Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Size Matters

When someone first calls me to inquire about what I do and if I can help them, they will blirt out the most irratating aspect if their current house.  I've had people tell me they don't want any hallways, they need LOTS of closets, that they want a kitchen the size of a gourmet restaurant or they don't want any steps anywhere.  That gives me a pretty good idea as to the issues they are dealing with on a daily basis, but their solutions are not usually very practical.  After all, hallways serve many useful purposes, such as, traffic flow, sound and visual barriers and buffer zones between public and private areas.  They don't have to be long, narrow and dark passage ways that detract from the room you left or the room you are entering.  They can be open, bright and serve dual purposes such as, galleries or contain nooks for display or storage, bookcases or mail drop areas.

My job is to find out what bothers people about specific areas they struggle with and find solutions that eliminate their negitive feelings about that area.  A small, cramped kitchen may not be any better if we double the space it occupies but don't consider the work zones within it.  Huge walk in closets that take space from minimal sized bedrooms may not be the solution either.  A majority of people will solve their house issues by adding space, lots of space, and then find out that too big is as bad as too small. 

I usually assign my clients homework in the form of measuring all their current rooms in their house or apartment and measuring all the furniture they have or hope to have in their new home.  Most people don't have a very good idea how big 12'x14' really is and if that is big enough for a queen sized bed.  I can often show them by increasing that room size by only inches, that their new home will fit and feel much larger than they think.  I have  had some clients who don't do their homework and continue to guess at how much bigger they need to go with their new house.  If I could point out to them the size they requested for their bedroom is equal in size to their current family room, they would probably realize quite quickly that that's probably more than they need.  Measuring furniture is just as important, not only for the client to evaluate what they are really willing to move, but for me to plan spaces for oversized pieces.  I will never forget the family I worked with for many months on designing the "perfect" home, only to get a call six months later asking me where I thought the baby grand piano should go.  Not once during all our meetings, discussions or personal conversations was a piano brought up, much less, a baby grand.  That's when I began assigning homework.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

$39.99 Design Programs

I used to be irritated when a potential client would call me to discuss designing their new home and then tell me they have it all designed on a computer program they bought at the local discount store.  More times than not, they spent hundreds of hours just figuring out how the program works or trying to get it to do what they want it to do.  After all this time, they have settled for some plan flaws because that was the best the program would produce.  And then, spending so much time with the "flawed" plan, they are now married to it and can't see any way it could be better.  I can usually show them, through some quick sketches, how they could make the plan more functional and more conducive to their lifestyle.

The harder discussion I need to address is the builability of their house plan.  Rarely do they ever get to the point of putting a roof on their plan and when I start the conversation on how this is going to go together and how expensive some of their ideas will be, they become discouraged.  Sometimes I can save the situation by coming up with some quick options that will give them the concept they are after, while using typical construction methods and materials.  Not all situations are salvageable.  If they get defensive of "their" plan and are not open to some modifications to make the plan more buildable, I'm usually out the door.  I do my very best to be sensitive to their time commitment and the emotional investment they have made, but it is like the line out of the country song; "two thousand miles down a dead end road", they are too invested to consider turning around.  Not all is lost if I can convince them that with a few modifications, we can salvage most of their ideas and develop a plan that has the features they seek and add some subtle design features that will bring the plan to life.

In the past, I wouldn't push too hard to "fix" their plan, other than to make it buildable, but the feed-back I got from clients who insisted on having it their way, was less than totally happy.  They could never put their finger on exactly what they didn't like about the new house, just that it wasn't what they expected.  More often than not, I could tell right away the the house had no flow to it, the proportions were off or it just didn't fit their lifestyle.  Some of these things can be easily fixed and some are not fixable even if they go through a major remodel. These homes over the years have really bothered me, mostly in the fact the clients are not as happy with the results as they should be and that I didn't try harder to convince them that I could help make the plan work better.  I have since learned that if a client is that married to their plan, it is best if I refer them to a draftsman who would be happy to just draw something they don't have to think about.  I no longer resent the $39.99 design programs that get people cornered into floor plans that have no life to them.  I just try to make a joke about how the client can now appreciate the time commitment I make to get their home just right.

