Planning a new home is exciting and challenging. But before you even get to the stage of buying materials and then building, you need to have a very good idea of the type of house you want, and the architectural features you want to include in the design.
The visual pleasure we get from looking at homes (and ultimately living in them) comes partly from architectural elements, like doors and windows, and partly from the materials used for construction, including their textures and color.
“The front door is usually the most eye-catching feature of the house,” writes Judith Miller in her remarkable sourcebook for home restoration, Period Details (Mitchell Beazley International). Perhaps it was in decades past, but today the front door is an often understated feature in the facade of any house.
Yet it offers remarkably wide scope for you to personalize your small home.
It isn’t just because it is “the natural focal point” of the building, writes Jocasta Innes in her inspirational book, Exterior Detail (Collins & Brown), “it is usually the area offering the greatest scope for making your mark”.
Nevertheless, whatever “mark” you choose to make with your front door, it should be in proportion with the rest of the house. Also, the type of door chosen should be in keeping with the architectural style of the house. When you start shopping around, you will realize what immense choices you have.
And it is not only the door itself that is important; architectural features that may be added range from door surrounds, in the form of fanlights, pillars and posts, to canopies and decorative porches. Even a garden arch set around the front door can add an interesting architectural element, especially if used to support pretty creepers or climbing plants.
Windows are more than just a source of light and air, and can be used to define the style of a house. As Jocasta Innes so fittingly says:
Amazingly, windows haven’t really changed in basic frame-structure in the past three centuries, since glass first became readily available. For example sash windows, which were enormously popular in both America and England (and other parts of the world) during the 20th century, have been made since the late 17th century, and casement windows have been around for even longer. Of course materials, along with the technologies used for manufacture, have improved and you now have a much wider choice, ranging from wood to aluminum and even PVC.
It is tempting to call windows the eyes of a house. As with faces, some facades are good-looking, some commonplace, others full of character…
Then there are bow and larger bay windows that extend from the straight lines of walls, not only adding dimension to the façade, but also adding space (or at very least the illusion of space) to the inside of the room. Even though bay windows are considered to fit the Victorian style of architecture, they can be incorporated very successfully into the design of most contemporary homes.
Shutters — both internal and external — have been favored for centuries, primarily for protection from both the elements and from potential intruders. They can also add to the style of the house.
Line of the Roof
Roof design, which ranges from “flat” to steeply pitched, has a huge impact on the visual appearance of any home. While you might be guided by a particular style (for instance aiming for a typical Mediterranean house with a flat roof, or conversely, a Swiss-style A-frame) you might instead be prompted to choose a specific roof design for more practical reasons.
While a flat roof (which in reality will have a slope of between three to five degrees for rainwater runoff) will generally cost less to construct, pitched roofs will enable you to incorporate additional accommodation upstairs. But where roof space is to be used for rooms, trusses will have to be designed accordingly. Thought will also have to be given to light and ventilation, although there are many design options ranging from hipped roofs (which don’t have a gable) with dormer windows and windows fitted into gable walls, to skylights that are set into the roof covering itself.
Color is a magical tool, whether in the form of paint or simply the materials used for construction. It may be used to help create a period or contemporary style or simply to give form and character to the building.
You may choose to paint your new small home a color that will blend with the environment, or a color that will stand out and draw attention to it. Or you might prefer white, which we need to remember is a color too! And white has, as Jocasta Innes (who is probably best known for her best-selling Paint Magic) says, it has ALWAYS been an “immensely popular house color”, both for walls and/or woodwork that contrasts with the walls.
But she warns that while paint is a quick and easy way to make a statement, the choice of color does require “careful thought and consideration”. Generally bright, intense exterior color can work in hot climates, while houses in cold climate countries these colors can look harsh and overplayed.
The exterior walls of any house play an enormously important role in terms of the character of any building, irrespective of its size. The type of house you choose to build and the specific materials you use will all play a primary role in terms of the finish, and therefore any texture that is incorporated.
Just look at contemporary clapboard houses compared to traditional adobe houses in New Mexico and you will begin to appreciate the difference. Paint one of each the same color, and the textures will continue to make them totally different.
Innes maintains that the front door is usually the focal point of the façade, which is why exterior lighting is used to enhance it. But lighting has both a practical and an aesthetic role to play, and so it is important to take both these elements into account when planning for lighting.
While you certainly want to ensure paths and walkways, the front door and any other external doors, patios, swimming pools, and so on are well lit for both safety and security reasons, you also want lighting to enhance architectural features.