When you consider what you want in your next home, you tend to think first about the location and maybe the number of bedrooms. But the overall layout of any home -- from the distance between the kitchen and living room to the number of stairs you'll have to take -- will impact your daily life. How do you know what shape, number of stories and basic floor plan will work for you?
To determine the best home layout for you, consider these details:
-- Number of stories.
-- Basic shape or footprint.
-- Interior layout.
Number of Stories
First affecting your home's layout is the number of stories your home will have. Consider whether you're willing to climb stairs, and what overall house footprint would work best for you. Here are your options:
-- One story. If a single story is ideal for you, a ranch home is the most common architectural style you'll find. Aimed at keeping all the living spaces on the same level without any stairs, ranch houses can offer a sprawling floor plan. For retirees, empty-nesters looking to age in place or anyone with mobility issues, a single story is often ideal because it removes the second-floor accessibility issues. But keep in mind that the size of the foundation and the roof required for a ranch house can be double that of a two-story home. "That cost to build does play into effect," says Christine Cooney, vice president of marketing for The House Designers, a new home design plan company based in Monroe, Connecticut.
-- Split level. Split-level homes offer multiple levels between rooms, often with a few stairs between. You'll typically find the kitchen and dining room on one level, with a few stairs separating the family room or living space, bedrooms and potentially a finished basement. Split-level houses can work well for families with older children, allowing for spaces to do homework, watch TV or entertain in different parts of the house all at once. For those who struggle with stairs or families with crawling babies, split levels can be problematic.
-- One-and-a-half stories. Often referred to as bungalows, houses with 1.5 stories were primarily built in the 1930s or before. They typically have a full set of stairs leading up to a smaller second floor, often made up of one or two bedrooms. All common areas and additional bedrooms are usually located on the first floor.
-- Two stories. Classic two-story houses will have floor plans with matching square footage on each floor. Traditionally, common areas are located on the first floor, while bedrooms roughly mirror the room layout on the second floor. In new two-story houses, master suites are usually located on the first floor. Families with babies and toddlers will likely need to add secure gates. "You're worried about your child falling down the stairs and breaking a leg, which happens," says Shirley Hackel, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City. Still, two-story homes have appeal, especially in hotter climates like the Southwest. "The living areas are on the ground floor, and sort of protected by the second story to keep it cool during the hottest part of the day," says Regina Aridi, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chandler, Arizona.
-- More than two stories. Houses with more than two stories often have a narrower footprint and are either a historic row house or townhouse. These properties have narrow, long floors and contain a decent amount of square footage by having three floors or more. Row houses and townhouses often have central locations in a city, close to shops and restaurants, which adds convenience. But you must be willing and able to traffic the stairs repeatedly, like when "you're on the fourth floor, and you forget something in the kitchen on the first floor," Hackel says.
Basic Shape or Footprint
While determining the number of floors is a major home layout decision, so is the general shape of the house. Here are a few footprints to consider:
-- Rectangle. Many ranch houses, townhouses, bungalows and classic two-story homes take the basic shape of a rectangle or square. In new housing developments today, homes are often based on a rectangle shape, but with additional cutouts, wings or spare rooms added onto the footprint to meet the needs of the buyer.
-- L-shaped house. An L-shape is common in ranch houses, homes with a partial second story and new construction. An attached garage often makes up the shorter side of the L. The benefit is an attached garage and potentially more driveway space. This footprint also solves the problem of having a lot that isn't wide enough to place the garage in line with the rest of the house, Cooney says.
-- U-shaped house. U-shaped houses often look like a standard rectangular house from the front, but in the backyard, the sides of the home create a more enclosed space and open up to the rest of the property. Some U-shaped houses also add a bit of luxury by including a pool in the center of the U, which Cooney says is popular in warmer climates and particularly in California. "I wouldn't say that's a huge trend nationally -- I'd say it's more regional," she says.
Once you have decided on a footprint and number of stories, consider what you want the overall floor plan of your home to look like. Here are your options for interior layout:
-- Open floor plan. You probably already know that open floor plans are popular and highly desired among homebuyers. Whether it's to watch the kids play while you're preparing a meal or to make it easier to entertain, many homebuyers are looking to reduce the number of walled-off rooms in the home. This is true with younger homebuyers as well. "Millennials want an open floor plan, single level, where everyone is included in every interaction," Aridi says.
-- Separate rooms and hallways. Separated rooms aren't completely dead, however. Some homebuyers are finding they prefer to have a bit of privacy to work from home or simply avoid hearing what's on the TV. "For kitchens especially, people are really, really looking for a place where they can have a conversation," says Owen Boller, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in New York City. "They can still have a communal space, but it's not in the middle of the football game that's on the TV in the living room."
-- Bedroom suites. A key preference among many homebuyers today is to have a master suite, and when possible, bathrooms attached to other bedrooms as well. The added convenience of a private bathroom space for each member of the family was once a luxury, but is now becoming more of an expectation. Cooney says people with older children are often gravitating toward a home design that places the master suite farther from the kids' bedrooms for added privacy. "The master enjoys its own wing and puts the children on the other end of the house," she says.