 My best advice is to get a good notebook with grid paper and a #2 pencil with a big eraser and doodle to your hearts content.  It's easier for me to work in wall thicknesses than it is to just copy an awkward computer generated plan.  With your doodles, you should save all versions you come up with, it creates a paper trail of your thought processes and don't worry if they don't look professional, your computer program won't either.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Your Third Choice for a Design Professional

A Residential Designer:
There is a large group of home designers who fall between the skills and labels of Draftsman and Architect.  They are the designers who have a passion for design, the experience to understand the need for great design and the ambition to venture out on their own to establish their own design firms, yet are not registered architects.  They call themselves by several names; residential designer, home planner, home designer, etc.  Their skills will vary greatly depending on the number of years of experience, personal desire to learn whatever they can about design and their ability to put together a complete and accurate set of drawings.  This group of designers usually have many more years of experience than a lumber yard draftsman, are willing to think out side the box to solve design challenges but are usually pretty conservative when it comes to design innovation.  Their costs are somewhere between a "free" lumber yard plan and a 10% architects fee.

The process of finding a good residential designer is the same as it would be to find a good builder-ask around.  Ask lumber yards, they see a lot of plans, they know who does a good job, who has accurate plans and who is affordable.  Builders also know who's plans they would prefer to work from, who makes the least mistakes, who fills in the blanks.  Ask friends who have built recently, drive through new neighborhoods and note which homes appeal to you, find out who built them, they would know the designer.  Call your city or county inspections office and see if they will give out names of designers who produce a well done plan.  Just calling someone from the phone book or an on-line listing can be risky, some of that information isn't even correct.  If you have a local Builders Association, call them, they usually have a few members who design homes and as members they have gone through a screening process before being accepted as a member. 

Interview the design professional over the phone first and if you like how the conversation is going, make arraignments to meet and talk further.  I always encourage phone callers to give me some information about themselves too; the type of project they are think of, the size, location and any special construction they would like to use.  Many callers just want to know how much I charge and when I start asking questions, they get pretty evasive.  That's like calling up your local car dealer and asking them how much is a new car?  I can't give you accurate information if I don't get accurate information.  Remember, I am interviewing you as much as you are interviewing me.  I have said no to projects that just sound too fishy over the phone and I have walked away from jobs when one spouse is more invested than the other.  We need to be honest with each other, or the whole process will fall apart and honesty starts with the very first phone call.

Costs for residential designers very widely, some will price projects based on the square footage of the project, some base it on an hourly rate and some will have vast menus of options with specific prices for each choice.  Builders like the square foot price thing because when they bring in a 2400 square foot house the final plans will be 2400 time the current rate, no ifs ands or buts.  This doesn't work on so many levels, I'm not sure I can cover them all.  What if the owner changes their minds? (like this never happens)  What if you have a great idea to make the great room more warm and welcoming? (no time to explore that idea)  What if the builder changes the lot from a flat lot to one that slopes off to one side (that should require some plan changes-but that's not in the price).  Square foot pricing will not give you good design options, will not allow you to make changes and will give you an incomplete plan if any problems or issues arise. 

This is where the menu pricing ideas comes into play.  Maybe it is so much per square foot for the plan, then so much per hour for changes and so much plus extra for more than two changes or three times the base price if the lot changes, etc.  Do you ever really know where you are price wise? 

I think the most fair compensation for good work is to pay by the hour.  That is how I charge.  Once we have a chance to sit down and get to know each other, a chance to go over your ideas and wishes and a chance to see the lot, I can give you a pretty good guess at what my fees will be.  Now they are still dependant on you a little bit, because some people require a lot of hand holding, some like to explore every idea they see, hear or is suggested to them by friends and relatives, and others only feel comfortable hashing and re-hashing the same concerns without resolution.  I'm not saying that only the customer can control those cost, I have a big role in that too.  It is my job to get to know you well enough that I can readily identify the things that will stall the project or delay any progress.  It is my job to weed out the good ideas from the faddish or fluffy stuff and it's my job to keep things on track and on budget.  That's where honesty really comes into play.  I don't like wasting time and I don't like wasting your money, so I will tell where you are progress wise and dollar wise whenever you want me to.

