Daily Prompt: Toot Your Horn

“Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favorite thing about yourself.”


This is completely true. We’re all incredibly capable of telling anyone who will listen where we tend to fail or simply come up short the most. But when it comes to talking ourselves up, to “tooting our own horn” we tend to downplay our strengths. I myself even tend to throw in a few flaws while trying to “sell myself” as a vain attempt at humility. But today, thanks to the Daily Prompt, it’s time to take the gloves off and tell you all just how wonderful I am. Because, lets face it, I’m awesome and you need to know why. How’s that for humble? 😉

So, how does one go about tooting their own horn? I suppose since this blog is centered around architecture, design and all things funktastic, I should start there and see where we end up.

I suppose I see my greatest strengths in three areas that affect my practice. These three areas are not necessarily exclusive to architecture, but then just about everything in my life leads back to it at some point. So here we go.

1. Design, sketching and communicating “it” to people.

This is technically three things in one, but as an architect we don’t just communicate with language. We have to be able to effectively communicate ideas through words, sketches, drawings and even rapid hand movements and guttural slurs. It’s a talent that can certainly be learned, but most often is an innate gift that we just have. Growing up I was never good at public speaking (see, throwing in that self-deprecation for humility’s sake), but when I got to college I was forced to regularly and repeatedly get up in front of my studio mates and present my work. From day one. It was complete trial by fire, but, as it turned out, I have a real talent for public speaking. And as I gained confidence in that, I was more comfortable, more relaxed and have often been praised for my presentations, my communication and my ability to use multiple sources to adequately convey designs and abstract ideas to my audience. Gold Star #1.

2. Political Maneuvering.

To be honest this is one area where I wish I was not so skillful. Politics and pandering to the emotions and reactions of others is, quite frankly, mind-numbing. BUT we live in a world where managing the emotional and often times irrational responses of our peers, employers, clients and that guy on the sidewalk that keeps screaming at you every time you walk by that garbage can is a survival trait. Now this is not to say that I am a nice person, nor am I necessarily a push over either. In fact, I’m most often described as being rather arrogant, headstrong, opinionated and even, God forbid, rude. But, I simply know how to manage my own emotional responses to situations and therefore am more able to keep my cool when someone else loses their mind. Because they almost always do. Gold Star #2.

3. Performance under stress.

Going back as far as high school I have always performed well under pressure. The closer the deadline the more focused and determined to meet my goals I become. This has been incredibly valuable in practice because, as we all know, clients want everything yesterday and can’t fathom why it’s taking more than 3 days for you to design and detail that 10,000 sf warehouse addition. :-\ Where this does sometimes get me into trouble is, knowing how well I perform under pressure and tight deadlines, I tend to procrastinate thus creating situations of high stress. I imagine this may kill me one day, but for now I’m young enough to handle the wild swings in my blood pressure. 😛 Gold Star #3.

So, there you have it. A little horn tooting, self-aggrandizing and ego-fluffing from little old me. You now know, as I mentioned before, I’m awesome, obviously. 😉

champagne wishes and caviar dreams

“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” – loved this show!

Robert Swinburne, someone who I like to think is one of “those architects” doing the kind of work I am clawing my way towards with ever ounce of strength in my being – simple, honest and quality work – in a recent blog post about the length of time spent on design, concluded with this statement that struck a huge cord with me:

“…the majority of my clients came to me because they had limited budgets and lofty goals and needed someone to help them through the decision making process to get the best possible end result given the limited amount of money available.”

This statement is so amazingly powerful in it’s simplicity and offers a paramount reason to hire a architect to help create your project – whether that project is a marvel of modern design ready to grace the cover of every design magazine on the planet or a modest kitchen/bath remodel that will never be seen by anyone outside the client’s own family, the client will always have much loftier goals than their wallet can handle. By putting some of your budget towards hiring a qualified designer, someone who will search tirelessly to create a finished product as close to those goals as possible while keeping your wallet intact, is money more than well spent. It’s much like shopping around for a new car. You don’t just head out to the nearest car lot, wave your hand around and say “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, nor do you choose one based on color, tire size or the availability of heated seats (though, lets be honest, a toasty rump is quite nice). You choose a new car, which is a substantial investment of money, based on performance, value, longevity, and most importantly based on the opinions and reviews of experts who specialize in the ins and outs of the automobile industry.

