A perfect neighbourhood. Houses in suburb at Spring in the north America.

From the number of stories to the shape, your home's layout should match your needs and preferences. (Getty Images)

When you consider what you want in your next home, you tend to think first about the location and maybe the number of bedrooms. But the overall layout of any home – from the distance between the kitchen and living room to the number of stairs you’ll have to take – will impact your daily life. How do you know what shape, number of stories and basic floor plan will work for you?

To determine the best home layout for you, consider these details:

  • Number of stories.
  • Basic shape or footprint.
  • Interior layout.

Number of Stories

First affecting your home’s layout is the number of stories your home will have. Consider whether you're willing to climb stairs, and what overall house footprint would work best for you. Here are your options:

  • One story. If a single story is ideal for you, a ranch home is the most common architectural style you’ll find. Aimed at keeping all the living spaces on the same level without any stairs, ranch houses can offer a sprawling floor plan. For retirees, empty-nesters looking to age in place or anyone with mobility issues, a single story is often ideal because it removes the second-floor accessibility issues. But keep in mind that the size of the foundation and the roof required for a ranch house can be double that of a two-story home. "That cost to build does play into effect," says Christine Cooney, vice president of marketing for The House Designers, a new home design plan company based in Monroe, Connecticut.
  • Split level. Split-level homes offer multiple levels between rooms, often with a few stairs between. You’ll typically find the kitchen and dining room on one level, with a few stairs separating the family room or living space, bedrooms and potentially a finished basement. Split-level houses can work well for families with older children, allowing for spaces to do homework, watch TV or entertain in different parts of the house all at once. For those who struggle with stairs or families with crawling babies, split levels can be problematic.

[Read: 8 Projects to Bring Your 1950s Home Into the Modern Age]

  • One-and-a-half stories. Often referred to as bungalows, houses with 1.5 stories were primarily built in the 1930s or before. They typically have a full set of stairs leading up to a smaller second floor, often made up of one or two bedrooms. All common areas and additional bedrooms are usually located on the first floor.
  • Two stories. Classic two-story houses will have floor plans with matching square footage on each floor. Traditionally, common areas are located on the first floor, while bedrooms roughly mirror the room layout on the second floor. In new two-story houses, master suites are usually located on the first floor. Families with babies and toddlers will likely need to add secure gates. “You’re worried about your child falling down the stairs and breaking a leg, which happens," says Shirley Hackel, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City. Still, two-story homes have appeal, especially in hotter climates like the Southwest. "The living areas are on the ground floor, and sort of protected by the second story to keep it cool during the hottest part of the day," says Regina Aridi, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chandler, Arizona.
  • More than two stories. Houses with more than two stories often have a narrower footprint and are either a historic row house or townhouse. These properties have narrow, long floors and contain a decent amount of square footage by having three floors or more. Row houses and townhouses often have central locations in a city, close to shops and restaurants, which adds convenience. But you must be willing and able to traffic the stairs repeatedly, like when “you’re on the fourth floor, and you forget something in the kitchen on the first floor,” Hackel says.

[See: Types of Roads That Can Have a Big Impact on Home Sales]

Basic Shape or Footprint

While determining the number of floors is a major home layout decision, so is the general shape of the house. Here are a few footprints to consider:

  • Rectangle. Many ranch houses, townhouses, bungalows and classic two-story homes take the basic shape of a rectangle or square. In new housing developments today, homes are often based on a rectangle shape, but with additional cutouts, wings or spare rooms added onto the footprint to meet the needs of the buyer.
  • L-shaped house. An L-shape is common in ranch houses, homes with a partial second story and new construction. An attached garage often makes up the shorter side of the L. The benefit is an attached garage and potentially more driveway space. This footprint also solves the problem of having a lot that isn't wide enough to place the garage in line with the rest of the house, Cooney says.
  • U-shaped house. U-shaped houses often look like a standard rectangular house from the front, but in the backyard, the sides of the home create a more enclosed space and open up to the rest of the property. Some U-shaped houses also add a bit of luxury by including a pool in the center of the U, which Cooney says is popular in warmer climates and particularly in California. "I wouldn't say that's a huge trend nationally – I'd say it's more regional," she says.

