Space Odyssey

Space Odyssey

How to use space planning to improve the enjoyment of your house

You might think that space is not of much concern, but in a house, it’s really a material substance, even though it lacks form. Space becomes an object through its relationship with the elements that are within it. Floors, walls and other structural elements define a space by the boundaries they set. For example, two columns set up a space through which you can pass.

To take an active role in space planning, you must analyze the form, scale and proportion of your house. Note how doorways and other points of access form the circulation paths through the house. Consider what activities go on in the different areas in the home. Think about what furnishings or equipment are required for them. Reflect on how the relationships between each space affect your everyday life.

By Alice Wright – Fall 1999

Here are some important space-planning principles for the kitchen, family room and master bedroom.


The sink is probably the most important element in your kitchen, as it’s the place you or your guests likely stand for the longest amount of time. Consider installing an outside window above the sink so you can look outside as you are working. Another idea is to face the sink towards an open area inside, so you can talk to guests while you work. There should be two to three feet of counter space on either side of the sink. Handy storage is important: it would be ideal to unload dishes from the dishwasher and put them away in a single step.

The “work triangle” describes the circulation path between the three major appliances in your kitchen: the sink, refrigerator and stove. The distance between them must be great enough to efficiently complete all kitchen activities, yet small enough so that you are not wasting steps. Measure the leg of each triangle and add them together – a total of 16 to 20 feet is optimal.

Waste disposal is another factor to consider. Install cabinets that accommodate garbage and recycling bins to separate glass, plastic metal, or paper.

The fridge should be easily accessible from the sink. There should be two to three feet of counter space on either side of it for easy loading and unloading of groceries.

An island counter increases both storage and work space. A sink or a cooktop can be added to the island for even more versatility.


For the family room layout, it’s important to consider the key components of the room – such as the entertainment centre, fireplace, windows and entrances. Allocate a specific space to a home entertainment centre. All of the equipment should be placed along one wall or organized in a corner. Built-in storage is great for easy access and doesn’t let the equipment dominate the room. Another option is to use a large wooden cabinet that will hold – and hide – all the equipment.

The fireplace is an important feature in many family rooms. It is often the focal point of the room, and most of your furniture should be placed around the fireplace so that almost everyone sitting in the room has a view of the fire. A fireplace and entertainment centre should be placed on opposite walls so they both can be focal points, but will not conflict with one another.


If the master bedroom is large, it can be a place to relax, read, or enjoy privacy. It may have up to five distinct areas: sitting, sleeping and dressing areas work best. The bed should be placed along an interior wall, with space allowed for two nightstands and one or two dressers, depending on the available closet space.

A sitting area is lovely in a master bedroom. It should have an exterior view, or access to a balcony or a fire-place. If natural light isn’t available, place a soft light on a small, chairside table, or use a tall lamp behind the chair. Closet space is very important in the master bedroom. Walk-in closets provide dedicated space for each person sharing the room and should be six feet wide. Closet organizers can help increase storage space.

The dressing area should be close to the bathroom and should have a vanity mirror and adequate lighting. For average sized houses, vanity lengths of five to six feet are desirable. Two washbowls are preferable, if there is room. BA linen closet can be included in the bath area, using two foot by two-foot shelves spaced at least a foot apart vertically.

Whether you are thinking about adding on an island to your kitchen, refurbishing your bedroom with an entertainment unit, or adding a Jacuzzi-type tub to the bathroom, be sure to plan the space before you make a final decision. Although houses come in all shapes and sizes, the space within should be arranged to best suit your needs and activities.