A well designed home is a composition of spaces that graduate from the public to the private and provide varying levels of intimacy for household members to express themselves communally and individually.
Our modern lifestyles are well suited to the "open plan" concept but the open nature of this planning directive needs to be tempered with certain levels of containment to work well. The designs of many new homes these days put a focus on large open public spaces to the detriment of the semi-public spaces that should be associated with them. A large open plan is ideal for parties and family functions but, unless designed right, will give no respite to a family member seeking an escape from the hustle bustle of household life.
It may be as simple as several family members watching a TV program while another family member wants to curl up with an iPad and surf the net. The iPad user will likely desire some degree of psychological separation from the others but if no semi-private space is at hand the iPad user might find themselves retreating to a bedroom or an equally private zone.
Adding semi-private spaces to an open plan layout can achieve our needs for personal space while still maintaining a sense of connection to the goings-on of the home. There can be a gradation in the isolation of these semi-private spaces as well.
An alcove off the main gathering area is a good example of a semi-private area that maintains a strong connection to a public area. It will allow an individual to remove themselves from the focal activity zone of, say, the kitchen or living room without having to move into another room but will still maintain a visual and auditory connection to the main space. This would be the ideal place for the iPad user in the example above. A mail sorting area, a homework or a reading nook are excellent examples of more public alcove functions.
This level of openness may be too much for certain functions and the next step away from public would be to create a dedicated room that still maintains a visual connection to the main activity hub. Glazed french doors, a movable screen or even a sliding barn door work well for such a space as the doors or screen can be opened to make a strong connection to the public space when desired but can be closed off if things get too much. A space such as this functions well as an office, a reading room or even a TV room, maintaining a connection with the heart of the home when desired but permitting a strong disconnect when needed. As we move away from the heart of the home we look for a spaces that will allow us to get away altogether. These are the true individual private spaces of a home and, like the semi-private areas, are often overlooked.
The bedroom is the space that first comes to mind when mentioning such a place and can work well for a child with a private bedroom but for kids that share a room or for the adults of the home it's well worth adding something more.
Architectural theoretician Christopher Alexander states in his book The Pattern Language that this individual private space "helps develop one's own sense of identity; it strengthens one's relationship to the rest of the family; and it creates personal territory, thereby building ties with the house itself."
This space needn't be much, even a little alcove will suffice, but it does need to be private and to be completely one's own. A space for oneself might seem like a luxury but a strong sense of self is an essential ingredient for all social beings.
As much as we all require time together we also require time apart. A well designed home will reflect this evershifting need by providing its occupants the opportunity to express themselves communally, privately and every way between.