Word Picture Checklist: A Companion List of Considerations for Your Word Picture

Artist's rendering of beautiful triple dome with undulating curves.

When planning your home, the most important first step is completing a word picture. A detailed word picture will help your designer understand how you want your home to feel and function—before any money is invested in sketches and floorplans.

Jonathan Zimmerman

A word picture is a comprehensive, written description of what you want and need in your new home. Completing the word picture can be a daunting task. Use this companion list of questions and considerations to help you complete this important first step toward the design and planning of your dream Monolithic Dome home.

Before you get started

  • What are the names and ages of everyone who will be living in the home?
  • What are the interests, hobbies, or special needs or considerations for each person?
  • How will these needs change in 5, 10, 20 years?
  • Who will be frequent guests?
  • How often do you expect overnight visitors, and how long do you think they will stay?
  • Do your frequent guests have special needs or requirements that need to be taken into consideration?

Step One—Brainstorm

Invite everyone who will be living in your home to participate when answering these questions.

  • What are your wishes for your home?
  • What are your wildest dreams for your home?
  • What are your absolute must-haves?
  • How many bedrooms? Bathrooms?
  • Open floor plan?
  • Loft space? Rec room? Media room?
  • Do you want offices? A Library? A music room?
  • Do you need a shop? Utility room? Mud room? Pet shower?
  • Do you want a Garage? Just for cars, or do you need storage?
  • Will you need big closets?
  • Have you been wanting a craft room? Sewing room?
  • Do you want a basement?
  • Do you want to embrace, highlight, or avoid staircases?
  • Where are you going to store your family’s sporting equipment, sewing supplies, or tools?
  • Do you do a lot of entertaining? What kind of outdoor and indoor spaces will that require?
  • What space will your kids, grandkids, or other frequent visitors require?
  • Do you have a large family with the need for more than one washing machine?
  • Do you need to have a small apartment built into your home? Perhaps for elderly parents, your college-age kids, or just for supplemental income?
  • Where will your kids store their toys, books, homework supplies, and games?
  • Where will you store family games, books, and media?
  • What about the storage of seasonal decor? Christmas trees, autumn wreaths, ceramic eggs, felt heart garlands, etc. all take-up space.
  • Country living or city life?
  • If you have your site picked out, what details do you have about it? What do you like and dislike about it? What do you want to emphasize?
  • If you don’t have a site picked out, what are you looking for in a potential lot? Do you want a fun neighborhood? A rural setting?

Step Two—Expanding on your initial brainstorming sessions

Refine your list of wishes and start defining each room, closet, bonus space, or outdoor area,

  • What is the purpose or purposes of each room?
  • How many people will be utilizing each room at any given time?
  • What kind of furniture will the room need to accommodate? A king-size bed? A piano? A desk? A conversation pit?
  • Does it need to be quiet? Private? In the heart of the action?
  • Is a bedroom simply a place to sleep, or do you expect it to be a gathering place to read to the kids or watch TV?
  • Do you want a small office space in your bedroom(s)? Sitting area? Dressing area? Makeup vanity?
  • How big do the closets in each of your rooms need to be? What will their contents be? How much do they need to accommodate?
  • Do you want a private bathroom just for you?
  • What should the feeling in the bathroom(s) be? Organized and efficient? Laidback and inviting as a place to relax?

To help with this part of the process, purchase a few home and lifestyle magazines and cut out images that speak to you. This works well if you ask your family members to participate. Have everyone cut out pictures of bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, workshops, etc. and tape them into your notebook. Ask for detailed, written descriptions for each image describing what they like about the room.

More considerations

  • Keep a journal noting how much time you actually spend engaging in the various activities and hobbies that take up space.
  • Consider where you want your kids to hang out. Do you want them to gather in shared spaces, or isolate in their rooms? Where do you want your kids to use their laptops?
  • If you need a guest room, could a Murphy bed or a daybed be installed and the room be used as an office when there are no guests?
  • Could the laundry room become a utility room where tools and household accouterments are stored?
  • Could an entryway become a mudroom with the washer and dryer in it?
  • Can you get by with a smaller stackable washer/dryer unit in a bathroom or kitchen?

This may also be the time to start researching flooring options.