Remodeling your bathroom, or renovating your master suite, or adding a new kitchen or guest house is no different. You want quality, efficiency, longevity and a reasonable return on investment for your money. Joe Blow contractor from the Yellow Pages….probably not the guy you want to talk to first. Don’t get me wrong, I have known a number of incredibly talented contractors and carpenters. But design is still not going to be the strongest item in their wheelhouse. Architects and designers on the other hand are the industry professionals who specialize in the ins and outs of the design and building industry that you want to consult with before investing in your existing and/or new home. It will save you time, heartache, money and time. Did I mention time and money will be saved? Not to mention the headaches you won’t suffer by having a architect on the job site making sure everything is going according to your plan.

From top to bottom the level of service and attention your project will get by an architect from design through to construction is going to be worth far more than the monetary investment that is our fee. Don’t believe me? Ask around. Ask an architect. As their clients. Ask me. 🙂




kitchen remodel – cont.

Yesterday I posted some images of a kitchen remodel I’m working on. And, as a friend pointed out in his comment, these posts are much less about putting my work out there for posterity and much more to do with the process that a architect and/or designer goes through to craft the best solution to your project needs. And it is just that – a process. A process of putting ourselves in the client’s shoes and drawing on our knowledge of building, psychology, sociology and technology to arrive at a solution that will function in the desired way, be sensitive to budget, materials and color, and will even be adaptable in later years as life and circumstance may change.

Now, I’m not making big bucks off this project. I’m charging a small design fee, by the hour and making every minute count. This project won’t make it into the magazines and more than likely will not be noticed by anyone outside of the client’s own small circle of friends and family. What this project will be is the end product of the process I described above.

With that, here are Conceptual Floor Plans in succession.

Conceptual Floor Plan No. 1

As I mentioned in my previous post, Conceptual Plan No. 1 is mostly in keeping with the existing interior configuration. Only the Kitchen and adjacent living space are considerably altered by removing a wall and door opening. But even in these simple, mostly cosmetic, moves we have created a space that is more open, functional and adaptable to changing lifestyles.

Conceptual Floor Plan No. 2

Conceptual Plan No. 2 involves a considerable amount of demolition and remodel. First, you’ll notice the large closet at the entry is removed to make a more grand entry and open formal dining space for entertaining. Moving into the kitchen, things are much the same though the island was reduced and a breakfast bar added. The laundry room is also remodeled in this scheme to allow for a high counter with base and upper cabinet storage.

Also, the client has a desire not to have the bathroom open onto the formal dining room (I completely agree), so we’ve relocated the door and mirrored the fixtures. This will require slab demo and plumbing work, which will drive up project costs and time, but the client is aware and willing to make that sacrifice to relocate the bathroom entry.

Conceptual Floor Plan No. 3

Conceptual Plan No. 3 is similar to No. 2, but with a few interesting changes. First, the large entry closet is reduced to a small coat closet and the remaining space converted to a counter with bar sink. The Kitchen, though similar, is now extended into the laundry space by removing the wall and door and adding a pantry cabinet, counter and stacked washer/dryer. The bathroom also retains it’s reversed position.

These three designs, while they appear to be variations on the same themes, represent a good deal of work and thought into the client’s wants, needs and desires for his project, how the spaces should and can function within a defined building envelope, and finally keeping in mind the remodel process and how that will relate to the budget and the experience of a family living in this home during construction.




kitchens: why you need an architect

We’re going to take a little trip to historic preservation land today, because as an architect I’m always interested in buildings new, old and otherwise – the touch, the smell, the ambiance, etc. This naturally lends to me spending way too much time looking at real estate listings and touring homes for sale and being exposed to the HORRORS that are kitchens in older homes. So, I want to take a minute and give you a few reasons on why you need an architect to help you properly design and renovate your older kitchen. And there are three main reasons that I want to touch on – Function, Materials and Future. Here we go.


kitchens have to relate to and work with most other spaces within a home.

In Jacksonville, the majority of our historic homes were built between say 1902 and 1940 (history lesson – the Great Fire of 1901 had a little to do with this). Many of these homes are what you would call Bungalows, or 2-3 bedroom homes bisected down the middle with a dividing wall between public and private spaces. This is a residential tradition extremely popular pre and post World War I and II. You can find the same themes in most major cities all over America.

