Getting Your House Layout Right: How to Design Your Home’s Floorplan

Architect Opinder Liddar shares the inside track on configuring a functional, futureproof and family-friendly house layout for your brand-new self build
Build It expert Opinder Liddar
by Opinder Liddar
8th February 2024

Getting your house layout right will mean an effective, futureproof and functional property for years to come – but why is it so important and how can you get it right?

Adding space and value to a self build project is one of my favourite topics, something which I discuss in many of my seminars at Build It Live. I start by asking the audience to think about their lifestyle at home and the kind of space they need to cater to this effectively. I also ask them to think about how the future may impact on their living arrangements, such as the arrival of children or caring for elderly family members as well as themselves in later life.

These developments can change how we want our homes to work for us. So, when designing a self build home, it’s beneficial to ensure that your house layout and space can adapt quickly to suit life’s constantly changing demands.

In this guide, I take you through aspects of space planning that you should consider at the outset of your project; how to create an effective house layout which responds to your current needs; and what you can do to futureproof your home for yourself and your family.

Coming Up with a Design Brief for Your House’s Layout

You, your designer and, ultimately, your builder need to be clear about what your needs are when it comes to designing your self build and deciding on the house layout. Start by thinking about the timeframe in which you want to occupy your home. It is important to talk to your designer about how the ways that you might want to use the space could change in the future.

When I design new homes for clients, most of them expect to be in their property for a considerable amount of time, so we often work together to create a house layout that’s going to respond to the clients’ needs for a lifetime.

Learn More: Open Plan Living Ideas & Advice for Kitchen, Living & Dining Rooms

This Build It Award-winning self build home has been extended and renovated by Paul Archer Design to include tall spaces designed to adapt for future use. On the mezzanine above the living room, sliding partitions have been installed to form a new private guest area when closed

Even before we are appointed, I spend quite a while getting to know my clients, discussing not only the numbers and kinds of rooms they would like, but also how they envisage using them in the future. Once we have established likely timelines, we drill deeper into other elements of the brief.

Many homeowners assume that an open-plan house layout is the only way to go, but after talking about the practicalities of this with them, they start to realise the benefits of including some closed off spaces that allow for quiet and privacy. This became particularly important when, during lockdown, many people found that their home was suddenly their workplace. Conversely, as working from home continues to some extent, it’s important to be able to switch off and relax in your space with your office items out of view.

This kind of accommodation doesn’t only have to be provided through the creation of entirely separate rooms. You could consider creating open-plan areas which incorporate recessed sliding doors, enabling you to close off specific zones.

Square Feet Architects designed this new home for multigenerational living, including spaces suitable for the owner’s 93-year-old mother

Moveable walls or sliding internal doors are available, which can create flexible spaces and a versatile house layout. Some of our house layouts and designs have incorporated deeper floor joists in the ceiling above the relevant spaces to take the load of the building in the event that you want to install beams. This allows for non-load bearing timber stud walls to be removed in future should you wish to completely change the house layout or floorplan configuration.

As long as this is planned from the outset, with considerations from your designer for the specification of the internal walls and how they’re fixed to the floor and ceiling, changes to room sizes and layouts will be relatively easy to execute.

Learn More: Your Guide to Knocking Down Internal Walls: Everything You Need to Know

Consider Location & Orientation in Your House’s Layout

The nature of the site’s positioning plays an important part in your house layout and design. In order to make the most of natural daylight and passive solar gains, you’ll need to understand the impact the sun will have on different areas of your space.

Your designer should be able to show you – ideally in a 3D plan or render – how to make best use of solar gains in your plan, as well as ensure that the design doesn’t cause overheating and meets recently updated Building Regulations Part O for new homes.

Make the most of external views by ensuring that the house layout helps you create a scenic journey throughout the inside of your property. If you have a sloping site, consider using the levels to create different ceiling heights by lowering some areas of the flooring. This can be an effective way to designate use of space for different purposes within the house while still maintaining an open-plan house layout throughout.

home with brises soleil overhang to prevent overheating

Designed by Ashworth Parkes Architects, this replacement home in the countryside features horizontal aluminium brises soleil over the floor- to-ceiling glazing. Photo: Michele Rossi

Certain rooms will have recommended special requirements for their use. For instance, kitchen units and appliances work to fairly standard module size. The distance between the perimeter worktops and a kitchen island should be around 1,200mm, allowing you to create the conventional working triangle between the hob, sink and fridge. Bedrooms are usually sized to accommodate a double bed with a bedside table each side, so that you can comfortably navigate around the room.

These principles can provide a helpful framework around which to design your house layout, but remember this is your home, so it’s important to highlight your needs rather than accepting standards if they do not work for you. For example, many of our clients want their bedrooms to accommodate a king-size bed, so the rooms will need to be made bigger than the standard sizes stipulated.

