1400 sqft Bungalow, Wisconsin

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  • Julia

    After reading the article about Slow Home in the Globe and Mail today, the rest of my morning has been spent viewing past seminars regarding What’s Wrong With This House. I would like to congratulate you, John, on articulating so succinctly the many problems in home plans today. I feel smarter already! On that note, I have a pet peeve with laundry facilities in most new homes. There is often no storage and a lack of counter space available. I suppose the hamper could be perched on the loo…I prefer laundry facilities by the bedrooms.

  • nam

    Large waste of space in the back garage.. unless homeowners decide to use as another room perhaps as aguest bedroom or home office/library. Awkward location of closet in the main bedroom. An exit door in the garage to the porch is unnecessary.

  • Kristina Guiguet

    That fireplace makes the LR very problematic. If the garage were stopped at the wide part with a new wall, and the kitchen/garage wall removed, the kitchen could be moved into what is now the narrow part of the garage. That would allow for a different placement for the fireplace, and a coherent but larger single dining area. It might even be possible to add a pocket or barn door to the kitchen area so that the option to close it off and change the feel of the living space is available.

  • John Brown

    Excellent point about the problem with the laundry rooms in most of cookie cutter houses. I think that is because they are too often designed a “room name on the feature sheet” than a space that would actually be used by someone.

    A laundry room is more than a closet with some expensive appliances in it. It needs space in front of the machines, a counter beside/ above it for folding, a place to store soap, etc., and a place to hang thing to dry. It ideally should also be able to accommodate a place for the ironing board and perhaps a sink. Most importantly, it should be located in a part of the house in which you don’t move through very often so you won’t always be tripping over the pile of clothes on the floor.

    A little more thought and care in the design would solve these problems without adding costs.

  • John Brown

    Good comment about the master closet. Many people do not like having to pass through the bathroom to get to their clothes. Interestingly, in our practice we have found that about 30% of our clients do like this idea because they can close one door in the morning and everything is right there. My personal preference would be to reverse things and walk through the dressing room before going into the bathroom. I think it better contains the humidity and such.

  • John Brown

    An excellent suggestion for reusing the garage. If this house was more than 20 years old I would suggest buying it and doing that very thing. In older houses, attached garages can be a hidden resource of space when undertaking a major renovation. This is particularly important in older more established communities where the house sizes are typically smaller.

    Unfortunately, in this situation, it would be difficult to justify that large of a change to a brand new house. There is too much economic value, and embodied energy,in the new kitchen, finishes, etc within current structure. By 2030, however, those will be worn out and it will be a gem in the rough. Right now, it would probably be best to recommend finding an alternate house.

  • Kate

    Hello and thank you for this wonderful website! My number one problem with this house is the location of the master bedroom walk-in closet. It makes no sense to have to walk through the bathroom to get to your clothes!!

  • paul

    I would place the bed in the master bedroom in front of the window and make it a dramatic focal point. I think the worst part of the house overall is the natural light. I would also expand the breakfast nook area into the garage and move the entire dining space into that area. It would also allow for a den/office/guestroom off the diningroom and could be adjacent to the existing third powderroom. I would redsign the kitchen and island as well and move that corner fireplace.
    What a great site and fascinating insights to problems we just never really think about.

  • Madelaine Stewart-Dmaj

    I, too, decided to visit this site after reading the article in the Globe & Mail this morning. It’s a wonderful site.

    I think what this house lacks most is a study. I like to have a separate space to read or watch TV or study that is separate from the main living space and the bedrooms.

    There is likely ample room in the basement, but if the basement windows aren’t large, I often find such spaces are dark and dim.

    Along with another visitor, I was taken aback by the size of the garage. I would also be tempted to construct a wall between the wide and narrow parts of the existing garage, and add a study, or sunroom.

    It’s nice to have a bright space for reading/studying that is private, quiet, and has a door that can be closed.

  • Robert

    I think the kitchen configuration is poor and a bit small for this house. Orienting the house so the living spaces receive more light throughout the day would have been better too.

  • Brad Waters

    My highest priority in this house would be the relocation of the corner fireplace to the side wall and a redesign of the island into a rectangular shape with space on either side of the sink. At a minimum, a siding glass door in the living space should be used to give access to the backyard. I would also look for opportunities to add venting skylights to capture additional afternoon light. Of course, the garage and basement represent future opportunities for development.