Occasionally, I will charge a percentage of the estimated cost of construction.  I do this when the project is expected to go over one million dollars, the client's wish list is extensive or very complicated and I expect to bring in other professionals like structural, mechanical, electrical and civil engineers.  These projects don't come along very often, but when they do, I need to cover the expenses of all the consultants hired to do their part.

Other things to consider when hiring a design professional include reviewing their portfolio, or photo albums, references from past clients or builders, organizations they might belong to and any other credentials they might have.  I maintain a building inspectors license which is very helpful in staying on top of code changes and interpretations and belong to the local Builders Association where I maintain contact with sub contractors and suppliers.  I participate in local home shows, promote local businesses and have donated many hours to clients with special needs in difficult situations.  Years of experience, educational background and number of years in business are all good questions to ask when hiring a professional, so ask and verify.  Hire the best professional that you can afford.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another choice for a design professional

Architect:  Another choice for a design professional is a licensed architect.  I have a good friend who is an architect and he describes himself as a generalist.  He generally knows a little bit about everything in construction.  Architects go through four or five years of college, a few years of internship, then have to pass a rigorous test to become licensed in their home state.  Some architects are licensed in more than one state and some states require any home designs to be supervised and signed by a licensed architect.  Most architects work in the commercial end of construction, but a select few have chosen to work mainly in residential construction.  These are the architects you should focus on, the ones who have a love and understanding of residential design.

Most architects bring a "full package" to the design process, meaning they will supervise the design, modifications to the design, material selection, interior design, placement on the site, selection of the builder, contracts with the builder and/or sub contractors, payment schedules, site observation and follow through at each step of the building process from first sketches to final walk through and follow up one year after you have moved in.  Architects can be a valuable third party when homeowners and builders disagree, they are willing to try new things with new products and they usually think"outside the box" which will make your home one of a kind.  These are all valuable things to bring to the design process, but they do come with a cost.  Most architects will charge 5% to 10% of the anticipated cost of the project, depending on what services you need or want.  Any new home project above $500,000.00 would benefit from from the services that an architect can bring to the project.  The benefits of an architects services are decreased in home projects falling below the half million dollar level and only in states requiring a licensed professional would they be needed in the $100,000.00 to $300,000.00 range. 

Some architects will tailor their services to each individual project, providing only essential services; such as design, material selection and site observation.  That would leave contracts, payment schedules and builder selection up to the home owner.  This also opens the gap for things to fall through, such as who has the final say on construction questions, the builder or the designer?  What if the builder decides to substitute products or materials that require design changes, who pays for that?  It is almost always best to have one person as the head decision maker and in a less than full service package, the architect loses some of their authority and oversight.  The line between project leader and designer is fuzzy and the chain of command can become a battle between architect and builder.  Like it or not, ego can mess up the best jobs.  Builders who go into a project knowing the final say will be up to the architect, understand their limitations.  When builders and architects go into the project as equals, things will flair up from time to time.  This can put the home owner in the middle, which is never a good place to be.  Less than full service architectural packages work best when the architect and builder have worked together on other jobs.  They know how each other works, sometimes how they think and understand their limits with each other.  That doesn't mean there won't be flair ups, just that there most likely won't be a total melt down of cooperation.

If you are looking at a new home that is totally unique, will require unusual construction, is priced over a half million dollars or your state requires a licensed designer, choose an architect to get it done right.  Figure the cost into the project just as you figure in the Wolf range, the granite counter tops and the in ground pool.  An architecturally designed home adds as much value as all the bells and whistles do.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Your Options for choosing a Design Professional

When the time comes to chose a Design Professional, there are many options available to most people.  I will try to outline the three major choices, giving the advantages and disadvantages of each choice.

