What Makes a Great House?

last updated February 28, 1995


My name is Ted Nadeau & I just bought a house. I am now trying to specify the renovation. I thought I would publish my research to the net & solicit your ideas. In the information age, when you do work properly for yourself, you do it for everyone else as well.

(See HAT (Rain) in episode 1 for interim results from the previous access/doorway.)

I hope this series of articles will evolve to complement FAQ files. They will contain questions & answers like a FAQ but will also enable people to add their own information. This information will be harvested & will eventually be used to refine the top-level document.

What should we call this type of information? EKB: Evolving Knowledge Base? QAA: Question Answer Archive? GAQ: Group Answered Questions?


I ask myself & post to the net.

To specify, as accurately as possible, renovations prior to buying a house. How do we describe and evaluate a Place (especially a House)? What is it for? What does one do there? What happens there? What does it look like (aesthetics)? What do you see (in there, from there)? What does it feel like? What is it near? What does it contain? What other questions do we need to ask?

What is a favorite place in your current or previous home? (For example, in my current home office, I am able to watch the sky change at sunset without changing my seat.)

What are your favorite shareable resources for home design, such as books, magazines, and other media? (Examples, video: This Old House; magazine: Fine Homebuilding, Progressive Architecture; book: Conran's House Book.)


For: supporting building. Examples: soil (bedrock?), footings, perimeter foundation walls (stone, concrete block, mortar, check for dampness), slab (mat, concrete, thickness, check for heaves/infiltration), columns (brick, wood, lolly, check for water marks), main girder, beams, joist (checks), flooring, subfloor (check wetness, wood-destroying insects, cracks in foundation, beams, slab).


For: input/output of utilities (electricity, water & sewage, heat as oil/gas, information as phone/data), storage (off-season clothing, wine).


Heating & cooling, electricity, water, communications (net, cable, phone).


Gas, oil, electric; burning; insulation; radiators (water or steam).


Air conditioning, ducts.


Main entry (no leaks, shut-off, meter), cold service, hot water system, steam to heating system, return sewage to town.


How many amps? how many circuits? 3 wire, GFI, Isolated ground


Cooking, heat.


Telephone -- cordless w/ multiple lines w/ answering machine, fax, data (ISDN?), connection w/ computer.

Work room

For: carpentry (table saw, saw horses, bench vise), getting really dirty (sink). Near: outside (for wood input/output). Stores: wood, tools (on peg board), paints.

Entrance (front, sides, rear)

For: arrival/departure, coats disrobe easily, dirt stays out, rest place of input/output packages, mirror, mail w/in reach of door, hidden key, chalk board, house number. Protected: from weather (sealed & covered) & crime. Appearance: welcoming, grand. Stores: outerwear. View: street, visitors.


Transportation interface. For: car arrival, bicycles, scooter. Stores: gardening, sports equipment. Entrance. Protected.

Exterior: Roof, Siding

Appearance: nice, charming, interesting, protected. Should be: easy to care for (snow, rain, fire, wind, lightning), articulated, hamonious w/ nature. Rain runoff: Gutters drain well (don’t sag, not clogged w/ leaves), downspouts lead water away from house/foudation, no standing water.

Interior Surfaces

floor, wall, ceiling, stair looks: nice, charming, interesting; is: easy to care for, warm, clean


For: 2+ to cook, 5+ to eat, hanging out & reading, access to TV room & dining room, stove + oven, sink + dishwasher, refrigerator, countertops (10 lf, corian?). Stores: dry goods (20 lf), plates (20 lf), cooking implements (10 lf + hang), cookbooks (6 lf), well-lit; input: groceries; output:food, recycling & garbage; easy cleaning (floors, countertops), window over sink. (see: 10 Surf St. (island), Thoft house, 14.5 Vander (size), Professional (efficient, easy to clean))


toilet, sink, mirror; storage (TP, 1st aid, towel); feels: warm

Bathroom, Main

full bath/shower, sink, toilet, garbage, plant; Storage: shelves 15’

Bathroom, Master

where: 2 can bathe/shower (seat, drain in floor), plants; Near: clothing; Is: romantic, luxurious, warm; stores: towels; near: clothes, scale, mirror

Dining Room

where: many (10?-20?) can eat; storage of: table leaves;Next to: kitchen

Living/Family Rooms

where: 2 snuggle, 2-6 watch video (TV, movies), listen to stero, 4 eat, 6+ talk, big coffee table for games & food; Near: kitchen; Store: games, photos; Looks: well-lit, cozy

Laundry room

for: wash, dry, hang, press

Dressing Room

where: 2 dress, full-length double mirror; Stores: clothing he/she/it (shirts, pants, dresses, jackets) via 16’ 2 tier pole, shoes, socks, underwear, t-shirts, sweaters via dresser, make-up, ties, jewelry, boxed shirts


Bedroom, Master

where: 2 can sleep undistirbed, listen to music, fun can happen, read in bed (lights, books), experience (see, hear, smell) outside (sky, trees), wake to birds or radio e.g. At the foot of our bed is a window that looks northward to a set of trees accross the street. Upon waking one can see the weather & enjoy it while still in the comfort of bed.

