People make a lot of mistakes, avoidable mistakes, when they're building or renovating a home. Those mistakes begin at the planning phase – when the homeowners are developing the layout with a designer or architect.
I recently looked over several floor plans for next spring's reno and construction season, and I have to tell you, some things continue to pop up that make me grind my eyeteeth in frustration. Here are five things that I would ban from all blueprints.
Oh, they rake the eyes. Why would anyone put a fireplace in the corner of a room? This rookie mistake starts a domino effect of ugliness that's nearly impossible to stop. Developers are fond of doing it because it's an easy way to parachute in a prominent feature they haven't adequately planned for.
The problem is focal points. A fireplace is a natural centre of attention, and a room is most comfortable when the furniture aims at it. But when you put the fire in the corner of a room it's almost impossible to do anything but place the furnishings at odd angles to the walls, which misaligns the room with the structure of the home. (Conversely, if you ignore the fireplace as a focus, people in the room become disoriented and don't know where to put their eyes.) Fireplaces are best located on a long run of wall. There, they're easy to centre in the room, making them an effortless focal point around which to plan.
Cinematic grandeur is what people have in mind when they attempt to shoehorn a spiral staircase into their floor plan. But more often than not, the stairs come off like clumsy plotting – superfluous of detail and disruptive of flow.
The reason is simple: Spiral stairs are a circle, and most homes have walls that intersect at right angles – that is, they're squares. And when you drop a circle into a square, everything feels off.
One of the few places spiral stairs feels right is in a home with a grand entrance – picture the 1,000 square foot foyer of a colonial mansion in the Deep South. There, fanciful spindles and expansive treads blend effortlessly with the majesty of the home. There, not here.
The problem is the same as with the corner fireplace: The alignment feels off. A home without room for its spiral staircase feels like a series of circles and squares mashed together. Odd angles proliferate, creating spaces that are difficult to furnish and a house that is challenging to resell.
Getting a spiral staircase to integrate seamlessly into a floor plan demands an investment in good architecture and exceptional craftsmanship. Unless you're willing to go to the expense, you'd best forgo spiral stairs altogether.
My advice: Stick to straight runs – they're efficient and much easier to construct. If you want to jazz them up, spend your money on quality materials, finishes that are consistent with the rest of the home.
Used properly, Grecian columns are a nod to outstanding architecture and engineering, and an implicit statement of affluence. And it's that savour of affluence people are after.
But in the average house – with flat, eight-foot ceilings and six-inch crown mouldings – a Grecian column looks as natural as a tuxedo in a honky-tonk. It's foolishly trying to elevate the occasion.
To support the Grecian columns, homeowners often deploy empurpled regal furnishings and many-layered draperies – touches that only draw attention to the original sin. They're trying to make their home something it's not.
Regardless of its size, play to your home's strength, whether it's a nice floor plan, beautiful wood floors or well-chosen finishes. Structural elements like posts should integrate with the other finishing carpentry (baseboard, window trim and crown).
Superfluous French doors
Good quality French doors are beautiful – solid wood with a thick frame enclosing a grid of bevelled glass. But their appeal leads to frequent misuse.
French doors should be reserved to the entrances of formal rooms, like the living or dining room – spaces intended to impress, where the act of sweeping open two glass doors is a dramatic gesture.
There was a time when the library would have been a room that deserved French doors. But yesterday's library is today's home office, and its mishmash of Office Depot furnishings and HP hardware is no enticing thing to see through the glass.
The general rule of French doors should be: Use quality doors with beautiful hardware, and use them sparingly for rooms that you intend to decorate beautifully and share with others.
Avoid slapping French doors on rooms that require privacy – you'll only end up curtaining the glass.
Pork chop countertops in bathrooms
I'm amazed that this dated detail still finds its way onto floor plans. I'm talking about that odd ledge that extends from the vanity over the toilet in the bathroom. At the best of times it housed a vase with dried twigs in it; at the worst, dingy collections of half-used perfumes and aging soaps.
If space is a concern, then glass or floating shelves over the toilet are far more useful. If covering up the unsightly toilet is the rationale, buy a nicer toilet – there are too many beautiful plumbing fixtures on the market these days to go down that road.
Special to The Globe and Mail