Draftsman:  True draftsman are becoming a dying breed with the huge advances made in the computer world.  No longer are draftsmen sitting at a drafting board with their straight edges, mechanical arms or T squares.  For the most part, they have traded in their number H2 and HB pencils for a computer monitor and design software. 

I once was a draftsman; went to drafting school to perfect my line weights, lettering style, construction details and  cross-hatching abilities.  Draftsmen were trained to put construction ideas down on paper (actually vellum or mylar) in such a fashion that it was readable and understandable by all the sub-contracting trades that would be working on that specific project.  We were proud of our work and thought of it as a work of art.  With the advent of  CAD (computer aided design), some of the creativity and uniqueness of hand drawn plans was lost to perfect lines, perfect lettering and boring looking blueprints.  Gained was the time saved in making changes, the uniformity of line weights, lettering and overall presentation.  Multiple people could be working on the same plan and no one would see the differences in style or lettering.  Lost was the little things draftsmen would put on their plans for fun or whimsy.  I often made smiley faces in the hatching of attic insulation, spiders in the sinks and mouse traps in wall cavities.  It's just not that fun to do on the computer, so the "added features" are no longer there.  It is rare to find someone who still draws by hand, unless it is a very small project and done just to maintain drafting skills.

Drafting was a skill and talent all it's own, design was the responsibility of your supervisor that was telling you what to draw.  Draftsmen most often work for architects, engineers, builders or lumber yards.  They are taught to draw clean, neat, accurate plans; they are not necessarily taught how to design.  With the advent of the computer, draftsmen became computer operators and what little design concepts we were taught in drafting school was lost in the transition to computer training. 

I have been very frustrated with the quality of the graduates from vocational CAD training programs as potential employees because I'm expecting that they would have some interest in actual design and have a curiosity for learning more about scale and proportion, but all they want to do is sit at a keyboard and enter information into a computer program and not have to think about the swing of a door, the scale of a room or the line of sight views from the front door.  They have no aptitude for design or design concepts, so as a design option, they are only as good as the person supervising them. 

Now I have seen a few draftsmen who are natural designers, who just have an innate ability to make a floor plan work best.  They have a passion and curiosity for learning more about design than about computer programs.  Most of these individuals move on to being the supervisor or owning their own design firm, they are not content to just draw what they are told to draw.  If you can find someone like this, you will get some design help that may not be available from a draftsman/computer operator alone.

When interviewing people for design help, make sure they are interested and willing to give some input to the design and design process.  If they tell you they will draw anything you want, you had better be the design expert, because they are not.  If you feel as though you are totally capable of designing your own home without any outside suggestions or advice, then this is the way to go.  I would say, less than 5% of non-construction related people are really capable of doing this well.  There are many different things to consider in designing a home, and without the experience of knowing how it will go together or how the sub-contractor trades work, you could be digging yourself a big hole.

Often times builders will use a draftsman or drafting service, especially one that works for a lumber yard.  There again I have seen some pretty talented lumberyard draftsmen and I have seen some pretty poor ones.  In this case, the draftsman is drawing what the builder interprets what he thinks you would like.  It is usually pretty straight forward, simple construction with little thought to scale and proportion, lacking some simple design elements that could make it really nice, and he will tell you the best thing of all, is that the plan is free.  Hint, hint.  Nothing is really free.  You are tied to that builder and he is tied to that lumber yard.  If you fall out of graces with that builder, you are pretty much SOL on getting that plan done, especially for free.  If you don't like the service or products of that lumberyard, you can not go someplace else, because the plan is only "free" if you buy all your materials there.  The cost of that plan has to be somewhere in the cost of your materials, again, nothing is really free. 

Homes that are built for speculation are usually designed and built this way and may be at the end, the builder will pay an interior designer to chose paint colors or carpeting, too late for some real design help.  These homes are not custom homes and do not usually reflect anyone's lifstyle except the builders'.  There again, some builders are very good at coming up with unique ideas and design concepts and some are really good at "borrowing" other peoples' ideas.  These homes are still less than custom, because you were not involved in the process.

