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  • James Treble

Functional Or Practical?

At first thought, the meaning of these two words may not seem all that different, but in reality (and especially for those that work in design and building) this small difference can truly affect how successful the end result is. In fact, the difference between what is practical and what is functional can affect how we live in our very homes.

Every home should be created to be practical
Every home should be created to be practical


Among the many things I have learned in my career as an interior designer, an especially important lesson stands out: not all that works, necessarily works well. Let’s go back to the difference between functional and practical and try understanding it with a few examples:

· A house has the basic function of protecting people from the weather. A cave does that too, but is a cave a place where a family could live well? Functional, maybe, but not practical.

· A milk crate turned upside down can be used as a seat. It serves this function, but would you sit on it to watch television? Not comfortably and not for long, hence it is functional but not practical.

· A sofa that is too large for the room it is placed in fulfils its function, and it might also be comfortable, but it is bulky, and that can impede on placing other necessary furniture items in there. Not practical, right?

So, is functional a good enough attribute? Not really. Should homes be practical alongside being functional? Absolutely!

planning a floorplan that satisfies the furniture placement
planning a floorplan that satisfies the furniture placement

All builders and clients I work with appreciate my very practical approach to design, and it must be appreciated because the number of referrals I receive from client to client is quite outstanding. My secret? My clients are happy because the homes I design are tailored to their specific needs.

I always aim to understanding the client's expectations
I always aim to understanding the client's expectations


Of course, any house is a house, but for a house to become a good home, it must be practical for the people that will Iive there. There are many questions I ask my clients to understand their needs, like the number of people that will live there, their ages, their hobbies. Any pets? Cultural background? Cooking style, working from home, entertaining… where will you sit to read a book? The list of questions is much longer than this, and specific for each room. I may seem very inquisitive to start with, but soon the clients get it and understand that I need to know their expectations if I want to make their home as practical as it can be.

The electrical needs are unique to each family
The electrical needs are unique to each family

So, whether you are building your own home or designing for one of your clients I suggest you spend time focusing on practicality as well as beauty and the house you build will also make the great home you deserve.



James Treble is an ambassador for Planet Ark and firmly believes in sensible purchasing, recycling and creative re-purposing. James has three decades of accumulated experience in the Building Industry, Real Estate and Interior Design and regularly shares his knowledge and experience in adding value to properties through effective design & styling. Watch his free videos on YouTube, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram for more free information. More of James' knowledge is now accessible via Practical Design Online Course.