Now, it’s important to note here that how a family functioned in the early 20th century is NOT how a family functions in the early 21st century. At least, I would hope that we’ve changed a little in more than 100 years. That being said, you can not simply take an existing old kitchen in an old home and make it new by adding shiny appliances, granite counters and new stone tile floors. It will still be an inconvenient kitchen because it’s not designed for the way we interact and cook in the 21st century. By at least consulting with an architect/designer at the beginning of your project they (by “they” I really mean “me”) can help identify and postulate how you, as a family, will most use your kitchen space and then outline basic design ideas in order to achieve that design in an affordable and beautiful way.


i get a little sick every time I see cabinets like these. :-\

This is where the phrase “lipstick on a pig” most often comes to mind. Not all products are created equal. Lets just get that out of the way. There is a reason for the expression “you get what you pay for”. In our modern age, modular furniture and casework has come a very VERY long way. Nearly gone are the days of requiring custom built cabinetry in order to get good quality, well designed casework  and millwork for your kitchen project. With the popularity of IKEA and others like them, good quality, affordable and (most important) contemporary designs are readily available mostly without even leaving your couch. But, again, make sure you read the fine print. It’s important to read HOW the product is assembled and WHAT it is assembled of. Simple things like making sure your sink cabinets are constructed of plywood instead of particle board can save you insane amounts of frustration and woe down the road. And why should you care about this? Well, go to Home Depot or Lowes, buy a small piece of particle board and take it home, splash some water on it then come back and tell me how much you suddenly care about what your sink cabinets are made of. :-\ This is another area where your architect/designer can offer guidance based on their education, expertise and training.


damn. that’s hot. 🙂

Lastly, when planning a new kitchen design most people don’t think about future needs. In our “now now, I want it now” society, we seldom think  much further forward than next payday. But when consulting with properly trained architects and designers on your kitchen remodel, I guarantee at least once in the first or second meeting they’ll ask “so what are your future plans for this space?” And by that they mean, what happens if you have extended family living with you? Or an elderly parent? Or those fertility drugs REALLY worked and you’re in a Dugger Family situation (it happens, trust me)? These are things that can be anticipated and designed for in the early stages of the process though not built or detailed until necessary.

The bottom line – your home is the largest investment you’ll ever make in your life, and the kitchen is the one area of the home where most of us spend the most time and the most money to renovate. Why would you trust that kind of investment to anyone other than a educated, experienced and trained architect or designer who will spend all their time worrying about your project and your budget? Seems like a no-brainer to me, but then I’ve always been a bit abby-normal (10 points to the first person to guess that movie reference).

“a quick cad drawing”

this is why you hire qualified people to draw, detail and oversee construction.

I’m going to go off on a little rant for a moment. Please stay with me. I have officially had it with hearing the phrase/question “you can do that real quick in cad, right?” From potential clients, employers, consultants and contractors alike, this gets under my skin like the plague and just festers and rots inside until it finally comes boiling out of my eyes and ears like a rancid explosion of bile.

First, NO, I can not do it “real quick” in autocad. Why? Because autocad is a tool, a specialized tool used by professionals trained in architecture/engineering in order to properly detail a building that PEOPLE will occupy. If I do it “real quick” more than likely something will get screwed up and people could die. Ok, probably not but still… So in order to properly draft and detail said building I need to research building codes and look at the site and the existing conditions, the surroundings, neighborhood, zoning codes, etc. I need to look at what the most appropriate materials will be for the project and how does that get detailed in a wall section or elevation.

Second, if it was so friggin easy and “quick” don’t you think everyone would be able to do it thus making me obsolete? Again, I’m a professional using a set of tools in order to create a set of documents that a contractor will use to build your home/office/taco stand/whatever. Do you want it “real quick” or do you want it done right by someone who is paying attention to the details required to ensure that you and your family/community are safe?

If you want it “real quick” there are 10,000,000 people in foreign countries all over the world who will happily take your money and give you something slightly resembling a drawing that one day someone MIGHT be able to decipher into additional documents so that you can get a permit.

