house plans

How We Turned an Awkward Floor Plan Into A functional Home

Last year we bought this awesome ski cabin in the woods.  Through my dreamy eyes, it was full of charm, contemporary rustic-ness and potential.  But in reality it was a poorly constructed, poorly designed 35 year old musty house.  *whomp whomp.*  

We bought the 1,350 square foot house knowing that it would be a fixer upper and began making improvements as soon as we moved in.  Since I am an architect, I started with how we can fix the layout of the house to make it function better.  There were awkward and unusable spaces all over the house.  This post is going to walk you through the existing floor plan, and how I altered it to give it better flow and functionality.  I will also explain how I focused on a layout that will promote a healthy lifestyle.

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Bonus!  I'm sharing the first glimpse of our so-close-to-being-complete kitchen renovation.  Stick around to the end to see the transformation. 

Existing First Floor

Here is how the first floor was laid out when we bought the house.

existing first floor plan

Why this floor plan doesn't work

Main Entry

  • Well, there actually is no main entry.  You enter the front door directly into the dining area.
  • There is no coat closet or space for storage at the front door.
  • The main entry is at the bottom of the plan.  The back door is at the top of the plan.  The back door never, ever gets used.

Kitchen

  • The kitchen is a cramped U-shaped layout.  There is not enough room between the two counters to function smoothly in this space.
  • The island portion of the counter is unusually high, making it difficult to use that portion of the counter to prepare food.
  • There is no room to sit at the island because the dining table is in the way.
  • The stove is tiny and dangerous.
  • Most of the kitchen storage is around the corner in the hallway.

Living Room

  • The living room is long and narrow, making it difficult to arrange furniture.  The TV is about a mile from the couch.
  • Speaking of TV, the only relatively good place for it is in front of a window.
  • The center of the living room is the pathway to get upstairs and outside on the deck, dividing the space in two.
  • The wood stove seems to be randomly placed on the back wall - not quite centered, but not off-center enough to look deliberate.
  • The big sliding glass door limits furniture and storage placement since it takes up so much wall space.
  • The living room has dark corners most of the day since there is very little light coming in from the south (south is at the bottom of the plan).

Main Bathroom

  • The only full bathroom (and only shower) is on the first floor.  The majority of the bedrooms are on the second floor.  This is annoying.
  • If someone opens the door on you while you're on the toilet, you have a perfect view to stare them down.  The toilet is facing the bathroom door which is awkward and uncomfortable.
  • The bathroom feels really narrow because of the placement of the bathtub.
  • Not much natural light gets to the sink area because of the wall of the bathtub.

First floor bedroom / office

  • 9 feet wide is too narrow for a bedroom.
  • The closet is too shallow.  It is 19" deep.  Closets need to be 24" deep for clothes to fit in the closet and for the door to shut.

Existing Second Floor

existing second floor

Hallway / Balcony

  • The hallway is open to the first floor below, and it is long and narrow.  It is too narrow to use the space for anything but storage, but you don't want to use it for storage since it can be seen from the first floor.

Bedroom 2

  • 9 feet wide is too narrow for a bedroom.
  • The closet is too shallow.  It is 19" deep.  Closets need to be 24" deep for clothes to fit in the closet and for the door to shut.

Master Bedroom

  • The room is long and narrow.
  • The closet is on the south wall, eliminating the possibility of having big windows to the south.
  • Like the rest of the closets, this one is not deep enough.
  • The closet creates a weird nook at the corner of the room.
  • Window sills are too high off the floor.  There is very little viewing space out of the windows.
  • The bathroom is quite cramped.  It is too small for the door to swing into the bathroom.  The door swinging out into the bedroom creates a problem for movement throughout the bedroom.
  • The only upstairs bathroom has to be entered through the master bedroom.  Not fun when the person sleeping in bedroom 2 needs to pee in the middle of the night.

Proposed floor plan fix

I call this the proposed plan because we decided not to go through with this option.  This option is a complete transformation of the entire house.  Since discovering that we would have to put a lot of money into improving things we weren't expecting to improve (which will ALWAYS happen during a renovation), and we knew that we weren't going to live at this house for very long, we decided to scale back the renovation.  There was no way we would recoup all of the money invested if we went with this option. 

I want to show you this option so you can see what is possible if we wanted to make the financial investment and live in this house for the long haul.

Proposed First Floor Plan

first floor proposed

Main Entry

  • A main entry is created where the dining table used to be.
  • Storage benches are added along the exterior wall to provide a place to sit when putting on shoes and to store shoes and all the random things that end up in an entry.
  • Coat hooks are added to the side wall to hang the most used items.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • Your main entry is the first glimpse into your home.  When you walk in, you want it to feel spacious and clutter free.  Providing ample storage at the main entry allows all the things that come and go from the house to be tucked away until needed, and it let's you walk into a space that doesn't stress you out!  
  • You also want to provide a bench so people can easily take off their shoes upon entering.  This keeps the pollutant-filled dirt from being tracked around the house.

