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Alternatives to Typical Home Design





flw herbert jacobs rendering





Home is the first structure that man built.  We have always constructed shelter from the elements.  So it is no wonder that after more than a millennia of home design, we have settled into an easy pattern of designing homes that are all very similar in layout and easy to mass produce.   However, at Studio Boise, we believe that everyone’s needs are very different.  We design every home from scratch never repeating a design.  I have been scrutinizing home floor plans for about 2 decades.  In that time, I have seen several things that are often repeated but make little sense, and I have learned alternative approaches to home design from the great designers of the past and present.  Here are a few of those lessons.

The Usonian Home

My favorite ideas for home design alternatives come from the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright’s (FLW) Usonian home concept.  These were a collection of small homes that made the following changes (plus more) to the typical home plan of the day:

herbert jacobs front







1) The public side (street side) of the homes have only transom windows, which are short windows above eye level so that light can enter the home but there is no need to cover the windows in blinds and curtains for privacy.  (Drive around your neighborhood right now, do you see even one home without blinds or curtains in the big living room windows?  Covering them is the first thing every one does, so why have them?)

herbert jacobs rear








2) The private side of the home was covered in mostly floor to ceiling glass connecting the homeowner to their outdoor spaces and allowing natural light to flood the design.  FLW moved the living space to the rear of the home to enjoy nature rather than keeping it in the front of the home facing the street.


3) Scale:  Upon entering a Usonian home, there is something that feels at the same time intimate and full of breadth.  The scale is very human.  You won’t find any soaring 30 foot tall ceilings, but the ceiling heights fluctuate with the size of the rooms producing an undeniable sense of…perfect proportions.

herbert jacobs plan











4) Great room:  FLW put the great room on the map with his Usonian home designs.  During the 1930’s when he started designing these home plan alternatives, kitchens were completely separated from the dining room which was formally separated from the living room.  FLW discarded that idea believing that the house wife would like to be more involved with the family’s activities while cooking and cleaning.  Thus, the great room, which is the most typical feature in any home today, was born.

Side Note: The East End of Boise has a perfect example of a Usonian home (although not designed by FLW).  Here is a link to a well documented visit to this beautiful home:  (Please don’t disturb the homeowners.)


Joseph Eichler’s Glass Houses:

eichler courtyard









Southern California’s Joseph Eichler was another trail blazer.  I won’t say that I admire him for designing per his clients’ needs, as he is most known for his mass tract housing, but he brought a new idea to housing in a way that the everyday family could embrace.  Eichler designed a unique square doughnut shaped house with a courtyard at the middle of every home plan and glass walls looking onto the courtyard from every room that bordered it.  My own mother was fortunate enough to grow up in one of Eichler’s homes in the 1950’s.  When her mother moved into the glass house, she cried at how cold and modern it looked compared to the cute bungalows of the day.  When my mother’s family left the home 10 years later, she cried again this time heartbroken to leave what had become the best home she would ever inhabit.

eichler floor plan












Le Corbusier’s Unite D’Habitation:

Le Corbusier was a French mid century modernist.  I think back to his Habitation project often when I am trying to solve the puzzle of capturing light from different angles and at different times of the day.  Habitation was an urban apartment building, and while I am not a fan of the aesthetic style (designers everywhere are welcome to scorn me for being honest), I absolutely love what he did to create a very different floor plan concept for rows of apartments.  Typically, a large apartment building has central hallways with apartments to the left and to the right.  Corbusier wanted each apartment to receive both northern and southern light, so he made each apartment two stories tall in a vertical L shaped.  The apartments on the left side of the hallway wrap up and over the hallway stretching to the right of the building on their second level.  The apartments on the right side of the hallway wrap down and stretch to the left underneath the hallway to capture light on the left side of the building.  This section drawing should help to explain better than words can.  Often times, the best solution is so simple, we don’t at first see it.

Habitation Coupe






Habitation coupe de tout

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