As I’ve said many times before, I read a lot of blogs and some of them are DIY (Do It Yourself) blogs about design and construction. I want to take a minute and talk about the problem with DIY design. Notice I said “design” and not “construction”. I’m all for anyone who wants to go out, buy some land and build their own home. When I was a kid my mother and step father did this (I helped in a very small capacity being only 7 but I still helped) and it was an awesome experience. To build a home, you have a set of instructions (construction documents) and guidelines (local building codes) to follow. It’s like a kit of parts that just needs to be assembled in the proper order. But designing that home is a different animal all together. It takes more than just a kit of parts, or a program, to put it all together.
When an architect ( at least this one) begins the design process it starts with a couple of casual conversations with the clients to determine “who” they are. This leads into more specific conversations about “how” they live. Most clients won’t realize how important these first conversations are in the process of designing a home for them – but it is critical. You can not properly design a home for someone without knowing who they are and how they live. All of these “spec” homes that are built are built for a generic client, which means when someone does move in, they will invariably have to either change something about the house or compromise how they live in some way in order to be comfortable in the house. I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t go into great detail on this point. Suffice it to say this is not the ideal recipe for the biggest investment you’ll ever make in your life – your home.
Once the architect has an idea about “who” and “how”, he can begin to develop the program with the client – these are the spaces that will make up the home (i.e. living room, dining room, # of bedrooms, etc). This list will be talked about and refined many times at the beginning of the design process in order to get at the core spaces required by the clients. These spaces will then be arranged according to “how” the clients live. This is where an architect becomes crucial to the process of designing a home for someone, and why the “DIY Designer” should always consult an architect prior to construction. Architects and designers spend a lot of time and energy learning and studying how people use space and how spaces relate to each other in a building. The average DIY-er will be able to choose a floor plan from a book or a website, but that plan won’t ultimately meet their needs and will require the same choices as purchasing one of those “spec” houses I mentioned earlier. The DIY-er will also not know what questions to ask themselves about how they live, how they want to live and ultimately how they will live in the future. An architect does know what these questions are and will know how and when to ask them.
Again, I’m all for someone purchasing some land and building their own home – the construction is easy. But designing a home that will fit your personal lifestyle is something different and requires at least a design consultation with a architect or designer to properly lay out your new home. It will save time, money, frustration, money (yes it bears mentioning twice) and possibly your marriage (you try explaining to your wife why you forgot to put a mud room off the garage with laundry storage and a dry storage pantry just off the kitchen).