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House Design - Sight Lines

Star Establish how far you can see and what you see.

When standing in various places in your house looking in different directions, this refers to what you see and how far you can see.  If you find yourself looking at a wall then the house will seem smaller than if you can see over the wall or through a door to another room, and beyond that is a nice window that lets you see the flowers and trees in your yard.  That doesn't mean you should go to the extreme of making your whole house open plan with no walls, but you do want to think carefully about where the walls are in order to get nice site lines in strategic places.  A good trick with site lines is to give a glimpse of what's beyond without showing everything that's beyond.

Your view

You can draw site lines on a copy of your house floor plans.  Start by thinking where you are most commonly going to be sitting and standing, and put a dot at those places.  Now draw lines from those points in what you think will be the directions that you will most typically be looking.  Draw the lines such that they stop when they come to something such as a wall that you cannot see past.  Now ask yourself - If I were to move that door over to the right a bit or make it a wide arch instead of a door, would I be able to see further?  If the answer is yes, and you can easily make the change, and it will not hurt some other aspect of your enjoyment of the house, then it might be worth making the change.  By other enjoyment aspects I mean things like do you really want to be looking at a bunch of undone washing-up in the kitchen while you are watching TV in the living room.  Walls are nice in the right places because they provide some privacy and reduce noise from other family members.

Figure out where you will spend most of your time.  Ask yourself - What will I see from my couch in the living room?  You will want to be able to see the TV, see the fireplace, see the view out to the yard, see the kids playing, and probably even see your spouse.  When you are sitting up in bed, what do you want to see? Perhaps it's birds sitting in the trees outside or the TV, but you probably don't want to be looking directly at the toilet in the adjoining bathroom.  If someone is in the kitchen cooking - what do they want to be looking at?  They may want to look out into the yard, and they probably also want to be able to see through into the family living room to keep an eye on the kids, or to not be left out of the diner party for which they are cooking.  You probably also want to be able to see the TV from the kitchen so that you don't miss a critical part of the movie while making a cup of coffee or fixing a snack.  If you want to get the family to eat diner in the dining room rather than off their laps in the family living room, do you want them to at least be able to still see the TV from the dining room or do you want to specifically stop this bad anti-social habit?

An excellent tool for evaluation site lines is SketchUp .

A visitor's view

After you have done the site line exercise with the places that you think you will be commonly standing and sitting, do a similar exercise imagining that you are showing someone you are trying to impress round your house.  You greet them at the front door and they are standing on the door mat - what do they see?  You then invite them into your lobby area - do they still have an impressive view or is it marred by the fact that they can now also see that pile of unwashed saucepans in the kitchen and the piles of dirty washing in your utility room?  Is there a suitable place just off from the lobby area where you can offer a formal visitor a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich, and still give them a good view that does not let them see all the mess in your inner sanctum?  Once you get to know them better and decide to give them a guided tour of the house, where are all the places you will stop on the tour and what will the visitor see?  Is it possible to improve the site lines given to the visitor so they can see further, but see just the things you want them to see?  Do the guided tour using the floor plan drawings and put dots where you will pause on the tour, and draw site lines to help figure out what the visitor will see.

Focal points

Where people look can be influenced by giving them something interesting to look at.  A painting hung on the wall at the end of a hallway will attract their attention and they are less likely to notice the piles of unwashed laundry in the utility room.  Having deliberate focal points will also generally enhance the impression that people get.