Frances Martin-DiGiuseppe is the founding principal and architect at Q4 Architects, a mid-size practice specializing in residential design. Inspired from a young age, she became an architect because she wanted to enhance the everyday lives of Canadian families. With more than 30 years of experience, she has learned that even the smallest design details can have significant impacts on the quality of life for homeowners.
NextHome spoke with her to get her insights on the key things to look for when buying a new home.
NextHome: How are new home designs changing, given rising prices, maximizing space available and generally designing smarter and more functional homes?
Frances Martin-DiGiuseppe: Functionality and efficiency are key when it comes to a well-designed home. Your personal lifestyle should guide how you prioritize space. Consider whether the allocation of space fits your family’s needs. Open spaces are popular choices for families given that central living areas like kitchens and dining rooms allow for families to spend more time together.
I used to say a good family home requires enough space for a large dining table. But, seeing as the modern family spends less time at the dining table, that’s not always a necessity. A kitchen eating area or breakfast bar may be just as sufficient.
With our messy Canadian winters, having a mudroom is essential. It can transform your entryway and transition space by providing dedicated room for dirty boots, school bags, dog leashes and bowls, and a place to hang your coats.
NH: How are design considerations changing for low- versus highrise homes?
FM-D: The elimination of hallways is an important design feature for both low- and highrise homes. For highrise developments, this means that wasted hallway space can be reallocated to create more livable units.
Mid- and highrise homes benefit from building amenity spaces. Amenities become an extension of your personal unit and natural spots where socializing happens, helping to build a sense of community.
Many lowrise developments are located in existing neighbourhoods that offer residents plenty of area amenities nearby. At Q4, we advocate for smaller pocket parks and squares that really make a community and enhance living in the neighbourhood. More emphasis needs to be placed on surrounding public spaces such as parks and communal courtyards, where neighbours can congregate.
Because highrise homes tend to offer less square footage, multi-purpose functional spaces are important. Kitchen islands that double as eating areas or office spaces. Laundry rooms or closets that also double as extra storage space.
NH: What should a homebuyer look for in terms of the location of their perfect family home?
FM-D: Location is one of the most important factors when choosing your perfect home. You can always renovate or modify the layout of your home, but you cannot change its location.
The perfect family home is located in a complete and well-planned community. Ask yourself: Are there spaces for children to play outside? Are there parks nearby? Does the community have bike paths and sidewalks? Is there neighbourhood retail nearby? Is the street safe? How the homes are designed and located on the lots enhances safety on the street.
A thoughtfully planned community should provide all of this, with both neighbourhood amenities and necessities within easy access. These details create the perfect surroundings for a forever home, and something we always consider when working on projects.
Also consider whether the neighbourhood you’re moving to is kid-friendly. Will your children have kids their age to play with? More importantly, is your future home located within a good school district? How close is the nearest school to your home, and is it within walking distance? Being able to walk to school is a really important goal for us.
NH: What’s your most important thing to look for from a new build home?
FM-D: Most important of all is your emotional response, that feeling you get from walking through the front door that you just can’t fake. That is unique and personal to you and comes from a million different associations and human-scale details. What makes a house a home and an area a community is our human connection to the space, and as residential architects it is our job to create a welcoming feeling from bricks and mortar. We take pride in our work – the human connection is what makes a house a home, and an area into a community.
We think about the pride of homeownership and giving homeowners the dignity of having a front door. Families shouldn’t have to make the difficult decision between the extremes of a highrise tower or an expensive detached home. Midrise and stacked housing that is designed with care, thought and compassion can give the “feels like home” feeling without the price tag.