Octagon House Requirements

Clearly a lot of house designs could meet our requirements without being octagonal (in fact being octagonal makes it harder is some ways), but there is this intangible quality that we just call "magic" that we have only rarely found in a house.  Since we have actually been in the house that is our model and found magic there, we feel confident our design will have a little magic, too.


Basic 16ft octagon, modeled on house from Friendship, New York, now located at Genesee Country Village in Mumford, New York (circa 1870).  The key elements of this house we want to preserve include the central stairway with landings, the second floor hallway/landing, having the master bedroom secluded on the second floor, the cupola, and the porch.

Basic Space Needs

Within this form we want the following functional spaces (details for each space are provided later):

Site Conditions

The site for the house has these conditions (in addition to those shown on the site survey):

Space Details

Main entrance

Both our current and previous house have had less than ideal guest entrances.  Our previous house had a formal entrance but it was situated and landscaped in such a way as to make it invisible to approaching visitors while emphasizing the service entrance.  As a result, only complete strangers came to the front-door, while friends and family came in through the back door which drew them through the mud-room, laundry area, and either the kitchen or a bathroom.  Our current house is somewhat better, but when guests arrive for a meal, the obvious (shortest) path is through the laundry and kitchen, while the more formal path is very circuitous.  From this experience we know that we want a front entrance that is visible from the approach to the house, is clearly landscaped to draw visitors in, and places visitors into the formal rooms of the house, especially the formal living room and dining areas.  We have seen a number of houses where the dining area is immediately adjacent to the main entrance and we do not think this would be best for us as we do not like to have our meals interrupted when unexpected visitors show up (yes, this even happens in the country).

The main entrance needs to have space available for guest coats, hats, boots, and so forth.  It would be nice to have a place for a guest to sit to remove overshoes.   We do not need enclosed closet space in this area, open coat racks, wall pegs, and shelves would be satisfactory.

Another key function of this area is "dog management."   We have two large dogs who, while very nice, are also very enthusiastic when greeting visitors.   We require some way to block the dogs’ access to the main entrance so as to allow our guests to enter the house unmolested and meet the dogs in a controlled fashion.  Our current house does not provide such a barrier and greeting new guests usually becomes something of a fiasco.

Formal living room

Our family values conversation, debate and personal social contact.  While we are not ‘formal people’ per se, we want to be able to interact among ourselves and with our extended family and guest in a quiet atmosphere without the distraction of television.   When we welcome guests into our home, we do not want to welcome them into a room with a blaring T.V.   We do want to welcome them into a room with comfortable, attractive seating, an obvious conversational arrangement, a focal point such as a fireplace, and a nice view to the outside world.

We do not typically entertain large numbers of people, perhaps six to ten people, including ourselves, at the outside.

Our personal use of the formal living room is as important to us as is our use of it with guests.  We enjoy having a room for conversation, playing cards, reading, or watching a fire or sunset.  We appreciate having a space that is kept nice—one where we can feel like a guest in our own home.

Formal/semi-formal dining room

We value sitting down together for family meals.   We especially enjoy after dinner conversation during family gatherings.  We have lived in houses both with and without eat-in kitchens.   In the houses where we had them we used them, but neither of us sees them as necessary so long as the formal dining area is adjacent to the kitchen.  In one house we lived in we enjoyed the eat-in-kitchen area because it had an especially good view of the yard and better cross ventilation than the formal dining room did.

Kitchen for one cook

Lisa is the primary cook in our family.   Mark helps out some, but is unlikely to become a partner in the kitchen.  We do not see the kitchen as a main gathering area, although we do like some degree of connection between the kitchen and the rest of the house.   A broad connection between the dining area and the kitchen would, we think, serve to extend the social space of the kitchen.

The kitchen is primarily a functional space.   As such we are always looking for solutions to the functional problems associated with food preparation: cleaning, trash handling, recycling bottles and can, storage, etc.

"Television" or "family" room

Having implied that we despise television on principle, we do actually have one and enjoy using it.  We just don’t use it for background, but rather to watch specific programs, movies, or sporting events.  When doing this, we want a very relaxed atmosphere where we can lounge around like bums.  We may well set up a card table to play a long running board game or do a puzzle while also watching an afternoon of basketball.

We see this room as a place that, when cleaned up, is nice enough to entertain in, but can be left messy without detracting from the rest of the house’s appeal.

We may also want to have a computer in this room, but we have not quite figured out what our "post children" computer use patterns will be.

Service entrance

We live in the country; we have big dogs; we do a lot of projects; we get dirty.  Our service entrance needs to accommodate bringing in wet and muddy dogs, cleaning them, and/or leaving them there to dry out.  This would also be the best location for the dogs’ food and water dishes.

We have usually considered having this are also serve as our utility room with washer/dryer, deep freezer, and a utility sink for washing paint brushes and cleaning up greasy hands.

Clearly proximity to the garage/workshop is important, as is proximity to the kitchen for accessing the freezer.

Guest bathroom

We are not great cleaners, so having one small bathroom for guests means we only have to really worry about keeping that one clean all the time.  This is not a feature that we have ever had in a house and it is one we have always wished we did.


I work from home full-time as a computer programmer.   As such, I need a dedicated space for my work.  In the four years that I have been working at home, I have discovered that I want to be only partially isolated from the rest of the house.  When completely isolated I basically get lonely and bored.   When I’m in the middle of everything (as I am now) I have too many distractions (especially if the T.V. is on).

My space requirements include room for a good sized desk (36 inches deep to a wall by approximately 5 feet wide), ample book shelves, some cabinets and cupboards for concealed storage of media, small equipment, cables, supplies, etc., a place for a printer, and two or three drawers worth of filing space.

