EYE ON DESIGN: How To Read Floor Plans

Ten Tips for Finding the Best House Plan

Floor plans can be confusing at first glance so here are ten pointers to help you understand what you’re seeing. This “study aid” should help you identify features of a design that are important for the way you want to live. All the layouts shown are taken from our Houseplans.com inventory.

64-170mf-2521 floor plan

1. Find The Front Door. It’s often marked with “Entry” or “Foyer” (as in Plan 64-170 above) but sometimes the front door opens directly to the living or dining space so there’s no notation, just a door swing marked on the plan. Some plans, like this one, use a perspective view — as if the roof has been lifted off and you’re looking down into the house. Door swings trace the swing of the door in and out — good to keep in mind as you think about furniture placement. Sliding doors are noted not as swings but as thin lines parallel to — but thinner than — the line of the wall.

23-791mf-1197colorful plan

2. Mentally Walk Through The Plan. From the front door (Plan 23-791 above) go to the kitchen, living room or great room and then to the bedrooms. Imagine opening all the doors on the plan. Is there a graceful easy, and efficient flow between rooms and spaces? Furniture on the plan helps give scale to each space. Amenities are important but if the traffic flow is awkward the house will not live comfortably. Think about how the kitchen connects to the dining room or family room, where most people live.

51-345mf-1598 mud room

3. Gauge The Garage Entry. Follow the path from garage to kitchen. Often you’ll pass a utility area, mud room, or laundry (as you do here in Plan 51-345). This is the way most people enter a house; circulation should be clear and easy without tight corners so coming in with groceries or other items is as convenient as possible.

4. Note Room Dimensions. These are usually included in the floor plan but sometimes the measurements are listed on the Plan Detail Page under the tab “More Plan Information.” Compare the listed dimensions to your own experience of comfortable room sizes. Do this by measuring the width, length, and height of one or two of the rooms you’re living in now, or of rooms you like. Note: according to International Code Council R304 “Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension.” This is very small for a room — or large for a cage…After having participated in the design of many idea houses for Sunset magazine I think a 10-by-12-foot bedroom is too small. But you may disagree.

48-255mf-4882 outdoor connections

5. Smoke Out The Fireplace. Is there room for furniture around it? I like the way the great room fireplace in Plan 48-255 is part of a wall with built-in storage for media and books. A fireplace too close to a doorway is not very useful.

64-111mf-3207 floor plan

6. Search for Storage. Are the closets adequate and where they need to be? Ideally, storage areas should suit the type of object being stored: coats and boots in a mudroom; large shelves for CostCo supplies, etc. etc. In Plan 64-111, above, you’ll find a closet under the foyer stair, an ample pantry in the kitchen, and a storage area in the utility/laundry room.

48-247mf-3692 main floor plan

48-247uf-3692 second floor plan

7. Study The Stairway(s). Is there full height over it — creating an open feel — or does it just disappear into the ceiling, which makes a room feel small and cramped. The ground floor and upper floor plans illustrated above are from the same house, Plan 48-247, and show how the stair rises beside a two story space for a gracious and airy effect.

890-1 plan

8. Watch Window Placement. Windows on two sides of a room balance daylight and create a spacious feeling; windows on just one side of a room create a cave-like feeling and promote glare. Note how each of the main rooms in Plan 890-1 has windows on two sides. Windows set high in a wall can provide daylight while preserving privacy; however a room with these high windows, often called clerestories, will feel tight and boxy if it does not also have lower windows on another wall for views.

17-2017mf-1472 floor plan

9. Patrol The Porch. Is it wide enough to really use? You need at least a six foot depth for sitting and 8 feet is preferable. For outdoor dining you need even more. Plan 17-2017 includes a useful front veranda and a “Grilling Porch” at the rear off the kitchen. A well designed porch helps a house expand in good weather.

433-1mf-2220 floor plan

10. Connect House And Lot. This is extremely important. Think about your site and how the plan should be oriented on it to make the best use of outdoor space and sunshine/shade, which is what Plan 433-1 does extremely well. It shows how the house and garage wrap around the fenced yard. You can see how the main living spaces and porches connect to this yard. At Houseplans.com we believe every stock plan should be customized to fit you and your lot. For example, it’s easy to add doors for access to the yard —  and windows for a visual connection to the site — these are the simplest ways to make a small house live large.

Big News About Our Man Greg La Vardera

Writing in the October Met Home, just out, Karrie Jacobs (founding editor of Dwell and author of the useful The Perfect $100,000 House), praises our man, architect Greg La Vardera, and his interest in making modern house designs affordable. She also mentions Greg’s exclusive relationship with Houseplans.com. Bravo Greg! We feel lucky to have you on our team as part of  the Houseplans.com Exclusive Studio Collection. Look for more exclusive designs to debut at Houseplans.com in the near future.

3 responses to “EYE ON DESIGN: How To Read Floor Plans

  1. I’ve studied numerous floor plans for a possible future home. Question: there seems to be no consistent method for writing room dimensions, i.e. sometime width is written first and depth second, others write it in reverse and some even use a combination on the same floor plan making it almost impossible to determine the size of a room, specially when the width and depth are within a foot of each other. Why? Second and this applies particularly to bedrooms. The room is written as 10×12. Now, in one corner of the room there is a box or closet if you prefer, it is not flush with the wall but is a box inside of a box. Let’s say the closet is 2’6″ deep by whatever in width. The room which 10×12 is in reality 7’6″x12′ or 9’6″x10 Is the purpose of this to deceive the public into thinking they getting a bedroom that’s 10×12 when in reality the usable area of the bedroom is only 7.6×12 of 9.6×12. I see this deception on most of floor plans on all the sites offering floor plans for sale, it also extends to mobile homes and modular homes as well. Why. When a person like me is trying to draw a room by sale to see how future into the room you suddenly find the furnishable area of the room is not what is listed on the floor plan. Just how is an ignorant consumer like me supposed to understand. Then of course there are those architects and draftsmen who give “actual measuresments” of the “furnishable” area of the room and not the overall area that includes an extra box inside the room called a closet.?

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