Plans from a draftsman or drafting service are usually pretty basic.  they will include just what is needed for getting a permit or meeting a building code.  They leave a lot of room for interpretation both from the builders point of view and yours.  Many times, homeowners are left feeling like they have to tell everyone what to do, because it is not defined any where on the plans and if left up to some contractors, would be overlooked completely.  There are many more miscommunication with incomplete plans than there are with well thought out designs that show exactly how to build a home.

The costs for going with a draftsman can vary widely; anything from "free" to thousands of dollars.  Most draftsmen or drafting services will charge a square foot price, something that is easy for builders to estimate for their final bids and for homeowners to consider in their budgets.  Watch for the extras; more than one plan change, unusual or advanced construction techniques, more than standard details, sections or elevations, additional copies of the plan, etc.  These extras can add up fast and usually are not covered by the "free" part the lumberyard is covering or what the builder will pay for.  Also keep in mind that you may very well see "your house" two blocks over, because the plan was used for other clients.  This option for design help may be the cheapest, but remember what Mom used to say; "you get what you pay for".

Next post will cover Residential Designers

Friday, February 25, 2011

Steps nine and ten in your home design adventure

Step Nine:  Think ahead.  Once your design ideas are coming together, consider the next level of detail such as what level of quality do you expect in your new home or what level of energy efficiency.  Are there specific appliances or fixtures you want in your new home.  All of these topics need to be covered in your own mind and then shared with your designer. 

If the budget allows, you should go with the best quality you can, starting with things you won't want to replace or upgrade for a long time.  Things like windows, walls, roofs, doors and insulation are things that should be the best you can afford because they are expensive and difficult to replace before their lifespan is over.  Things like counter tops, carpeting, flooring and even cabinets can be added or changed later.  I would seriously consider insulating your home to the highest standards you can, because energy cost will most likely continue to rise and it is an expense you will face every month.  I hope the American way of thinking is changing to consider energy efficiency ahead of granite counter tops.  I know that closed cell spray foam insulation is not a glamorous feature that all your friends will immediately recognize, but it is one of the best investments you can make.

Step Ten:  Have fun. Designing and building a new home should be a fun and rewarding experience.  There will be moments of stress and tough decisions, but in between, relax, dream a little and have fun with your design team, construction crew, subs, suppliers and your family.  When the whole project is done, throw a party or backyard barbecue, everyone who had something to do with your home will be happy to see the end result and it will build a basis for long lasting friendships.

These ten steps apply to new home design and remodeling projects alike.  Use them through every phase of construction as well.  Clear and open motives help make every decision easier and authentic; realistic cost expectations throughout construction will prevent costly last minute changes and second guessing.  Understand that when the excavator digs the foundation, the footprint will look small, when the foundation is in, it will look really big, when the walls and roof go up, it will look small again.  When the walls are finished and painted, it will look big again and when you move in, it should look just right.  The physical act of building the home will evolve just as the plans did.  Always be honest and communicate your needs and concerns, your design and construction team can help you see the whole picture better when everyone is calm and thinking clearly.  Have fun or find a way to have fun.  Positive attitudes are contagious and productive.

Next post:  Choosing a design professional.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Steps seven & eight in your design adventure

Step Seven:  Be honest with yourself, your partner and your designer.  Hopefully steps one thru six were done with honesty and integrity, so step seven is double check time.  This step takes it one notch farther and includes your designer.  Be honest with your designer by speaking up if you do not like the design sketches, are not happy with the progress or process or you are even unhappy with the designer personally-say so.  Don't waste time being accommodating, if you are unhappy with anything, you need to talk about it or it will not go away.  Most designers welcome honest feedback, just remember, you can be honest and kind at the same time.

