x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

House Doctor: Learn to work with limitations

Accepting and being creative with constraints such as oddly placed windows or low ceilings can result in an interesting and exciting living space.

In the classroom and with clients, I continually stress the idea of approaching design with a strategy in mind. Not only does this allow the designer or student to address design problems, but it also makes the client (who is ultimately the reason we are considering the problem) aware of the intent behind certain design decisions.

Site-specific issues are inherent in any space. They can include structural and physical limitations, views, noise, light, technology, aesthetics or even the history of the building. When the homeowner and designer accept the restrictions and limitations of the site, they take a responsive approach - one where they embrace the existing contextual and environmental conditions and use the building as a guide for planning and design. This approach, paired with a clear understanding of the client's functional requirements, can lead to incredibly exciting and unique environments.

Consider the rhythm of the existing structure, such as the layout of columns or the pattern of windows and doors. The history of the building may also suggest aesthetic options. Perhaps a concrete, brick or stone wall from the original structure can be exposed, providing immediate personality to the space. If the structure has an obvious grid of columns, or windows are a significant characteristic of a space, these elements should be taken into account when planning rooms and furniture layouts.

A responsive approach to the design process can turn what appear to be limitations into assets. A poor view may be treated with beautiful window coverings that obscure the view but filter light and brighten a space. If the view was captivating, these window coverings would likely never be closed and, in turn, not enjoyed.

Oddly placed doorways and openings can be balanced or diminished with a great piece of furniture that attracts your attention. Furniture can be placed adjacent to an inconvenient structural column, giving the appearance that the column was put there to support the furniture grouping. It is possible to capitalise on low ceilings and create a cosy and intimate living space by selecting furniture that sits closer to the floor, creating horizontal forms and patterns.

Ultimately every interior is built within existing architectural parameters. The greater the understanding and acceptance of what these are, the more successful the outcome of the design process.

Robert Reid is a professor of architecture, art and design at the American University of Sharjah.