If you want it done right and constructed in a manner that is safe, secure and will last beyond the life of your ownership, hire me or one of the thousands of trained architects and designers who will take your ideas and your dreams and make them reality. Just be willing to pay for it. All this good stuff ain’t free and it ain’t cheap neither.

minimalism, architecture and value

If you don’t follow Josh and Ryan at The Minimalists, you should. Because I do. And they’re awesome.

After finding this blog and learning about these two groovy cats about a year ago, I’ve followed them ever since and have endeavored to live a minimalist lifestyle as much as is possible with a wife and two kids (hint: I like to spoil my family). And a recent post about money has me thinking not for the first time about minimalism and it’s broad implications for architecture, specifically in the area of cost versus value as it applies to materials, construction and services.

As architects we’ve all been in this situation: a client comes to you with a project, you submit your proposal for services confident that you’re as lean, mean and competitive as possible, and the client – without batting so much as an eyelash – haggles and argues for you to reduce your fee. No fun.

Similarly, if you’ve been in the construction industry for more than a day you’ve been involved in this situation: the client sends out the job to contractors for bid, the bids come in and again without batting so much as an eyelash immediately takes the lowest bid offer (and secretly wonders why it’s so high).

In both of these scenarios the client has focused solely on money with no regard to project quality, or experience/expertise of the architect and contractor, or any other factor besides cost. And we all know what typically happens in these situations: when the architect has to reduce their fee to a level that does not allow them to devote adequate time to the project (time = money), then mistakes get made, details don’t get coordinated and issues have to be resolved in the field resulting in additional service charges to the client. Then, the contractor, who’s low-ball fee did not properly account for all of the scope requirements in the drawings and specifications, goes to build the project and submits change order after change order for items that were not in his bid (which the client agreed to) and suddenly the project is over budget, over schedule, and now alternates are recommended and the VE process begins, which invariably leads to a substandard project at completion and a client looking at you, the architect, for answers as to why this all happened.


The challenge is to help clients understand first the value in architectural services. The principles of minimalism being applied can perhaps put this into perspective. A good deal of clients want the pretty pictures in the magazines, all crammed together into one house. If we simply did as we were told this would make for one very strange house indeed. But that’s not our job. Our job is to interpret – to take the clients wants, dreams, and desires and create an individual structure that has function, beauty and value. Helping a client make the connection between each dollar spent and the ultimate value of that dollar is an important step towards a very successful project.

So how do we do that? What secret formula do we use in educating our clients to see not only the value in our own services but also the value in a experienced and knowledgeable contractor? There really isn’t one answer. Each client is different. Each client brings their own preconceptions, perceptions and prejudices to the table. The only real trick is to listen, to offer guidance and advice, and deliver it in a way that your client will understand and make the connection of cost versus value. The way you do that is by understanding this principle yourself.

the bummer of BIM

I may have mentioned this before, but some of you know I’ve been working on taking my practice into the 21st Century and the wonderful world of BIM. It should also come as no surprise to many of you that I am not a huge fan of Autodesk, having been a Autocad user for the last 13+ years I’ve seen many ups and downs…mostly downs. But now that BIM is taking the world by storm I figure it’s time to at least get up to the curve, if not completely ahead of it.

In this quest to find the best BIM platform for my practice I’ve spent way more hours scouring the internet for web articles and comparison reviews than I care to admit to. The three giants of the BIM world, in my opinion are Revit, Archicad, and Vectorworks. The overwhelming consensus that I’ve found seems to be that there is no “right answer” when it comes to BIM software, but rather it comes down to several factors.

1. the types of projects you create – i.e. large commercial and institutional projects or single family residences or renovations and tenant improvements or government work, etc.

2. the size of your practice – i.e. 1-2 people versus multiple teams across multiple disciplines working in conjunction.