[See: 10 Interior Design Trends for 2020]

Interior Layout

Once you have decided on a footprint and number of stories, consider what you want the overall floor plan of your home to look like. Here are your options for interior layout:

  • Open floor plan. You probably already know that open floor plans are popular and highly desired among homebuyers. Whether it’s to watch the kids play while you're preparing a meal or to make it easier to entertain, many homebuyers are looking to reduce the number of walled-off rooms in the home. This is true with younger homebuyers as well. "Millennials want an open floor plan, single level, where everyone is included in every interaction," Aridi says.
  • Separate rooms and hallways. Separated rooms aren’t completely dead, however. Some homebuyers are finding they prefer to have a bit of privacy to work from home or simply avoid hearing what's on the TV. “For kitchens especially, people are really, really looking for a place where they can have a conversation,” says Owen Boller, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in New York City. “They can still have a communal space, but it’s not in the middle of the football game that’s on the TV in the living room.”
  • Bedroom suites. A key preference among many homebuyers today is to have a master suite, and when possible, bathrooms attached to other bedrooms as well. The added convenience of a private bathroom space for each member of the family was once a luxury, but is now becoming more of an expectation. Cooney says people with older children are often gravitating toward a home design that places the master suite farther from the kids' bedrooms for added privacy. "The master enjoys its own wing and puts the children on the other end of the house," she says.

Which Architectural Style Should Your Home Have?

See which home style meets your needs.

typical ranch style home built in the 1960's in small American town

(Getty Images)

When it comes to residential architecture, style and layout are influenced not only by prevailing artistic tastes of the period, but also by the way people live in and use their homes. In the Victorian era of calling cards and rigorously orchestrated entertaining, small reception rooms that flowed to and from formal dining rooms were ideal. Bungalows built before World War II typically have front porches, while post-war ranches and midcentury modern homes offer more private socializing and outdoor spaces. Even if you love the look of a particular architectural style, it won't necessarily suit your lifestyle and day-to-day needs. Here are seven of the most popular home styles you see in the U.S. today, as well as their pros and cons for contemporary residents.

Historic brownstones and row houses

Historic brownstones and row houses


(Getty Images)

While brownstones and historic row houses are a quintessential New York City housing type, they can be found throughout the country, particularly in cities founded before 1900. Their shared walls made them easy to build on small urban lots, while their multistory layouts accommodated large families and gracious reception rooms. Row houses typically feature living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens on the parlor floor, beds and baths above and occasionally an English basement apartment or added living space on the garden level. These historic homes are coveted for their architectural detail, square footage and outdoor space, but they do have their drawbacks. Their shared walls restrict windows to the front and back facades, often leaving interiors with minimal natural light. Narrow buildings can mean smaller rooms, especially bedrooms. And while backyards are standard, you will have close neighbors on both sides.

Modern and midcentury modern homes

Modern and midcentury modern homes

"Palm Springs, California is famous for it's many Mid-Century Modern architectural style homes. In this image a row of such homes are seen on one street with a dramatic cloudscape above them. Palm trees line the street. Coachella Valley, Riverside County, Southern California, Western USA."

(Getty Images)

First introduced in the 1920s by renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, American midcentury modern architecture is known for its minimalism, clean lines and openness. Modern home design closely embodies the idea that form follows function, and postwar innovations in construction led to the abundant use of new materials, including glass, steel and concrete, in place of traditional brick and wood. These houses earn high marks for their walls of windows and fantastic natural light, and open floor plans offer plenty of space to stretch out and entertain. On the downside, that abundant glass brings with it a certain lack of privacy, and those modern building materials can often leave interiors feeling stark and cold. Many modern homes look their best when sparsely furnished and ultra-tidy, so collectors and families with small children may struggle with keeping their midcentury modern looking magazine-ready.

