Heart of our home: designed to gather

Main living, dining and kitchen area

Do you have a spot in your house where everyone seems to naturally gather? It was always the kitchen table at Luke’s parents’ house, which was frequently both the first and last stop visitor’s made. No matter how long they stayed! Sometimes the spot happens in the perfect area – like it was made to bring everyone together. Other times, you end up compensating or feeling like you’re squeezing in one person too many for comfort. But the best memories are still made there. Thus, we started out designing the heart of our modern farmhouse home first, with the idea of gathering foremost in our minds.

Our previous floorplan

Having tried out an open living/dining/kitchen design at our previous house, there was a lot we loved about it. Most days we like spending time altogether! <insert winking emoji here> However, we wanted to improve upon the design.

Open floor plan at our previous house.
The open floor plan from our previous house.

Each zone “fit” together to maximize the square footage. A couple notes… In reality, the table was closer to the back wall, otherwise there wasn’t room to sit at the island. What looks like a closet to the right of the entry way, is actually part of the master area.

Lessons learned from our previous build

There were a handful of observations and things we kept in mind when designing our new floorplan.

  • People naturally gathered at the kitchen island, but there wasn’t enough room for all 6 of us to sit. (Luke commented on this all the time and “offered” to get another stool. The idea of dragging a random counter stool over every time we needed it was not appealing. Our walkways were already tight, so we couldn’t just leave it in place. Thankfully he never followed through on the threat.)
The kitchen at our old house.
The kitchen at our old house. There’s definitely not room for more stools!
  • People also gathered at the couches – no surprise there. But, if someone was at the island and two people were chatting at the couch, you felt like you were almost in their conversation. Except you weren’t.
  • In our effort to be efficient, we fit the 3 areas together like puzzle pieces. There was room to walk in-between the zones, but lots of pinch points. For example, when people were sitting at the table, the end chairs stuck into the walkway to go upstairs (or to the bathroom). Less people would result in a smaller table… thus eliminating this problem. It was a sign we were outgrowing the house!
The dining area at our old house.
The dining area at our old house.
  • The front entry also felt somewhat exposed. I loved that the door acted like north-facing a window. However, you could see in from the road, so we often had a shade up. Plus, by the time the 3rd and 4th kids came around, I embraced the “nap when the baby is napping” mantra. It was always awkward when someone came to the door and saw me sleeping on the couch. To knock or not to knock? That was the question.
Our old front entry.
Our old front entry.

A layout designed for gathering

As mentioned, we wanted to keep the open floor plan, but drop the puzzle piece approach. So, we took the concept and started by simply stretching it out. We also didn’t just want the open concept – we wanted to put it to work as a true modern farmhouse.

Open plan layout in our current house.
The “on paper” layout of the main living area in our current house.

We stacked the kitchen, dining, and living area in a line, and stuck with the rectangular house shape. Per our research, it’s the most cost effective style to build. For reference, our entire house is 24′ wide, except for the garage end, and bumping it up to just over 28′ at the den / master bedroom end. This meant that we’d have light coming in from both sides of the house.

Next, we planned for large windows on the south side (which eventually turned into the glass doorwalls – our biggest splurge on the house). Light was a focus. We also wanted to see our backyard and actively use it, after being up about 6′ above grade off the back at our old house.

View of the open floor plan window doorwalls, lots of views to gather around.
Lots of southern light, even on a cloudy day!

I started sketching from the fireplace side, down to the kitchen. I’ll break down more of the fireplace wall with the built-in bookshelves in a later post (not shown here). But in terms of the layout, the key thing was to consider the walkways. Here is the final breakdown:

  • fireplace wall to couch – 5′ 7″
  • couch to dining table (with chairs pushed in) – 7′ 7″
  • dining table to kitchen island (with all chairs pushed in) – 5′ 8″
  • kitchen island to kitchen counter – 4’3″
  • width-wise, the walkway on either side of the couches – 4′
View of the dining area to the kitchen, getting at the heart of the home.
The view from the dining area to the kitchen.

Form follows function

Our goal, especially with an open floor plan, was to have spaces that naturally functioned, in addition to adequate flow between zones. There are few walls, and we didn’t want to clutter up the space (nor create obstacles for the kids to crash into) by adding extra furniture pieces. But if this was to be the gathering space, and we love to play games, for example, we needed a spot for the games. Otherwise, we’re less likely to play, and the space doesn’t encourage us to hang out. (My in-laws always had a deck of cards and a cribbage board in their kitchen hoover cabinet.)

One solution was the set of buffet cabinets we put on the north wall, bridging the kitchen and dining area. I seriously love it.

  • It’s a back-up counter for whatever projects the kids have going on the room table when it’s dinner time. Not done with that lego creation? Great, move it over here. You’ll still maintain line of sight to ensure its protection
  • When hosting a larger meal, we can set the food out buffet style, and still have the island for seating
  • It’s a spot for our most popular board games, as we love a good game night
  • It also became the school and art supplies hub. Each kid has a shelf in the middle cabinet for all of their books (there are three cabinets total). In another cabinet, we’ve got art supplies, the pencil sharpener, etc.
Our hard working buffet counter.
Our game cabinet inside the buffet.

