Even minor inconveniences can get to you after a while. A dishwasher on the wrong side of the sink, lack of storage space for recyclables, mudroom lockers that are too small for your son's hockey bag, a TV set that's not at quite the right angle ... You might not even recognize these as flaws at first. But living with them day after day, they can become "emotional triggers," Ryan Thuftedal said, producing subtle annoyance "every time you experience them." When designing a room, consider how you're going to use it: activities, storage needs, convenience. "Functionality, in a really well thought-out project, will drive all other decisions," Christine Frisk said.


Does the placement of the refrigerator cause traffic jams between cooks and beverage-grabbers? Is the master bathroom an easy path from the master bed? "Think about what you do in the space, how you want to feel in the space, what you want to accomplish," Frisk said.


"All of the stuff in a little house needs to work really hard," Laura Bischoff said. A bench in her living room hides papers and files day to day, then seats guests when she's entertaining. To save space and add architectural interest, she replaced closets with cabinetry. Cabinetry can be expensive, but is "really kind of a life-changer," she said -- "much more so than that chair over there." Little stools, scattered about the house, open for storage and fill in as side tables. "I have like six of them and they move all the time," she said. "There really are some clever, affordable things out there."

In kitchens, Frisk prefers drawers to doors on lower cabinets. They're ergonomically efficient, making it easier to get to items stashed in the rear of the cabinet.


New ovens can simultaneously bake and microwave-heat foods from the inside while browning from the outside, slashing cooking time without turning your pizza mushy, Thuftedal said. Induction stoves use magnets to "bring a big pot of water to boil in a few minutes" but feel cool to the touch once the pot is removed. Faucets with motion detectors make rinsing dishes easier and provide hands-free flow when you've been cutting up raw chicken, Frisk said. Medicine cabinets feature mirrors both inside and outside, electrical outlets and even refrigerators. Fancy new toilets "practically speak to you as you approach them," offering heated seats, rinse and blow-dry functions and, in at least one case, an iPod dock, Frisk said. "It's not a very sexy thing to talk about, but it's a wonderful thing."


• "TVs are often placed too low," Thuftedal said. A 12-degree angle above eye-level is best for neck placement. And don't put a huge TV in a small room, forcing you to turn your head to take in the whole screen.

• One solution to recyclables storage: a flip out cabinet. The top stays in place, letting you use that surface space as well.

• Think about how you and your family will use a space before you plan it, Andrea Dixon said. "You may have a picture in mind" of a tidy, formal room that, with your five kids and two dogs, is not realistic.

• Don't push your furniture up against the wall, Thuftedal said. "It can throw the balance off of a room, making the room seem smaller than it actually is."