sample please

Random samples used in recent projects…even the Unistrut.

There is a part of every architect’s and designer’s job that involves gathering material samples for their projects.

It’s a bit like playing at a playground, getting ice cream from an ice cream truck or Christmas morning.

One might expect to see samples for a project adhered to a large stiff backdrop to demonstrate to the client the design intention with respect to materials, all in one visual. The architect’s logo will be neatly affixed to the bottom corner and one places this on an easel.

This is something most architects find to be fun, but as I was thinking about my recent client meetings involving samples, I remembered samples are more of an important informant to the design process than a destination. I rarely glue them to a backdrop…I said rarely not never.

Three things come to mind that samples inform.


This is probably the number one reason people wish to see samples and the top reason people think samples are important. They reflect the actual color of a material and from there other colors, patterns and textures can be coordinated into a consistent theme for the project. I typically share samples by demonstrating them in a similar lighting scenario as they will be in their final position.

A rare occasion of a sample board…after reviewing them in the sun.

For instance if one is looking at something on an interior wall then we show the sample on a vertical surface with lighting similar to that particular room. If you are choosing a material for the inside of a home, it’s not a good idea to choose a material by laying it on a desk surface under fluorescent lights. When materials are part of the exterior it is important to look at them outside preferably in the sunlight. This way that they can be reviewed and tested against other materials being considered in both sunlight and shadow.

Charcoal split face CMU – R.I. Lampus Co.

Material Properties

Many materials may be familiar or common to a particular client; however, there are more choices today than years ago. It seems to be constantly changing. Brick, concrete, concrete block and vinyl siding are familiar to most people. Many lightweight claddings are on the market and with the advent of better building performance, newer systems are arriving each year – especially for interiors. Tile, carpeting, and surface materials never end. It is good for clients to see (and touch) their options so they may participate in the process and can feel informed that the decision recommended by their architect is one that they concur with and support. They’ll actually talk about it with their friends.

Matching up charcoal metal cladding with Nichiha FC panels

I find it very important for us as designers to present divergent options to our clients so that they feel they’ve had the broadest look at options and take comfort that their decision is the best for them under their particular circumstances.

On one recent project we went through multiple options, colors and cost structures over two or three meetings. The final selection was a blend of their personal preference, budget, and my recommendations for how to relate those to the overall concept. Yes, we had many samples.  The look in my clients’ eyes during my final pitch was remarkable as they had never considered how a material could support a bigger idea.

Construction and Detailing

This might be the last thing people think of or perhaps never even consider from a sample. When we present materials to client, we prefer to demonstrate how materials comes together with adjacent materials as an assembly. Read here. At times, the details surrounding the joints and edges of the material are perhaps more important than the material itself.

We’ve been studying various rainscreen details for several recent projects.

Samples can illuminate to the architect aspects to consider in the detailing of the project beyond what photographs or technical data may yield. From a haptic learning process we might discover deficiencies or revelations with a certain material based on its texture, its durability or as stated earlier – its color. I have built mock ups on occasion in my office (or garage) and have tested materials by submerging them in water for a period of time just see what might happen under certain circumstances. Things behave differently once they are installed and once they are exposed to the weather. They can also behave differently once they are exposed to occupants and general use.

I find it liberating to understand the installation techniques and the limitations or opportunities of a material. I speak often with product representatives especially those that are technical installation experts. Knowing and understanding how a material is installed and the edge conditions allow me to develop alternative methods for exploiting that material in a way that can yield more value or interest to the project than customary or typical methods. You can’t break a rule unless you know why the rule is there.

We keep a sample of a Stanley Pivot hinge to show clients…it’s one of our favorites.

Sample Libraries

Some architects have extensive sample libraries with staff to manage them. I admit I have a garage full of labeled boxes. Either way, one of the most enjoyable meetings I have with my clients is one where I dig through those boxes (or call a rep.), choose samples and bring them to a meeting. As stated earlier, I generally don’t make a sample board because my clients seem to enjoy playing with samples and holding them in their hands. This method is more interactive and invites their contribution.

somebody clean this up already
This is the James Hardie box.

Choosing samples today?

Has your architect shared samples with you?

Look beyond just the color – think about what else they can do.

Our Photoshop skills got the outside transformed and led to a bigger project.
sample please

4 thoughts on “sample please

  1. Lee, I find it worthless to make sample boards for commercial/private clients due to the budget, locating best value, and making changes. My civic and university clients…I can usually count on the finish decisions sticking.

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