Joy Of Design


I just finished reading Stephen King’s memoir On Writing. It was recommended as a must read guide if you like writing. His process of writing is very similar to how I design.  When I taught first year design studio, I explained to students that one day your building would design itself. Listen carefully to your design as all the cues will be there.  No one ever believed me at that moment. They were struggling through the design process for the first time.  Students wanted an instant answer first attempt.  They weren’t used to endless revisions or the frustration of not having the answer. It takes patience, knowing what to keep and what to rework.  It also takes confidence that the design will emerge.

New Farmhouse Land
Land for new farmhouse

Stephen King talks about that exact process in his book.  He often doesn’t know where his book will end when he starts. I don’t know when I start a project exactly what will be built. When interviewing for a new renovation project, potential clients sometime expect me in a matter of minutes to confirm their ideas or offer alternatives. It isn’t that easy. There is a process for design just as Stephen has a lengthy process for creating his novels.

Study home model
Study model for new farmhouse

Designing a renovation involves measuring and understanding the existing house. Consider that the background story. It needs told to understand the future plot. That is the real story of the house: What is there, what will be changed and how do we get there? What decisions will be made? Do they add up to create a coherent story (design?) I ask myself when designing does this further the design or just confuse it. Are there too many characters (design elements?) Do I care about the characters and the story (is the design consistent?)  Does it make sense?

New Farmhouse
Farmhouse being built! The home was located carefully to respect the existing trees!

Designing a home or renovation is a process I love. There is the initial stage of a blank slate that can be daunting as anything is possible. There is often a tangled plan that is very close to being done but something isn’t there yet.  I know by instinct when the design isn’t complete. A home requires an efficient plan and a beautiful exterior form. There is often a design stage when the plan and exterior tussle against each other.

I can glance at set of drawings or a home and see the design fighting itself. Often this happens when plan is perfect and the exterior form of the home has to follow.  It seems to be a good story until it isn’t. The characters are all prepared but the story isn’t complete. All the individual house parts: windows, doors, roof shape, room size etc. are ready for success, yet can combine into nonsense. The story of a house can unravel quickly if form is compromised and the floor plan rules the day.

What room is the star? What rooms are in the background as quiet yet important supporting characters? Following that logic why would the garage ever be front and center? Or why would a quiet supporting character have a scene stealing line or distracting clothes?   Now the garage is not only front and center but over wrought stonework and fussy details confusing what is important about the house.  If it was a book or movie, you would be confused and disappointed. Where did the main character go? Why is this other person suddenly running the show?

A building can design itself. The floor plan and exterior form start to work together suggesting what needs to happen. It is a back and forth process.  As if I was a house whisperer, I design for hours, days, weeks working for the magic moment when the plan and form meld together for the final seamless solution. It always happens. I trust that it will with enough sheer determination! When the plan and exterior are thoroughly designed to become one idea, I know the design is complete.


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