  • Brad Waters

    Further to my previous comment…The entrance from the garage straight though into the middle of the kitchen is less than ideal. I would close off this entry giving me additional wall space in the kitchen to use for additional counter space and to facilitate a better island design. I would then remove all the existing closets in the main and garage entrances except for the back wall of the main entry closet. I would rebuild a single larger closet facing the garage entry and backing onto the new kitchen wall. This facilitates an improved kitchen design and provides a wider main entry.

  • Ailish Johnson

    Hello John, Read about your website in today’s Globe and Mail and have been fascinated to listen to some of your tutorials. Great stuff! So much to think about when looking at a home.

    What I don’t like about the “great room” concept in newer homes, and the Wisconsin bungalow, is that so many of them end up trying to be both a space for entertaining guests and the TV /entertainment room. Even the large TV “armoires” (which at least hide the screen from view) are space-suckers. The central “common room” of a house ends up feeling cluttered and it is hard to create a restive atmosphere. I am a big fan of having a separate TV room.

    I also fully agree with the comment on lack of laundry space. Using drying racks is a great way to avoid the energy of the dryer, but where would you put a drying rack during the Wisconsin winter? The garage I guess! At lesat in the summer you could put your clothes outside to dry. And speaking of outside, I’d love to know if there is a patio or deck for enjoying the outside, and that nice morning sun with the morning paper.

    Great site, and I will certainly be visiting again!

  • Grace

    For me, the worse thing about this plan is the one unarticulated space. As the only place to be in this house, it feels like a people pen. Generally I like open plans, but this one needs alcoves, lowered or raised ceilings, millwork—something to make the residents feel that that there’s more to living than sitting on an angled couch looking at a fireplace.

  • Dave

    I’m another new visitor from the G&M article this a.m.

    Being an old car nut I think the garage is great! It also allows for storage for garden tools, etc. depending on how large the property is (ride on mower?).
    I agree with the laundry room problems, but I think the single most important issue is the kitchen.
    It looks suitable for a condo but not for a home this size, especially with the increased interest in home cooking (i.e. slow food).
    Far too little counter space, much wasted space, and way too much exposure to all visitors. I would want more control over what visitors see.
    So I would want the kitchen blocked from view until visitors go farther into the house and include a breakfast bar closer to the bay windows end. The bay window area would be for dining.
    I would relocate the fireplace to maybe half way up the bedroom wall to give some space between the fireplace and the glass.


  • Robert

    I would agree with one reviewer, that a study is lacking. We all need a quiet place, other then the bedroom, to be by ourselves. Other then that, the kitchen/living room has just too much wasted space.

  • James Scott

    I was thinking the same thing as Brad Waters further comments. Moving the back hall closets to provide more wall space for the kitchen could be a real plus. It would also take the thoroughfare out of the kitchen space.

    That aside my biggest concern is the lack of afternoon light. Once we pass noon there is no light at all until the evening sun meets the master bedroom on the northwest side.

    I have read that each room should have two sources of natural light. If that is the case then this house is in big trouble. As well both of the bathrooms on the west side have no natural light at all.

  • Bob Oxley

    I’m yet another Globe and Mail reader. Just one of the things that makes this site so wonderful is that it is so simple, in the best sense of the word. Approachable, understandable, human to human. (Wait, is all this happening on the Internet?!)
    The house. Upon reflection I find just about everything is wrong with it, the corner fireplace is the absolute killer. My solution, move.

  • Catherine Black

    Another Globe and Mail reader signs in. I think the large garage has great potential for a workshop. There is even a window in the back part.

  • Carolyn

    Cheers to the Globe and Mail for informing me about this great website!

    I’d agree that the garage is a ridiculous size- seems to me that it is just asking to be stuffed with junk a person never needed to buy in the first place.

    Despite this home’s obvious and numerous problems, I think the thing that would bother me the most if I had to live here is the fact that there is no natural light in the bathrooms. It is so much more pleasant to start your day with natural morning light- at least on the days when the sun is up that early!

  • Volker

    I agree on those posts complaining about the garage. This one is way too big and oddly got even more windows space than the bedrooms. Adding some natural light and ventilation to the bathrooms would be a plus and just by straightening the layout of those walls, the bedrooms would get bigger and better to use.

