Ten Principles of Good Home Design

The design process for everything we create – homes, tee shirts, coffee makers – is guided by recognized values of some sort. How those values are interpreted by the designer is what makes the difference between good and bad design.

Everyone has their own taste, their own idea of what’s appealing, and we often disagree about what we like. But we probably can agree on the values we use to create good design.

So what are the principles of good home design? Here are my top ten:

1. Good home design is shaped by the individuals who live in it

This is #1 on my list for a reason – the primary purpose of a home is to serve the specific, individual needs of the home’s occupants, rather than the needs of a generalized house market.

2. Good home design is shaped by its environment

At first glance this would seem to be the opposite of the previous definition. But in addition to serving its occupants, a home should recognize the influence of climate, topography, solar access, vegetation, culture, etc. in its design.

3. Good home design recognizes and works with its context

Context and environment are similar, but in this definition, “context” means the other homes in the area. When a home fits in well with its neighbors it helps build the fabric of the community. But that doesn’t mean it has to look like the other houses in the area.

4. Good home design uses building materials efficiently

A carefully-planned home doesn’t use any more material than necessary for function and aesthetics, and uses construction systems that are appropriate for the home’s site.

5. Good home design has visual harmony

We’ve all seen houses that just didn’t look quite right – most often that’s a result of not using principles of massing, rhythm, texture, and scale to create harmony. Great-looking homes result when these principles are used with skill and imagination.

6. Good home design is honest

This is a little difficult to define, but here’s what “dishonest” design means to me: vinyl siding that’s embossed to look like wood; asphalt shingles that have printed shadow lines to fool you into thinking they’re thick wood shakes; windows shutters that don’t actually work (and wouldn’t cover the window if they did); fake columns, stucco shaped to look like stone, etc.

7. Good home design is innovative

We started building family homes on the New England coast in the 17th century. 400 years later, and those original Colonial homes remain the basis for much of what’s built today. We’ve had plenty of innovation in home design since then, but too many people define innovation in terms of features and gadgets. Real home design innovation means finding new ways of meeting homeowner’s needs through design, not just technology.

8. Good home design is intuitive

Architects sometimes go overboard in making houses that are more “art” than “home”. Appreciated by critics, but confusing to Joe Homeowner. A good home design shouldn’t require a PhD to appreciate.

9. Good home design is adaptable

Nothing dooms a house to obsolescence quicker than designing it for just one stage of life. A home should be able to easily adapt to a family’s changing needs, keeping families in their homes and neighborhoods longer.

10. Good home design values quality at every level

In home design, quality always wins over quantity. Quality in materials, details, finishes, workmanship, and design. Quality enriches the lives of the occupants, makes the house last longer without needing repair, and contributes to the quality image of the whole community.

Good design is more important in the buildings we make than just about anything else.

It’s a little bit less important whether tee shirts and coffee makers are well-designed. Those are small sins, since those objects are disposable, and only briefly a part of our lives.

Homes however, are permanent. A house occupies a fixed place in our world, becoming an actual physical part of our communities.

How good our communities look, and how good we feel about our surroundings, is strengthened or weakened by every new home we build.


Need expert Residential Architectural advice for your new home or remodeling project? Contact Richard Taylor, AIA at Richard Taylor Architects to arrange a meeting or an online consultation.

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