Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Design a home for your comfort, lifestyle

Interior designer Alan Garren believes good design makes a house more functional and enjoyable, not just more beautiful. He believes details matter, like where the television is positioned and whether guests at the door are sheltered from the rain.

Interior designer Alan Garren believes good design makes a house more functional and enjoyable, not just more beautiful.

He believes details matter, like where the television is positioned and whether guests at the door are sheltered from the rain.

He got the chance to get those details right in a home he designed recently in Bath, Ohio.

His client, surgeon Bob Kepley, already had a good idea of what he wanted when he hired Garren to design a house for his lakeside property. He wanted a house with the character of a lodge, with fireplaces and a screened porch.

He said he knew from his previous house what he didn't want - "a big, wasted living room, which I had; a big, wasted dining room, which I had" and a big, unsheltered deck, which he also had.

Kepley made some sketches and gave them to Garren, who worked with an architect, a building company and a landscaper to turn Kepley's vision into his home. The 3,800-square-foot house is large but not palatial, with views of the lake from every important room, a covered deck in the back and spaces designed for living, not just for show.

Interior designers aren't always involved from the start of construction, but Garren said his input helped avoid the kinds of problems he's often called on to solve after a house has been built.

His design principles can help people who are planning to build homes - even production homes and compact starter homes.

Here are his suggestions.


Before you build or buy, spend some time on the property. Bring some lawn chairs and maybe a bottle of wine, and just sit there a while, Garren suggested.

What views appeal to you? What noises do you dislike? Knowing that can help your construction team orient your house the best way and use methods such as extra insulation or sound-controlling windows to muffle unwanted noise.

And remember, if you want a walkout basement, look for property that's sloped, Garren said.


Ideally, Garren said, an architect, interior designer, builder and landscaper should be involved from the start of the project. Each of those professionals has his or her focus and expertise, and their collaboration can result in a house that's designed properly, that's beautiful and that fits the way you live.

You're part of that team, and Garren said you should provide as much input as possible. Choose people who are open to working together. Listen to them, and make sure they will listen to you.

He advises weekly meetings with the team, so the inevitable problems can be addressed promptly. That's true even if you're working with just a builder, he said.


Elements such as lighting fixtures and cabinets vary widely in price, so the features you choose can have a big effect on the cost of building your dream home. By choosing those elements ahead of time, you can tell your builder exactly what you want and get a much more accurate bid, Garren said. You'll also be left with fewer decisions to make during construction, reducing your stress.

Four elements, in particular, have the biggest bearing on a home's price: roofing, siding, windows and cabinets.

"You can't foresee everything," he said, "but the more [elements] you hit, the better."


Think of a house as a whole, not a series of individual rooms. By limiting colours and materials inside and out, you'll give the home a more consistent appearance, Garren said.

Limit exterior materials to three or maybe four, he recommended. On Kepley's house, he used brick, board and batten siding and brown trim.

Inside, he used the same colour palette of sandy brown, henna, gold and green throughout the house, while mixing in some contrast and variation. All the fixtures - faucets, pendant lights, even drawer pulls - are bronze.

Don't confuse continuity with blandness, however. Architectural features such as stone fireplaces, plank ceilings and corbels make a home much more interesting.


Your garage or your laundry room isn't your home's most attractive entry, so don't tempt guests to come in that way. Downplay the side entry, Garren recommended, and make it easy for guests to come to the front door.

Make sure that front entry is protected from the elements, so your guests can be dry while they wait at your door.

Garren is also a fan of circular or U-shaped driveways. They eliminate the need to back out and make exiting easier for guests, especially at night.


Many people have rooms they enter mostly to clean. If you rarely live in your living room or dine in your dining room, why have them?

Eliminating redundant or seldom-used spaces allows you to put that square footage into a few well-planned rooms, big enough to accommodate the activities your family engages in, to allow the furniture to float in the room and to bring in extra seats for guests.

Garren recommended laying out the furniture on paper according to the room's uses, whether it's watching TV, playing the piano or hosting a poker game.


One of Garren's pet peeves is houses that are built with no thought to where the televisions will go, especially in the great room. That often forces the homeowners to fit their TVs in wherever they can, not where they make the best sense.

Planning eliminates that problem. It also makes it easier to combine focal points so your eye isn't continually jumping all around the room, he said.


Daylight lifts our moods and beautifies our rooms. "The more, the better," Garren said.

He recommended letting in as much natural light as possible through large windows, skylights and solar tubes - tubular skylights that often have reflective material inside.


No matter how pretty your powder room is, you really don't want it to be on view from the living room. Garren recommended designing a house so private areas such as bathrooms and bedrooms aren't visible from the public areas.


- Balance the elements in a room,

without aiming for perfect symmetry.

? Don't stint on storage.

? Your roof is a big surface, so choose interesting roofing materials.

- Be generous with roof overhangs. They give a house presence and let you open windows when it's raining.

- Try to line up the windows on all

sides, so the exterior isn't a visual jumble.

- Choose paint colours and materials outdoors, where colours are truer than they are in artificial light. Hazy light is best.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks