Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
When you were a kid, chances are your family spent most vacations in the same place every time. That likely shaped how you recharge and where you go to do it. And while traveling the world is always a rewarding experience, there’s something comforting—and instantly relaxing—about returning to a familiar destination.
Whether you inherit a property or want to start your own traditions somewhere new, here’s how to design a vacation home that’s just right for your family.
I’ve found that most people want a vacation home that’s relatively close to their primary residence. Ideally, it’s within several hours of where you live. Mexico or Hawaii is absolutely an option, but most people prefer somewhere they can drive within 3 to 5 hours. Often we gravitate toward where we went growing up—there’s an element of childhood nostalgia to it. It’s also common to inherit a property from your parents, or that you want to be close to other family members’ property. Familiarity tends to play a big part.
You want to think about how much time you’re going to spend there and when. Will it be weeks or months at a time, or just on the weekends? Is it a few times a year, a certain season, or all year round? Will you be entertaining there? What activities will you be doing? Will you be hosting guests or is it just for your immediate family? How you’re going to use the property affects how you design and build it.
If you’re going to use the home infrequently with just your immediate family, you’ll want something with a smaller footprint, and you probably won’t use the same caliber of materials that you would in a primary residence. If you’re planning to bring your extended family and friends—and the whole point of it is for people to get together—you’re going to need more bedrooms, bathrooms, or even structures, like a main house, guest house, and pool house. Some families want more of a compound, with separate buildings for the siblings and parents, plus shared common outdoor spaces. It all depends on the family dynamics and your comfort level. And your means, of course.
The biggest factor is who’s staying there and how you live—how many beds and bedrooms is usually the most important decision, followed by how many bathrooms, and how much personal space everyone needs. If you’re going to have a lot of kids, for example, you’ll want two or three bunk rooms with as many beds as possible. In general, I’ve found that people will go for smaller bedrooms so they can have more—and bigger—bathrooms. We put in as many freestanding bathtubs as possible because people find them so relaxing. Fireplaces are another thing people want in as many rooms as possible.
We tend to do a lot of open floorplans—great rooms are popular for having friends and family over. It usually involves a bigger kitchen with multiple dining areas, and often that flows into an outdoor dining area as well. People envision their vacation home as having as many loved ones with them as they can, so we design to accommodate that.
Another thing to consider is how much time you’ll be spending outdoors and whether you need to prioritize that space over indoor living areas. Especially in warmer climates, decks or lanais are incredibly important, and I’ve found that people really want to invest in the furniture for those—it’s an essential part of how they experience their vacation home.
Storage. Think about what you’ll be doing there and how much space you’ll need for your gear, particularly in the mudroom. If it’s a ski house, for example, we’ll design that around all the skis and poles and helmets. If it’s a lake house, you need room for all your boat stuff. All of your activity equipment needs to go somewhere that feels purposeful.
Views in a vacation home tend to be very important—often more than square footage. I mean, sometimes the whole point of being in the country is having a view of the mountains or the lake. In terms of aesthetics, most clients want to design a house that fits in to the surrounding area. There’s something inherently vacation-y about blending into the local vibe, and most people want to build in the vein of that location, regardless of their taste. We always use materials that are indigenous to the area and pull from how houses are built locally, in terms of architectural style and construction.
It’s complicated to build from scratch or gut a project when it’s remote. I recommend hiring an architect/contractor team that has experience in remote projects—they need to be good at the logistics of managing and installing remotely. You need to understand that you can’t personally oversee it, like you can with a primary residence. It’s also worth noting that things can take twice as long out in the country versus a in more urban area. That slower pace you find so appealing affects everything—even construction.
Think about how you’ll use the house and who’ll be staying there.