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Ugly House or Awesome House? – Board & Vellum

Custom Residential

Is My House Ugly? If You Love It, Maybe Not!

When you design houses for a living, sometimes, you end up designing things you think are ugly, but you do it anyway because your clients think it's perfect. It's your house, not ours, and at Board & Vellum, we are here to design a home you love, even if we’d do it differently on our own.

September 11, 2017

It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ve always believed that great architecture should be beautiful. Good architecture may be beautiful, or it may just be OK. Bad architecture, however, is really just plain old ugly.

Or is that actually true?

The assigned topic for this month’s ArchiTalk blog post is simply the word, ugly. So, it got me thinking about how I wanted to approach what can be a touchy subject. Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. So, who has the right to judge what is ugly or not? Let me take you down a road through the trials and tribulations of single-family custom residential design. (I'm focusing this specifically on single-family homes because a lot of these points are irrelevant when considered within the realms of institutional, civic, or multi-family residential design for instance.)

One of my earliest blog posts was about this crazy house styled to look like a castle that I drove by on a road trip. It is this amazing property in the heart of a residential district where the owner had the brave audacity to build a little castle.

Ugly House or Awesome House? – Board & Vellum

I strived to write a post on my mixture of disgust and appreciation. (Spoiler: I think it is pretty damn ugly. But, I applauded the owner for being bold and building something they wanted while ignoring what was sure to be myriad opinions of self-righteous indignant architects like myself who thought it was ugly). When it comes down to it, the built environment is never something that pleases everyone.

As an architect who takes pride in being service-oriented – as opposed to feeling passionate about one particular style – I’ve more than once found myself in a situation where I can’t talk, sing, dance, sway, or beg the clients away from a design direction that I disagree with. I’ll aim to be as persuasive as I can, but in the end, some clients just want what they want. And as they’re paying me, it is my job to help them get what they want and be as happy as they can possibly be with their project. Does this mean that often I’ve had to hide my disgust and just dive on in with gusto?

Oh yes, it most certainly does.

Does it mean that I have knowingly designed some ugly things in my career? Absolutely, and I’ll keep doing it.

The reality is that those structures weren’t my favorite (I really wouldn’t go so far as calling them "ugly"), but they were our clients’ favorite. I have my own house and that is where I get to do what I want.

Seattle Box Remodel – Board & Vellum – Bar in the basement LEGO room.
Seattle “Box” Remodel

Photo by John G Wilbanks.

I can promise you that the vast majority of my clients do not want a LEGO room in their house, but I sure do, so I have one and I love it. Our clients should get the same freedom to have what they want in their home. Even if we take into account the fact that, sometimes, popular opinion will decide that something is, indeed, ugly, there will still be a minority that absolutely still loves it.

In the end, I’ve always felt passionate that if someone goes forward with a design that they love and get excited by, then who are we to call it ugly? Their love for that design is, in and of itself, a beautiful thing that can be appreciated independently. Let your architectural freak flag fly, and be proud of what you love. You get one life in this world, so make an impact.

This post is part of the ArchiTalk series originally spearheaded by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Jeremiah Russell of ROGUE Architecture and is "ugly." To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
ugly is ugly

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Ugly Architecture Details

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
unsuccessful, not ugly: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Ugly is in The Details

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Ugly, sloppy, and wrong - oh my!

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[ugly] buildings [ugly] people

Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
the ugly truth

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
A Little Ugly Never Hurt Anyone

Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Ugly or not ugly Belgian houses?

Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
ArchiTalks #30: Ugly

Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

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Storytelling in Design

What inspires designers to create beautiful projects? Just like making a fantastic dish to eat, it’s about more than the individual ingredients — it’s about how they all work together! In design, it’s so much more than meeting the basic programmatic needs of our clients. It’s about telling a story.

Considering a project? Or, just curious about something?

Send us your questions about design, architecture, interiors, landscape, third places, LEGO rooms… Anything, really. We’re always eager to meet new people, and we’d love to get to know you, your project, and your goals.

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