Thursday, April 11, 2019

River House: House Plan

"Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave but not our hearts."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Dad was a mechanical engineer by degree who worked at an architecture and engineering firm and then with a manufacturers' representative company, designing commercial heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) systems and selling the equipment. He and Mom were inveterate remodelers of every house in which they lived. (I got those genes.) They designed their last two houses, which they built; and Dad did most of the construction of their house on Dawson's Creek. Some of my fondest memories of Mom are sitting with her at the kitchen table and looking at house plan books. Building a custom home is a project I anticipate eagerly.

After I retired in 2015, Pete and I decided it was time to move to New Bern. He was commuting by plane every week to Albany, New York, and figured it didn't matter where home was. So I started looking at house plans in earnest...And missing Mom’s opinions. We knew we wanted the house to designed in the Southern vernacular -- wide porches, transom windows, high ceilings, metal roof and board and batten siding.

After looking at several plans seriously, we selected a mash-up of three different house plans by the same company, it will look something like this:

Modern Farmhouse Plan with Front-loading garage; courtesy of Architectural

The three different plans were:
  1. 51754HZ -- this was the plan I saw first. We took the foyer, great room, kitchen/dining area and front porch from this plan
  2. 51758HZ -- this was the smallest variation of the plan and we used it for the guest bedrooms
  3. 51781HZ -- we took the garage/master bedroom wing from this plan
All the plans were created by House Plan Zone in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I worked with Rachel, a great architect, who was able to turn this mess into a wonderful plan that will be just perfect for us.

The three house plans "mashed-up"; personal collection

Open floor plans are all the rage and there are several benefits, such as improved traffic flow and shared light but they also come with downsides. Two, I knew, would drive me crazy:
  1. Spaces can appear cluttered
  2. Lack of privacy
Reducing Clutter Opportunities

I cannot stand clutter; it makes me uncomfortable. I cook about four nights a week and when I do Pete and I share a bottle of wine. After one or two glasses of wine, I do not feel like hand washing my pots, pans, and cooking utensils. So they sit on the kitchen counter or in the sink until the next morning. I wash them after my morning cup of coffee. In this floor plan, those dirty dishes would be visible from many places in our home. Who wants that? So I extended the pantry two feet and added a sink under the window. The dirty dishes will be hand washed in the pantry sink and will be out of the way until I get to them.

Extending built-in cabinets in the great room to the wall is another tactic in my war against clutter, but the most ingenious tactic is a message center. This is built-in cabinet near the door we use most often that houses a wastebasket, phone chargers, and a place for mail. I'm hopeful this will reduce the amount of paper clutter that seems to trail Pete around the house. The mail center is an idea I discovered in Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House.

Creating Private Space

In open plans people crave space that offers privacy from the socializing and noise of other people. Sarah Susanka calls it an "away room." It's an idea that resonated with both Pete and me as we both like our alone time. We felt we didn't need a formal dining space as it doesn't suit our style of entertaining. So we created our "away room," or den, from the open space that used to be the dining room. We plan to watch television after dinner in this room so we needed storage space for electronic equipment and those pesky DVDs we still own. Again, built-in cabinets solved those storage problems.

Taking Advantage of the View

The plan mash-up also enabled us to have a large screen porch overlooking the river. But some other changes allowed us to take full advantage of this view.

Pete overlooking his new "domain;" personal collection

We flipped the location of the upstairs Bonus Room. In North Carolina these rooms are often called FROGs -- Free, or Flex, Room Over Garage. So we don't have a FROG anymore; we have a FROM! We plan to use this room as an office. Pete will be able to gaze out at the river while he pays bills. This idea was an excellent one and came from our builder during our initial meeting to review the plan and talk about next steps.

Flipping the Bonus Room so it has a
view of the river; created using
Microsoft PowerPoint

The one thing that really bothered me about the house plan was our master bedroom. The view wall was also the only wall on which the bed could be placed, which meant you couldn't see the river from the bed. It took me months to solve that problem. All it took was moving the bathroom door. It certainly wasn't a big change, but it has a major impact! I have no idea why it took me so long to figure it out.

Modifications to Master Bedroom and Bath to accommodate a large bank
of windows so we can see the river from two sides of the house;
created using Microsoft PowerPoint

The last big change was mirroring, or flipping, the house plan to take advantage of the down river view, which is slightly better than up river. You can see the final version of the plan (above right) includes a bank of four windows, which will overlook the river. The triple bank of windows will have this view:

View down the Neuse River toward the Pamlico Sound; photographed by
Ted Jennings

Thanks to my brother, Ted, for stopping by the lot and helping us decide which view we wanted from our bedroom!


River House: The Lot

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