At some point in your interactions with your designer, you should have developed a sense that you have connected, so that you feel as though you are on the same page, have the same goals in mind and can honestly express yourself and be heard.  You should feel open enough to be able to say when you don't like something, keeping in mind that you should also be able to say why you don't like it.  Some times I get clients who will gladly tell me they don't like a sketch, but they can never tell me why.  This is not a good working relationship.  If I can not pick up on your discomfort and understand why the sketch bothers you, then I am not on the same page as you.  If you can not express yourself beyond "I don't like it", then I probably won't be able to design something you do like, unless I can identify your discomfort.  Sometimes it is just a little thing like symmetry and sometimes it's a biggie, like you don't trust or like me.  The earlier we can identify the bad Karma, the earlier we can overcome it.  In some cases it is something that can't be overcome and you should end the relationship and try to express yourself with someone else.  If everyone is excited about the project and everyone is headed in the same direction, then you have a good chance for a successful outcome.  If there are hidden agendas, oversized egos or any other mucky feelings going on, then it is usually best to find someone you can better relate to.

Step Eight:  Be patient with the process.  Designs need time to evolve and the first sketches are not always the best.  Each rendition should be better than the last.  If things become stalled, step back, re-group and have a brainstorming session with your designer.  Sometimes it only takes one idea from "outside the box" to bring a project back to life.

Sometimes clients will feel guilty if they change their minds and others will be so indecisive that they change their minds before the last changes were even drawn.  Somewhere in the middle is where you  should try to be.  Changes are how the plan evolves.  Make the changes you need to make,to feel right with the plan.  If you can identify specific areas that need help, focus on that area but be aware of how it works with adjacent areas.  If you find yourself becoming indecisive, then it's time to stop and take a deep breath.  Sometimes taking a break from the plan helps too.  Set it aside for a few days and do something else that is less intense.  Take a weekend out of town and redirect your energy into something totally unrelated to your new home project.  Often times when you come back to it, you will have new energy and decisions won't seem so overwhelming.  Even if you are under a tight timeline, a few days away from the project will be more productive than waffling back and forth without meaningful progress.

Next post will be the final two steps.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Step five & six in your home design adventure

Step five:  Go into the design process with an open mind.  You hopefully will hire an expert in the design field, so use their skill and talents.  Once you have had a meeting or two, you should know if you are on the same track or not.  If you have difficulty visualizing spaces in 3D, tell your designer.  Through pictures and sketches, your designer should be able to convey room sizes or spaces that will fit your lifestyle and needs.  If you are still unsure but comfortable with your designer, then trust them and go with their recommendations. 

Some people are very symmetrical in their design ideas, whereas most designers are more flexible with design concepts.  When these two opposites work together, both parties need to really be open minded to get the final layout just right.  There are areas where symmetry is very desirable and areas where it can be too confining, don't be too rigid either way.  Proportion and scale are two other areas where people often need help.  A trained eye will recognize immediately where these two design concepts need to be adjusted.  Trust the design professional when they suggest a modification to proportion or scale, it will be the difference between a room that "feels" right and one that does not.

Step six:  Compromise on issues that are not deal breakers.  Sometimes when two spouses come together to solve an issue, the result is better than either one of the spouses' ideas alone.  Rein in the desire to control everything, your designer is there to help the process, often through many sketches or concepts, they are not there to be a referee.  If you can't come to a resolution, let your designer know where the issue is and let them come up with a design solution that respects every one's ideas.  If compromise is out of the question, then re-visit step one and re-evaluate your goals and motives.

Nothing is more frustrating for me than having two spouses square off against each other over the conference table.  Often times the issues are fairly minor and don't warrant such contention.  This is just another signal that this couple has not gotten real with why they want to build or remodel a house.  I have had couples who will tell me that if she gets the kitchen she wants, then he gets the garage he wants.  If the budget allows, I can surely live with this compromise.  It all boils down to respecting the people involved in the design process and respecting your goals and motivations for designing a new home. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Step three & four in your design adventure

Step three:  Measure all the rooms in your current home or apartment.  If you are in a very small space, measure the rooms in a parents' or friends' home to get a good feel for what you can do with a 12'x12' room.  Sometimes making a room just one or two feet wider, solves a major problem.  People tend to overcompensate for spaces that really challenge them, such as kitchens and closets.  Start by adding a little more space than you have now and see if that makes the whole room work better.  It doesn't usually work to just double the space because that can really take away functionality.  Space can be created with volume or combining spaces, it doesn't always have to be solved by adding square footage.  While you have the tape measure out, measure all the furniture you have or plan on having.  It's easier to plan for large or special pieces now than it is when you are moving in.