3. how you practice – do you plan to work 100% BIM or keep a large portion of your detailing and production work in 2D

While any software comes with its limitations and benefits, what I’m finding is that the majority of the big names out there are relatively uniform. Personally, from what I’ve gathered in my reading and my very limited experience, Archicad is the choice over Revit for those more interested in design and production in 3D. Revit, from what I can gather, can be rather clunky and is geared more towards larger projects that are more heavily engineered than designed (this is a gross generalization based solely on the opinions of others). This has really always been true of Autodesk, even with ADT, now Autocad Architecture – it’s more “BIM Production” rather than “BIM Design”. I’m sure my bias is showing *blushes*, but to me Archicad seems a more sexy design tool as well as a production powerhouse. Not to mention with new IFC exporting protocols you can share across almost any platform you want to. So, the idea of not being able to collaborate with other BIM platforms or other disciplines is out the window for any of the above mentioned platforms.

in-progress screen shot of a bungalow I’m designing in Archicad 14

At the end of the day the only real bummer of BIM is that it’s taken so long to be popular in the industry. When Graphisoft came out with their first release of Archicad nearly 30 years ago, it should have been the beginning of a new frontier for architectural design and production. Instead it was pushed out in favor of Autocad which was nothing more than fancy hand drafting on a computer.

So, lesson learned. BIM is here. It’s here to stay and if you think that it’s not for you or not for your practice…well, either you don’t plan on practicing much longer or….yeah, I got nothin else.

BIM. It’s what’s for dinner. Or something. 😉

containers and permitting

Two of the biggest obstacles I hear about when dealing with and designing homes and other structures out of shipping containers are permitting and building codes. It’s important to talk about both, because, frankly, if you don’t meet building code you won’t get a permit. There’s something of a symbiotic relationship going on here, right?

So, lets talk about building codes. What are they and why are they important?

First, building codes are nothing more than a minimum standard set of guidelines  by which architects, designers, engineers and contractors ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public in building construction. Building codes and zoning requirements can change from state to state, city to city and town to town. Geographic differences pose perhaps the most varying changes to local codes. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily build a wall or design a hvac system the same in Florida as you would in Maine or in Missouri or North Dakota, as the climates throughout the year are widely different in each location. So it’s important to be up to date on the codes that affect your building site.

As I mentioned, building codes are set to provide for a minimum standard. It also sets definitions of terms governed by the code such as dwelling unit. These terms are outlined in the code and in the case of a dwelling unit are defined by minimum limits on size and square footage. In the latest edition of the Florida Building Code Residential, Section R304 the minimum area and horizontal and vertical clearances allowable are 120 square feet, 7′ in width and 7′-6″ in height. This is important when designing with shipping containers because you have a fixed shell that only gets smaller when you add interior studs, insulation and finishes. And violating these minimum standards will make getting a permit nearly impossible and will most likely necessitate costly redesign of the building. Not cool, right?

So, if you’ve successfully designed your container home to meet your local building requirements, then your next challenge is to receive a building permit for construction. While this is typically handled by your contractor, some homeowners do go about the permitting process themselves, especially if they plan to act as their own general contractor.  Be sure to check with your local planning department to see if this is an option for you.

Now, while typically you need to go through the design process first to ensure compliance with building codes, when building a home out of what is considered an alternative building material/system it’s a good idea to get your code enforcement and planning officials on board early and make them a part of the whole process. In my experience, no matter what the project type, when you get input from your local officials early in the design process they are more likely to be an ally for your project rather than simply the enforcement officer. This means that they will be more likely to work with you when you propose alternative building solutions to code requirements, more inclined to point out possible red flags when it’s easy to correct in the drawing phases and even advocate for the project when it does come time to issuing a permit.

All that being said, the important lessons to take away here are:

1. You CAN permit shipping container homes. Anyone who says that you can’t or that it’s too difficult most likely isn’t skilled or educated enough to be designing buildings in the first place.

2. It is in your best interest, and the interest of your building project, to hire qualified design professionals and to elicit the help of your local building and planning officials when permitting alternative homes. We are not Ogres out to eat your children or gouge you out of thousands of dollars that you could have spent on that fancy plasma cutter. We are trained professionals who WANT to see your projects get designed and built according to your vision. Let us help you.

3. If someone tells you “you could just build it yourself without a permit”, RUN – even if your city/township doesn’t actually have a code enforcement department.

4. Always, always, always design AT LEAST to the minimum standard set forth in the IBC (International Building Code). We’re talking about structures that house your most precious possessions – your family – so why would you NOT want to ensure a minimum standard of care in the design and construction of your home?

Ok, I’m off my soapbox. I know I have more than a few friends out there who have designed and permitted shipping container homes or other alternative building types. Please feel free to comment on your own experiences and even correct me if you feel I’m just a raving loon. 🙂