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Big TV may dictate shape of a room
When planning a new house, many home buyers struggle with balancing design and function.
They like the look of a whirlpool bathtub but realize it is impractical for daily use. They want a cherry wood floor, but realize the kids and dogs will destroy it.
Similar issues surface when adding a fireplace. Those who focus solely on the design may regret that they overlooked some practical, functional considerations.
For example, consider how a fireplace will affect furniture placement and the location of a TV set. Because the fireplace typically is the focal point along one wall, it means that furniture will be grouped along the three remaining walls. If the room also has large windows, the furniture layout becomes more complicated.
The TV set may become a problem.
"A lot of times, the fireplace is competing for attention with the large-screen television," said Dan O'Malley, a partner with BSB Design, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa, and does architectural design work for many Chicago area builders. "These two elements are starting to butt heads."
The TV set and fireplace each require about four to five feet of width. Align them on top of each other on one wall and they can take up a large block of space. Install them on separate walls and they can compete for attention.
Many home buyers don't deal with this problem until after they move in.
Another issue with the fireplace design is whether the fireplace will have seating in front of it. From a design and functional perspective, it often works well to have a raised hearth in front of the fireplace, said Brian Bart, general manager for Tom Bart Construction.
A raised hearth adds an interesting accent and gives people a place to sit down right near the fire's heat.
The height of the TV set also can cause problems. Depending on its size and how far above the floor it is installed, people could find it a physical strain to look up and watch the screen.
When it comes to seating, the room should be deep enough to allow for couches and chairs located an appropriate distance away from the large screen. Home buyers also should think about how many people would be watching the TV set on a typical day.
If these issues aren't considered before the house is built, home buyers sometimes regret their design choices later. Because the fireplace is a permanent object, the TV set's location may become an afterthought.
The solution is to look at the overall flow and function of the house early in the process. Ideally, the fireplace should have its own room and be the focal point there. The oversized TV can become the centerpiece of an entertainment room where it doesn't compete with a fireplace.
Alternately, the TV set can be placed next to the fireplace, but that requires expanding the wall space to allow for both elements to fit.
"If you can commit enough wall space to both elements, it can work," O'Malley said.
This creates an environment where the television is the focal point and the fireplace creates a separate sitting area off to the side.
When adding a fireplace in a bedroom, home buyers should consider whether to make it the main focal point or for it to occupy a nook in a corner.
In a master suite, it may take on a larger role than would be the case in a modest guest room.
While many people like the look of a bedroom fireplace, it doesn't always live up to expectations. If the room has high ceilings, for example, the heat may rise to the top, failing to warm much of the room. A too-open floor plan also can cause heating problems.
"I don't recommend a bedroom fireplace," said Angela Norris, who lives in the Fox Mill subdivision in St. Charles. "It looks pretty, but we don't really use it. The gas just doesn't heat the room very well."
While their bedroom fireplace is not as functional as planned, their family room fireplace is just fine. When the Norris' planned their new home, they thought ahead.
They wanted a decorative mantel, but one that would be large enough to use.
"We put an outlet behind it so I can put a lamp and Christmas decorations there," Angela Norris said. "It's the focal point of the room so you want to be able to decorate it."
Design. Function. The two do not always go together. When building a new house, however, it pays to plan ahead and discuss some of these issues with the builder before construction begins.
Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.