In the past, I used to think the best house floor plan for a family with young kids was all on a single floor. The house would have 700 or more square feet per person and be spread out over a large lot. However, with many parents now working from home, I’ve changed my mind.
My original thinking was that with a house all on one floor, there would be fewer to no steps to trip over and cause potential injury. Further, parents could more easily keep an eye on their kids if the floorplan was more open and on one floor.
However, I live in San Francisco where land is extremely expensive. Thus, having a good-sized home all on one floor is uneconomical. As a homeowner, you would be foolish not to build at least two levels or more if you can afford it.
More Levels The Better For Work-From-Home Parents
If fewer levels are more ideal for a family with kids, then one could posit that having a home on two levels is the next best thing, followed by three levels as the third-best choice and so forth.
However, after visiting a potential forever home multiple times for possible purchase, I have come to realize the best house floor plan for a work-from-home family with young kids is actually on three or maybe even four levels!
Let me explain with an example and floorplan of a 4,200 square foot home on two levels and why it’s not ideal.
A Two Level Home May Not Be Ideal For Work-From-Home Families
Below is the floorplan of a 4,200 square foot home. It has six bedrooms, six full bathrooms, two half bathrooms, an open kitchen/living/dining room upstairs, and a second living room downstairs.
It is on a large 9,200 square foot lot and is newly remodeled. The home should be able to comfortably house a family of five or six (two or three adults, two or three children).
When I first got to the home, I immediately fell in love with it. The remodel was done extremely well and my kids had a blast running around everywhere. It’s rare to find a home with such a large useable lot in San Francisco.
Originally, I thought this two-level home was ideal compared to our multi-level home. I just had to buy this house. My real estate FOMO was off the charts!
But after each successive visit, the desire to own the home waned. Not only was the price astronomical, but we also realized the home’s layout was not ideal for the two of us working from home with a toddler and a 5.5-year-old.
For their asking price, we felt like it was missing one level or an additional wing. Even though this house was 1,200 square foot larger and $2+ million more expensive than our home, I’m not sure we would trade homes, even for the same price!
Here are five reasons why the house did not have the best layout for work-from-home families with young children. If our kids were teenagers, the house would have been a better fit.
Not Ideal House Floor Plan Reason #1: Primary Bedroom Shares Walls
Notice how the primary bedroom upstairs (2nd level is the main level) shares not one, but two walls with the two other bedrooms on the floor. Sharing walls is not ideal if you want more privacy. The sound from watching TV or taking work video calls will easily bleed through the walls, especially if there is a vent. As a result, your own relaxation or conference calls will be affected.
If you have guests or an au pair staying in one of the bedrooms, the layout may also feel too close for comfort. At least each bedroom has its own bathroom, which prevents any awkwardness of coming out of the room naked and bumping into someone.
Hence, the best house floor plan has bedrooms that don’t share walls with other bedrooms.
Not Ideal House Floor Plan Reason #2: Family Room, Dining Area, Kitchen Are One
If you have an open kitchen that blends into the family room and dining area, you end up just having one large room. It looks and feels great. However, if you’re working from home and can’t deal with distractions, then this one great area effectively becomes only one room.
As a result, the house actually gets smaller with an open kitchen, not larger. Sure, one of the solutions would be to wear headphones to drown out the noise of playing children. But if you are easily distracted visually by someone else in the room or your kid running around, it will be difficult to concentrate.
Therefore, it may be better to have a house floor plan consisting of a formal dining room that can be closed off.
Not Ideal House Floor Plan Reason #3: Bedrooms Above Playroom / Living Room
Notice how the primary bedroom is directly above the second living room/play room. As someone who likes to take afternoon naps, having my kids screaming with joy right underneath isn’t great. The downstairs living room also has a huge TV on the wall, which may also disturb bedroom occupants upstairs.
Therefore, the best house floor plan does not have bedrooms above a busy area. Instead, bedrooms should be above the least used space in the house.
To reiterate and explain further, entry to the home is from the second level and you walk down the stairs to the first level given the home is on a hill. Below is a picture of the phenomenal play area/second living room. However, it’s right below three bedrooms.
Not Ideal House Floor Plan Reason #4: Bedrooms Above Bedrooms
A bedroom above a bedroom may actually be worse than sharing walls in terms of noise pollution. Given every person has to walk around their bedroom, foot noise is unavoidable, especially if you have thin and creaky floors with no sound-proofing layer.
In this layout, all upstairs bedrooms are above either the lower living room or another bedroom. Hence, noise will likely be constant.
