Designing Homes for Modern Family Living

Designing Homes for Modern Family Living

Creating the Perfect Family Home

When I'm designing a family home, I give a lot of thought to not only the design elements of the home but also the practicalities and function of everyday life with kids. You want to be planning for how a family functions now, but you also want to be thinking about how the needs of the family will change over time as the family gets older or larger. So with all of that in mind, I've put together the elements that I like to think through when I'm designing a home for a family. Hopefully, some of these ideas help you with the design of your own family home.

A great family home will always start with the layout. If you've got the luxury of building a house from scratch, then this will be the thing you will want to spend the most time considering. And for me, there are three key ingredients to think about when you are planning the layout of your family home. Most modern family homes have large open-plan kitchen, dining, and living areas, and this works well for how families spend time together. Most of us don't live in a formal way anymore, so spaces of the past - like formal dining rooms or good lounge rooms - are not normally needed in your typical family home. So the liveability of these communal spaces is something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

Some questions to consider include: will there be plenty of natural light, and where will the natural light sources come from? Can you see the garden, pool, or other places where kids will be playing from the most used parts of the house? Is there enough storage - especially for toys, books, and games? Is it durable and practical - e.g., white linen upholstered dining chairs are not normally a great idea if you have young children with sticky honey fingers.

Even though you want a number of different spaces for the family to be together, you also want enough other spaces that people can spend time away from each other as well. This might be rooms like a study or den or even making sure that bedrooms are set up so that people can retreat to quietly if they need it. So keep flexibility top of mind when you are designing spaces for families. A room that might be a playroom for very young children could be converted later on to a den, second living room, or homework space. Perhaps a guest room can also double as the study. Ask yourself how the spaces can work in different ways to meet the needs of the family now and in the future, and provide lots of options for people to be together or apart.

Designing the Family Kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of all family homes and is normally the hub of most households. But the needs of your kitchen do change depending on what stage of family life you are in. When you have very young children, you may use the kitchen as a hub for kids to sit and do readers or homework or have them sit up to the bench to eat in the evening. But as your kids get older, you will find the needs of your kitchen change. It can be hard to think that the 2-year-old toddler you have now will become a full-grown - and potentially huge - teenager in just a few years from now. This now means you have multiple adults moving around in your kitchen - not just a couple. So think about the space you have in the kitchen for many family members to be all in there at once, eating or enjoying each other's company. And if you throw in a few mates of that teenager who all eat A LOT of food, you will want to make sure you've planned your space well.

Some things to think about for your kitchen space include: maximizing circulation space between fixed spaces - e.g., the back kitchen elevation and the island (I like to try and include at least 1100mm between all cabinetry and furniture if space allows); a breakfast cupboard - keep all the breakfast things together to make the mornings run as smoothly as possible; a butler's pantry if you have room for it, and if you don't, then think about how you can create a similar kind of thing inside tall cabinets in the kitchen (these are a great place to store away ugly appliances that can otherwise take over bench space - remember to include power points in these cupboards as well); where will your rubbish bin be located, and what type will you have (kids are really terrible at scraping plates and dealing with rubbish, so pull-out bins are great to help keep things as hygienic as possible); and a homework station or study nook - this is a great idea for helping to keep an eye on homework and computer usage, and it can also double as a drop zone for parents for bills and other paperwork or to store school notes and timetables.

Flexible Spaces for Family Life

A second living area may be a luxury if space is tight, but if you can create one, it will be worth its weight in gold in a family home. This can be a space where all the toys and clutter is kept, and you can close the door on it on the days when you haven't got the energy to fight the kids to clean it up. If you have younger kids, then it's ideal to also include desk or craft areas in this space, as it means that kids can work on drawings or craft activities when they are young, but this space can also transition to a homework zone as they get older. If you can have a desk area for each child in the house, that's even better.

Another essential space in a family home is a mudroom. A mudroom is a space in the house where you can get muddy football boots off, drop school bags, hang up school blazers, and store all the bits and pieces kids and families need each day. I've previously written about the benefits of a a mudroom in detail, including everything I think this space should include. But some quick ideas for this space include: giving each child their own locker to store their gear and keep themselves organized; a charging station for iPads and hand vacuums (e.g., in a cupboard); somewhere to hang up blazers or coats; somewhere to store shoes, ideally close to the laundry so muddy/wet clothes can be dumped straight away; and somewhere to sit down to put shoes on. A mudroom is ideally situated at the back door of the house or even in the garage if there is no space in the house itself.

Also, consider those who come in and dump keys, coins, and wallets out of their pockets (yes, I mean the husbands here, haha). Do they have somewhere that is designated for this purpose, so this doesn't inevitably end up on the kitchen bench? A little console with some drawers can be ideal for this, and hubbie can have his own dedicated drawer that he will never use (LOL).

Durable Materials and Finishes

Make sure to also think about the materials and finishes you use in your home. This can help you avoid non-stop fights with kids about sticky fingers or dirty feet. In particular, think about the selections you make for flooring (polished concrete or tiles are very forgiving for families and don't show up as much dirt as wood floors); cabinetry (think about what you get these made from to avoid chips and damage); non-slip tiles (make sure any tiles you use have high slip ratings to help avoid nasty falls if spills happen or wet feet are walking through); and fabric (think about the chairs you choose for your dining table or bar stools - avoid fabric, but also avoid designs that are difficult to clean, like rattan stools and chairs, where food gets stuck in the holes and is very hard to clean up). Also, think about the choice of covering for your lounge - leather can be a good option for very young kids as it can be easily wiped down. And avoid sharp corners if you still have young children - for example, think about the design of your island bench or which dining table you choose.

