As architects in Devon, we are often involved in projects to extend or improve peoples’ homes. A common question that often comes out in the briefing process for projects on peoples’ homes is, ‘how can we create better space to come together as a family or to entertain?’
Sometimes this requires a bit of extra space, but often the process reveals that you can achieve a lot by making some simple changes. These can bring this family and entertaining space into the centre of the home, and allow better connections and relationships as a result.
Most of us lead pretty hectic lives, and a simple surface to share food, conversation and provide a hub in the home provides a real opportunity to come together a little more. One of the positives to come out of this period of lockdown for us has been spending more time together as a family. This is most apparent at meal times. I’m sure we are not alone in having spent more time eating together and enjoying spending a bit more time over dinner – both its preparation and eating!
Where to start?
So, what are the key moves that you might make?
First we need to decide how you want to use the space, what equipment you might need (usually a table), and how you want the space to connect to the rest of the house. For most people a formal dining room isn’t terribly useful, especially if space is at a premium. More often the table becomes the centre of all sorts of activities: homework (and home-working at the moment), cups of tea, reading a paper or browsing the web, crafts, cooking, and of course eating. And while these things are happening, and come into foreground at particular times of day, the life of the home goes on around us.
Putting the table at the centre of the home (metaphorically) allows it to become a hub at the centre of family life.
This tiny project was all about how to make better use of an under used formal dining room. The clients, Sue and Stephen, are retired and love to spend time in their garden, and often entertain. But with a kitchen big enough to accommodate a breakfast table for 4, the formal dining room (and the 4 leaf Victorian table) was idle most of the time. It also occupied the key position on the ground floor – enjoying the best views and sunshine, but disconnected from the kitchen and blocking the flow of circulation to the garden.
So the project was simple: open up the circulation to bring the dining room into more general use, improve connections to the garden, and allow the room to be used more informally by creating a snug in an unused side room.
New openings have created new connections, while the old table was auctioned and a more contemporary replacement sourced. Sophisticated dinner parties can still be accommodated with ease, but with an easy flow between kitchen, dining, snug and garden, the space can also be used more informally too.
Often we are invited to look at projects that are full of potential, but just need a rethink to really maximise the opportunity. Trees was one of these: a bungalow on a spectacular, elevated, secluded but substantial, south facing plot in Newton Abbott.
The clients needed more space, and a dormer extension gave them this, with bedrooms moved upstairs. More than this, the house needed to make the most of its site, and give the family a set of spaces that would allow them to enjoy it.
So we stripped it right back, moved the front door and circulation, and created a flow of rooms along the south elevation to house the kitchen, dining and living rooms. These spaces are interconnected, but can also be closed off with bi-folding doors as needed. At the centre is the dining table – again the hub of the home. Large glazed doors connect directly to the external terrace. The space is relaxed and informal for everyday use, but is big enough to extend the table for entertaining and family Christmas’s.
See Trees for more.
Family life often begins to burst out of the seams and no more so than at Lutterburn: no dining room and with the dinner table positioned in a cramped kitchen and typically covered with the evidence of busy lives. There was no room to come together or to entertain. This project had lots of things to fix, but it was clear that the dining table should be at the heart of it, and that it should be flexible, connected and used; definitely not hidden away.
A large extension has significantly increased the footprint and reconfigured the layout, moving both the front door and stairs. The dining room sits at the centre of the new broken plan living space, accessed directly from the entrance lobby, and connecting to the kitchen and the external terrace through large bi-folding doors. Homework and homeworking are now easily accommodated alongside family dinners and enough space to entertain.
See Lutterburn for more.
Starting from Scratch
Ian and Jane had always lived in drafty old farmhouses, and when it came to commissioning a new house (by Mole architects where I was project architect) they didn’t want to lose all of the qualities of these. They definitely didn’t want the drafts and the heating bills, but they did want the farmhouse parlour where everything happens at once and life revolves around the range.
Here the kitchen sits in the centre of an almost square plan, with the other accommodation pinwheeling around it with a flowing circulation. The dining room is open to the kitchen, but through changes in surface and head height has a distinct character. Importantly, the space is connected along its whole long axis. This creates the impression of the space as a swelling or an alcove to the main space of the kitchen, something equal in status when it needs to be, but also something just off to one side. The height of the ceiling gives it the formality needed for entertaining when you are in the space, but the connectivity to the kitchen and the ability to survey all that is going on gives it that farmhouse feel that was desired in the brief.
See Millway for more.
Architects in Devon
So if you are thinking about a project to extend or improve your home, think about how you want to come together as a family and share your spaces and lives. Where do you want this to happen, what will you be doing there and how should this connect to the rest of the house? Will this change at different times of day, week or year?
Why not give us a call here at Tim Offer Architects and we can have a chat about your ideas today.
Think about where to put the table.