As a side, we went with built in cabinets vs. a stand alone piece of furniture for two reasons; 1. we could put outlets inside it/on the side, and 2. it matches the look and feel of the kitchen, helping seamlessly connect it with the dining area without introducing too many other design elements.

Warming it up

Another goal? Make our open floorplan feel welcoming and accessible. And it all starts with the kitchen.

Besides games, people gather to eat! That’s probably why the kitchen is traditionally the heart of a home. We love the open floor plan, in part, because the person(s) cooking in the kitchen aren’t separated from the dining/lounging areas. And by incorporating the kitchen unobstructed, with the open floor plan, it adds a warmth to the entire space. We’ve also spaced it so that there is ample distance between the zones, so cooking itself doesn’t overpower the room. Unless we make bacon. Then you can smell it throughout the main floor!

The kitchen, designed to comfortably gather around to talk, cook, and eat together.
The kitchen is front and center in our new home, and we’ve got room for those 2 extra chairs! (Chairs have since been purchased and are now utilized at the island).

The next step was to make the most common things our guests (and our family) need, visible. When you’re hanging out with friends, making food and eating together, it’s easy for people to feel at home, because they can see what they need. Cue the open shelves. Want a piece of that pie? The plates and napkins are right there. Helping to wipe up a mess? Paper towel is right there, next to the sink. Want a cup of tea? The kettle is on the shelf next to the mugs. They don’t need to ask, which adds to the comfort level.

The simple white dishes we have fit well with the modern farmhouse feel, too. They’re versatile, straightforward, ready to be used. No one cries if they break. We also go through so many dishes with 4 kids… we don’t need to worry about them collecting dust on the open shelves. We’re all about function, and the dishes are no exception.

Making a space that reflects us

I think we gravitate towards spaces for two reasons: the first, it meets a purpose. You have to eat, so of course you’ll go to the kitchen. The second? The space evokes a feeling. The paint colors, furniture, etc., all play a role. However, the things you display… on the walls, on the shelves, on the counter… in particular, grab your attention and make you feel a certain way.

As mentioned on our About Us page, we love to travel. Most often we go hiking, and we’ve had some wonderful adventures together. As a result, we have a fair amount of photography around the house with memories of these trips. I lean towards black and white photos; they put the focus starkly on the subject and naturally tie together. Pop them in an oversized frame with a mat, and you get an instant art gallery on your wall.

Memories from Zion.

In addition to photos, we have a couple pieces of art on the wall. My favorites are an oil painting from a street artist in Venezuela, and the water colors & prints from a wonderfully kind artist in Scotland, who we literally discovered while walking down the road. They bring beauty and life to the room, and also mean something. There’s a Marie Kondo application here – if it brings you joy… It’s fun sometimes to stop and reminisce, or be prompted to share a funny story when someone asks where the photo was taken. It’s one more way that the space becomes home, and draws you in to gather.

Memories from Venezuela.
This is the oil painting we got on our honeymoon. There’s no real dollar value to it, but to me it’s priceless. I still remember the artist taking it off the frame, and rolling it up. It made it home in my backpack!

What does this have to do with layout?

One thing I learned from building the first time, is that there are a lot of details. Details and decisions I didn’t even know existed, nor would matter (in some cases, until we moved in). When you can plan for those details, most (if not all) are just part of the building cost. When you realize something after it’s been done, it’s going to cost you (and potentially frustrate you and/or the builder). Neither of you can read the other’s mind, so starting out with as clear of a picture as possible is really important.

The art mattered, because we only had one wall where we could hang anything, and there were going to be windows on it. The architect could balance the look of the outside and the number/placement of windows from an interior perspective once she knew.

The buffet mattered, not just because it would be a permanent cabinet fixture, but because it impacted the walkways by the island and the dining table. The house width was fixed, since we calculated rough square footage into our budgeting process, and had set certain limits. We knew we could center the living area and it would fill the space (keeping it cozier) while also still feeling spacious, especially against the openness of the doorwalls. Since the space was one long rectangle, and we wanted to keep at least 4′ walkways, we sized the buffet down to 15″ deep cabinets. This helped it to naturally compliment the kitchen/dining area, without competing. We also wanted to center the buffet between two windows, and have plugs within it, so we needed to incorporate it at this stage.

Lastly, even details like the open shelves in the kitchen were relevant, because it would impact the amount and placement of cabinets in the island.

Now onto the rest of the house

With the big ideas behind the main gathering spaces laid out, we started on the rest of the house… Bedrooms, bathrooms, the mudroom, front entry, laundry room, and a 2nd common area / den. This is where it got tricky, to balance the room placements while sticking within our exterior dimensions (aka, our budget). We were packing a lot in to the floorplan, to really accomplish the practical and functional aspects of our modern farmhouse. More to come on this in the next post, followed by an in depth breakdown of our kitchen (from IKEA), and how we made it look custom! In the meantime, here’s some inspiration from one of my fav IKEA kitchen gallery set-ups.


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About Tina

Daydream architect. Designer by instinct. Adventure co-pilot. Living (and parenting) under grace. Dabbling in blogging. Holding down the (backyard) farm.
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