Flexible design addresses the present and future of a home

An "office" in the master bedroom set off with French doors could be used later as an exercise space or a walk-in closet. The door and windows allow for more light.
An "office" in the master bedroom set off with French doors could be used later as an exercise space or a walk-in closet. The door and windows allow for more light. (Kimberly L. Bunn)
Posted: February 10, 2014

Here's a characteristic that might not immediately come to mind when you think about the design of the space you're living in:

Is it flexible?

Change is inevitable, as technology's ever-shifting shapes and swift-moving currents remind us again and again.

Consider your television. Chances are pretty good that it looks a whole lot different than it did several years ago - much bigger and much thinner, and maybe mounted on the wall. And it's likely that, in the not-too-distant future, the way programs are delivered will be Internet-based. All those boxes and wires, gone.

What will you do with the space?

"If I said, what will you be doing a year from now, you'd say I don't know. You wouldn't have said that 10 years ago," said interior designer Mary Knackstedt. "As we change our activities, we need to change the stage."

Societal forces - divorce, the changing family dynamic, the economy - affect our homes, said designer Marcello Luzi, managing principal at Weixler Peterson Luzi in Ardmore.

Said Knackstedt, who is based in Harrisburg: "[People] are looking at their residences as a temporary thing . . . 'If I move, can I take [these items] with me?' "

So, some local experts advise, when you design or remodel your home, consider what will, or could, happen in the future.

Does it make sense to have built-in furniture for your toddler if you plan to stay in your house for another decade? Or if your company has downsized twice in the last five years and you might have to move and replacing that furniture might just be one more expense you'd rather avoid?

Flexible design can help clients with various budgetary restrictions, said Christine Elliott, co-owner of Whitegate Contracting Co. in Douglassville.

If they can't afford built-in cabinets in the kitchen," Elliott said, "I drive people to buy modular components."

Lifestyle is a critical aspect to weigh as you contemplate how various spaces in your house might be used over time.

Architect Kimberly Bunn, based in Moorestown, has a horse-riding client who wants to have children in the foreseeable future. So a single space has been set aside to accommodate the needs of both, although not all at once.

For now, built-in cubicles in the mudroom will hold the horses' reins and other riding equipment. When the children come, that equipment will go into storage, and the space will be modified for the youngsters' needs.

"Half of the clients we have now are looking for flexible design, even though they don't know the words to say that," Bunn said.

TV programs are a major reason they know about flexible design, she said: "Clients come in with a better knowledge of what they want. They see how functional it makes the space."

Valuable, too. Flexibility in design raises a home's worth, designers say.

"Rooms that can be converted are more sellable: bedrooms to studies, sitting rooms to bedrooms . . . as long as they are near a bathroom," Luzi said.

The trick is twofold, Bunn said: not to sell a house before you want to, and to keep it marketable.

An excellent way to do the latter, as one architect sees it, is to keep your space as wide open as possible. That way, whoever buys the house from you has few boundaries.

"The greatest movement over the past 20 years is openness of space," said architect Ed Rahme, based in Kennett Square. "Use furniture to subdivide space."

When clients want a wall, Rahme said, he suggests that it be temporary. After putting in the floor, he will have the contractor install a non-load-bearing wall whose anchors do not mar the floor and can be hidden with carpeting, for instance.

Thinking through time, said Rahme, is the key to making a space adaptable.

Its design is limited only by vision, money and access, said Bridget McMullin, a designer in Haddonfield.

Keeping things flexible, Elliott said, lets "your house do its best work."

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