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Designing a House Into a Home – Sketching over schematic floor plans at Board & Vellum.

Custom Residential

Designing a House into a Home

Emotion and personalization turn a house into a home, and when you're talking about designing your living space, this is incredibly important. Read about how our design process at Board & Vellum helps us make the leap from a great design (that is still just a house) to a home that our clients will love.

March 14, 2017

Try as hard you can, you just can’t design in a bubble.

Sounds simple, right? Still, it is something that constantly surprises me during the design process in a million little ways. It occurred to me, again, during a design meeting the other day and I realized that the personalization of design is something that people can ignore too easily and end up with something lesser. What the heck do I mean, and how does this help you? Let me back up and explain a bit and I promise there will be a little life lesson in there for you.

When a client comes to me, they usually already have a program. (A program is a list of things that someone wants in their home.) Let’s look at a typical second story addition project. The client is likely going to want a master suite, two children’s bedrooms, and a hall bath. Maybe a laundry room. The main floor will want to be opened up and have a stair integrated into it. I listen to the client, get a feel for what they want, and then sit down with our team to start brainstorming. Our process is pretty clear at this point, and it tends to quickly lead to a few solutions. We design independently, then present as a crit, come back together, and hash out what we think are the best options together. Then we prepare some nice-looking drawings, assemble them in a packet with bullet point highlights and some preliminary construction costs, and hit print.

Then, because we always aim to be done the day before a meeting, we go home and pour ourselves some bourbon (wait, I should use “I” statements here... “I” pour myself some bourbon, everyone has their preference) and look forward to showing our ideas to the client the next day.

Designing a House Into a Home – Sketching over schematic floor plans at Board & Vellum.

At our schematic design meetings, we sketch over the presented schemes, designing our way to better solutions with our clients.

When the client rolls in, we sit down for the presentation and calmly go through each scheme we’re presenting. And, two minutes into the clients’ feedback I feverishly grab the trace and start trashing all the work we’ve put together.


I’ll say it again: try as hard you can, you just can’t design in a bubble.

What our team has done, is put together a series of plans that all create a house for our clients. They meet the program, work pretty great, but likely lack a bit of the soul that makes a house a home. We always tell our clients that none of the plans presented in our first meeting will be exactly what gets built. The design process just doesn’t work in a vacuum and our clients’ response is what gives us the feedback needed to refine the design. Every architect does it differently, but I’ve found that more than questionnaires, diagrams, or even a typed-up program generated by the client, an actual working design meeting where we sketch in front of the client over our initial schemes is what generates the best design. It is what turns a house into a home.

This process is odd and a little hard to explain. I watch body language carefully during the presentation and look for the little reactions (pro or con) to what we’re presenting. We carefully try to tease out the answers to the questions the clients aren’t thinking about to get at what's right or what is just not working. Sometimes, there are little things (like having too many steps to the bathroom from the bed) that can hold personal memories and reactions that can turn a floor plan that works brilliantly on paper into a floor plan that just doesn’t work for these clients. Spending the time to whip out the trace (which should always be torn with a scale by the way, ripping it with no scale is for animals!) and working through possibilities with the client in the room helps quickly get at the problem. Honestly, there is rarely a meeting when this process doesn’t end up with a CLICK and a solution.

Designing a House Into a Home – How to Properly and Improperly Tear Trace Paper

Don't be an animal. Always tear trace with a scale!

When done correctly, the meeting ends with the whole room jazzed that we found a direction that just feels right. There’s still plenty of work to do to refine everything, but we’ve taken the important step of bursting our design bubble, trashing the house, and designing a home.

As you prepare for a remodel or a new project, please do sketch, dream, write lists, and grab design inspiration. Pull them all together and get yourself excited. When the actual design process starts, though, know that just as putting a bunch of ingredients for a stew in a pot doesn’t make a great meal, throwing your ideas at a table just makes a house. It may all work, but it likely won’t feel right. Dive into the process fully and work with your architect to design more than a house, design your home.

This post is part of the ArchiTalk series organized by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he had selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This year the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme is “House or Home?” as selected by Keith Palma of Cogitate Design. To read how others interpreted the theme, please click the links below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
The Designation Between House & Home

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: House or Home?

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
House or Home? The Answer to Everything

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
our house is home

Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Emotional Marketing for Architects: House or Home?

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
House or Home? It's in the story.

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
house or home: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
House or Home -- Discover the Difference

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"house" or "home"?

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks #24 : House or Home

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
House or Home? - Depends

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
House or Home? Train for One, Design for Another

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
A Rose by Any Other Name...

Greg Croft - Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
House or Home

Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Ways to Make your Architecture Studio feel like Home

Kyu Young Kim - J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Making a House a Home

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Dwelling on a Macro scale

Rusty Long - Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
House or Home

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
I don't design homes

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
House or Home: One's a Place, the Other a Feeling.

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
Architalks - A House is not a home

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
#ArchiTalks #24 House or Home? #RefugeeCrisis @GrainneHassett mentioned

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