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.