I once had a hall table. It stood guard at the front door, usually under a pile of possessions that were either on their way into the house or on their way out of it. Then, one day, I came home to find it in the garden in small pieces. I wondered what it could have done to offend the house's other occupant.
He explained that the hall table impeded what he considered a primary function of the living space - a clear line of access from the front door to the fridge. At first I missed the hall table, but the lack of it forced me to be tidier in my habits and I soon found that the entrance worked better without it. That table was like a log stuck in the middle of a stream. It impeded the flow of movement and other objects attached themselves to it in an unhelpful way.
That's what people mean when they talk about the "flow" of a living space. It's to do how each room works, both in its own right and in relation to the other rooms. "A home with a good flow will have harmonious spaces that are comfortable to use and that connect seamlessly and appropriately with the other spaces," says Eva Byrne (right), architect and house consultant of Houseology.
"It applies to every space in the house and to how each space relates to the others." The flow of a home is a subtle thing. It relates to functionality, but it is also visual. Get it right and you won't notice a thing. Get it wrong and you'll know all about it.
Ideally, she says, "you will flow through a hall that is welcoming and equipped with convenient storage. It will have access to the downstairs toilet and maybe a view to the back garden through a clear glass door leading to the kitchen-dining-family room." In this room, typically the heart of the home, each of the elements of kitchen, dining and living areas will be clearly defined, but work together to create a balanced whole.
"The kitchen will not be the first thing you see when you enter," she says. "The utility room will be accessible from the kitchen area." Kitchen islands that are too large relative to the space they occupy can be an impediment to flow. So too can kitchen islands that are more than a metre away from the main unit. Counter stools that are light on their feet, like the Jolien counter stool (€205) from April And The Bear, take up a minimum of visual space. Likewise, the AAS32 stool (€265) from Inreda. Both shops are open for online sales.
Depending on the design of the house, the family living space may have double doors connecting to the front sitting room. "Preferably sliding, pocket doors that allow the front and rear areas to be separate or connected," says Byrne, who is aware of the way that the flow of a house will change during the life cycle of a family.
Very small children will want to be underfoot and their parents will want to keep an eye on them. Open plan is good. Teenagers will want to be in another room and their parents will want this too. So don't get rid of the doors. And beware of badly fitting furniture: dining tables that are too wide, couches that are too long, and beds that leave you no space to climb in or out of them.
Some rooms require a slower flow than others. The sitting room should allow people to gather around the television and the fireplace, and is better off with a door at one end, rather than the centre.
"If you have too many doors, consider closing one of them and moving a piece of furniture in front of it," Byrne suggests. "If the doors are in the wrong place, consider moving them." Many people baulk at the idea of knocking holes in walls (and who can blame them), but there is no harm in asking for a price. "It's scary for people, but moving a door may turn out to be a quantifiable outlay that will give a good return." Likewise, moving an annoying radiator is often a decision people don't regret.
Houseology offers consultations (€399 for a two-hour session), now taking place remotely, to help locate what's not working in the space and to show you how to fix it. "What's fascinating is how people are going to feel about their homes after spending so much time there," says Byrne. "Living in a house full time is very different from dipping into it at the weekend."
See houseology.ie, inredadesignshop.com, aprilandthebear.com.