‘This home is beautiful!’ Why livability is more important

Eric Roth Photography

Home buyers dream of light pouring into big, open living rooms with cathedral ceilings, kitchens with enough cabinet space to satisfy a Tupperware hoader, and bold colors that express their oh-so-unique personalities — Mediterranean blue, say, to evoke the romance of the sea.

Then they move into their dream house and discover that the kids prefer to play in the dingy basement, some of the kitchen shelves are too high for anyone less than 8 feet tall, and the vivid blue walls remind friends of the Smurfs.

“Architects are basically designing occupiable art pieces for our clients,” said Treff La-Fleche, principal at LDa Architecture & Interiors in Cambridge. “But this art piece they have to occupy has to function well.”


Tension between aesthetics and livability is common in real estate, said experts.

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In the past, form followed function in home styles. In a historic Cape, for example, the chimney is in the middle of the house because each floor needed a fireplace. Today, form and function still go hand in hand.

“It’s spatial comfort that is the issue that every home buyer faces, whether it’s spaces that are too high and soaring that don’t allow you to have any kind of intimacy in the room or whether it’s in a living space where you are going to spend a lot of time with your family and its far away from the food,” said Margaret Booz, principal at SmartArchitecture in Cambridge.

But technology like less bulky heating systems, energy-efficient windows, and nontraditional building materials provide homeowners with a range of options that often grant too much license for ideas that can wind up backfiring.

Peter Feinmann, president of Feinmann Inc. in Lexington, recalled how a client insisted, over objections, on a very slight roof overhang to streamline the house’s profile.


A year or two later, the functional purpose of the overhang became obvious. “The siding was getting beaten up because there’s no protection,” he said.

Homeowners should remember that houses are not only symbols of their aspirations and shelter from the elements, they’re also investments that need to appeal to future buyers who’ll probably have their own visions of the perfect house, said Amy Rubin, a realtor with Centre Realty Group in Newton.

Rubin has run into trouble selling homes with quirky rooms that make exciting first impressions but disappoint when one imagines actually using them, like a glass-enclosed den that resembled an atrium.

“The family room had so many windows in it you didn’t know where to put the sofa or the television,” she said, adding that the room was enormous but didn’t have electrical outlets on the floor. “What are you going to do, run a cord from the middle of the room to an outlet on the wall?”

John Dyer can be reached at