Laundry and Storage Solutions

If your family is anything like mine, you do a lot of laundry. Kids and families are messy, and my kids, in particular, have the habit of whispering an outfit over themselves for 5 minutes and then putting it in the wash (eye roll). To make your laundry as family-friendly as possible, I have a few suggestions. Firstly, as mentioned above, if you can combine your laundry with a mudroom, this will really help keep your family organized and stop dirty stuff coming too far into the house. Also, include a pull-out laundry hamper if you have the space - ideally with multiple bins for color sorting if you do that (I don't have time, haha) or even to have one for dirty and one for ironing. And don't forget to include a space for your vacuum cleaner and ironing board - some people forget these tall items, and they end up having nowhere to store them.

And as mentioned earlier, make sure you also include a charging station somewhere in the house - this could be in the kitchen or you could also make space in the laundry as well, depending on how many devices you have and how you want these to be charging.

Designing for the Entire Family

Another thing to consider is that these days, kids are living at home with their parents for longer and longer. Think about the spaces you create for them and how expensive furniture pieces can last while other decorative items can be updated as the child's interests change and they get older. As you can see below in my son's room, when he was very young, he had a slightly more playful room that was then switched up with some new styling once he got a little older. Note that the bed itself and the bedside table have remained the same - as these are the more expensive items to update.

Of course, part of the family home is also the garden and outdoor space. I have written a whole other post on how to design a family-friendly garden - so make sure you check out my tips on that.

Another thing to consider is how to help kids feel proud of their spaces and the work that they do. So include somewhere to display their art, drawings, school certificates, and other important memorabilia. This could be a notice board in the family living area, but how good is this full wall of pinboard in the project below by Tecture and Studio Tate?

Where there is a family, there is often also a family pet. So make sure you think about the furry members of your family as well. Instead of having the dog bowl sitting in the middle of the kitchen or laundry floor, think about whether you can incorporate the needs of your pet into the design of the home. Some things to think about: where will they eat, where will they sleep, where will their food, toys, and leads be kept, and do they need to be able to get in and out of the house when you're not there?

Designing for Family Comfort and Safety

There are lots of other things to consider when you're thinking about your family home. Here's a brain dump of some other ideas: think about the window dressings you select for kids' bedrooms, especially when they are very young - try and keep kids' rooms blocked out to help them sleep longer in the mornings (in my experience, kids can wake up at the hint of daylight, so try and make sure you have good blockout window dressings with minimal gaps to allow daylight to come in); if you are doing a new build, it's also a really good idea to carefully plan the location of water pipes in relation to bedrooms - particularly children's bedrooms (having pipes located overhead or next to kids' bedrooms or babies' nurseries can wake them in the mornings or during nap time, and you never want to wake a sleeping baby, so if these can be located elsewhere, this is ideal at the planning stage); hooks in bathrooms at age-appropriate heights to encourage hanging of wet towels; adjustable shower heads to help reach smaller kids; always have a bath in a family home; consider some kind of door to block off sleeping zones from living and kitchen zones (this helps if parents are getting up early to exercise or get to work and need to make tea or other things in the kitchen without waking up the rest of the family, and it's also good when you have younger kids who go to bed before the rest of the family, so the sounds of night-time dinners and TV watching can be diminished); and make sure you think about privacy, particularly for bedrooms (I once had a neighbor with a teenage daughter who had her bedroom upstairs facing the street - if she forgot to close her window dressings in the evening, I was able to see her getting changed, which you definitely don't want for your kids, and particularly not for your teenage daughters).

Think about safety with regard to visitors - make sure young kids are not able to easily open the door if you have a second-story on your house; make sure your children would be safe to play unsupervised upstairs; ensure windows are compliant and not able to be opened; and make sure there are no dangerous climbable balconies. You want your home to be a safe place for everyone to be, and you don't want to always be worrying that if you are downstairs and can't see your kids, that they may be in danger if they are out of your sight.

Underfloor heating in bathrooms is a must in family homes if budget allows. Young kids, especially, take their time having baths or showers, and then getting dressed, and keeping them warm via underfloor heating is a great luxury for everyone. Underfloor heating is also great for parents who have to sit on cold tiles during winter while bath time happens, and any splashes that happen tend to try a lot faster on a heated floor as well. Plus, I always find my underfloor heating great for warming up my clothes while I take a shower.

And finally, are there enough toilets in the house? Even if you only have room for one bathroom, can you squeeze an additional toilet in the laundry or under the stairs or elsewhere? A family of more than a couple of people will always benefit from more than one toilet if it's possible to include this. Larger families may need even more than two.

So I hope this post has given you lots of ideas to think about when planning out the renovation of your home or the creation of your new build. The most important thing when planning a family home is to think through all the aspects of your day-to-day life and then try and account for these in the way you design the function of your home. The more a home can be functional and organized, the more smoothly your family life will run. The agonizing morning routine will become slightly easier because everyone will know where their things are, and when kids start getting home from school each afternoon, they will know exactly where things are to put away.

Overall, it's important that your home is designed in a way that works for your family now and as it grows and gets older. If you have found this post helpful, please share it with others you know who might be planning the renovation of their own family home. And if you're about to start renovating or remodeling, I highly recommend checking out iLiving Homes - they're a full-service design firm and home furnishings shop that can help you create the perfect family home.

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