What is Space Planning?

When we think about interior design, we often default to Pinterest boards of colour palettes, upholstery swatches and carefully curated furniture. These are the visible elements that tend to spring to mind.

But one of the most important parts of interior design is actually much less tangible…and arguably far more essential.

It’s known as space planning.

By definition, space planning is the analysis of a space (encompassing anything from a residential home to an office to an aged care facility) that includes:

  • identifying its environmental factors, such as location, climate and orientation
  • considering who inhabits the space at any given time and what activities regularly take place within it
  • making a variety of interior design choices (such as lighting, furniture and hardware) accordingly

Above everything, it’s about maximising the functionality and flexibility of a space, so it is as useful as possible to everyone who occupies it

For interior designers, space planning is something akin to a science, with clear considerations to address and a process to follow. But if you aren’t experienced, it can be an easy thing to get wrong or skip over altogether. 

That’s because most people FEEL the effects of good – and poor – space planning, but they can’t necessarily pinpoint what element of an interior is making all the difference.

For example, you’re benefiting from quality space planning in the office when you can easily see and talk with a colleague about an upcoming project across your open-plan desks. And when you have the choice to retreat to a dedicated ‘quiet space’ to knock out some deep, no-distraction work? That’s space planning in action as well!

By contrast, you’re getting tripped up by inadequate space planning at home when you find yourself constantly feeling cramped in the kitchen or stub your toe on the coffee table while dodging the pile of kids’ toys in the lounge room.

In short, space planning is one of those elements of interior design that is almost invisible.

When it’s working? You probably don’t even think twice about the space you’re in because you’re able to easily go about your day and focus on the routine or task at hand. And when it’s not working? You REALLY notice (even if you can’t put your finger on why it doesn’t feel right).

Now that we are clear on what space planning is, let’s talk about why it’s important and how it can impact everything from your renovation budget to your daily routine.

When a space has been planned well, it has many implications for the people who use it. These range from universally practical to highly personal. We’ve outlined just some of these below:

The Practical Benefits of Space Planning:

One of the biggest practical benefits is ensuring you are maximising the space you have available to you (and ultimately saving money, time and hassle in the process).

Let’s use the example of a home renovation here. Often, people may assume that because their home isn’t working for them in its current form, it needs MORE added to it, from increased storage to new walls to entire extensions. But this isn’t always the best  – or most economical – course of action.

Space planning helps you analyse the current features of your home and how it can be better utilised or reconfigured, before you make any significant decisions around adding anything more. It’s focused on creating efficiency, based on what’s already there.

When you plan your space – or engage an interior designer to do so – you can accurately assess the functional deficiencies of your various rooms (aka what’s not working!) and manipulate various elements of the design to reduce or eliminate these. This enables you to clarify your renovation priorities and identify what changes will make the biggest and most immediate impact.

Another practical benefit is the accessibility of the space in question. When we talk about accessibility, we’re considering the ease with which people can move around a space, in accordance with their individual needs.

Accessibility can manifest in a variety of ways, depending on the context. For many people, it might mean that their home is easy to navigate, with plenty of space available in the most important or high-traffic areas of the house (known as circulation routes/patterns). It means avoiding that mounting feeling of frustration when you can’t find things or get through a space because of clutter, ill-placed furniture or crowding.

For other people, it might mean that their home or workplace is designed to be accessible to those with disabilities or restricted range of movement, with things like sinks, cooktops, desks and drawers at an appropriate height or distance from each other. It might mean that they can age-in-place, with their home remaining highly functional and flexible to their needs, even as these evolve later in life. 

Regardless of exactly how it manifests, increased accessibility is a key benefit of well-planned spaces.

The Personal Benefits of Space Planning:

While there are countless practical implications that come from thoughtful space planning, there are also many ‘hidden’ benefits that influence our quality of life in ways we may not immediately recognise.

It might sound a little lofty, but the spaces we inhabit on a regular basis influence our behaviour and moods. We will feel, act and relate to other people differently in different spaces and we will move through our well-worn daily routines, helped (or sometimes hindered) by what’s around us. 

When there is good spatial flow and circulation between a room and our sight lines, we tend to use those spaces frequently. When a space is difficult to enter and move around (whether it’s intentionally done or not), we’re more likely to avoid it. 

And in a variety of ways, our homes, workplaces or residences make certain habits or actions more intuitive and easier to perform, while making others more difficult and less intuitive. 

For example:

  • A clutter-free and cozy bedroom, complete with luxe textiles and a soft palette, is going to broadly equate to a calm and balanced state of mind and encourage you to take time-out.
  • A well-designed office layout, including desk configurations, lunch areas and meeting rooms, is going to encourage colleagues to talk to each other, facilitate communication between departments and result in more cohesive teams and organisation-wide collaboration.
  • An expansive entertaining space with a pergola and garden outlook is going to be the setting for many enjoyable catch-ups with friends and family. When spaces are planned with easy access to green space and natural settings, they appeal to our biophilia (an innate human tendency to seek out nature).
  • An aged care facility that accounts for ‘way-finding’ through clear signage and other visual devices will help residents navigate the common areas and individual rooms with more ease

By understanding how spaces can trigger habits, we can more consciously shape them to make desirable routines and behaviours more intuitive and dispense with those we’d prefer to avoid or limit.

To gain the greatest benefit from space planning, it all needs to start from your own needs, preferences and priorities or those of your employees or residents. 

Working with an interior designer can help you to clarify these from the very start, so you can make informed decisions about how to configure your space in a way that supports your lifestyle, makes certain behaviours and habits easy and intuitive and means you don’t subconsciously fall into certain routines that don’t serve you. 

There you have it! Now you know what space planning is and why it can make such a practical – and personal – difference to how people use and interact within their home, workplace or facility.

Want to learn more about how to actually put it into practice in your upcoming renovation or refurbishment project? Check out PART TWO of this blog, entitled How An Interior Designer Supports The Planning Process, that walks you through the steps of the space planning process and how an interior designer can guide you.

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