More from Opinder: 4 Steps to Designing Your Dream House

Eliminate Visual Clutter with Clever Storage Systems

Building from scratch offers the opportunity to incorporate clever storage. Look to your designer to develop creative and effective ways of keeping visual clutter out of sight. These storage areas do not need to be given natural light, so aim to position them deep in your plan and reserve spaces where windows can be used for natural light and garden views for the main living areas.

Seamless asolo oak joinery was specified for this extension project by Paul Archer Design. The storage systems help to maximise space inside the home while adding an amazing design statement. Photo: Helen Cathcart

When designing storage within rooms, think about using the extra height in a vaulted ceiling in spaces such as bathrooms to provide high-level storage that doesn’t require taking up valuable floorspace.

Think About Sustainability & Maintenance when Creating Your House Plans

As we move towards an electric economy, I increasingly find that houses require larger spaces to accommodate the renewable kit that is needed to make homes more sustainable. Our homes are becoming very sophisticated machines to support our lifestyles.

If you want to create a highly sustainable home, this needs to be incorporated into your house layout and initial brief, so that your designer thinks about the siting of the relevant equipment at the outset.

Most of the new homes we have designed are heated using renewable technologies, such as heat pumps with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems. The amount of space this kit requires needs to be planned into your design from day one.

Inspiring Examples: Eco Homes: 30 Sustainable Self Builds to Inspire Your Eco House

External views were considered when designing the layout of this self build home by Lapd Architects. Living spaces located on the first floor means the homeowners can enjoy the surrounding countryside from the rooms they occupy the most

If, later on, you decide to include these features, it may well be too late to accommodate them and you will find that other spaces, such as the kitchen, can quickly become compromised in order to house such equipment.

When these systems are designed well, you will not know where all the associated technology has been placed. If not, you will see all sorts of internal and external add-ons which are likely to detract from the overall aesthetic of your home.

Designing the layout of your roofing structure so that it is optimally placed to gather solar energy is as important as designing your windows correctly to gather natural daylight. As solar panels become more efficient, I’ve been amazed at how much power can be generated in the UK for use in homes, which is leading many self builders to consider harnessing this power in batteries. So, you’ll need to incorporate enough space in a plant/utility room when designing your house layout to accommodate solar battery storage if you wish to invest in this technology.

Futureproofing Your Home for Mobility

Building Regulations now require new homes to comply with certain disabled access requirements. For example, you must have a cloakroom available at the entrance level of the accommodation. The door and space requirements make new builds accessible for wheelchair users.

Even if you are contemplating a refurbishment or extension project as opposed to a self build, I would recommend still incorporating these facilities and dimensions into your design from the outset. It’s also a good idea to consider making this cloakroom space big enough to accommodate a shower which, if not immediately fitted, could be installed in the future.

3D renders of your design can help you visualise what it will look like brought to life. The experts at Simply ArchViz create 3D models of new build homes based off architectural plans. Services like this can help you better understand where you might want to make changes to your layout before you begin construction

Perhaps invest in creating a space nearby to this which could initially act as a study or guest room and eventually be adapted into a bedroom as required. If you don’t account for these potential adaptions when drawing up your plans, you may need planning permission to extend your home in the future or you might have to install new drainage connections in order to provide ground floor bathroom facilities, which could take months to resolve.

Other relatively easy design features that can build longevity into your self build’s layout include level thresholds to external door openings and designing a lower-rise and larger tread to your main staircase, ideally with a handrail.

Planning a House Layout for Later Extensions

We often design homes with roof spaces that can easily be fitted out in the future as the self builders’ needs for more accommodation change, or, as they become financially able to complete areas of their homes that they couldn’t afford at the beginning. In these instances, we design the structure of the floor so that a panel can easily be cut out of the ceiling and space is allowed to install a staircase leading up to the roof space.

One-and-a-Half-Storey Oak Frame Home in the Essex Countryside

Matt and Sarah Switzer created their dream home in the Essex Countryside with the help of Welsh Oak Frame. After living in the property for a while, the couple decided they needed more light and space so commissioned Welsh Oak Frame again to help them create a two-storey extension, which houses a study and master bedroom. Photo: Nikhilesh Haval

As well as access, it’s also important to consider getting natural light into a loft conversion. We ensure that the original construction has rafters that are already trimmed in order to accommodate rooflights. As with preparations for a ground floor cloakroom, we often install roof space drainage and water connections so that these can easily be tapped into for a loft extension.

If you’re embarking on a self build project, be very clear about your lifestyle objectives to ensure your house layout can cater to them. Plan in the required features and technologies at the earliest possible stage so that they fit seamlessly into your scheme. Get this right and you can relax knowing that you have created spaces that work for you both now and in the future.

Essential Advice: Loft Conversions: 10 Key Questions to Ask When Converting a Loft

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