Lisa also needs office space for her volunteer work and hobby interests.    It isn’t a requirement that her office space be in the same room as mine.   She needs desk space for a computer, two file drawers and several feet of book shelves.

Master bedroom.

We use our bedroom almost exclusively for sleeping and dressing.  Neither of us have large collections of clothing, but we do tend toward bulky sweaters and sweatshirts, so storage for such items is helpful.  Our preference for storage is toward built-ins over free standing furniture, but I enjoy building both so we will probably do some of each.

Also, keeping the bedroom clean has been a point of contention between us, so solutions to the "why can’t you get your socks in the laundry basket" problem will always be appreciated.

We would like to have room for a fair sized book shelf in the bedroom as we both enjoy reading at bedtime, and a comfortable chair would not go amiss.

Master bathroom

We tend to get up in the morning and go to bed together, and we usually shower together.  This means we want a shower stall large enough for two, and that we need enough space in the bathroom to move around each other comfortably when washing, shaving, brushing teeth, etc.  Two sinks would be nice but are not required.  A tub, in addition to the shower, would be nice, but is not an absolute requirement (this may be an option added later).

Two additional bedrooms

Large enough for full-sized beds, study areas, reasonable closets, book shelves, etc. 

One additional full-bathroom

The two additional bedrooms can share a bathroom.   Enough storage space for towels and two people’s stuff.  Nothing very special is required here.

Unfinished space

We have some indoor hobbies now and will likely have more when our children are gone.  Currently this means we need a place for our ping-pong table and a place to start seeds under grow lights.

Unfinished space is required for bulk storage of such items as luggage, empty boxes, household supplies, and general junk.   We do not need a basement workshop area.

I expect to leave the basement unfinished to facilitate access to mechanicals.

Relationship to the Site

Observations on the site

We have now lived on the property for nearly two years.   This has given us the chance to observe the change of seasons, the patterns of vegetation, light, breezes, and sounds.   Here are the key points:

  1. The site has a very long east-west axis, affording nice views of our "great lawn."
  2. Sunsets are spectacular year-round given our slight elevation above the surrounding farmland.
  3. The land to the south of us is unlikely to be developed very close because the creek and flood plain prohibit building nearby and the City of Ames intends to create a green way along the creek.
  4. We are already planning our plantings (especially trees) to provide screens against the inevitable development that will occur around us, especially to the east and north.
  5. The creek provides a natural point of interest and sunlight reflects off it through the trees at various times of the day and year.
  6. We will want to plant trees to the east and west of the house to provide shade in the summer.  These trees will also harbor birds.
  7. While the site is generally very quiet, a light breeze from the north does bring noticeable traffic noise.  This noise is almost completely blocked when standing in the lee of the current house or garage.
  8. We want to have a series of paths connecting various parts of the property and the house.
  9. The creek is a central feature of the property.   It provides habitat, it defines the wild area as separate, it makes noise, it varies from day to day.  In short, it is another resident.
  10. We will have a neighbor to the south-east, but they are hundreds of yards away and they are planting a large windbreak that will screen their house from our view.


The long driveway provides a wonderfully majestic approach to the house.  While many of the current trees will be replaced with more diverse species, this will be done gradually over time.  As you come up the drive you should spot the entrance to the house from several points so that by the time you arrive you already know where you are supposed to go.

As virtually everyone will arrive by car, a parking area must be afforded that will place people near the entrance and in such a way as to make the path obvious.  Landscaping will play a key role in accomplishing this.

Access to the garage/workshop area should clearly appear as a secondary path.


The wrap-around porch is one of the key elements of the original house that we absolutely want to preserve.   The porch’s roof line should extend completely around the house, even if the porch floor and railings transform into other things, such as a patio or shrubbery.   Portions of the porch should be screened in to provide an insect free outdoor area.  We like the idea of having the roof on the south part of the porch removable to maximize sun in the winter and minimize it in the summer.


The south side of the house should take advantage of  natural sun to make a patio area that is sheltered from the north wind and warms up relatively early in the year.  This area would also extend the living area to the outside if it were on the same level as the main floor (or close).


There are no bad views to speak of.   The very best views are to the west and south.  The south view is shorter if one considers only our land, but it is nicely extended by the farm pasture.   As mentioned earlier, I think this land is relatively safe from development.


The cupola provides a panoramic view of the whole landscape.  It will be interesting to see just how much we will be able to see from there.


Loading/unload of groceries and everyday entrance to the house will be gained from the east because of the location of the garage.


The best way we can describe our desired style is as "Shaker-Craftsman."  By that we mean a style based on simple lines, plane surfaces, solid (but not heavy) construction, warm colors, natural woods, clean, simple hardware.   We reject heavy ornamentation.   Specific items that help us depict our idea include:

  1. Simple board casings, with or without a back band.
  2. Double-hung windows with two lights in each sash, divided vertically.
  3. Interior passage doors and cabinet doors made from square edged rails and stile and inset with flat panels.
  4. Built in furniture.
  5. Bead board wainscoting and/or porch ceilings.
  6. Angles that emphasize the 45 degree nature of the octagon.   For instance having the opening from the living room to the stair framed with 45 degree corners.
  7. The trim and door wood will be walnut.

In summary, I’d quote Shakespeare’s Polonius "Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;"

Other Details & Ideas


I would like the house to be designed with repairs and upgrades in mind.  To the extent practical, I would like to keep mechanical systems confined to the stair column walls and defined chase areas, not just putting them in whatever wall is handy.   In this way I hope to create a house that is friendly to remodeling in the future.

I am a fan of access panels so that it is easy to get to plumbing and HVAC components.

I want my wiring easy to upgrade in the future.