Function Before Form

Function Before Form

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Function Before Form

by Cynthia Soda

As designers, we are drawn to beautiful things. It’s easy to covet the most luxurious item in a store and online shopping makes constant temptation effortless. However, purchasing that very beautiful — very expensive item — only to find that it doesn’t fit your space is something designers are trained to guard against. It is a tug-of-war to distill and restrain and to put function first.

Assuring you meet the function requirements ensures that form solutions offer maximum enjoyability.

Selecting finishes, furniture and accessories is inconsequential if the space lacks function. Designers add value to the decision-making process well before thought is given to aesthetics. It can be disappointing when clients are halfway through a renovation and we step in to help with paint colours and cabinet door styles and see missed opportunities to add value through space configuration, sightlines, accent features, or integrated storage.

Function is at the forefront of every good designer’s mind and it’s absolutely essential to plan with people and purpose in mind. Every decision stems from the needs of the client and issues of space. Empty nesters who travel frequently and love to collect and display art have different needs than a couple with young children and weekly extracurricular activities to attend.

As a designer, it is essential to understand the clients, their current needs and their future needs. It is also important to understand the value of the space and the amount of investment that a space can withstand relative to the value of the house.

Implementing a program of requirements is a good idea, regardless of project size. This provides a basis of communication with the client and is a starting point for decision-making. Styles change, but function is much more difficult and expensive to modify once walls are built and doors are installed.

A few of the most important considerations are as follows:


Understanding behaviour is the job of a designer. How do people behave in a space? What is it being used for? How will they use the space over time? The difference between art and design is the user requirement that design demands.


Sightlines are one of the most important considerations to be made. Imagine sitting down to an elegant dinner and from the table your guests can see the powder room door is open with a glorious view of the toilet. Or think of the parent making dinner having to run back and forth from the kitchen to the family room in order to keep watch over their toddler playing beyond the wall dividing the spaces.


Providing for appropriate circulation is important. Minimum distances around islands, in bathrooms, in front of appliances and around furniture is an important part of avoiding frustration. Circulation also affects the future usability of the space. It is always recommended that designs reflect the concept aging in place and thought is given to how someone might navigate the space with mobility aids.

Reach Distances and Ergonomics

There are standards in the interior design industry and for good reason. Years of research dictate cabinet heights, countertop heights, corridor widths, lighting heights and other specifications. While challenging these can be fun and provide inspiration to the designer, ultimately function must be respected and the user requirement is paramount.


It is easy for interiors to look great in photos. However, cleaning, maintenance and durability should be considered before any decisions are made. A lot of problems can be avoided with time dedicated to the research of what a product or finish offers to a client. Appropriateness of use is extremely important. For example, in our cold climate designing finishes and storage that withstand snowy, salty boots and bulky winter coats at the front entry is necessary.

CYNTHIA SODA is owner and principal interior designer of Soda Pop Design Inc., a multi-disciplinary interior design firm providing complete custom renovation and design services for residential and commercial clients throughout the GTA.

Soda Pop Design focuses on merging the client’s lifestyle, personality and architecture to create customized liveable luxury.
Instagram @CSodaPop
Twitter @SodaPopDesign


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