Ideally, you want to have a floor that contains a kitchen, living room, and/or dining room in between the bedroom, which will act as a sound buffer. Further, if you have a home on two floors, ideally, the bedrooms on both floors will be on opposite ends of the house. If you have a home on three floors, the rooms can continue to zig-zag.
Not Ideal House Floor Plan Reason #5: No Door At The Bottom Of The Stairwell
If you work from home and have little kids, you want to confine them to a certain area of the home while you work. Kids naturally gravitate towards their parents for fun, love, and support. Wherever I go, my kids follow! Hence, having them out of sight on a different floor enables you to work more efficiently.
In this home’s layout, there is no door at the bottom of the stairwell to confine, or at least, slow down the kids. As a result, if the kids are playing downstairs, they can easily “escape” and run upstairs to see what daddy or mommy are up to. Not only that, given there is no door at the bottom or top of the stairwell, sound travels much more easily throughout the house.
The no-door issue was our biggest epiphany after visiting the home for a fourth time. Our current home does have a door at the bottom of the stairwell. As a result, it adds a layer of privacy and significantly dampens noise. Even though our kids can now open the door, just having the door mentally helps them stay downstairs while one of us is working upstairs.
Multiple Floors Is A Better Floor Plan For A Work-From-Home Family
If you can own a large, one-storied home sprawled across an acre or more, then having only one floor for a work-from-home family works. Having different wings designed in a hub and spoke layout works well. However, due to economics, most homes aren’t built this way.
Below is a two-story home I could live in. Even though it’s only on two floors there are bedrooms at the ends of each home. Further, there’s this office/gym room to the left on the ground floor near the pool. Not bad! Alas, this 7,000+ square foot home probably costs over $15 million in Oahu.
Consider Each Floor As A “Unit Of Privacy”
Instead of one or two floors, it’s better to have three or four floors in your house if you plan to work from home with young kids. This way, you have more areas of privacy. Rooms count as one unit of privacy while floors count as another unit of privacy.
Other units of privacy include decks, where you can rest or work outdoors on a nice day. Another unit of privacy is a nicely finished garage, which we currently use as our playroom. Another unit of privacy is the pool or hot tub, where you can take conference calls or just relax.
The final unit of privacy is the back or front yard. In the home above, you’ve got a backyard, the public beach, and endless miles of ocean. Sweet!
Safety From The Stairs Abates As Kids Get Older
The biggest downside to owning a home with three or more floors are the stairs. Stairs add more risk to everyone, not just young children and elderly parents or grandparents. Therefore, if you’re older, the ideal home layout should also have bedrooms and bathrooms on the entrance floor.
For kids, a home with multiple floors becomes less of a danger issue once kids are about three years old. By this age, they will learn how to more safely navigate the stairs. Just make sure to be vigilant in guiding your kids up and down the stairs before age three.
Three floors consisting of a ground floor, second floor, and third floor might be best for a single-family home. Having decks off each floor and a nice back or front yard are also great features to have in the post-pandemic work-from-home environment.
Four floors is doable too. But any more than four floors might make the house feel too vertical. It’s cumbersome enough to climb up three flights of stairs, let alone four. But again, it depends on the layout.
If you can enter the home from the ground floor where there is the kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedrooms are located, that feels pretty good, even if there are two floors above you and one floor below. The split down and up is nice. However, if the home has three floors above the ground floor, then that might feel like too many floors for some people.
Silence And Privacy Are Golden For Work-From-Home
As someone who does 99% of his writing at home, I need silence to think and write. It’s the same thing with reading.
Whenever I hear my kids running around and squealing, all I want to do is stop what I’m doing play with them. Being in a different room on a different floor while working or napping is, therefore, the best solution. If you’ve ever flown Business Class upstairs on a Boeing 747, I think you’ll appreciate the privacy of being on your own floor.
Here is a sweet clip of my boy when he was 3.5 years old. All he wanted to do was play with daddy at 2 pm. But I woke up at 5 am and all I wanted to do was sleep! Although I was exhausted, of course I ultimately agreed to play with him. These are the precious moments parents will cherish forever.
With work-from-home here to stay, I suspect well-laid-out-homes with three floors are going to be more desirable going forward. Not only are homes with three floors more suitable for juggling work and family life, they will likely appreciate more in value as well!
Readers, what do you think is the best home floor plan for a work-from-home family with young kids? We know the desire for bigger homes has permanently increased. But what else am I missing?
For more logical debates on some of life’s greatest dilemmas, pick up a hard copy of my upcoming new book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. The book will not only help you build more wealth, but it will also help you think things through and make more optimal decisions.