Tools for the job

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“I don’t know if we’re doing screws or wrenches.”

This past weekend, Little Man and I took half a day to get some things done around the house together.  The first was the leaky / broken shower faucet.  I never installed a shower faucet before, but thanks to the plethora of knowledge on youtube, we were educated in 10 minutes.  My 4 year old was extremely interested that there are more pieces to a faucet than just the handle that you turn to make the water come out (he was interested, I was . . . surprised, at the complexity).  By the way, a 10 minute youtube video translates to about 150 minutes when you drop pieces of the faucet into the wall. . . . ).

When I attended the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning, we eventually learned to break “design” down into parts and pieces, to the extent of the study of patterns, repetition, hierarchy, context . . . and on and on.  As a novice “designer” at the time, my first inclination was to just try and make it look good (an ultimate result, for sure).  Over time, we learned to understand what makes a design work.  We were taught what tools to use; a design language could be established (and then, of course, that you were allowed to break all of the rules. . . if you wanted to).  Without the proper tools, were we really designing anything, or were we just resolving a portion of the problem with our partial solutions?

When we took apart the faucet, WHO KNEW that there were so many pieces?  I mean, really. . . you turn a handle, it opens a valve, and water comes out, right?  Except that there were turning limiters, pressure clips, temperature controls, and volume regulators to deal with as well (I’m pretty sure I made a lot of those terms up, but I’m not a plumber).  So, we watched the video again to make sure we were making the right decisions.  In the end (and 2 trips to the store later), we had solved the problem and had a fully functional faucet again.  I would not have attempted this fairly easy fix if it hadn’t been for the descriptive video I found online.  Once we understood the parts and pieces, it was much easier to get to our end goal.

In essence, that’s what design is.  Just like you can be a great faucet fixer (like, maybe by maintaining all of your parts instead of sending them into the wall cavity), you can be a great designer. . . if you understand the components correctly.  Some will argue that design is subjective, and to an extent, I agree.  However, there are bad design decisions that can be made during the course of resolving a problem – and you might not even know that these are poor choices without understanding the parts and pieces.  Some people inherently “get it”, and that is what makes a good designer.

In our quest for the right tools for the job, Little Man literally got to try out all of the tools, even if it was just touching them to the general area of the faucet.  I believe we really only needed 3 tools, but we used about 10 or 12, relying on trial and error & explaining to each other what we thought the tool would be best for in the future (“please, please put the hammer down.  I promise you that it will not make our job easier if you slam the faucet with a hammer.).  In so many ways, we were building our toolbox for the future. . . for the next problem that we get to fix together.

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An approach to shaping spaces

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Construction Site Supervisor

“We shape our buildings: thereafter, they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

I have a very fulfilling job.  I create space.  I get to shape the environments that people exist in.  It all sounds very magical; a very sculptural process that can only be fine tuned by vast experience.  Architecture can be a complicated field where a multitude of complex pieces need to be simultaneously orchestrated in order to perfect the desired result.  Sometimes all of that is true.

“Dad, this is a hideout.”  If I were hired to design a “hideout” for a client, I might be thinking about ways to make it blend in with its surroundings, or maybe consider multiple points of exit to accommodate a quick getaway.  Little Guy’s hideout was a box with a blanket over it.  It was very obvious, and conspicuously placed right in the middle of the living room.  There was no “design intent” or complicated process that erected the structure.  It was a hideout because he called it a hideout and when he sat inside, it was his imagination and the events that led up to entering the structure that really made it what it is.

It’s not too different than what happens at a theme park.  Visitors are transported into various, fantasy-like places that are, more often than not, large, overscaled boxes loaded with an experience.  But, it’s also the approach to that environment that lends to the experience.  Sometimes that’s sights & sounds, or maybe a structured path-like approach.

When I first sit with a residential client, we go thru a lot of logistics.  How many bedrooms do you want?  How important is your kitchen?  How much money do you want to spend?  These are very necessary & pointed questions that must be addressed.  I need to know what we’re working with.  I start to wrap in a few more probing questions.  What do you do when you get up in the morning?  Where are you when your kids are doing homework?  Do you wear your shoes in the house?

