our house is home

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House versus home. What is the difference? I’m not going to answer that – I’m not interested into delving into telling someone that answer. Let’s not work at separating these two things, but talk about how they are connected. Can one contribute to the other?

As architects, we design houses which occupants make their home. The question is – can our design contribute to how the homeowners make a house their home? I wish I had time to interview past clients and get their take on this; that would be a great interview. For this post, I interviewed myself and my wife to describe a few architectural decisions we made in the house we built for ourselves almost 10 years ago, that contribute to how we have made it our home as a family.

Frugality: I believe our decision to be prudent and careful in what expenses we incurred in the making of the house allowed us to create something that was affordable, so in our overall budget we still had the ability to do things together as a family and do things for and with other families. Building too much house would have pushed us to our financial limit, begin to invade other parts of our lives, and negatively influence important decisions. Some decisions were a no, some were a not now. This many years later, I’m trying to find time to plan some of those “not now” decisions. Our house is small.

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Windows and Views: We designed the placement of windows to allow for certain views, but Amy recalls one specific, late addition window. One of the dining room windows overlooks the driveway and for years allowed us to watch our son play in the yard. I can’t recall why it wasn’t part of the original design, but it seems so obviously critical to the interior views and external composition. Funny, that decision was made on Valentine’s Day, 2007 – a useful gift.

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look for the middle window above the garage door

Kitchen: Saying that one has an island, sounds like a pretentious move to one-up our friends or at best a residual effect of too much HGTV. However, in our case, we talked at great lengths about how our kitchen should work – especially with a blank slate. We discovered that an L-shaped kitchen with an island accomplished several things. Most importantly, it allows for one of us to be in the kitchen (Amy cooks better than I do), while our guests are buffeted by the island. Friends or family can communicate with us in the kitchen, but politely stay out of the way – yet be together.

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Openness: I prefer to go beyond the term open-plan since it has been reduced to a pedestrian buzzword. There is not enough definition to it to permit people to use it correctly. Based on our own childhoods (mainly mine), we made a conscious decision to arrange the main living spaces to still see each other no matter where we are. This has a huge benefit to allow togetherness while still permitting individual activities that can evolve into group activities. We carefully molded these spaces to allow for multiple activities (and we didn’t build other activity rooms). Moreover, we had several conversations on the relationships of these rooms to one another. The dining room for instance bridges between the kitchen and the living room; activities there can relate to either or both spaces. I might be in the living room typing this blog, while our son may be at the dining room table doing homework. Amy could be in any of these rooms as she is generally working the hardest moving about all these spaces keeping us going. The key is being together

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after all these years, I’m considering changing the wall color

I have heard that some architects could never build their own house due to decision paralysis. Perhaps it causes too many arguments. Budget will reduce the selection options quickly too – a good thing. None of our choices are arbitrary, but then we weren’t afraid to make decisions. We did find the house is just a building, but because of the design, it helped make a house our home.

photos: Ron Lutz II

Please read what my friends’ perspective are – it might change your mind…or mine. #Architalks

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
I don’t design homes

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: House or Home?

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
The Designation between House and Home

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
House or Home? The Answer to Everything

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Emotional Marketing for Architects: House or Home?

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
House or Home? It’s in the story.

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
House or Home? A Choice of Terms

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
house or home: #architalks

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“house” or “home”?

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
House or Home — Discover the Difference

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #24 : House or Home

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
House or Home? – Depends

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
House or Home? Train for One, Design for Another

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
A Rose by Any Other Name…

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
House or Home

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Designing a House into a Home

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Ways to Make your Architecture Studio feel like Home

Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Making a House a Home

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Dwelling on a Macro scale

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
House or Home: One’s a Place, the Other a Feeling.

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
Architalks – A House is not a home

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
#ArchiTalks #24 House or Home? #RefugeeCrisis @GrainneHassett mentioned

our house is home

good client, good architecture

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Behind every good architect is a good client; good clients are necessary to good architecture. Don’t take the wanted poster too far, we need living clients. We want good clients; we have good clients.

After all these years of practicing architecture, one conclusion that I am comfortable making (and I hope other architects agree) is that good projects require good clients. Good architecture follows along. I acknowledge that the absence of said person doesn’t preclude good architecture, but it makes it quite difficult and near impossible in most situations. This goes for residential or commercial projects, from doghouses to skyscrapers.

Read enough about architecture and one will typically find in the story where the client was active and involved; that client was likely a good client. It is true that we can find colorful stories and tumultuous relationships, even adversarial partings between the client and the architect occurring at times. Nevertheless, the client who paid for the building must have positive contributions that extend beyond merely writing a check.

