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Grand Designs’ Peter Maddison Explains How to Fix Your Family Floorplan

Andrew McUtchenBy Andrew McUtchen.
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Want to turn your house into a family home? Peter Maddison, the host of Grand Designs Australia and an architect with 25 years of experience, lists the pitfalls to avoid.

“Because of the size of many modern houses the family unit is being eroded. You know you’ve got the basement theatre where people just go and lock themselves in a black room, no conversation, the lights go down, you’re in Gold Class, Woop-di-doo! and you spend the whole evening sitting next to each other and not communicating!

“These big houses are creating dysfunctional family units – there’s no standing around the sink doing the dishes at night. What a great thing that is, what a lost institution that is! My mum insisted that either my brother or I took it in turns at drying. Then, enter the dishwasher, you can’t even get the kids to unload or load the dishwasher. They’re off in their own space in their Facebook world…”

5 WAYS WE’RE SCREWING UP THE FAMILY FLOORPLAN

1. WITH THE (TERRIBLE) OPEN KITCHEN / FAMILY ROOM
“It’s very much the thing of the day to have open plan but having a family myself I know there’s times where there’s a need for the separation between the function of cooking and then the idea of living. Personally, I think the idea has hairs on it.”

2. BY IGNORING ACOUSTICS

“A family space is one where there’s a lot of activity. So, I think this is lost in a lot of the spaces being created today. I’d be aware of the acoustic performance of a family space having had three children myself, I know what it’s like to be in a noisy space; it’s really wearing. In a lot of family houses there are big family rooms that have plasterboard ceilings and walls, timber floors, lots of floor to ceiling glass and it’s like a bloody echo chamber. Nice big open room, interactive kitchen and living area, but it’s dysfunctional. There’s a TV going in one corner, the talk goes louder, you get a few people in there and it becomes unintelligible. Never discount acoustics when planning a family space.”

3. BY BUILDING ‘KIDS RETREATS’ & LETTING THEM DISAPPEAR
“Some people like to reproduce the living space for the kids, like a ‘kids retreat’ and we’ll do ours downstairs and we can have flexibility. Well, the kids will never come downstairs. There’s no family interaction. They’re on an intercom, ‘dinner’s ready’, then ‘dinner’s getting cold’, then ‘dinner’s ready, come downstairs you little rugrats!’ That leads to segregation of family values. You’re separating your living space from their living space and there’s no interaction. That’s not a healthy thing to have.”

4. WITH TOO MANY TV ZONES
“When there’s four huge TV screens in the house there’s never any reason to come together to watch it as a family. Density breeds social values. You get eye contact with your kids, you’re forced to say something because you’re passing by them, or sitting next to them on the couch. The reduced density within the family home is eroding the connectedness of families who are living together, apart.”

5. BY THE LOGIC THAT A BIG HOUSE IS GOOD FOR FAMILIES
“It’s the notion that you’ve got to have a house that’s bigger than your parents had. It was considered in my generation a mark of success. I know when I left my parent’s house in Parkdale (Vic) I thought, ‘I can do better than them’. And I have, I’ve got a bigger house than they’ve got, but is it better? I slept in a bedroom with my brother ‘til I was 14 and I thought I never wanted to do that again. I slept in a bedroom with my brother ‘til I was 18 and I never wanted to do that again. So there’s this notion of upsizing that’s hereditary but it will change. It has to be bred out and I think it’s coming. This discussion won’t be had in our children’s time, I think there’ll be different aspirations. Meanwhile there’s a 100km urban sprawl from east to west and it will be 150km in our lifetime.”