  • What do you like or dislike about carpet, ceramic tile, wood floors, or the new vinyl plank flooring options?
  • How do they compare in terms of cost and maintenance?

Compare and match up what you learn during this part of the process with your brainstormed lists.

  • Has anything changed?
  • If so, why?

Make a new master list of spaces and rooms and highlight the “must-haves” for your house.

Don’t forget the exterior

While you are researching the design of the interior of your home, do the same for the exterior.

  • Make notes about what conventional styles you like and rip pages out of magazines.
  • Consider if you want a traditional style garage, or if you want the garage to be part of your home, or a separate dome, or any combination in between.

Step Three—Measure, Measure, Measure

For this step to be successful, you will need a measuring tape, notebook, and pencil to carry with you at all times. You are going to record the measurements of everything you want to have in your house and make notes about what you did or did not like about each space, deck, room, closet, appliance, and piece of furniture.

Use your measurements to decide on MINIMUM and OPTIMUM sizes for each room.

Things to consider measuring include:

  • Bedrooms, closets, and hallways. Measure your own and measure your neighbors’.
  • Measure the space between cabinets in kitchens. Measure the actual cabinets.
  • Measure your bathtub! Go to Home Depot or Lowes and measure the tubs they have on display.
  • Measure your shower and other people’s showers.
  • Measure bathroom and kitchen storage spaces.
  • Measure linen closets, pantries, and front stoops.
  • Measure decks, foyers, staircases, offices, and even the desks in offices.
  • Measure other people’s shops, garages, and rec rooms.
  • Measure furniture. Measure every couch, bed, filing cabinet, dresser, bookcase, toy box, and table you come across.
  • Measure the sizes of the furniture you use every day in every room.

Regarding room sizes

  • What furniture and how many people will each room need to accommodate?
  • What are your “deal breakers?”
  • Do not rely on “guesstimates.”
  • Do not rely on your interpretation of blueprints or sizes of rooms you see in magazines.

Remember: Pictures of rooms can seem much larger than they really are, and blueprints are challenging to visualize accurately.

Write down your minimum and optimum dimensions next to the detailed descriptions and cut out pictures of rooms you collected in steps one and two.

Step Four—The Arrangement

So, you have a list of rooms, porches, and storage spaces. You have the minimum and optimum sizes defined. You have pictures from magazines and detailed descriptions of how you envision each room looking and functioning. Now it’s time to put it all together.

  • Describe which rooms you want next to each other.
  • Do you want the baby’s nursery next to your bedroom, or do you want it down the hall?
  • Do you have a formal dining room on your list? If so, do you want it immediately adjacent to the kitchen?
  • Are the bedrooms right next to each other? If so, do you want the closets positioned in between them to dampen noise transfer? Or is it more critical that a bedroom closet buffer noises from a bathroom?
  • If the living space is expected to be noisy, where are the offices and bedrooms going to be?
  • Think about the direction you want each of your rooms to face. Which windows have to face east to catch the morning sun?
  • Do you live in a hot climate and need to minimize any windows to the south?
  • Are you in a cold environment that might benefit from the entire home facing south?
  • How much natural light does the room need?
  • Do you want a particular room to overlook a view or face west to watch sunsets?
  • Do you want the kitchen door to lead out to a garden or deck?
  • Keep in mind the secondary uses of each room and how those activities will fit into the flow of the home.

Add this information to your list and descriptions of rooms and spaces. Note whether those desires are wishes, must-haves, or deal-breakers.

Step Five—Location considerations

This step can differ depending on whether or not you have a lot picked out. There are a few details about the location you have in mind that inform this stage in the design process.

  • What is the general climate?
  • Do you think you will be inside or outside city limits?
  • Is there an available sewer and water system, or will you need a septic tank and well?
  • Do you foresee zoning, covenants and restrictions being an issue in your area?
  • Do you know what the soil conditions are?

If you have already purchased a lot, those questions will be more easily answered.

  • What are the dimensions of your lot?
  • Do you have pictures?
  • What is the topography and soil composition?

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

After your word picture is complete, contact the designer of your choice to have preliminary plans drawn up. Monolithic offers Residential Feasibility Studies—a practical, helpful tool for those preparing to build their dream home. The study includes preliminary floor plans and a professional, detailed evaluation of your project.