American bungalows

American bungalows

Stairs leading to craftsman house

(Getty Images)

There's quite a bit of variation in so-called "bungalow architecture" in the U.S., with examples ranging from small, shingled Queen Anne homes to stucco Spanish Colonial styles with red-tile roofs. Common traits within the genre are single or one-and-a-half-story profiles and layouts that strive to maximize space within modest proportions. Grand entrances and space-stealing hallways are absent, and front doors open directly into living spaces. Built primarily between 1900 and 1930, these houses offered homeownership at an affordable price. And while those benefits ring true today, even the most charming bungalow can suffer from cramped living spaces, low ceilings and small lot sizes. These homes were constructed economically nearly a century ago, so you should expect to dole out money for modernization and upkeep or be careful in choosing a bungalow that's already been thoroughly updated.

Ranch homes

Ranch homes

Front of ranch-style home in summer, New York State, USA

(Getty Images)

Popularized after World War II, ranch-style homes, often called ramblers, feature boxy, single-level layouts built on a concrete slab with low-pitched roofs and wide overhangs. They are particularly common in the West and Southwest, but can be found across the U.S. Single-story accessibility is a major selling point for ranch homes, especially for those with limited mobility or for families with young kids. Their flat, square layouts provide spacious and sunny living spaces typically with sliding glass doors that open to a rear yard, but with only one floor, you'll find less separation between entertaining and sleeping quarters. However, ranches can seem bland compared to other architectural styles. They lack basement storage, and their low-slung roofs make them less than ideal in locales where the temperature dips below freezing.

Center-hall Colonials

Center-hall Colonials

Large new American House in red brick with lovely green lawn in summer

(Getty Images)

Originally inspired by its Georgian and Palladian predecessors in Europe, American Colonial architecture can be traced back to our nation's earliest settlements, especially in Virginia and Maryland. Today, colonial revival is a leading architectural style among both new and historic homes featuring a uniquely American combination of gabled roofs, dormers, columned entryways and center-hall layouts. In this configuration, you arrive in a central hallway flanked by formal living and dining rooms. Kitchens and family rooms are placed in the rear of the main floor with beds and baths above. Rooms are typically bright and spacious. On the other hand, those who gravitate toward open floor plans may find colonial home entertaining spaces overly compartmentalized.



Beautiful gray traditional victorian house.  House has an American Flag haning over the porch and shows a beautiful garden with flowers and trees.  Set against a cloudless blue sky

(Getty Images)

Popular for most of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, Victorian architecture in the U.S. was heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution. Facades include machine-cut and tooled ornamentation and flourishes, asymmetrical layouts and steep gable or mansard roofs that are decorated with dormer windows. Today, the colorful Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco often come to mind, but houses of this era can be found across the U.S. in a combination of many styles and influences. Victorian homes are not for the faint of heart when it comes to maintenance and upkeep. Unless you acquire a thoroughly modernized Victorian, you can expect to put some money and effort into updating systems. Ornate woodwork and fixtures require skilled tradespeople for restoration and replacement, and these homes can be drafty if windows, insulation and walls aren't upgraded.



Photo Taken In Berlin, Germany

(Getty Images)

Not so much an architectural style as a housing type, high-rise apartments and condo buildings are the epitome of contemporary city living. Glass curtain walls deliver impeccable views, and modern construction means that systems like electrical and central air conditioning are top-notch. Within the latest luxury high-rises, residents enjoy desirable amenities, including fitness centers, roof decks, lounges, parking garages, storage and laundry facilities. However, there are downsides to living in a high-rise. Depending on the location of your apartment or condo, you could have multiple neighbors sharing walls, ceilings and floors, which makes noise and privacy a concern. Waiting for elevators is the norm with skyscraper living, and imagine walking down (and possibly back up) multiple flights of stairs if elevators need repairing. Private outdoor space is limited, and you'll pay a premium when it is available.

Architectural styles to consider for your next home include:

Architectural styles to consider for your next home include:

Historic townhouse architecture of US capital.

(Getty Images)

  • Brownstones and row houses.
  • Modern and midcentury modern homes.
  • American bungalows.
  • Ranch homes.
  • Center-hall colonials.
  • Victorians.
  • High rises.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, existing home sales, new home sales, home improvements

Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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