  • John Brown

    Madelaine and Robert,
    The lack of a study in this house is a very good observation particularly when you consider how much wasted space there is in the so called “great room”. One of the fallouts of this “supersized” mentality is that even relatively modest houses like this one have over-scaled elements that take away other options. A quiet intimate retreat is a welcome addition to most houses.

  • David Werrett

    Another G & M reader new to your thought provoking website.

    I think the kitchen area is sorely lacking. I would make the island L shaped, extending toward the window from the present sink and then over to the garage wall between the fridge and window. The window side of the island could have 2 or 3 (bar)stools eliminating the need for the kitchen nook table. Result would be more counter work area and cupboards, and a more inviting space in which to work and create.

  • Nick Scott

    One more thanks to the G&M.
    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the fact that there are three bathrooms in a 2 bedroom house. It seems to me that there is a cult of multiple bathrooms in new homes. It is a total waste of space.
    I agree with the comments about natural light. If the livingroom/kitchen and the bedroom areas were reversed then there would be natural light where it would be used.
    I think that although the large continuous living area is a nice feature, it would be more attractive if there was some more complexity to the space. Something to define areas, niches etc. I also wonder how high the ceiling is in that room.
    Looking at the plan again I just noticed the stairs, leading to more bedrooms? And more bathrooms!

  • Dean Ruffolo

    Excellent website!

    As a home designer I find that not many people,designers and purchasers alike,take some of the things you’ve mentioned into account. Simple things like furniture placement and lighting are very important.

    A couple things about this plan that stick out to me would be the location and maybe even the necessity of a powder room in a small bungalow, perhaps the main w.r. could double for this purpose and the powder room could be a dedicated laundry space. Also, the configuration of the stair limits the use of the area at the top of the stair. I think the stair could be reconfigured to be accesed from the main hallway instead. One other thing that I’ve noticed is the layout of the Ensuite/Wic in the MB. These could probably be placed side by side so they could be accessed seperately instead of having to go through the ensuite.

    One last thing I wanted to mention was regarding people’s idea of replacing the tandem garage area with a study or other living space. While I agree that the oversized garage is ridiculous, replacing it with living space would make this house larger than the 1400 sq.ft. it is indicated as being. This would be non-starter for many people for who sq.ft. equals cost.

  • Herman Brand

    Seeing as one of the things your website values (as do I) is access to and connection with nature, I think one major thing this design is missing is a way to get out to the garden in the back.

    I also agree with the comments that the garage is a huge waste of space and that the lack of natural light is undesirable.

    Thank you for such a refreshing website!

  • Tori

    Although I am partial to the idea of making the kitchen more efficient, given that I view it as the heart of the home, the issue that most concerns me is the lack of light throughout the majority of the house during the afternoon and evening. Although it might give you a nice mood boost while drinking your morning coffee in the breakfast nook, the lack of natural light is going to be an instant downer when you come home after work or some other activity. Considering how many people need help destressing and stabilising their mood as it is, I would think that the natural light would be a huge factor.

  • Joseph

    I agree with the garage problem…if I were going to “expropriate” some of that space I would repurpose the northwest part. I am assuming there is a street (or an ally and a street) on the front and the back of the property, and in that situation I think the “drive-through” garage concept could stay. The “drive-through is underrated. Not only does it take up a narrow footprint and reduces the width of a driveway, it also can further insulate the home from a neighboring lot, and if it’s north facing it would further protect the home from the elements in the winter. Especially if you live in a northern climate. Garage aside, if I had to choose what was the biggest problem it would be a lack of windows. To your point morning light can get in, as well as a sliver of evening light, but the lack of windows along the southwest wall eludes me. That would be the first thing I would fix!

  • Joan

    What a great idea this is. Love the website.

    I wonder if the master bedroom and second bedroom were switched if that would help for road noise likely happening on the front side of the house.

    I like the nook in the back of the garage for a workshop or storage space. You might even be able to put your two cars in the garage. This house is most likely suitable for a working couple.

    Angled fireplace and dreadful kitchen would put me off most. There needs to be a nook for watching television–a Will and Grace tv nook. There also needs to be a study or closet configuration that cleverly hides when there are guests.