Kitchen

  • Kitchen goes from a U-shape to an L-shape to provide more counter space and allow a place for the dining table.
  • The dining area and kitchen are combined to extend the length of the kitchen counter.  The counter extends into what was the dining area.
  • The kitchen is set up into work zones.  The zone closest to the entry is the cleaning and breakfast prep zone (coffee and smoothie station!).  The next zone is for food prep.  It is a 3'-4" counter space with close proximity to the sink and the trash can.  Next up is the cooking zone.  And finally the area to the left of the refrigerator is a drop zone for pulling things out of the fridge.  The dining table is a great place for assembly when meal prepping.
  • Full height storage is added to the refrigerator wall so that the kitchen storage is now a part of the kitchen rather than the hallway.
  • Pull out drawers are used at base cabinets.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • Work zones with plenty of counter space make meal prepping much easier, and possibly even enjoyable!  Meal prepping is a great way to get all of your veggie-filled healthy meals prepared at once so that you can easily grab a pre-made healthy meal in the middle of the week.
  • Having a table in the kitchen provides a great place for kids to help out at dinner time since it is the perfect height for them to work on.  Encouraging kids to be involved with making healthy meals is fun and beneficial for their health.
  • Pull out drawers make it easier to grab the items you need without having to bend over and strain your back.  Plus it is much easier to keep a drawer organized than a typical base cabinet which will make you happier.

Living Room

  • The wall is removed between the kitchen and living room.
  • A hallway is created behind the living room to access the stairs to the second level.  The living room is no longer interrupted by people traveling up and down the stairs.
  • Wood screening is added to create a semi-private feeling in the living room while still allowing the natural light to come in from the kitchen.
  • The sliding glass door is removed which provides more wall space for furniture.
  • Storage benches along the south wall provide hidden storage and extra seating.
  • The wood stove shifts closer to the mid line of the house allowing the heat to more easily move through the house.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • Adding storage drawers to a living room is a perfect way to hide toys and games when they are not in use.  De-cluttering your living space makes you more at ease and more productive.  If you have a small house like this one, combining storage and seating is an efficient use of space.
  • Solid wood flooring is a safe alternative to carpet for your living room.  Carpet traps chemical-filled dust which travels into the lungs of little kiddos playing on the floor.  Wood flooring is easy to sweep to remove any floating dust.  Plus wood flooring is a natural material which brings feelings of calmness and happiness.

Bathroom

  • The existing bathroom and storage room combine to become a laundry room with storage.  (The existing laundry room is in the gross basement)
  • Coat and shoe storage is added for overflow outer wear that doesn't fit in the entry.
  • The back door is removed and a powder room is added at the end of the hallway.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • Maximize storage space to keep clutter at bay.  You might be noticing a trend - clutter is a major deterrent to a healthy home.  It is impossible to be calm and focused when you are looking at piles of papers and toys and all the other things that magically appear on all the surfaces of your house. 
  • Designate a small closet for cleaning supplies like a vacuum, broom and duster.  Making these items easily accessible will make you more likely to use them.  Dust is a big contributor to allergies and asthma since it carries chemicals along with dust mites, so dusting and vacuuming frequently is necessary for a healthy home.

Proposed Second Floor Plan

second floor plan proposed

Master Bedroom

  • The closet is relocated to the existing hallway to utilize wasted space and free up the exterior wall of the bedroom.  
  • A new window is added on the south wall to bring in more southern light.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • If it is within budget, use solid wood flooring in lieu of carpet in your bedrooms.  If you can only afford wood flooring in some rooms, make children's rooms a priority since they play close to the floor and their lungs are very susceptible to pollutants.
  • Placing bedrooms on the east side of the home allows you to wake up by natural sun light.  Your body and mind will thank you.  Keeping your body aligned with nature's clock makes for a better night's sleep and a more productive day.

Bathroom

  • The half bath is replaced by a full bath that is accessed from the hallway.
  • A separate room is created for the toilet and bathtub which is nice to have when multiple people are sharing the same bathroom.
  • Linen storage is added to the hallway.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • If possible, separate the toilet from the sink with a physical wall.  You want to keep the toilet germs as far from the sink as possible.  Ideally, the toilet should be in its own room away from the shower but there was not space to accommodate a separate toilet room in this plan.
  • Put wood blocking in the walls at showers and toilets for future grab bar installation.  You may never need to install them, but if you do, you'll be happy you don't have to tear the walls down to do so.

Loft

  • A new loft space is created over the first floor powder room with enough area for a reading nook or a mini yoga retreat.

Healthy Home Alert:

  • Don't forget to carve out space for yourself.  Create a little retreat in your home to recharge, either with movement like yoga or restful reading or meditation.

The plan we ended up going with

To significantly reduce costs we decided to eliminate the first floor laundry room and powder room.  We kept the second floor with its existing layout, and rearranged the fixtures in the first floor bathroom for a better layout.  We are also finishing the basement to add a flex space and upgrading the basement laundry room.

final first floor plan

And now for the most Exciting part... our almost finished kitchen!

kitchen update

Our New Kitchen! Final details still to do include range hood installation, ceiling clean up, paint, hardware, kitchen chairs that don't double as a work out bench, and last but not least, flooring.

Before:

old dining area

Original Dining Area

old kitchen

The original kitchen

After:

kitchen open shelves

Open shelving in the new kitchen. It might take some time to figure out how to style them 🙂

new kitchen fridge wall

View of new kitchen looking at the refrigerator wall.

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