19 questions you need to ask before designing your dream home

Dec 13, 2019
An interior designer advises that you make sure the home you spend your retirement in works perfectly for you. Source: Getty

Take a few moments to consider where you are now. If you’ve recently retired or are gearing up to, you’re likely experiencing lots of changes in your life. But with those changes comes good news. It’s the perfect time to finally get the home of you’ve been dreaming about, possibly for years. This process starts by clarifying your vision for your dream home.

Do you find yourself dreaming of a modern, simpler life where there is a space for all your bits and pieces, everything works and it looks a whole lot better? Do you feel like you don’t do enough entertaining at home because your home doesn’t reflect where you are in life now? How nice would it be to get everyone to come over to your house and have a lovely (and easy) dinner and a few wines afterwards in front of the fire? Or have everyone come back after golf for a couple of drinks and a confab?

Do you want to experience the peace of mind of knowing that your home, and the valuable collections within it are safe when you are travelling for conferences or for your own pleasure? Would you love your art and antiques collection to be properly displayed so that you and your guests can really appreciate them? Or would you love to see how your prized possessions will look blended with beautifully designed contemporary furniture that will breathe new life into them?

It’s essential to understand what your personal vision for your home is. Would you prefer your home to be a sanctuary, or do you need it to be an energetic space that will continue to inspire you?

If you are still working in a high-pressure position, you might want to be able to come home and shut the rest of the world out. On the other hand, if you’re moving into semi-retirement, you might prefer spaces with higher energy.

Your home should tick all the boxes that are important to you. Life is short and, as a dear friend frequently reminds me, ‘You’re a long time looking at the lid!’ So now is the time to really look at what you want in a home and how you would like it to function.

So, take a moment to consider, what would you like?

  • What word best describes how you imagine your home would feel like? Some ideas include: comfort, pleasure, haven, sanctuary, greenery, status, structure, independence, individual, and energetic
  • How much time do you anticipate spending in your ideal home space? Will you be dividing your time between other properties (such as the beach house, house in the country and/or hotels on frequent trips overseas)?
  • How important is it for you to stay in the same neighbourhood? Is it essential for you to be near cafes, cinemas and restaurants? Do you consider it important to live in the same area as your friendship group?
  • Do you want flexibility? Is the ability to have young grandchildren or visitors stay comfortably a high priority for you?
  • Would you like a home that will require less ongoing maintenance?
  • How open are you to the latest in home technology? Including security systems, automated window furnishings, audio visual systems, lighting and so on
  • Would you like to be near neighbours in similar circumstances, who won’t necessarily be partying on until the early hours of the morning?

Some of the visions my clients have created include:

  • A home that works smoothly, that doesn’t cost a fortune to run. One that will frequently accommodate grandchildren and friends staying over
  • A residence where there is a sense of community and access to farmers’ markets
  • A home that reflects their personalities and what they’ve been able to achieve
  • A home that is warm and inviting, but which can also showcase their wonderful artworks and artefacts
  • A home near parklands or gardens so they have easy access to walking areas among green environs
  • An apartment with a specific ambience for instance, reminiscent of one overlooking New York’s Central Park.

This is your chance to create something that has the ‘wow’ factor you’ve been craving – something that you, your family and your colleagues will all appreciate.

Your personal preferences

These are what you’ve been imagining for the last however many years regarding your ideal lifestyle. At the very least these aspirations need to be taken into consideration when designing your home.

This is the ideal opportunity for you to pull together all those magazine clippings or to mark the pages in your beautiful coffee table design books. This is when you zero in on the precious pieces of furniture and objet you wish to keep. These will influence any new purchases –to ensure they complement each other and that they physically fit in your new interior spaces!

You should also consider how you intend to use your home, particularly when it comes to moving through the house. If the first thing you do when you walk in the door is plonk down your keys, papers and bags, you’ll need to accommodate this. Similarly, if your first destination is your kitchen, this should be easy to reach.

It’s also important to be clear on the colours, textures and styles you don’t like. This will ensure that you, your designer and suppliers are all on the same page.

Your design preferences may address the following questions:

  • Which colours and styles do you like/dislike?
  • Would you like having different textures, for instance wallpapers, fur/faux fur throws, mirror finish furniture etc. featured throughout your new space?
  • Would you consider using colour throughout your new residence or would you prefer a more neutral, seamless flow throughout?
  • Is creating a luxurious and sophisticated ambience a priority for you?
  • What styles of architecture or decorating do you enjoy? What are the qualities do you particularly admire about them?
  • What floor coverings do you favour? Timber, carpet, stone, tiles or a combination?
  • Would you like to discover ways in which you can maximise energy efficiency and sustainability?
  • What collections do you have that you would like to feature in your new residence?

Consider your routines

  • What is your average weekday schedule?
  • What is your average weekend schedule?
  • When you come home at night, what do you normally do?
  • From which entry do you bring in your groceries?
  • What is the easiest way for you to turn on your lights?
  • Would you prefer separate bathrooms or would you be happy with two vanity basins in the same bathroom?
  • On which side of the bed do you sleep? And, do you like to slip out of bed onto a soft, cushioned rug or not?
  • Are you particularly sensitive to light when you sleep i.e. do you need complete blackout curtains for your bedroom?
  • Are you right or left handed?
  • How much time do you imagine you will spend in certain areas of your new home? Do you work from home?
  • Do you enjoy cooking, or do you prefer to eat out more?
  • Would you like to entertainer more often or not?

If you consider the last two questions, how might they influence your interior design? If your new residence is closer to shops and cafes and you plan to eat out three or four nights a week, you would only need rudimentary appliances in your kitchen. The same goes if you’ve never been a big entertainer and don’t expect to become one.

Hosting dinner parties and entertaining guests need to be taken seriously. You will need to make the most of your new kitchen, regardless of its size. Some clients particularly want the best in modern kitchen appliances, making this possible. Consequently, we work closely with architects of their projects to squeeze out every possible nook and cranny. On one project, we worked on we managed to find a place in our clients’ tiny kitchen for the Magic Maid. When family or friends come over for dinner this wonder of the 1950’s is wheeled it out to their dining room to keep casseroles, roasts and gratins warm while everyone enjoys pre-dinner drinks.

Once you have a clear list of preferences, it’s important to prioritise them. While you may be able to achieve everything, you desire, it’s best to know where there’s some wiggle room just in case it’s needed. So, if you need to prioritise your preferences, what’s most important for you? What’s the least important? What is non-negotiable? Where is there room for compromise?

This is an edited excerpt from Kym Lackmann’s first book, The Art of Downsizing. For more details, visit Luxe Domain.

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