I can still hear the crunch of the gravel driveway under the tires of Grandpa’s Dodge Fury at my grandparents’ home in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. I remember how well the house seemed to fit them and my great-grandmother, who lived with them, and how everything had its place in their home. In that simpler time homes were smaller and less complex, as were the lives of the people those houses sheltered. They were very comfortable in their modest ranch. It wasn’t a custom-built house, but it was unlike any of the others in their neighborhood. It was small, but spacious, and it had character. Knowing my Grandfather, I’m certain he shopped for the best bargain on the street, but he also knew construction and got himself a solid building of quality materials.
When as an Architect, I began to think seriously about home design, I wondered how that house came to be that fit them so well. I like to think that their quiet little homestead was designed and built with care and craftsmanship by someone who had a pretty good idea of the kind of family that might like to live there. Our lives are more varied and complex now, and the design of our homes should support and reflect that.
The opportunities for architectural invention in home design today are limitless – new materials, products, and construction techniques are constantly being introduced, and new technologies are having an impact. Unlike days past when historical styles ruled home design, our options today are wide open. We are free to interpret style, or to create our own to satisfy our aesthetic desires.
But all of these available design tools are too rarely used to create homes that are molded to the lives of their owners. Instead, homebuyers find themselves having to choose from among a few floor plans designed to appeal to a broad market, and then struggling to give it personality and character with just paint, carpet, and furniture. We try to make a house “ours” with features and decorating and never consider that it is the architectural design itself that brings a house to life.
We lose sight of what’s possible and end up with just another house instead of a home.
Designing and building a new home is an opportunity to create something brand new, something unique, something as individual as you. We’re working on several homes that defy any stylistic categorization because their inspiration, their “style” comes from the lives that their owners lead. These homes are built with character as the major construction material – the architecture and the “decorating” can’t be separated.
Houses like these are so much more than just the number of bedrooms and the size of the floor plan – they’re the ones that you return to look at again and again and think, “wow, there’s something about that house that I really like”. What you like about those houses is the result of the owners having taken an active role in creating the design from the very beginning. They realize that homes are made of life, of love, of memories, of wishes, and of spaces — not of living rooms, crown molding, and draperies.
Our conversations with these clients don’t begin with, “how many bedrooms do you need?” or “how big of a house do you want?”, they start with “what are your dreams and how do you want to live?”.
Those discussions, and the designs that evolve from them, are what a truly custom home is all about.
Good home design brings people together in pleasant ways. It provides for the family as a whole, and for each individual’s privacy. Good design does all of these things, and it starts by taking the time to ask clients about the details of their daily lives. What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning-head straight for the shower or down to the coffee maker? Do the kids eat breakfast at the table or do they grab a pop-tart on the way out of the door?
A recent client of mine described her family’s eating style as “hit-and-run”. That little pun tells me a great deal about the design requirements of her kitchen – much more than I’d discover poring over cabinet catalogs with her. We spend hours talking with our clients before a single line is drawn. To commit any less an effort to an examination of the personality of their family is to rob them of the benefits of custom home design.
Lifestyles change from generation to generation, and houses should change too. And yet, the majority of homes built today are little more than updated versions of 300-year old Colonial designs. Incredibly, we are still building parlors and formal dining rooms for families that never use them. A better house and a better living experience are the results when client and Architect work closely together to examine the uniqueness of the client’s lifestyle and how it informs and molds the design of the home.
My grandparents moved south to retire many years ago, leaving that old house behind for the next family.
I wonder if it fits the new owners as well as it did my grandparents, or if they’ve had to make changes to accommodate their unique lifestyle?
I hope they haven’t paved the driveway.
Richard L. Taylor, AIA is a published author and recognized expert in Residential Architecture. He is President of Richard Taylor Architects, a 5-person firm in Historic Dublin, Ohio. Residential Architect | Luxury Home Plans [http://www.rtaplans.com]