How Environment Impacts Design
The house on the lake.
The picture window at the office.
You can’t beat looking out on breathtaking vistas as you sip your morning coffee.
Natural settings are inspiring, there’s no question.
Especially beautiful natural spaces that — let’s face it — tend to run at temperature extremes.
These extremes can be pretty rough on a home or building. Which is why climate and all of the associated elements like wind and rain and sun must be calculated into the design of a space.
But what works in Montana won’t fly in New Mexico or down here in Florida. A range of different elements calls for a range of different materials and building styles — and a different take on interior design as well.
Here’s how to make design work with the environment — rather than against it — in three different settings:
If you’re already sweating this summer, maybe cold doesn’t sound so bad right now. But in places where temps dip down very low (and can stay down for a while), both homes and commercial buildings need to be built to withstand a lot — strong winds, heavy snowfall, melting ice.
That’s why, for example, you’ll typically see simple, sloped roofs in the North. The angle lets snow and ice slide off, with few spots for ice to accumulate and cause leaks. Even with the slope, snow can pile up — and it’s heavy. That’s why roofs must also be highly durable. Popular materials include slate (expensive and heavy but amazingly durable — and pretty!) and metal — which is lightweight but requires extra insulation, or heating bills will skyrocket.
I love, love, LOVE lots of oversized windows in snowy areas. They’ll let in natural light (plus gorgeous, snow-blanketed views) that warm the place up. Make sure windows are well-sealed, multi-pane glass to keep the cold air out. There are special coatings that can be applied to the windows to make them even more energy efficient.
For a cozy interior atmosphere, opt for fuzzy, furry fabrics and soft, comfortable textiles. Rugs reduce drafts from the floor while also warming up the room visually. And don’t underestimate the power of lighting some candles on a dark, cold night. Instant ambiance!
Finally, because people spend so much time indoors in colder areas, interior air quality is crucial. Install fans and filters and use humidifiers or air purifiers — and open up your windows occasionally to let the fresh air in.
In this hot, dry climate, cool materials reign — like stone, steel, and concrete. You’ll often see extra wide eaves on homes to protect as much of the building as possible from the sun’s rays. Light, natural color tones are popular for building exteriors because they reduce cooling costs and help buildings blend better into the landscape.
It may sound counterintuitive, but even in these nearly oven-like conditions don’t skimp on windows! Narrow windows placed high on walls let you enjoy the light without heating up the inside too much. (Remember — heat rises!) In fact, pushing ceilings higher can also help cool the room. Vaulted ceilings aren’t just for looks!
As in colder settings, multi-panes and specialized coatings on windows are important here too, but this time to block the heat from getting inside — and keep cooler air from getting out. And placing windows on the north and south ends of a home ensures a good crossbreeze.
Another common sight: water features (pools, fountains, ponds). Besides the obvious — all that heat and dryness makes you want to jump in the pool — water around a home or building can help bring interior temps down, reducing the cost of cooling.
Inside, incorporating earthy colors (clay, orange, beiges) and natural elements (wood, straw, wicker) into the design helps retain the connection with nature. Choose lots of layers in neutral palettes, adding visual interest with textures. And you can’t forget the requisite desert plants like cacti! As an added bonus, they’re hard to kill.
Like the desert…only wet. Often very wet.
Water is awesome, but it can cause a lot of trouble for a home or building. That’s why one major design consideration with a coastal structure is checking flood zones and at what elevation to start building. Answer: As high as possible, especially for electrical equipment like a/c units and water boilers — these should be installed well above sea level.
Because of all the water, you’ll want to use rust-resistant materials like aluminum. But if you’re on the ocean, water’s not your only issue. There’s salt in the air here too, and it can corrode the materials of your building. Using treated materials and specialized coatings can minimize the damage. Brick and metal siding hold up well in this environment.
Roof material is very important in this hot, wet climate. It needs to withstand heavy winds and water while also protecting from the heat. You’ve probably seen clay roofing in coastal towns. Each clay tile is wavy, which helps with airflow, and they are super-resistant to heat. But they’re heavy and pricey. Metal is an increasingly popular roof choice in very hot areas, because it takes a long time to heat up yet it cools fast. EPDM — a heat-resistant, water-resistant, rubberlike material — is also common, as are green roofs (where you actually want stuff growing on your roof).
On the inside, you’ll want to keep the theme of water-resistant going. That means no wall-to-wall carpeting; trust me, wet vacs are no fun. Stick with materials that can handle getting wet and are easy to clean and sweep like tile and stone (marble is stunning!). I love when the decor and style of a coastal home or office mirrors the tones and shades of a day at the beach: think sunny yellows, cheerful corals, and that gorgeous turquoise of the water. A raw, natural look — like whitewashed wood and exposed beams — mixed with florals and leafy plants helps create the relaxed atmosphere you want on the beach.