The complex art of making spaces, by Jeremy Spencer of Janine Stone

There’s an alchemy to creating houses that don’t only function perfectly but look beautiful, too. Janine Stone's Jeremy Spencer explains more.

The layout of a house will always dictate the way it is used, from everyday routines to entertaining and, increasingly, working. On large projects, the relationship between elements such as cinemas, gyms, tennis courts, swimming pools, spas and staff accommodation also needs to be considered as part of a wider mix. As Jeremy Spencer of Janine Stone explains, getting this right is a complex art that involves balancing a desired lifestyle with the setting, outlook and external appearance.

What is the key to achieving the perfect layout in a new house?

The starting point should always be to listen to the client in order to discover the way they want to live. At the same time, it’s important to use an environmental survey to find any gifts that a site might offer. Important factors to consider at this stage are light, weather and topography that will influence the design of the house and its surroundings. Considering external factors may seem counterintuitive when it’s the inside you are planning, but the two need to work hand in glove; the setting will dictate the shape of the house, whether it’s long and thin, square or based around an internal courtyard. Sometimes, I find it useful to consider the house in section and some of the best designs also start from a good roof plan. At this stage, an axonometric plan will reveal all sorts of exciting possibilities, including long views both inside and out. There are lots of ways of approaching the subject but just one desirable outcome: a seamless marriage of form and function.

Are there fewer opportunities to create the perfect layout in an existing building?

There are plenty of ways that houses can be re-configured to suit the lifestyles of their owners and their surroundings. The three key considerations are the use of the space, the internal circulation areas and the orientation of the house. Adding and removing space, re-allocating the function of rooms, staircases and doors, and enlarging windows will all have a transformative impact.

What are the prevailing trends in layouts?

Increasingly, a desire to establish the kitchen as the heart of the house very much dominates the agenda; the main decision is whether it should overlook the front or a more private recreational area to the rear. Although the emphasis is now much more on open-plan layouts, there is still demand for smaller spaces such as studies, TV rooms that offer privacy and also ancillary spaces such as utility rooms, secondary kitchens and boot rooms that take pressure off large spaces.

How do architecture and interior design complement one another when layouts are being planned?

It is vital that the positioning of furniture and lighting should work hand in hand with the overall floorplan, as well as the external elevation of a house. It’s for this reason that engaging with a multidisciplinary practice can reap rich rewards, not only in terms of a holistic approach but also the seamless management of a project.

How do you approach circulation space?

In modern houses or those where space can be at a premium, such as townhouses, Making spaces there is often a tendency to combine circulation with other functions. Where space allows, there is no doubt that a large entrance hall lends drama on arrival. Elsewhere in a house, circulation space enhances the amount of separation between rooms with different functions, particularly formal and informal. It’s especially useful when privacy and peace are required.

How should internal space relate to the outside?

Views are vital to a client’s enjoyment of a house and it’s best when they can be savoured from as many comfortable spaces on a daily basis. Orientation and large windows will obviously enhance this experience, but so will furniture layouts. Access is another issue that needs to be considered; broadly, this falls into three different categories; access to formal spaces, functional entrances that will accommodate clothing and pets, and informal spaces that offer convenient access to terraces.

What is the ideal outcome?

Needless to say, it is one that delights a client every day through effortlessly, accommodating the demands of daily life with functional but beautiful spaces, yet also creating areas where there is drama and magic — and, of course, spaces that allow clients to enjoy the setting in all its glory.

Janine Stone & Co specialises in building and renovating great houses, incorporating architecture, interior design and construction management, and has been providing Country Life with insights and expertise on different elements of new-build and renovation projects through this regular monthly ‘Masterclass’ series. To speak with Janine Stone & Co, please telephone 020–7349 8888 or visit