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Building Design That Don’t Date

By George Hadgelias

Predicting trends can be a risky business, but there are some tricks to ensuring building design features don’t date.

Melissa Fleming, principal architect and director at Melbourne-based Metroworks Architects, says looking to design elements which have “stuck” in Australian residential architecture is a good first step when designing a new home or renovation.

“We value our indoor/outdoor lifestyle and so any design that makes the most of the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces is a great start,” Fleming says. The orientation of a house goes hand-in-hand with this, she adds.“Ideally, living and outdoor areas should face to the north, to take advantage of the sun throughout the day. But equally, shading of north and particularly west-facing glazing should be thoughtfully considered and integrated into the design of the house.”

High ceilings are also timeless, Fleming says.

“One of the main features my clients talk about when renovating an older house is their desire to maintain their existing high ceilings and carry them through into the newer parts of the renovation. Higher ceilings also allow taller windows and doors, which in turn helps to bring the outside in,” she says.

Storage never goes out of style either. “Most clients want loads of storage space, whether in a new home or a renovation,” Fleming says.

“We all have ‘stuff’ and that stuff needs somewhere to live. It’s not just storage for historical things we don’t want to part with, but also storage for seasonal things, that are only used occasionally through the year, like skiing gear, suitcases and Christmas decorations.”

Fleming says some current trends run the risk of dating a home quickly.

“Large open-plan living, dining and kitchen areas are beginning to date, as people living in them realise that while they look great, they are not so practical,” she says.

“Some early open-plan spaces were huge and ‘barn-like’ and so it was difficult to achieve the cosiness of a home within them. Noise transfer and heating and cooling become real issues. Clever design can still link theses spaces together, without them all being within one large area,” Fleming says.

Beware of free-standing baths and “smart” technology which can be superseded fast, she adds.

“Free-standing baths I think may date in time. They look great in the brochure, but they need a large bathroom or ensuite to fit them in and allow enough room for cleaning access all around them.

“The trend of baths in ensuites seems to come and go as well. The thought of them is nice, but the reality is they are rarely used and so take up space that could be better utilised in another way.”

When it comes to adding technology, think carefully, Fleming says.

“It is important that if you are thinking of including what can be a costly system in your home, you need to know whether it is easily upgradeable or expandable in the near future. Can you modify things within the system yourself or do you have to call in an expert every time you add a new device?”

Working with an architect, who “typically has their finger on the pulse of what is coming, staying and going”, is one way to help future-proof a home, Fleming says.

It’s also important to remember it’s OK to update, she says. “If you have a good, classic base to your house design, you can work within that to decorate or design elements that you know in the future may change.

“High-use areas like kitchens and bathrooms will typically need an update after 10 to 15 years, as they start to tire with use, so that is the time you can update to a more contemporary look.”

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