Other than this, I am not writing about houses I've met. I glean impressions from various sources, including observations while visiting other areas, travelling, magazines, and some of these fragments gel into composite yet incomplete images for my characters to call home. Such snippets are merely a small part of the final pictures in my head. Imagination personalises the dwelling, ascertaining the size, appearance and location, adding details. Occasionally the character may have a suitable finished place to live when I begin a story's first draft, but usually this evolves as the plot develops. My aim is to create the home, outside and inside, appropriate to the personality and lifestyle of its inhabitant; it should also promote an atmosphere in which the storyline can flourish.
Each of my stories has a notebook, and among pages of scribble I sketch a rough floor plan of the plot's most important house, not attempting to design it anywhere near to scale. I do this to anchor some ideas for the story, perhaps since I don't devise a plot plan, rather let the narrative carry on. In most cases, the original layout needs adjusting to accommodate not only proceeding scenes but the workability of the whole floor. The sketch for Cassandra's cottage in Silver Linings had the bathroom squeezed into a corner with no place for a door, and much too small for the spa crucial for a significant scene; as a result, the kitchen got moved and reduced. (No significant scenes there and not much cooking either.)
When furniture and other objects are necessarily mentioned, their placement and style may or may not be detailed depending on how important these are to a scene; readers may arrange them how they wish. Furniture can suggest a facet of the occupant's taste and lifestyle: colourful or drab, tidy or untidy, overcrowded or short of seats.
The view from the windows may be critical to the storyline as in the ocean panorama from the Caribbean island cottage belonging to Cameron in Where The Heart Is; Cristina must leave the man and the view, but is finding it hard to say goodbye. In Silver Linings, windows are useful to indicate the weather, if it's suitable to go beachcombing on the blustery Southern Ocean beach (or if spending the day in the spa is preferable).
Physical surroundings are important contributors to a home's overall ambience, and to the 'feel' of a story. Is the dwelling rural or urban, isolated or on a busy street, and how does this particular location affect the character both emotionally and practically? Is there a garden? If so, is it looked after? Anna's caring nature tends to her roses in Sealing the Deal; Cristina's mature Australian garden of flowers and fruit trees contrasts with Cameron's tangle of tropical vegetation.
While the settings of my novels are clear and complete in my head. I try not to over-describe, to allow readers to use their imaginations, thus perhaps feeling they themselves are inhabiting the story.