Monday, February 20, 2012


Have you seen those motivational speakers on public TV--the ones who can fix all life’s troubles with a few simple guidelines?  You can tell the things they say are incredibly profound, because the camera is always cutting away to the audience smiling knowingly, nodding in rapt agreement, or holding back tears. As for me, alas, I soon switch back to reruns of The Simpsons and life goes on as before.

Until now, that is. I’m now a fully-empowered architecture columnist. If those TV lecturers can turn lives around with a few simple rules, by thunder, so can I. Herewith, my six-step program for anyone designing a home or addition:   

•  Start out sloppy. Neophyte designers always want to jump in and start drafting long before their plans are fully worked out. Architects don’t just sit down, think for a minute, and then start drawing up detailed plans. The real design work gets done in rough sketches--sometimes hundreds of them.  Drafting is the final stage, and in many ways, the least important.  Computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs are a particular danger for amateurs, since they make half-baked ideas look polished long before they’re ready. If you don’t do enough hard work at the outset, CAD won’t help you--it’ll just give you a flawless-looking set of lousy plans.

•  Embrace restrictions. You face almost infinite choices during the planning process, and you literally couldn’t make them unless you had some kind of guidelines to hem you in. Therefore, don’t think of physical or monetary restrictions as an encumbrance. Consider them your greatest aid in decision making.

•  Design from the inside out. Don’t regard a floor plan as a big sheet cake to be carved up into the right sized pieces. Start planning with the principal rooms, and let things accrete outward. Don’t worry about walls lining up at this point--you can always tidy things up a bit later.

•  Establish a hierarchy. Rank the importance of each room beforehand, so you can decide which rooms deserve the best view, the most expensive finishes, and so on. Typically, major rooms such as the living room, family room, and master bedroom top the list, but it’s your call. If cooking is your big passion, for example, maybe your kitchen should get dibs on having access to the garden, a fancier ceiling, or some other special feature. 

•  Let old Sol help you out. Adhering to good solar orientation will once again make many of your planning decisions for you. Face living areas toward the sunny southern exposure, and have utilitarian areas (garage, laundry, bathrooms, etc.) face north. Make sure rooms have sunlight at the time of day that they’re used most: the breakfast room facing east for morning light, the dining room facing west for afternoon sun, and so on. Orient bedrooms according to your preference for morning or afternoon sun.  Not every site can accommodate these ideals--but the closer you get, the better.

•  Lastly, if you get stuck on a design problem, don’t just fizzle out and leave well enough alone. Instead, quit for a few days, and then come back to your plan with a fresh eye. Repeat this cycle until every problem--and I mean every problem--is solved. In architecture, as in life, creative success demands an attention to detail. 

Hey, wait a minute--are you watching reruns of the The Simpsons?

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