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Whether you’re renovating, building or just want a quick-fix, author and architect Joe Snell believes good home design can lead to a better life for you and your family.
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Living room design tips

Today’s living room has many, many roles and therefore has to be flexible. In one household at any time there can be chatterers, movie watchers, video gamers, sports nuts, book readers, snoozers and lazy-bones. All these activities (or non-activities) are expected to occur mainly in one room: the living room. Not only that, if the house were to hold an event or party this space needs to be versatile enough to cater for it.

If all that wasn’t pressure enough, this is also your most ‘public’ room. This is the room that practically all your guests expect to see and spend time in, and they will judge you on this room and its comfort and character.

The living room changes its role during the ageing of a family more than any other room in the home. Families go through the need for soft rugs and Meccano sets, movie gatherings, the teen years of separation, perhaps a time of fine wine and dining, the need for a rumpus room, a guest area and maybe a work and study space. This is an important room to get right – it will have a huge impact on the practical functioning of your life and family.

If you are building or renovating and have the opportunity to locate your living room, then this is the most vital room to position well; it is often regarded as the most important room in the home. It’s where you relax and rejuvenate, gather with family and friends and where you are entertained through conversation or by the plethora of different forms of media today.

 

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A comfortable sofa makes an inviting space but the real key here is the sense of light coming from beyond, which truly invites you into the space.

Chasing the sun

Always try to orientate your living room windows and openings to the sun. The sun is what gives us life and therefore it makes perfect sense that the living space should capture a bit of that goodness. In the southern hemisphere (and the opposite for the northern hemisphere) try to ensure you position your living room within 30 degrees of either side of north.

Most of us are more likely to gather in the living room in the afternoon and evening so I will usually orientate a living room window more to the west of north than to the east, to ensure that sun is entering the room when people are most likely to be in there.

Western sun can be very intense and hot in the Australian summer; however, there are many design devices that can control that issue. For me, a favourite design challenge is to capture winter sun in the afternoon in a living area – this is the most wonderful uplifting experience during a cold winter – and avoid it in summer.

If you are renovating, then work hard with your design to ensure your future living space captures some sun. Locate north on your plan and then draw two lines, one at 30 degrees to the east of north and one at 30 degrees to the west of north. This is 60 degrees of sun-catchment potential with north right in the middle. You will quickly see opportunities to capture morning and/or afternoon sun in your primary hangout and relaxation space.

 

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Consider punching a hole in a wall, rather than removing it altogether. In this room, the part wall gives definition between living and dining areas, despite the fact they are essentially in the same space.

Future living spaces

Or think more freely and start to look at rooms that already capture the best sun – can that room become a future living space? Consider where you like to sit and have a cup of tea. Do you find yourself not in the living room but in a patch of sun off the kitchen instead? Or always at the forgotten table in the hall? There have been many times where we have designed a renovation around the most comfortable spot in the home – and it often didn’t start off as the intended living space.

I always enjoy watching where builders take their breaks on a building site – the building site is unfinished and there is no indication yet which room is which – but if you find they naturally are having their morning tea in the future breakfast area and their afternoon tea in the proposed living area, then you know you are onto a winner. If, however, you find them always gravitating to the proposed position of the garage, you should have a rethink.

Consider also if you have the opportunity to create more than one living space – depending on the orientation of your home and windows, you could consider a morning room and an afternoon room. You will probably find you use one more than the other in the middle of the day, depending on the season.

If you can’t relocate the room and it does not have a good orientation then consider other methods of getting some sun in, such as skylights. In my home state of New South Wales you are legislated to receive two hours of sunlight a day.

 

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Images and excerpt from Your Best Home by Joe Snell (Murdoch Books, RPR $39.99). Photography by Phu Tang.

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Joe Snell

Joe Snell is Principal of Snell Architects and author of Your Best Home (Murdoch Books) who appeared as an expert judge on the Seven Network's House Rules for four seasons. Joe holds a B.Arch and a B.Sc(Arch) and was educated at the University of Sydney and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen. He also holds a Diploma of Business in Real Estate Management and practiced as a realtor for two years.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.