There’s plenty of joy in the prospect of making your dream home a reality. But it’s normal to have some anxiety as well. After all, you don’t want to live in a house that falls short of your expectations. For many, the thought of getting it wrong is paralyzing. Keep these common design pitfalls and solutions in mind and you’ll be ready to put your best foot forward.
1. Rushing the Design Phase
It takes time and a great deal of thought to craft a log or timber home that will fulfill you now and in the years to come. To ensure you get it right, devote 12 months or more to designing the floor plan. “I have very few things I’d change on this home, but I spent 15 years designing it,” says Clark Thompson, who built a 4,100 square foot BK Cypress home in Waynesville, North Carolina.
2. Disorganized Research
Carol Cullum recommends organizing your research, both digitally and physically. “I bought every log home magazine and plans book I could get my hands on,” says Carol, who, with her husband, Gary, built a 3,000-square-foot Hearthstone home in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. “We would cut out pictures of kitchens, bedrooms, great rooms and products we liked, then organize them into folders.” This “show, don’t tell” method leaves no room for doubt as you’re conveying your ideas to your designer, architect or builder.
3. Wasted Square Footage
Sandra and Steven Selengut adore their 5,000-square-foot timber frame home set on the edge of a saltwater marsh on Johns Island in South Carolina. “But I think we could have had more house for our money, if we’d made a few design changes,” admits Sandra. “Our timber frame is octagonal and I think if I’d squared it up a little, I’d have more closet and storage space.” In other words, never sacrifice functionality for intriguing design.
4. Stunted Outdoor Space
Covered porches are not only pleasing to the eye and a fun place for friends and family to gather, they also shield your home from weather, reducing maintenance. “We have a porch on three sides of our home, but I wish we’d put it on all four sides,” says Clark. “It’s the best way to protect your log walls from the sun and rain, so you don’t have to re-stain as often.”
5. Undersized Garages
To accommodate toys and tools, extra garage space is sought-after by many home buyers — even ones who design their homes themselves. Beth Cipperly, who has a walk-out basement with a one-car garage in her 1,600-square-foot log-and-timber home in Valley Falls, New York, says she and her husband, John, wished they had two. “We have to move our car out to get to our motorcycle. It would have been more convenient to have two garage doors.”
According to the National Association of Home Builders, two-thirds of all new homes built today have two-car garages and 20 percent boast three or more bays. (You can save a little money on materials and construction by building a half-garage, which is perfect for storing things like bicycles and jet skis or can make an ideal workshop.)
6. Inadequate Office Space
If the pandemic has taught us one thing about our homes, it’s that everyone needs some sort of command post — whether it’s a full-on office (or two) or simply a bill-paying station. Bob and Susan Bowman say their 4,000-square-foot handcrafted log home in Castle Pines, Colorado, is everything they dreamed — except for providing a convenient spot for computer use or household paperwork. “I wished I designed a computer workstation in or near the kitchen,” sighs Susan. “Our laptops and our papers always end up on the dining room table. We have to move all ofit when we entertain.”
7. Skimping on Storage
Comedian George Carlin once said our homes are merely piles of stuff with a cover on it. This truth is reflected in the wish for more storage by many homeowners.
In an effort to make every square foot count (see tip #3), it’s tempting to try to carve out living space from every nook and cranny of your log or timber home. However, doing it at the expense of ample storage will only lead to clutter and frustration.
Our surveyed owners recommend tucking storage beneath stairs, in the basement, near the main and secondary entryways, in the kitchen by way of a pantry (or two), near bathrooms, in the laundry area — even on an elevated platform above your cars in the garage. If, while designing, you think you’ve added enough storage, find a way to add a little more. You won’t regret it.
8. Awkward Laundry Areas
For convenience sake, home buyers recommend placing the laundry on the main level. Those who have tucked it in the basement or the upper level on a two-story home have invariably regretted it. “As we developed our floor plan, we opened up our master suite and did away with a hallway and the laundry room. Now our washer and dryer are in the finished basement, which is fine today; but I don’t know how I’m going to feel going up and down those stairs 10 years from now,” concedes Sandra.
9. Water Wastefulness
It’s a common design flaw you’d never see but certainly would experience — waiting for hot water to make its way from the tank to your shower. The type and location of your water heater is key. Hot water tanks installed at one end of the home lead to long wait times (and increased energy costs) while the flow makes its way to the other side. Instead install your hot water heater in the center of the house so it doesn’t have as far to travel. For even more efficiency, opt for “hot water on demand” units (see page 24 for info) and never wait for your shower to warm up again.
10. Unharmonious Hearth Placement
While it’s often difficult to balance fireplace position with window placement and good traffic flow, homeowners recommend you err on the side of good heat distribution. “We think if we had opted for a corner unit in our design, it would have heated our home more effectively,” says Beth.
Others say they were pleased with their decision to have two hearths—a wood-burning fireplace on the main floor and a gas unit in the basement. “We didn’t want to be carrying firewood down those stairs and ashes up,” Carol says.
Plus! Kitchen Game-Changers
Log and timber homeowners share their favorite kitchen-design strategies.
Specify lazy-Suzan shelving in corner kitchen cabinets so items never get lost in its dark recesses.
To increase cabinet space, install only one window above the sink and make it a casement — the crank is easier to operate from across the counter.
Install a small TV inside a cabinet and bring your favorite cooking show right into the kitchen (or conceal the screen when not in use).
Keep seasonings at the ready by installing a thin pullout spice pantry near the stove.
Equip your pantry with circular, rotating shelving, which will increase storage and make it easier to access all your items.
An under-cabinet microwave boosts counter space. Placing it in an island, instead of an upper cabinet, allows kids or those with mobility issues to access it more easily.
Appliance garages keep your small wares convenient and the counters clutter free.
Cubbyholes underneath an upper cabinet organizes mail or takeout menus, and slots below your countertops (or tucked inside a cabinet) keep cutting boards, cookie sheets and pans organized and accessible.