Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Client vs Designer

A good friend of mine, who is an Architect, was asked to help remodel a home that was originally designed by another Architect we both had worked for in the past.  Since the original blueprints no longer existed, he carefully measured every inch of the house and re-drew the plans as it was built. 

We were looking at those "as built" plans together when I mentioned that it was a pretty quirky floor plan and he agreed, saying he had always known the house was a little odd, but couldn't figure out just what made it feel so awkward.  We both commented that this floor plan was totally out of character for the now deceased architect/employer, who had been proficient at designing homes with a "Frank Lloyd Wright" feel to them.  Then it occurred to me what was wrong with the plan.  I told him I thought it was a compromise between what the architect intended and what the homeowner wanted.  He said "exactly!".  He knew the homeowners and their personalities. They would have insisted on having it their way, had the money to get it the way they wanted it and by God, no one, not even an accomplished architect, was going to talk them out of it.

If we had the preliminary sketches that evolved into this floor plan of boxy, isolated rooms, we would have been able to follow some of the thought processes or client demands that changed a potentially wonderful home into an awkward house.  With a few quick sketches, we remodeled that plan into a home that embraced the view of an expansive wooded valley, opened the kitchen to both formal and informal living spaces, configured the family room into a usable space, made the formal living room fireplace a focal point and created an accessible but quiet office area.  We removed many walls, but didn't move any plumbing or the fireplace.  We increased window area towards the million dollar view, but didn't structurally change any exterior walls.  We created sight lines through the house that visually expanded its size without compromising private areas and I think what we ended up with was probably pretty close to what the original architect intended for this house.

So, the lesson in this, is that you need to trust in the professional you hire to design your home and maybe in this instance, the consumer is not always right, no matter how much money they have.  The advantage design professionals have over most people is their ability to visualize things in 3-D.  For us, it is not just a floor plan.  We can visualize the wall height, the ceiling, either flat or vaulted, the walls that define spaces or the floor coverings which can define spaces.  Sight lines, angles, windows and other openings can all change how a room feels and how it relates to other spaces.  Light angles and shadowing change the feel of rooms and attention should be paid to quantity, intensity and pattern of all light sources.  These are the design elements that can make a room or plan feel just right, but they are the parts of a plan that most people can't visualize.

So many times, when I visit with clients after they have moved into their new homes, they tell me how much better it is than the thought it would be.  Ouch!  I thought I had done a pretty great job conveying to them what the house would look like when it was done, but they are happier than they expected.  I guess that's a good thing, but why couldn't they see all along what I was seeing?  Why weren't they as excited as I was, when I realized we nailed this plan six months ago?  Because they couldn't fully visualize it the way I could.  they didn't understand the subtle transitions from room to room that make it flow, they don't understand the impact of creating spaces for calm, or just a place for the mind to rest for a moment.  Why can't I now put into words the methods I use to create a home that says "Wow, this is mine and I love it!"  I can't write it, just like they can't see it.  That's the best argument for hiring and trusting a professional you like.