What Works Best for your Home
An intimate knowledge of relevant measurements is the secret to a successful building project. Architect and house doctor Eva Byrne shares her knowledge of a vast array of dimensions, which are needed to produce homes and spaces that work brilliantly.
Familiarise yourself with dimensions
When embarking on a building project, or when making changes to your home, it’s a good idea to get to know the dimensions of your existing spaces. Buy a 5-metre metal tape and take measurements in whatever metric units you feel comfortable with. Architects and builders, as well as some product suppliers, talk in millimetres (mm), whereas your kitchen supplier might use centimeters. Just add or subtract a zero to convert either way. For example a typical kitchen unit is 60cm wide or 600mm wide. I’ll use millimetres throughout the article.
Measure the lengths of your existing walls, windows and niches. This will help you both understand the space you have, as well as have a comparison with
which to gauge what is proposed.
Understanding Drawings and Dimensions
Drawings, especially plans, are the primary way in which your architect will communicate their ideas to yourself and to the building team. For planning purposes, they will be drawn at a scale of 1:100, meaning that 10 mm on the plan denotes 1000 mm in reality.
Construction drawings are generally at a scale of 1:50, where 20 mm denotes 1000 mm in reality. So either buy a simple scale rule to measure directly from the plans or convert the dimensions using a regular ruler. This means that you can check that the spaces as drawn meet your needs, as your project goes through the different stages.
Start with Zero
Before you embark on any significant building project, ask yourself first if your existing rooms are working hard enough. Check the allocated use of each room: are they being used in the best possible way? Review the furniture layouts in each room and ask yourself if the layout in each case maximises space, light and storage.
Room Heights – go beyond the minimum
The minimum ceiling height in a habitable room is 2400 mm, with any beam or bay window to be no lower than 2100 mm. For an attic space to be defined as a habitable room, this ceiling height of 2400 mm must be achieved over at least 50% of the room area, with a lowest height of 1500 mm permissible at the perimeter walls. But do not take these minimum heights as standard. If you are building an extension or a new home, try to provide extra ceiling height wherever possible. This will give the spaces added elegance and improved proportions. Small rooms, for example, feel more generous if they are taller than standard.
Kitchen appliances come in standard sizes of 600 x 600 mm, so you can scope out a kitchen in 600 mm modules. Many people enjoy the social benefits an island can bring to the design of a live-in kitchen. You will need to allow 1000 mm between your wall units and the island, or between your wall units and a table. Some designers recommend a gap of up to 1200mm, but I find 100cm perfect both ergonomically and visually. An island will typically average 900 mm.
in width comprising of 600 mm depth facing the kitchen and 300 mm facing the other side, for either storage or stools. Allowing 900 mm for passage on the outside, this means that you will need a room 3400 mm wide to comfortably fit an island. Slimming the island down to 600 mm width will make this arrangement possible in a room just 3100 mm wide.
A stairs with the right combination of step height (the rise) and step length (the going) will be a joy to use. Too often, house builders revert to the maximum rise and minimum going allowed by the Building Regulations. Try using the optimal values of a 175 mm rise and 250mm going, where you are either constructing a new stairs or introducing a level change between an existing building and an extension. This will produce a stairs with a pleasant angle that you can ascend with ease.
Like kitchens, wardrobes and coat closets have an optimal depth of 600 mm. When it comes to storing coats and jackets, hangers on a rail are more convenient than hooks, where coats pile up and are hard to access individually. Where you have no option but to use hooks, bear in mind that most coats nowadays are no more than 1100 mm long, so the hooks need only be 1200 mm above the floor. A clear space of 1200 mm vertically will work for a rail also.
For functional storage, adjustable shelves work best. Provide shelf supports at 50 or 60 mm intervals vertically for maximum flexibility. With fixed shelves, paperback books need shelves 230 mm deep, with 225 mm clear between each shelf. Lever arch files need shelves 300 mm deep with 330 mm clear vertically. The typical hot press comes with shelves spaced so far apart that the towels and sheets fall over and are impossible to access.
Shelves with just 250 mm clear between each will actually work much better and allow you to store more linen in the same space.
Your architect will present you with a huge range of drawings at different scales as you progress through your project. Taking the time to understand the proposals at each level, including all relevant dimensions, is the way to achieve a home that will meet your needs as well as a snugly fitting glove.