Go With the Flow: How to Transform Your Home in 5 Essential Ways

Now that developers have loaded their buildings with as many new and unusual conveniences as possible, it's time to get back to basics. While pools, basketball courts, storage bins and in-house lounges are alluring attractions for new owners, they do little to create a home. The amount of attention lavished on these amenities is seldom paid to the design of the apartments themselves. Here, buyers are offered the "Box" and the real focus of creating flowing, fluid, functional homes has been largely ignored.

To find out what differentiates the Box from the Home, we asked expert and architect David Estreich of David Estreich Architects, WHAT IS THE BOX? Esteich explains, "It's what most everyone in post-war buildings get nowadays. In effect, there are no established transitional relationships between rooms. No grace, no flow, no largesse." The sad truth is that 1000 square feet doesn't equal 1000 square feet in the hands of a capable architect; it can be so much more, says Estreich. "These same size apartments can be beautifully configured, transitioning into flowing light open airy spaces with the dignity of the homeowner in mind. Buying more space doesn't solve the problem. Transforming the space from box to home is the answer."


(Plan and photo by David Estreich)

Building exteriors become selling points. Thus, creating a beautiful building is critical and the structure must in itself extend to the interior architecture, as well. Yet, once inside, the interiors usually look like any other box, without form or definition. Rooms are strung together in contiguous fashion like light switches on a wall. "Generally with 8' high ceilings, walls tend to be at right angles with entry doors placed without consideration of circulation and scale," says Estreich. In addition, interior walls are configured poorly and without respect for furniture placement. We need to think more in terms of creating spaces, he says, "where rooms generally bear relationships to one another and of creating homes that flow and function with the individual in mind."


(Plan and photo by David Estreich)

1. MASTER PLAN: ALWAYS HAVE ONE! Ever hear of a business without a business plan? One is no less important when it comes to design. "What are the elements that contribute to transforming the box into a home? David Estreich affirms that there are several, beginning with a well thought out MASTER PLAN. Here thought is given to how all the rooms relate and transition from one another, how the best circulation is created and how flow is achieved. A great master plan, he says, illustrates flow, the seductive movement of circulation within and through space. The plan dictates a well-fitting relationship between rooms, incorporating a seamless integration of architecture and decoration. Like the bespoke suit, walking through a well thought out home just feels "right." It's not the size or the style of the space that matters; it's the overall composition, and how the rooms interweave, the architect notes. Within a "flowing" home, space is BOTH expansive AND compressed. It opens up because the transitions are used to compress and redirect the flow, thus opening up and making the spaces more expansive. Tightening in one area opens it up into another! It compresses and then expands. The living room flows into the dining room, the dining room into the kitchen, and so on.


(Photo by David Estreich)

2. ENTRY FOYERS: MAKING A GRAND ENTRANCE One essential trait of a well designed home is the ENTRY FOYER, Estreich notes. This space mediates between the public world outside the front door and the private realm within. It is the first visual feature in creating a good home. The architect says, " Perhaps, the foyer is the most overlooked, yet important room of the home. This area sets the prelude for what is to follow. It is the first and lasting impression the homeowner gets upon entering and leaving his home. And, it is here where one is made to feel either welcomed or disoriented." He notes, "By creating and carving out a beautiful space here, an illusion of depth is created, giving an illusion of grandeur. Whether small or large, angled or rounded, rectangular or square, foyers are grand in feeling and express the largesse of space from which other rooms radiate." It creates a WOW effect!


(Photo by David Estreich)

3. CEILING ILLUSION: THE SIXTH AND FINAL PLANE A masterful effect that can be used in both the entry foyer and elsewhere, Estreich states, is the illusion and interest created by a partially lowered ceiling. Want to make a space look taller? Even an 8' high ceiling can feel higher! Here is a trick of the trade: if a small part of a ceiling prior to it's entry is dropped, even by a few inches, the adjoining ceilings will appear magically higher. In addition, by carving out a section of the ceiling in the shape of a circle, oval, etc. the designer defines the space below, while not altering the actual area. Thus, he explains, the sculpted ceiling provides definition to the space below. "Using subtle coffers and soffits around the ceiling perimeter also allows for cove lighting and added drama. Most post war apartments have low ceilings and thus it may seem counterintuitive to lowering them in the entryway." Yet when executed in the right way, Estreich says, dropping the ceiling at this seminal impact point creates the opposite effect - compression in the entry foyer leads to expansion in its other spaces. "It is a true transition."


(Photo by Phillip Ennis)

4. KITCHENS AND BATHS, THE INEVITABLE FIRST MOVES: Homeowners invest a lot of money into creating state of the art kitchens and baths. For those who purchase in older buildings, the first area of the home in which they invest their savings are these same "wet" areas. Predictably, these are the most expensive areas of the home in which to renovate, as the plumbing, electrical and other associated costs add up. Prioritizing these areas is ironic, Estreich notes, "as the configuration of walls within the apartment itself can be the best return on ones investment." Wouldn't you pay more for a more expansive, flowing apartment that feels like a home, a personal blueprint of your desires and wants? Interior architecture and sculpting are actually much less costly per square foot to execute. In addition, these "dry" wall renovations move much faster even taking into account the time need to get permits. Non-structural walls are easier to move and make a greater design impact. Choose to reconfigure the foyer and other areas of the apartment where less major construction is involved. You will get a lot more bang for the buck in terms of creating a customized, humanistic living environment that feel like home.


(Photo by Phillip Ennis)

Should the kitchen and/or bath ultimately need renovation, it needs to fit in with the demands of the modern family. Modern kitchens are now nexus areas in which the entire family congregates. Essentially, these spaces comprise the kitchen, prep, family area and dining room all in one. The important idea here is to ke/ep all these areas open to one another, maintaining an spacious and airy feeling. Breaking down the box and opening up the kitchen to create large, convivial family gatherings is crucial.


(Photo by David Estreich)

5. DETAILS: IT'S ALL IN THE SMALL STUFF: Other creative methods to add architectural and decorative interest to the home Estreich recommends: Niches, creating interest and depth; half-walls and openings in walls, producing brighter open airy spaces: antechambers, which make small introductory areas a graceful entry into major rooms; built-in mirrors, deepening the space, and hallways that open up at various junctures, widening the feel of a narrow area.


(Photo by Heather Querico)

In transforming the box, the architect / designer has used their skillful resources in making a wonderful living environment in which the owner now feels at HOME.




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