The Core of Interior Design: Space Planning

This article was submitted by guest author Claire Haring Golan of Claire Golan & Associates Interior Design located in Riverwoods, Illinois. If you would like to read more articles by Claire, please leave a comment below.

“Space Planning” is the division and allocation of interior space to meet code and provide the needs of an individual client.   Unofficially, it seems that this term (although not the work) became part of the Interior Design dialogue in the 60’s, when Contract (or non-residential) Design became a specialty.  High rise building was booming in the commercial areas of cities and older buildings were being redone for new office and commercial spaces like restaurants and stores.  In the mid-70’s, I worked for a well-known space planning/contract design firm in Chicago.  Our job was to take the vacant floor space, divide it up per the client’s needs and sometimes furnish the space as well.  Our clients were mostly the commercial realtors selling the leases for these offices, etc.  We made the empty boxes look furnishable.

Last winter, I spent time working on a law office for a practice that moved from downtown to the suburbs.  They traded a view of the river and trains for a view of woods, plus they got free parking and a short car ride to their busiest client.  First, I went to the downtown office to see what their requirements were for the new space (filing, storage, reception, etc.) and then visited the new office, which was partially constructed.

Then, I took a look at the proposed plan and couldn’t believe it!  Some of the storage area plus their copy machine and printer were planned to be right where you walked into the space, separated only by a low wall.  OK!  That meant:  absolutely no reception area (and thus, no way to re-use their custom designed reception desk) and (worse) the noise of the copier/printer would be “open” as well.  This was the most glaring problem that HAD to be remedied.  In so doing, the general office area was re-designed, and by creating a separate room to house the noisy activity, we could then re-use the reception desk, and by relocating some conference room chairs from the old office, a few visitors can now sit down.  So much more welcoming and appropriate to a professional office!

Before Space Planning & Design

After Space Planning & Design

Good space planning will make more of a difference to where you work or live than any single piece of furniture, color on the wall, major appliance or decorative object can possibly make.  If your bedrooms are too small for the furniture any reasonable person would use, you may have chosen to live in the wrong place.  If having a separate kitchen is what will keep you from going crazy while you are cooking, than having a great room with family room and kitchen open to each other is not for you.  If you want a master bedroom on the first floor of a multi-level house because you want to stay in that home forever, you should either find a house already designed that way or make sure that you have the space, appropriate zoning and ability to reconvert or add space to fill that need.

Sometimes, how to alter a Space Plan is obvious.  More often, it’s only going to be obvious to someone used to visualizing interior spaces in 3D – or who can work it out in a drawing.  The space plan can make the difference between buying and not buying a house you ALMOST like, or–as above–redoing an office space.  The concept of “staying in place” as we age, doing a home for a special needs resident, or foreseeing  alterations that might have to wait for budgetary reasons are all incentive for finding a Designer or Architect who can visualize and then transform your space…even if it’s a process of doing one element at a time.  Creating a time line for this work is even more challenging, but VERY realistic.

Don’t lose focus that this is the core and cornerstone of Good Design.  It’s not everyone’s forte in this industry — ask to look at pictures or plans or whatever you need!  If you don’t have proper counsel for this part of your project, you may end up with something vital missing in your place, too.