Sweetfern Update: Home Design Pro-tip: Hire a Pro
All my life I’ve been a wannabe architect. As a teenager, more interested in horses than people, I spent countless hours designing stables.
With graph paper, pencil and ruler, infinite imagination and no real-life constraints, I created some truly fantastical designs. (That star-shaped one was visionary, I’m sure.)
So once we decided we were going to build our house, I was excited to start thinking about floorplans. Here was my chance to really play architect!
Instead of graph paper and pencil, my tool would be Visio. Instead of infinite options, I’d answer to real-life constraints.
We’re building based on 16×16 foot modules that can be configured any way we want, even stacked or offset from each other. If necessary we could also use 16×20 foot modules to cantilever 4 feet over the cliff behind the house.
So the job would just be one of rearranging squares and inserting interior walls.
Our basic list of requirements looked something like this:
Space: The house has to fit on the very narrow slice of land between the lake setback in front and the cliff that drops off 10-15 feet behind the house.
Size: No more than 6 modules, a couple of which could be 16x20s. Goal is to be under 1600 square feet. This is supposed to be an exercise in downsizing.
Rooms: Open space living, dining, kitchen area; master bedroom with en suite; offices for each us that could double as a guest rooms; guest bath; pantry/storage. Plus a deck and garage.
View: living area must face lake; also possibly my office or master bedroom.
Accessibility: Must be designed for “aging in place” so one-floor, wide doors, one fully accessible bath, and other considerations.
I bought all the books.
With that basic set of requirements I got to work sketching and playing in Visio. And here is how it went.
I’d do a design. We’d talk it over. Make some changes. Think, hey, that’s perfect!
Then think some more, read some more, and realize it was all wrong.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But eventually I came up with something we both liked and it seemed to work. It was four 16×20 modules and one 16×16 for a total size of 1536 square feet.
Pleased with ourselves, we gave it to MAFCO. They cleaned it up for us, and that was that. We had a floorplan!
Except …I kept thinking.
And the more I thought, the more I wondered, what was I doing?
Were we really going to put the design of our dream house into my hands? What the hell do I know about architectural design?
We talked it over and realized what a monumentally bad idea that would be.
So for our birthdays we bought ourselves architects.
Based on personal referral and the fact that these people are like-minded in their quest to build energy-efficient sustainable homes, we selected Toronto-based Solares Architecture, owned and operated by husband and wife architects, Tom Knezic and Christine Lolley.
Right from the start we realized this was going to be an eye-opening experience for us.
Christine and Tom lead a young, energetic forward-thinking team. Among them they have a wide-range of skills and expertise — LEED and Passive House design, home automation, accessible design, and much more. They also bring to the table a shared passion for sustainability, nature and community.
After an initial meeting, a site visit by Tom, and a fun and educational afternoon at Christine’s parents’ house (designed by Christine and Tom), they gave us our homework assignment.
Individually we were to fill out a multi-page questionnaire. It started like this:
A Day in the Life
Writing in the form of a mock diary entry, describe your perfect day in your new home five years from now. Attention should be paid to your lifestyle, interests and activities. Do not describe the architecture of the house. Focus on what you are doing and how you are doing it. Most importantly, tell us what is important to you on that day. Please be as detailed about your daily routine as possible
Designed to tease out our needs, not our specifications, the rest of the questions were about how we live our lives.
How often we entertain or have overnight guests; what our TV habits are; what we like and dislike about our current home; whether we have pets; how much time we spend on various activities like reading, cooking, sports; and more.
In all some 35 topics were covered and I discovered there were lots of things I hadn’t really thought through until now.
Just as a simple example, when they asked about sports and exercise, I realized that there is no way I will drive 15 miles to a gym after we move. I can barely convince myself to take the elevator down 6 floors here. We need a space for a treadmill and weight bench.
And the revelations went both ways. I think one of our big breakthroughs came when Christine said,
So really you are asking us to design two offices that happen to have a house attached.
Since we completed the questionnaire in December, we’ve had several design meetings with Tom and Jered Gudbranson, who is taking the lead on our project. They’ve put more than a dozen floor plans in front of us, each one bringing us closer to an ideal design.
Happily, we have finally settled on a footprint and overall floorplan. I assure you it is nothing like the one I created. It is light years better!
In my next post I’m going to talk a little bit about how we got from Plan A to the final Plan L. Then I’ll show you that plus the initial 3D elevations (ooooh!).
For other updates on this project, click the Sweetfern tag above this post.