Stacking Is An Option
We sometimes don’t realize the endless choices that are available to us in the design of our homes. We look around at what’s already there and copy it, or take parts from an existing design and rearrange them a little differently.
We do that because it makes us feel safe – we’re aligning with what we think the local community expects, what we think a house is, or some supposed maxim of real estate sales.
Doing something completely different – something individual and unique, is a scary thought. What will the neighbors think? What if we try to sell the house someday and no one is interested?
And yet, long experience has shown me that the unique, individual house is frequently that one with the most future value, precisely because it’s different. Because it’s unlike everything else around it. Because it stands out.
Over a 3+ decade career, I’ve heard from numerous clients who shopped around new-home developments, or downloaded dozens of online house plans, and then came to me saying, “we can’t find anything we like” or “everything out there looks the same”.
And I’ve had more than a few clients whose “different” homes sold more quickly and for more money than other homes in the area (granted, we’re talking about custom homes here, not off-the-shelf designs).
I don’t believe that the goal of home design should be to maximize the future sales price, but even if it is, what would make one “standard” home design significantly more valuable than a similar house in the same area? It can’t be that it’s just like the other one.
Playing it safe means designing a home for the market, not for you. A home like that becomes obsolete quickly because it’s not a good fit for your life – you sacrificed things you want and need in a home for the needs of some imaginary future owner.
So how do you break out of the “safe” mindset? It starts with understanding that the slate really can be blank at the beginning. Renowned author and marketing expert Seth Godin puts it this way:
“Seven bowls might take up an entire cabinet.
But if the designer slopes the sides of each bowl just so, they stack. The amount of space required to store them goes down by 80%.
The hard part isn’t figuring out how to stack them. It’s realizing that stacking is an option.”
When Architects talk about the “design process”, we’re talking about realizing that stacking is an option. We’re saying that design should be about how you’d like your house to work/feel/look, without regard to how others have made their houses work/feel/look. That the things that are important to you are paramount, not the things you think are important to the market.
I started thinking about this a few days ago, after taking a call from a potential client. He told me the single most important thing about the house he’d imagined was that it be a passive-solar energy-neutral design. And then told me about the house plan he’d found that he wanted me to make “energy-neutral” for him.
Passive-solar and energy-neutral aren’t things you apply to an existing house design like a coat of paint, though. They’re “form generators” – just as the site, the surroundings, the sun angles, and the wind directions shape a home’s design, so do strategies to reduce a home’s dependency on fossil fuels. A passive-solar home facing the wrong way on the property won’t work.
But he hadn’t grasped that yet, and I don’t think my explanation helped. He was still thinking that house design starts with finding a floor plan you like, even though his biggest idea for the house was completely incompatible with such an approach.
He was only seeing what he’d always seen and hadn’t yet realized that starting with a blank page and working through the design process is a much better way to get the result he wanted.
You can twist and turn and move an existing house plan a hundred different ways on your property, but you won’t make the most of your project until, like Seth’s seven bowls, you realize that stacking is an option.