Most people don't have a very good feel on how big 12'x14' really is and if that is big enough for a queen sized bed.  I can often show them by increasing that room size by only inches, that their new home will fit and feel much larger than they think.  I have some clients who don't follow this step and continue to guess at how much bigger they need to go with their new house.  If I could point out to them the size they requested for their bedroom is equal to the size of their current family room, they would probably realize quite quickly that that's probably more than they need.  Measuring furniture is just as important, not only for the client to evaluate what they are really willing to move, but for me to plan spaces for oversized pieces.  I will never forget the family I worked with for many months on designing the "perfect" home, only to get a call six months later asking me where I thought the baby grand piano should go.  Not once during all  our meetings, discussions or personal conversations was a piano brought up, much less, a baby grand.  That's when I began assigning homework.

Step four:  Gather ideas.  Collect pictures from magazines, books or product literature of anything you like or inspires you in any way.  It can be a color that makes you happy, a texture from a carpet or the shadowing on a wall, save the picture.  Save floor plans you like or take pictures of homes you have always been attracted to.  Start collecting as soon as you get that first thought about designing and building a new home.  Keep everything in one place and make sure you make notes on each picture as to what it was that inspired you to keep it.  Share all these pictures and comments with your designer to develop a concept for your own, unique home.

I'm surprised how often new clients will bring me huge folders of ideas they have saved.  First of all because they did this on their own, without anyone suggesting it and secondly the shear volume of stuff people are attracted to.  They will lay this huge bundle on my desk and tell me for what it's worth, they like everything in the whole stack.  That's great, because it means there are a lot of things that they would be happy with-noboby gets the whole stack in one house!  We will spread the pictures out and they will usually tell me they don't really know why they like each picture, they just do.  I can almost always pick up on a reoccuring theme to their pictures.  There will be a common thread that they didn't realize is there.  Either all the trim work is painted white, the cabinets are two tone, the most common color is some shade of green, the rooms have clean lines or are filled with overstuffed furniture.  There is always something common throughout the collection.  When I point this out, they are amazed that they have been so consistant in selecting picture with the same look. This is what "home" feels like to them and this is what they will always feel drawn to when designing their new home.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Step one and two in the home design adventure.

Step One:  Have clear and open motives for designing a new home.  Make sure it is not a whim or notion to impress anyone other than yourself.  Make sure it is something that is on your lifetime "to do" list.  Don't do it because everyone else is doing it, don't do it because you are bored, don't do it to please a parent and most of all, don't do it to save a marriage.  Designing a home for yourself should be a reflection of who you are and how you want to live in this world.  Be real with this first and the home you live in will fall into place.

The most disheartening thing I run across in home design is the couple who "desperately" want a new house.  The home they are currently living in is structurally sound, seems to be large enough to fit their family, is in a decent neighborhood and from all outward appearances, is a pretty good family home.  Their list of complaints about the existing house are vague, inconsistant and differ greatly from him to her.  These are the first warning signs I get that all in not right in this house and most of the problems are probably coming from the bedroom.  Another warning sign is that one person is much more involved in the design process than the other and the uninterested one refuses to give any constructive input.  These situations need a marriage counselor not a residential designer.  It's very sad when you spend the time to design a nice home for a couple and they file for divorce before the roof is on it.  A new home won't solve all your problems, if your spouse claims they need their own space, make sure you know what they mean.  They might not be talking about just another room in the house.

