they require a low level of force to open and close them. Automatic doors are a good choice in some scenarios, but they should be well-maintained and clearly marked, in order to minimise the risk of injury. Revolving doors are not practical for most people with physical (and some non-physical) disabilities. If they are used as an entrance, an additional accessible door should be made available.
Door handles should be selected with accessibility in mind: People with reduced dexterity and grip strength benefit from door handles that offer low levels of resistance and are easy to grasp.
Reception desks should be inclusive and welcoming: Communal reception areas should be well-lit, so that a visitor can lip read if necessary. Hearing loops should be made available and clear signs put in place to draw visitors’ attention to this facility.
In general, open-plan designs are preferable: Open-plan designs minimise the need for doors and barriers and therefore support those with access requirements. At the same time, it is important to make sure that there are “quiet zones” available so that those with sensory processing issues can spend time alone if necessary.
Light reflection and sound reverberation should be reduced where possible: Loud noises and brightly-coloured environments can be too stimulating for those with sensory processing disorders. Where possible, wall and floor coverings should be selected with the intention of creating a peaceful, calming environment.
Contrasting colours, textures and tones can be helpful: A complementary colour scheme can assist those with sight impairments to identify the position of objects and surfaces within a space, thereby reducing the risk of injury and promoting independence.
Transitions and junctions between two or more floor materials warrant consideration: Placing a smooth floor surface immediately adjacent to a carpet or rug could present a trip hazard, for an individual with impaired mobility or sight.
A “code” based on wall textures may be a viable system in some spaces: Some people with access requirements may benefit from a “code” whereby a particular grain of wallpaper indicates a specific facility, such as an accessible bathroom.
The number of steps between storeys should be kept to a minimum and staircases should be accessible: Staircases should contain the least number of risers possible and all handrails must be chosen to offer the best possible access to those with physical disabilities. This is particularly important, if there is no lift available.
A range of seating should be provided: Some people benefit from chairs and sofas without armrests, whereas others benefit from more structured seating. Provide seating options of varying heights if possible, some with armrests and some without.
Whilst the Government’s Building Regulations set out the minimum acceptable standards and best practice for creating inclusive spaces, a designer can gain a great deal of personal insight by asking any prospective users with access requirements what they would like to see included or excluded from the space. For example, if a business is looking to renovate their office space and one of their employees uses a wheelchair, it would be sensible to request an interview with the individual and gain their perspective.
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