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Making the Best of a Bad Floorplan

If you're building a new home, you get the freedom of choosing a floorplan, but for many people, building isn't a viable option right now. Perhaps you need to move for work or are looking for real estate in a specific location. Maybe you fall in love with an older home that has great bones. Or perhaps you're in a home already, and moving isn't on the agenda right now.

It can be a challenge when you're limited by an existing floorplan, especially if that floorplan isn't great. So how can you make the best of a bad floorplan? How can you maximize space and still turn a home into something that feels uniquely yours, meets your needs, and functions for your daily life?

Photography: Jennifer Lavelle

What Makes a Floorplan Bad?

Many older homes have awkward floorplans. These aren’t bad floorplans, per se, but they might be sectioned off weirdly, feature limited storage space, or have an oddball feature like a bedroom that serves as a bathroom hallway or a living room with a very limited view.

I’ll never downplay the charm and perks of buying an older home. Many homes feature beautiful craftsmanship touches: woodwork, stained glass, gorgeous, exposed beams, and brick. Even if certain stunning features are hidden beneath ugly carpet or strange paint on the walls, a house can be worth the oddities if it has a great structure and is well-built.

There's also a lot to be said for location. It may be much more feasible to have a townhouse in a big city or a condo in a coastal town, depending on your life circumstances. There are some spots where you're very limited in terms of placement for new architecture. Unless you're going to tear down and rebuild, you may not be able to live in the neighborhood of your dreams.

In these cases, working with the existing real estate options is almost always a good idea. You wouldn't want to build a mid-century modern ranch in the middle of a row of cape cods. It wouldn't make sense. Instead, you'll want a home that fits in with the surroundings and complements the rest of the block; for many, that means embracing an awkward floorplan and finding ways to make it work.

Design + Image: Kismet House

Get Professional Input to Improve a Bad Floorplan

To make the most of a bad floorplan, you will want to enlist the help of a great architect and designer. They can help you plan the design of your home, suggest renovations to help you achieve the look you want, and point out considerations you might overlook.

Many homes have load-bearing walls and structures that you can't change. If you want to make only minor renovations or find decorative solutions to manage a bad floorplan, then you'll probably need to make some accommodations. Pipes often run only in certain areas of the home. You've probably watched enough HGTV to know that moving a bathroom or kitchen to another wing of the house is a massive undertaking, despite how “easy” television may make these things appear.

On the other hand, changing up certain rooms and even making significant alterations with lighting can make a huge difference. Your designer and architect should be able to guide you through the choices and help you figure out what can work within the parameters of your home's architecture.

If you’re looking for some easy fixes and areas to start, here are some suggestions to help you work with a bad floorplan.

1. Look at the Walls

Some of the easiest architectural changes are to a building's walls. Look at the walls in your home and consider if there's anything you could eliminate, move out, or adjust. Sometimes even removing a non-load-bearing wall between the dining room and living room can make a significant difference.

Older homes often featured “closed” floorplans (unlike the more open concept plans so popular today). While some people are moving back towards the idea of sectioned-off rooms (especially if they're working from home and need privacy), some older homes can feel particularly claustrophobia-inducing with many tiny rooms. Knocking out a wall can open it up.

2. Consider New Windows

One way to easily make a big change to your home is to add new windows. Older homes often feature smaller windows—some with blocked or partially blocked views. If you choose a full-frame window replacement, you can get a lot more glass space (and let in more light)!

Many architects can also suggest different windows that will complement the look of your home. For example, adding a dramatic arched window or a bay window can significantly open up a small room. You may be able to make the window openings larger as well.

3. Update Flooring

Nice floors can make up for a myriad of issues. Many older homes feature carpet or very dark "orange-tinted" wooden floors. Although refinishing floors or installing new flooring is a big job, it's one with a substantial payoff.

In addition to the drawbacks of carpet for allergy sufferers and asthmatics, carpet can sometimes make a room feel dated and small. An option like wood, stone, or another natural material can instantly elevate a space and make it feel more expansive. It seems like a slight difference, but it has a huge impact.

4. Expose the Rafters

Once you've taken a careful look at the architecture of your home, you could also raise the ceiling or open it up with exposed beams, a vaulted or cathedral ceiling. Now, this isn't always possible—it depends on the structure of your home, but it's worth taking a look (especially if your ceilings feel low and smothering).

Your architect will need to look at your attic to ensure that vaulting the ceiling is possible. For some homes, you may have to tear off the roof—a huge undertaking, but for others, raising the ceiling is an achievable endeavor. If you’re unhappy with an older floorplan, adjusting the ceilings may really open up your space.

Photography: Caroline Sharpnack

5. Move Rooms

We’ve talked about some significant roads you can take to open up a too-small floorplan. But what do you do with a floorplan that feels awkward? If you have a floorplan that doesn't make sense, consider what really doesn't work for you. The first, easiest approach is to consider rearranging rooms.

Maybe it makes more sense to turn a dining area into a home office or move a child's bedroom to the basement. Perhaps you could open up a wall between the kitchen, dining room, and pantry to create one big family room. Consider the different less-traditional arrangements you could make to make your home function to meet your needs better.

6. Section Off Areas into Zones

There are many ways to open a too-small space, but how do you make an expansive space work better for you? What do you do if your living room is very long and narrow, or your open-concept kitchen is a little too open for your comfort (to hide messes)?

The simplest method of sectioning off areas is to use furniture. Create different zones in the space. For example, place a sofa so it creates a natural room divider. Use a privacy screen to break up a space or use rugs to visually segment and divide a room. You can use a butcher block or a floating island to create a divide between cooking and dining spaces if you don’t have a counter. Bring in plants to create natural, green barriers between spots in your home.

7. Build Walls or Half-Walls

Pony walls or half-walls come up halfway between the floor and ceiling, leaving a space open but creating a distinct area. If you'd like a little more privacy and a closed floorplan, a half-wall can be a great way to create a divide. Some half-walls feature shelving, interior windows, and architectural touches that feel open and still allow light but help you make a distinction.

Need more privacy? Consider where a wall could make a nice difference in your layout. If your lifestyle changes—for example, you're suddenly working from home or having a child—you may need to divide up space. Adding details like molding, curved archways, or attractive trim can help a new wall blend seamlessly with your existing space.

8. Convert Closets

Some homes are very limited in their closet space, while others have giant closets that could easily be converted to serve a different function in your home. A closet or pantry off the kitchen could become a coffee bar. A hall closet can become an office or a closeable art studio.

Design: Studio McGee | Photography: Lucy Call

Most of us dream of a huge walk-in closet in the main bedroom, but if you'd prefer a smaller closet and a larger spa-like bathroom, then it might make sense to adjust the space. It’s all about finding ways to meet your needs and make your home function to fit the way you live.

At the end of the day, your home is a place that is uniquely your own. If you're working with a bad floorplan or an awkward layout—you can still get to the home of your dreams. Enlist the help of professional experts to guide you toward a floor plan that makes sense for your lifestyle. What are your make-or-break floorplan needs? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

X Lauren


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