Have you ever noticed that when you are looking for a comfortable place to sit, you often select a corner rather than the center of the room?

The corner offers a sense of protection. Since our vision is limited to seeing only what's in front and to the sides of our bodies, we are hard-wired to favor places that ensure our backs are safe. Although, typically, this isn't something we consciously think about, our actions indicate the importance of this principle. Think about when you go to a restaurant. If the host leads you to a table in the middle of the dining area, you'll probably ask if there is a booth available, or at least a table, at the edge of the room. We don't question these preferences; we simply know that we're more comfortable in these locations.

When it comes to home design, we can use this natural human inclination to great advantage. The whole house can be made to feel more comfortable and welcoming by adding a suggestion of shelter around each activity place. A corner automatically provides this sense of protection, but there are many other ways to create the same effect. Providing a sense of shelter around each activity area can make a space seem much larger than it actually is because our eyes and senses perceive multiple defined places and we assume there must be more floor area there as a result. This principle is one of the key ways of doing more with less.

Alcoves An alcove is a pocket of space attached to a larger room or area, and is often used to house an activity separate from the function of the main room. So, for example, a rectangular family room might gain a small alcove to accommodate a computer desk and homework station. In the photo above, the informal eating area off the kitchen is nestled in an alcove with a lowered ceiling sheathed in wood paneling to further differentiate it from the main room. Bringing the walls in and the ceiling down creates a sense of shelter. Without these sheltering surfaces, although there might be more overall floor area, the table would appear to float in the available space and would be a less comfortable place to sit.

Adapted with permission from Home by Design by Sarah Susanka, published by The Taunton Press (2004).