We could talk all day about the different types of clients that we’ve had, but that could prove endless and divert our attention to fruitless areas. It can be established that there are experienced clients and inexperienced clients. Experienced clients have worked with architects on multiple occasions, they understand the process, they navigate through proposals, contracts and the startup process well. Getting to the “meat” of the project is something they’re generally eager to do as the rest is familiar. Inexperienced clients have never worked with an architect, or perhaps they did on one occasion with varied results. I guide my prospective clients to educate themselves quickly on basic matters so they can be informed and make decisions early on that they’ll not regret later in the process. Educated (and empowered) consumers are great people with which to work.

Aside from the level of experience, three categories came to mind as I considered this topic, but there are limitless versions and hybrids. I move forward carefully as I dare not insult any of my clients or potential clients either intentionally or accidentally. Respect and appreciation is something that should always come to their mind as they consider their relationship with me. For the most part, I’ve been extremely fortunate.

  1. Indifferent client – Unfortunately, this client may not see the architect as a volitional choice, but as a dictate beyond their control. They tend not to value or care about the contributions or the input of the professional, but perceive it merely as a mandated governmental stepping stone to get to their goal of having a structure where they can conduct their business. In other words, they’re told they must hire an architect, therefore they (grudgingly) move forward. They’re not hostile, they’re just not interested. I have found there is often a lack of understanding of value available and the fee paid is merely an expense rather than an investment in a service and a relationship that can yield not only shelter, but lend branding, increased productivity and health to their business. I may have thickened my hyperbole for the sake of a point, but one must be careful when an inquiry comes in from this type of client.
  2. Frugal cheerleader – This client often has limited resources, but seeks the best value with the best fitted architect for the best architecture that that they can get for their investment. They tacitly or overtly challenge their architect despite a limited budget, often suffering through cuts and compromises, yet remain passionate enough to trust their architect to make the best of their limited resources. If this client lends appropriate freedom, unexpected positive results can ensue within great constraints. Good results can occur if expectations are managed well, disappointment can come when the root of the idea is lost when the money is not there.
  3. Indulgent artists – This might be the client most architects think they want; however, that’s not always true. This client is willing to pay to get what they want – at any cost. They afford tremendous latitude, demand the highest quality which often leads to the deepest of exploration. Frequently, these projects appear on the cover of our favorite magazines. This is certainly something to celebrate if this occurs, but my caution is with no limits to budget, there is no limit to expectations. As both parties agonize over the details to achieve a unique work of art, tumultuous struggles occur which may have unfortunate consequences. This could go either way. Tread carefully.

Regardless of what traits you might exhibit as a client, the one aspect that can make the most difference in the result is the client engagement and open relationship with the architect. Whether the project is large or small, I have found the best projects come from a client that is involved in the process, interested in the result and contributes their vision balanced with an unmistakable trust for their architect. When one first seeks a professional that best fits with their personality and needs, but is well suited with their project type, that sets them up for success and satisfaction. After having hired the architect and worked through the program and constraints, let the architect do their job. Don’t design for them, don’t hold their arm while they draw, but trust them to find the best solution within the context. There needs to be ongoing dialogue and continuing exchange during this process, but the worst thing one can do is tell the architect that they think they “have it all figured out”, then expect the architect to merely ‘draw it up’ to either reduce the fee or give a feeling of having designed it themselves.

This mode of thinking expands beyond hiring of design professionals. Be a good client (or customer) with whatever services you hire a professional for assistance. Once you’ve made the right choice, let them do their job – whether they are architects, accountants, graphic designers, photographers, computer repair persons, bakers or baristas. If you don’t get the result you want, perhaps the error wasn’t on the part of the professional but in your choice or your contributions (or lack of trust) to the one you hired in the first place. It’s something to think about today. Seek out good clients rather than good projects.

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Image 2 credit: By The U.S. Army (Searching for opposing forces) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

good client, good architecture

small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)

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As a small firm (OK, solo) practitioner, I’m often asked about the type of work I do – which generally causes a pause…as I wonder how to answer with the length of response they’re anticipating. Continue reading “small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)”

small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)

then and now

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second-year architecture student, February 1988
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today

I’ve been practicing architecture for 25 years (actually closer to 26 now). I started a YAF (young architects forum) and am no longer a “young” architect by that standard. Next year I’ll turn 50 years old and am told that is when things begin. I can’t wait…I think. Continue reading “then and now”

then and now