Part 2 – Ratliff Residence, Pennsylvania

Part 2 – Ratliff Residence, Pensylvania (PDF)

  • John Brown


    This is the completed concept design for the Ratliff residence.

  • Jim Argeropoulos

    Very nice. I hadn’t even considered a side entry. That was beautiful!

  • Anonymous

    I find the design for this residence very attractive. Funny, because I usually don’t like houses with the main entrance to the side. In this case it really works and allows you to give the clients all that they wanted. The only criticism I can see is that the door to the powder room opens to face the toilet but given the space available and the limitation on where to put the door there is no other choice.

  • Belle, Toronto

    Anonymous was me….dont know how that happened.

  • John Brown

    You have a very good eye. You are right, I struggled with that one.

  • Brad W


    John – As usual, a nice solution.

    I knew when I was having so much difficulty dealing with the front entry that a side entry might be an alternative. Also, your kitchen design was much like my initial attempt. I estimated about 12′ of width for the kitchen which is on the limit for this island configuration. Finally, the front facade contains a door. I can imagine a visitor wondering how to get into the place with no stairs leading up to the front terrace. :)

    I took the liberty of tweaking your design by repositioning the closet, narrowing the island and peninsula in the kitchen, eliminating a column from the front terrace and adding a tree to block the front door.

  • John Y

    I never managed to deal with the front entry myself yesterday — I’d gotten as far as pushing it up into the west corner, but I was unable to get past the feeling of walking into a long hallway, like in the Federal-style townhouses in DC and Baltimore.

    Overall, I like the outcome here. I’d have liked a slightly larger dining room for entertaining, but with the need for a powder room on this floor that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

    One question: how much space do they have on the side? Will standing on that landing feel like they’re in the neighbors’ kitchen, or is it roomier?

  • Brad W


    Belle – since the powder room door opens up to view the throne may I suggest the following artful interpretion…

  • Robert Bierma

    I would suggest putting a window on the south west wall in the dinning area. assuming there are no buildings or other objects in the way you could get some real nice morning light. I think this could be really nice on a cold winter day.

  • Grace

    Sorry, John, but I still favor Brad W’s first solution. I’d give up a coat closet, my own abhorrence of walking directly into a living room, etc. for the elegant simplicity of that design.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the tweak. As usual – a welcome addition. I particularly like the reorientation of the closet and the addition of the desk.

  • John Brown

    John Y,
    That is a good question.

    We have done a similar thing in other projects and the results really depend on how the landing is treated. If it is just a concrete set of steps and a pad that rises up above a chain link fence on the property line the experience is pretty bad. However, if you articulate the stairs more carefully, upgrade the finishes, add lighting, and incorporate some kind of screening – either vegetative or built screen – that ties into the house design then the final experience can be really great.

  • John Brown


    A welcome addition. Here is a revised plan.

  • Amy

    Please put the cooktop on the outside wall so that it can be properly ventilated. I noticed in the family’s profile that she lists “cooking” as her interest. That warrants a proper stove with proper ventilation, don’t you think? Most kitchen people abhor cooktops with downdrafts.

  • Belle, Toronto

    Brad W – love it!!!

  • Brad W

    Just saw the end of yesterday’s posts…

    MichealG – elegant, modern design…great living room!

    Terri – major kudos for matching John’s design in concept.

    You can really see how the design is influenced and evolved with each iteration – great…

  • Deborah McP

    Have to admit that I’m with Amy on this one. However, I hear that over-dimensioning an overhead range hood on an island does help capture cooking odors, grease and mitigate the health effects of those volatiles.
    The impact of cooking on indoor air quality is going to become an even more important issue as we all work to make houses more air-tight.

  • Terri

    I like your final plan (with additions from Brad and Robert). Your choice to combine the front and back entries and put it halfway along the same side that I chose is great. I’d like to believe that had I more time to play, I’d eventually come to the same decision, because I was very unhappy with the hall I created with my side entry and the space wasted in front of the up staircase.

    You also placed the powder room in the same corner as I did. I like it tucked back from the main area.

  • Deborah McP

    I almost meant to say that I appreciated the various solutions proposed, and I thought the side-entrance was an inspired notion, as was the “virtual wall” of that tree. Not much else could be done about the water closet location. At least they’ll have one.