Step two:  Have realistic expectations about what you can and cannot afford.  Visit open houses, parades of homes or local home shows to get a feel for what things cost in your area.  Research the cost of home loans, insurace and local property taxes, familiarize yourself with the location, size and costs of lots, these are all expenses that contribute to the price of the home.  Check your credit scores, they need to be at their best right now-before you talk to anyone at the bank.  Go on-line and find a banking site that offers a loan calculator.  Plug in the numbers that you think will work for you, calculating principle borrowed, interest rate, length of loan and monthly payment.  Figure at least 10% down and don't forget to add the cost of taxes and insurance to the monthly payment number.  Play with this until you are comfortable with the numbers.  If you and your spouse have major disagreements about these numbers, go back to step one and re-think your motives and goals.

I usually suggest to my clients that they make a wish list of all the things they want in their new home and to be as specific as possible.  If you want pink ceramic tile floors in all the bathrooms, write it down.  If you want clean, angular lines throughout the home, write it down.  If you want a second floor balcony or knotty pine trim or in-floor heat, write it down.  Now is the time to brain storm all the possibilities.  Consider all the wishes of everyone who lives in the house, sometimes the kids have the best ideas.  Now, being rather ruthless, highlight, star, underline or otherwise mark all the items on the list that are needed.  Is pink ceramic tile in all the baths really needed?  Is the garbage disposal really needed?  How about the $5,000 kitchen range?  Be honest and make sure everyone has a say about the items that are truely needed.  The person who takes out the garbage every day might rate the recycling center higher than the pink ceramic tile and the one who cleans the bathrooms might rate the ceramic tile higher than the color pink.  However you do it, everything on the list will be divided into wants and needs and then they will be ranked most inportant to least important.  When the discussion comes down to money, you might eliminate most of the want list and some of the bottom things on the need list.  Be open and honest with what you really need and if it looks like there is the possibility of upgrading things in the future, items like flooring, appliances, light fixtures, furnishings and counter tops can be replaced when that lottery ticket wins the big one for you.

Hello World

I am a residential designer, who has been designing and drawing plans for new homes, remodels and additions for 32 years.  I bring the female perspective to what has been a predominately male world.  I approach home design with a strong sense of functionality, individuality and an instinctual feeling for "home".  I believe that we all have our own definition for "home" and that the key to finding comfort and peace in a living space is connecting to that definition, designing it and creating it.

The first question most people ask me is, "where do I start?"  The first place to start a home design of any kind, whether it is a new home, a remodel or an addition, is within yourself.  What are your motivating factors for creating a living space?  Most people expect living spaces to provide shelter, protection, safety and some level of comfort.  Living spaces can also be a monitary investment, a status symbol, a money pit, a work of art, reproduction architecture, earth-friendly, durable, highly energy efficient......  The discription list could be endless.  What you want to aim for is something YOU want, fulfills your needs, addresses your desires and embraces your lifestyle.

Designing a new home is the first step in building a new home.  Ideally, you would like to avoid designing as you build.  Small details can be designed during construction, but the majority of the house should be designed and documented before construction begins.  The home design is the launching pad for getting cost estimates on materials and labor, it is the basis for obtaining financing and appraisals and the drawings and related documents are what binding contracts with contractors are based on.  If this step is not well thought out or is lightly brushed over, there will most likely be difficulties, often expensive ones, during the building process.

Designing and building a custom home is not like buying a new car.  You can not decide to build a new home on Friday and pick a plan out of a book on Saturday and expect to start digging on Monday.  Many hours of consideration should go into this decision to build or remodel a home.  I have devoloped ten steps you should consider when designing your own home.  These steps are designed to get you thinking about your living space and how to work with a designer. 

I highly recommend that you hire a design professional to do the actual design and construction drawings that will be used to build the home.  They will bring clarity of design concepts to the project and an ability to visualize in 3-d; two major design elements that most homeowners really need help with.  Before you contact a builder or designer, work through these ten steps and make sure you are comfortable with your decision.

Next Post: Steps one & two