    All in all, I think I’d rather live in a condo with building amenities rather than this small house.

  • Terri

    I am another newcomer because of the G & M article. This open discussion on design is just great. I agree with those who feel that the Number One problem is the lack of natural light in main living area in afternoon/evening and the bathrooms all day. But since that can’t be changed…second problem is the kitchen configuration. I’d prefer the sink further from the main traffice area and no counter right next to the door, as people will plunk junk there automatically upon coming in (assuming they use garage).

    One point I’d like to make is this idea that furniture must be arranged exactly before the fireplace, and therefore must be on an angle when the FP is angled. I live with a central angled fireplace (massive granite) and have found that placing seating in an L can still work. Real fireplaces can’t just be moved. In this plan, it’s sort of a companion focal point to the sliding door to outside, so the furniture should be placed so that access to this door isn’t hampered. I’d try to put the longest part of the L from hall towards the kitchen then.

  • Susan

    Since my daughter and I traded in our car for pedometers when we moved to Victoria from Calgary five years ago, we would use what others are calling a garage as a really big cold storage area, with the back section being used for garden tools and our croquet set. I don’t see the corner fireplace as a problem, as a couch could face the back window, with more seating perpendicular, in an L-configuration. Without fail I would be going bump in the night, with a dining room table placed adjacent to stairs and a hallway entrance. And, like me, my clothes are not fond of humidity, so I would want to reconfigure the master bath and closet.

  • Terri

    I am another newcomer because of the G & M article. This open discussion on design is just great. I agree with those who feel that the Number One problem is the lack of natural light in main living area in afternoon/evening and the bathrooms all day. But since that can’t be changed…second problem is the kitchen configuration. I’d prefer the sink further from the main traffic area and no counter right next to the door, as people will plunk junk there automatically upon coming in (assuming they use garage).

    I’d like to address the idea that furniture must be arranged exactly parallel to the fireplace, and therefore must be on an angle when the FP is angled. I live with a central angled fireplace (sort of divides lr from dr) and have found that placing seating in an L can still work. Real fireplaces can’t just be moved. In this plan, it’s sort of a companion focal point to the sliding door to outside, so the furniture should be placed so that access to this door isn’t hampered. I’d try to put the longest part of the L from hall towards the kitchen then.

  • Terri

    My apologies for double entry.

  • Daryle

    Sometimes a silk purse is simply not possible from a designer’s ear. The garage space is such a waste, there hidden is a solid laundry room and perhaps a quiet study/office or maybe a way to blow open the kitchen area a bit. The house is too new to make it right, a simple example of a lazy designer and builder. I would load up on fire insurance and hope for the best. Making certain all valued personal items are duplicated of site. We deserve better as consumers.

  • Cathy

    Wow, you’ve probably never had so many hits. Love the site. Does an 1400 sq ft house REALLY need three bathrooms? One and a spare seem plenty to me.

  • Margot

    I completely agree that the garage is far too big – but also that it completely dominates the front face of the house. It is such a typical suburban approach where the car dominates and rules. Thanks for this website!

  • David

    Interesting website John. I am in love with the southwest exposure. I feel it’s best to have this exposure for the living room and not for the bedroom. The sun would heat up the bedroom and become a conscern for a good sleep.

  • Jennifer

    A few comments:
    - an unnecessarily huge garage for a small house. The garage even has windows, but there are none on the south side of the house. Light for cars but not for people??? If this is a semi-detached needing a windowless side, make that the garage side.
    - why three washrooms for a small house with only 2 bedrooms? I’d rather have living space than a third washroom

    great site!

  • Terry

    Thank you, John, for this opportunity to discuss ideas about sustainable, nurturing design. My family is in the process of moving from a large character home in a somewhat walkable neighbourhood of Wpg to a smaller, mid-century home in a very walkable neighbourhood of Victoria, BC.

    I think the most challenging aspect of this home is the lack of later day light. It’s all about the light, and the view/access to nature, isn’t it?

    Interestingly enough–for me!–is that our new home in Victoria faces a similiar challenge. One of my ideas is to create an outdoor courtyard/sitting area near the front door to enjoy the light in the evenings.

    I, too, am a Globe & Mail convert.

    Thank you.

