home design – “how to” part I


Since starting this blog a little over two years ago I’ve talked a lot about the role of and benefits of having a trained architect/designer involved in your project. And that conversation is still an ongoing one because I believe that the architectural profession has a ways to go before middle class America begins to see the true value in our services. But I want to now take some time and a few posts to talk about home design as a “how to”. I have no idea how many parts this series will have. I assume more than one but perhaps less than 50? We shall see. Either way, the goal here is to offer some insight into what I think is good design and proper planning when considering building or renovating a home. It’s my hope that these blog posts will be the start of a conversation and I’d love to hear from homeowners, architects and designers alike who may be following this blog. You all know I’m not afraid of criticism, so lay it on me.

Here in Part I I want to talk about the basics of planning a new home. Specifically I want to talk about function, organization and multi-use. To me these are the three key elements to today’s modern home and I’ll do my best to describe and narrate each element as succinctly as possible without going off on one of my famous architectural rants. But no promises.

Now, in residential design you first have to start with a client and that client will bring you the second thing you need – a building program. The building program is just a fancy term for all the spaces that make up your home; i.e. how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, eat in kitchen or formal dining, is there a pool, do you need a helipad, etc. So we’ll start out with a basic program for a single family house for a modern family of 3 plus dog. It might look something like this:

3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, office, living, dining, kitchen, pantry, garage/carport, storage and a den/rec room

Now, for the average person this list doesn’t mean much more than something you’d see on a “for sale” real estate flyer, but most architects and designers will look at this list and immediately start to associate each functional area in relation to another and begin creating imaginary bubble diagrams in their head. Bubble diagrams are an informal way to think about the organization of space, function and circulation. These diagrams usually come either during or just after a conversation about how you’ll be using the space the most, i.e. do you entertain a lot, do you have a large family or friends that come over often for large dinner parties, do you spend most of your time indoors or out, how important is a “space” away from the main public areas, etc. All of these questions inform an architect on how you live and how you might use your space not just in the immediate future but also down the road when life may change, such as when kids leave for college. This is the function of your home, the how and the why of how you live your life.

The average person, of average intelligence, is, generally speaking, smart enough to sit down and think critically about how they live and reasonably lay out a home floor plan that will serve it’s larger purpose of providing shelter and a level of modern comfort like air conditioning. But I think we can all agree that there is a something extra that should be in a home, no? There is that feeling of home. It’s not tangible and for most of us it is a feeling that comes after living in a home for some time. Usually after making some adjustments and getting things the way you want them – in other words, you’ve fit the house to match your lifestyle. But what if instead your home was designed and built with exactly this something in mind?

This something, coupled with our functional requirements, leads us to the organization of the home. This is where the building program meets the bubble diagram. They go out, they have a few drinks, one thing leads to another and….well, you get the idea. Hopefully less than 9 months later out pops a conceptual design. Typically consisting of floor plans and elevations (perhaps even a 3D model if your architect is savvy enough), this is where all those ideas begin to take physical form and you can begin to actually imagine yourself in your new home.

Within the organization of your home, and given our modern, technologically saturated lifestyle, multi-function plays a key role in the long term success of any residential project. Lets face it, life changes. You get married, you have kids, they grow up and hopefully leave, but maybe they come back with husbands, wives and kids of their own, or an aging relative needs help….there are literally thousands of possibilities for how your life may change and your home should be adaptable to at least most forceable outcomes. We as architects and designers can’t predict everything that may come your way, but we can plan in such a way that as needs change the house can change with those needs. This is a little extra something that gets thrown in with the original something from above.

I hope this has given you a little insight into what it is exactly that we, as Architects and residential designers, bring to the table in the early stages of planning a home. Stay tuned for part II in which I plan on talking about the next stage of planning which has to do with getting pricing from contractors, the process of value engineering and why your architect is your first line of defense in ensuring your home is priced and eventually constructed properly.

3 thoughts on “home design – “how to” part I

  1. I hope that the more all of us keep getting this message out in many different ways, the more we will have a part in people’s everyday lives. Well said.

    • Lee, indeed it is a subject that we have to continue to spearhead in the industry. And, ironically, it’s a subject that is not for self-interest but rather in the ultimate interests of the client and in the larger scope of the general built environment.
      Hopefully the more we push the discussion forward the more people and homeowners will engage in the debate. It’s never fun to have a one sided conversation, so here’s hoping.

      • One more point to make, when we talk about hiring an architect to design a new house versus design an addition/renovation, it is two different things. A new house has more options for time involved. Additions and renovations just take time to deal with the interface and coordination of new and old. In some ways it is much more complicated.

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