Bedroom, Guest

where: guests (2) can sleep undistirbed, read in bed (lights, books), near: linen closet

Bedroom, Teenager

contains: poster, books, homework table, stereo; places to hide things

Bedroom, Baby

diaper disposal, changing, crib, sound-proof, little clothes


Linen closet

for: storage (? lf)of: linens, towels

Hall closet


Home Office

where: many (3+?) can work, near door: i/o: (mail (stamps), packages (tape, scale)), comfortable reading (magazine, book), 2+ workstations: (computers on network (coax? tp?), 1 printer, 2+ phone lines (voice, data, fax)), meeting area, music (CD, tape, radio), photocopy, storage files (accounting, projects, legal, information), walls: information, photos; Air Conditioning & Heat; Plants; Near: outside (separatable from living), front of house, sunset views


Stores: books, magazines via 100 lf, shelves to ceiling 7 high (Fiction (by Author), Non-Fiction (by Genre: Architecture, Psychology, Politics, History, Science, Philosophy))


Off season clothing & outdoors / sports equipment, archives boxes, memories


storage, heat vent


Examples: Porch, roof-deck

Kitchen Porch

For: hang/swing/sit (hamock/swing/seat), eat Table w/ umbrella, drink & grill outside, read the paper, watch: rain, sun, birds;

Roof Deck

For: see the stars, above everything possible


where: someone (2?) can rent (eagerly & profitibly): sleep, eat, bathe, doesn’t impact rest of house; Can be: re-integrated with house for parent, live-in nanny, etc.

In/Out continuum

(top, sides - wind, sun - solid, screen, glass) inside-cozy (in bed, near fire), inside-open (screened porch, sun porch), outside-covered (porch), outside-exposed (yard, decks)


- (front, rear) for: growing (trees - Japanese Maple, Big Bonzai), nature (birds (feeder), insects & spiders, bats, rodents), public & private spaces; Maintenance: High & Low


for: flowers, spices (basil), vegetables (tomatos, peppers) - Maintenance: Proper balance of High & Low,


where: year-round growing, passive solar gain in winter

Exercise Space

(Nordic Track, Rowing Machine, Climbing wall, Pull-up bar (indoor & out door), basketball hoop/court) w/ TV/music, near: shower, outdoors


Dumb Waiter

- 50lbs to other floors from kitchen; via: 4:1 pulley with stops or winch or Bike pedals; Next to: kitchen

Weather Sensitive / Energy efficient

- Solar panels, Passive Solar, Deciduous Trees, Barometer, Wind-speed

Solar installation

- summer hot-water, photo-voltaic 12v.

Smart appliances & house via X-10 boxes.

Lightning surge protector

Wall-map / aerial photography

Tension members / stays

- how to use stainless-steel cables? Novel use of Boat fittings - perhaps a catamaran-like trampoline hoisted above the house as a temporary deck.

Musical instruments

(wind activated pipe, big deep strings, gong, rain activated)


- picture moldings

To fix or change something

Specify: What? (use verbs: purchase, install, fix, replace, wire, destroy). Who does it? (contracter, plumber, electrician, us). How much does it cost? (labor, materials). How long does it take? When does it happen? (order: coordination, dependencies [weather]; phase: before arrival, first phase, later, optional, alternative)


Guiding Philosophies

Feng Shui

- Balance of Energies (Ying/Yang) within a space; Bed within every room; Limited places to eat; Small Mirrors everywhere; Glass block (R value = ?); Teleportation room; Lionel train

Use of natural materials

copper sheets


What Else Makes a Great House?

Tell me about a great house you've lived in, visited, seen, dreamed about, or built:


In Enterzone episode 3, I will pose another task that is finite in size & infinite in scope. Meanwhile, the responses from this investigation and from HAT (Rain) will continue to accumulate. Each of these articles will always show the date of the last update, so come back in a while and see what everyone else thinks about these questions.

I Take Requests

I hereby solicit your recommendations for projects/tasks/goals.

Visit Other Access/Doorways

HAT (Rain) (Enterzone episode 1)
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