  • Grant

    My big hang-up is sun angles. If they are in Wisconsin they could benefit from solar gain if they could reposition the home so that the large windows face south. A 4 foot overhang would prevent excess solqar gain in summer. The additional light would change the whole atmosphere of the home.

  • Grant

    My big hang-up is sun angles. If they are in Wisconsin they could benefit from solar gain if they could reposition the home so that the large windows face south. A 4 foot overhang would prevent excess solar gain in summer. The additional light would change the whole atmosphere of the home.

  • Magnus

    Yup, G&M too.

    I’m guessing that the southwest side of the house has not windows because the of the proximity of the adjacent house but but to not put a window into the bathrooms to allow natural light when they are on an external wall seems like very lazy design.I bet they have low ceiling s to accommodate a noisy fan too.

    Trapping the moist air in the closet doesn’t seem very wise either. For several of the reasons mentioned above i think these tworooms could be reversed.

    And really, why three bathrooms. This seems to be a particular fetish of current residential design. You even see it quite often in layouts for 800 or 900 sqft two bedroom condos. Maybe the concern here is that if you get lost in the giant garage you might not be able to make all the way across the house in time.

    One thing about the drive through garage is that you can drive right through the house park even more cars in the back yard. Some people might like that.

  • John Brown

    It has been quite a day. Thanks to Lisa Rochon and the Globe and Mail for the great article and for sending so many people our way. There have been a lot of good comments about this exercise. I found it very difficult to not jump into the conversation (as you will see there was one time I just couldn’t resist).

    As I review the comments at the end of the day to give you my Top 3 List of What’s Wrong With This House my overriding thoughts are not with the too big garage, the too many bathrooms, the odd master closet, the unworkable laundry room, or the lack of daylight in the living room. Instead I am struck by the day as a whole and the thoughtfulness of the comments. They have come from right across Canada, mostly from people who have not visited the site before and are not professional designers. I am impressed by your keen interest and the breadth of your observations.

    I think this points to the potential for real change in the housing industry. Every choice we make, no matter how small, is a design decision. When we choose (by purchasing) a house that has been thoughtlessly designed we reinforce a particular kind of future. When we say enough is enough and begin to make better, more informed choices we reinforce a different kind of future. All of us need to take responsibility for the design of this better, brighter, and greener future. My sense from today is that many people are ready, and perhaps even eager, to start that process.


    3. The over-scaled awkwardly shaped “great” room that is not going to get enough light.

    2. The too small kitchen and laundry room. Why is the layout of these two workhouses of the home so careless?

    1.The ridiculous garage and all that it implies from a climate change point of view.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the exercise. I hope you will come back for next week’s set of projects.

  • John Brown


    I think you are on the right track. Placing a courtyard/ seating area at the front of the house is a good idea. Hopefully there is also a principal room that can connect to this outdoor space. The notion of using the front yard as a living space had a long history before the middle of the 20th Century when “backyard culture” was invented (synonymous with suburbia).

  • sandra mckenzie

    I’m quite excited to have found this site (thanks, G&M!) I spent much of my professional life writing about homes and interior design for a variety of shelter magazines, and as a result, saw some stupendously stupid examples of how NOT to design a home, as well as many very thoughtful, sensitive homes. Most of the latter were, alas, well out of reach of the average homeowner, but they usually did at least illustrate some prinicples of design that just about anyone can adopt.

    In this week’s example, I see much of the worst of contemporary development housing. The too-big garage implies the sacrifice of light and air (and, undoubtedly, much useable outdoor space)for the sake of a dormant automobile. The awful kitchen layout might accommodate the usual appliances, but not the cook — where, for instance, is there any space for storing pots and pans? staple groceries? keeping a pot of herbs on a window sill?

    I’ll be following this site with much interest. Thank you for this initiative. It’s long overdue.

  • John Brown

    Thank you for bringing the notion of the “cook” to the “kitchen” discussion. So many cookie cutter houses have super-sized kitchens that are designed to impress but not to actually use. You are absolutely right that, more than any other space in the house, the kitchen has very specific dimensional requirements (not too many steps between the sink and stove for example) and a variety of storage needs. Designing a kitchen is so much more than picking appliances and a cabinet finish.