  • Terri

    I like a cooktop on the island instead of a sink because in my house the sink invariably ends up holding something or other and therefore looks messy, whereas the stove is used and cleaned and stays tidy. A suspended range hood (I imagine some sleek high tech unit) would look fine in John’s layout, as it wouldn’t block any views, especially since that pillar is in line with it.

  • John Y

    Not only would a suspended hood over the stove work, it would be very easy to tie it into the flue (which is what that pillar on the floor plan is).

  • Leo

    Great Design John

    I think the key thing in good design, especially in places tight for internal volume is minimization of redundancy. The side entrance (as you pointed out, as long as it is done right) is a very elegant solution.

    with respect to this hood vent discussion, I like directly venting out an exterior wall. Much of the noise pollution from a fan is from the ducting; the longer and more bendy the ducting is, the louder it is.

  • Volker


    John, another nice plan. I really like the idea of removing the entrance – it really helps to think out of the box and get a nice new layout.
    I worked on a little revised version – why not flip the entrance on the other side, this way you get an enclosed entrance, you get enough storage space for guests and stuff you haul back from your rear garden, you can get the powder-room to the entrance (clean your hands before entering the living space), closer to the living room and all the plumbing is in one place. The layout is just another quick sketch: This way the living room gets bigger and it would be possible to seperate it (sliding door). The kitchen is just a quick and dirty sketch, but it is trying to extend the line of the corridor.

  • John Brown


    Amy and Deborah,

    Here is a version of the plan with the appliances reversed as you suggested. In my experience it is certainly less expensive to have the hoodfan on an outside wall although a number of our clients do have the same concerns that Terri brought up about having the sink on the island.

  • John Brown

    A good addition to the discussion. Flipping the entry to the other side lets the entry be more easily enclosed and connected into the guest bath.

  • Deborah McP

    Thank you John. What a very liveable design for this narrow-lot property. Wonder which range venting solution the owners will prefer?

  • Doug Roberts

    A side entry makes a lot of sense in this situation, but may be a challenge to get approval for from the Pittsburgh city planning department. For example, the City of Calgary Infill Guidelines have the following to say about entries:

    “Entry Treatment/Entrances
    The principal entry should be clearly identifiable from the street and located in a
    manner which respects the privacy of the neighbours.
    A development should have its principal entry clearly identifiable from the street.
    Entries which are not obvious from the street are discouraged. Furthermore, the
    location of the doors should not conflict with the windows of adjacent homes. Side entries should generally not be main entries into new infill houses. Principal entry from the front is encouraged for reasons of visibility (being able to see the entry from the street), privacy (impact on the neighbouring property), provision of a street-friendly appearance, and safety (e.g., the principles of defensible space). An infill on a corner lot is an exception to this guideline. In this case entries are often better located on the side street elevation.
    If the primary entrance cannot be provided from the front of the property, the
    proposed building should be designed to create a strong sense of entry from
    the front façade. Where a secondary entrance is in the side elevation adjacent
    to an existing house, it should be at grade or close to grade, so as to protect the
    neighbours privacy and avoid overlooking problems.”

  • John Brown

    Thanks for bringing up the issue of city planning guidelines.

    I have been working with (and around) Calgary’s bylaw for many years. It is pretty typical in its approach and intent.

    My conclusion is that these guidelines are created to try and prevent the worst offenses from being perpetrated by cookie cutter builders. At the same time, however, this can also end up stifling creative design. Fortunately, a good planner can usually tell the difference between the two when reviewing a submission. I have found that most of the time they are willing to consider the design rationale and make an exception if it makes sense.

    In this case the argument that I would make is that relocating the front door actually enhances the connection of the house to the street by making more of the front facade living space and expanding the size of the front deck. The detailed design would outline how the landscaping and sidewalk/stairs articulate a sense of entry from the street. Obviously, you would also have to ensure that the location of the new door respects the privacy of the neighbor. If there was a window or door this may affect location by a few feet one way or the other. If the impact cannot be mitigated then it would make sense to consider Volker’s plan (or the other way round depending on where you started).

  • Leo

    Volker, I like your plan. My only concern is that the eating area is too small. If you reversed the positions of the powder room and the closet, could you shift the kitchen over enough to give the diners more room?

  • MichaelG


    The size of the guest bath can be cut a lot with one of these!