  • sandra mckenzie

    I am very fortunate in that my husband and I are both serious cooks (he much more than me)and he designed our kitchen when he built his house 20 years ago. It is, in my opinion, a model of what a good, functional kitchen should be. Two people can work in it together without getting in each other’s way. The island is a joy to work at – lots of storage, a heavy-duty pot rack above, a washing up station at one end, and, crowning touch – stainless steel countertop that can take any kind of abuse.

    In my freelance writing days, I wrote about far too many kitchens that photographed beautifully, usually with high-end, often professional-quality appliances, but nobody ever did any cooking in them (except perhaps the caterers, once or twice a year).

  • sandra mckenzie

    More thoughts. Your blog kick started a dinner table discussion about how to design a house last night. One of the questions I’ve had for years is, why isn’t it possible to buy a basic shell of a home, then customize the interior to reflect an individual aesthetic or set of needs? For instance, I know things like plumbing and electrical have to be pretty much set in place, but given that, why shouldn’t the homeowner have control over how many bedrooms are necessary, how much space to devote to the living room, maybe dispense with a kitchen altogether if the family style dictates dining out, or microwaving instead of cooking? In our case, I’d have a smallish but open kitchen that flows into the living/dining space, perhaps with a sliding screen to block out the messy visuals while dining, but still allowing easy access. I seem to recall Witold Rybscinski (spelling?) designed a “grow home” that could be adjusted to a family’s needs from early child-rearing days to empty-nester. (And of course I’m talking about a standard, developer-style home, not an architectural one-off).

  • Louis Pereira

    John – Based on the amount of responses – I’d say it was breakthrough kind of day, so to speak! Congratulations!

    As a follow up to what you and others have already said, I can’t overlook the supersized garage. It speaks volumes about our ‘standard’ living habits and what many have been duped to believe as ‘normal’. I agree it is most definitely, the worst thing about this house. I don’t care how many hybrid vehichles you can fit in this ‘Super Big Gulp’ of garages. This ‘feature’ sends the wrong message and the consequence is the economic mess we find ourselves in for the present and future.

  • John Brown


    Good cooks generally know how to design the best kitchens. They understand the relationship between space, use, and our body’s physical dimensions (height, arm reach, etc). For them, the kitchen is a tool, like a good knife or a heavy pot. For them, design is not just an abstract issue or an aesthetic one.

  • John Brown


    With regards to your question about buying a shell and then finishing the interior – I think that in a new home situation this would be quite difficult to manage because of structural, mechanical, AND mortgage financing issues. However, this is a very feasible way to approach the purchase of an existing house.

    In fact, the slow home approach to buying real estate is very similar to what you are describing. Buy a house (as a shell) that is the right size, the right orientation, and in the right location and then tailor it to fit the way you want to live.

    Another viewer, Elizabeth, and I discussed something similar, in Sunday’s comment section. Let me know what you think about our conversation.

    I also plan to explore this issue in more detail in a new section of the site that is currently in development.

  • John Brown


    Yes it has been a busy weekend. There was a great article on Slow Home by Lisa Rochon in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. Here is the link if you haven’t seen it.


    I hope that many of these first time visitors will participate in the exercises along with us.

  • Eva

    It was serendipity to find the article in the G&M. Thank you! Our family moved to our present brand new house from a wonderful old home and garden that we had renovated over a period of 14 years. The move from one city to another with a family was stressful. We bought a house that was “done”. It seemed wonderful. It has been almost 2 years; two weeks ago we made the decision to sell. The reasons are exactly the ones pointed out by John on this site. The house is well built,with beautiful views but it doesn’t work for our needs; the laundry room off the garage with no room for drying racks or an ironing board. a huge kitchen with too much distance between appliances, areas of space with no function…I could go on. We are planning to sell and plan a functional house on a smaller scale. This site is an inspiration to our plans. Thank you John. The comments from your readers are a bonus as well!

  • John Brown

    What a great story. Thank you for sharing it. Are you planning to build new or undertake a major renovation to an existing house? Both offer many possibilities. Remember that the choice of property (as either land or existing house) is the biggest design decision you will make. Many people approach real estate as only a purchase decision and “think like a consumer”. The slow home approach is to “think like a designer” instead of a consumer and make sure that what you buy is the right starting point for where you want to go.

    Good luck!