After we establish what we are building, we need to establish how you will use your spaces.  “We want our kids to have big bedrooms.”  Why?  I can very easily make a bedroom larger, but why do you want that?  Will you complain when your children spend too much time in their rooms and not with the family?  Are you also using their bedroom for storage for all of their stuff?  Are there better ways to solve these problems?  Maybe they just need a place to sleep and we can create alternate, fantastic spaces for them to play in, or do homework in, or spend time with each other.  And this applies to ALL spaces.  Do you need a kitchen to cook in, or do you need a kitchen to exist in?  Do you have large parties where everyone ends up in the kitchen, and in that case, why not make the kitchen a place to put a lot of people, not a place to put appliances?

Do you really want to enter your house thru your garage every day because it’s faster when you get out of your car? (usually “yes”).  Is there a better way to enter your own house so that you’re not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a daily experience where you enter your home thru a room with a laundry machine in it?  What if there was a way for you to have a separate “utility” entrance, but still have a great welcome into your own home? (there is).  All of this is “design”, but it’s not just the design of physical spaces, it’s the design of movement, of experience, and in some ways, it’s design of life.

“Spacious, wide open, rustic / modern, clean lines, comfortable”.  These are some of the words used most often by  my last few clients (according to my notes).  It’s a good start.  I have some clients who come to me with a list indicating that they want 150 square foot bedrooms.  It’s very useful information, but it only gets us halfway there.   What’s your work schedule?  How often do you get to spend time with your spouse in the morning?  Is there a way that your morning routine can be enriched and influenced so that you aren’t preparing for your day in isolation, but rather in concert with your family?  What did you love about the last place that you vacationed at?  What will make your night better?  All of this is more telling and should be more influential than the literal sizes of your rooms.

In a lot of ways, it all goes back to the cardboard box & blanket hideout.  Why is that so cool?  It’s because there’s some dynamic, flashlight produced uplighting.  It’s because it’s “cozy” and doesn’t really belong in the living room. . . but it is.  It’s private.  It’s compressive.  It’s a space within a space.  With that criteria, you can easily create a more permanent space to exist in, and if that’s what you want, why shouldn’t you have it?

It’s what we’ve started doing when we go into new places.  I ask my son, “What makes this place fun?”, or “How could this be better?”  His answers don’t usually have anything to do with spatial dimensions (actually, he usually comes up with something related to super heroes).  When he gets into it, it’s usually about experience or mood.  We should approach all of our spaces the same way, and we’ll get so much more out of them.

I hate our house

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Front of future residence.

I’ve often mentioned the fact that my wife and I are planning on building our home soon.  It’s been a long process getting to get started on construction – which is not any easier because of the fact that the firm has been so successful.  What’s the saying?  “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”?  That’s me.  I keep telling my wife that our house would be finished by now if she just hired me and paid me!

We’re really happy with the way the house is turning out.  It has gone thru several redesigns based on aesthetics or cost.  I think we landed on something that balances the budget, the overall look & feel of the design, the function of the interior, and works well on the property that we own. We’re feeling like this might be our house!

Well…2 out of 3 isn’t bad, I suppose.  Little Guy clued me in on some info I didn’t have before.  “I hate our house”.

 

OK.  Well…back to the drawing board????

Previous to this comment,  we had been reviewing drawings for a commercial building that I am working on.  We determined that the roofs were “crooked” for a reason.  “The rain will slide off, and you can go sleigh riding off the roof on to the ground when it snows”.  *Flash forward to a trip to the ER in the next few years.

That’s true.  They only needed to be “a little crooked” because we don’t get a TON of snow in our area and the structure of the building is made of “metal”.  But what if you got a lot of snow?  What should the building look like then? (google image search “Switzerland house roof” to the rescue):

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We talked a lot about why the pitch of the structure was so important and how snow would more easily slide off a roof like this.  We also dove into the economy of structure and the WHAT’S THAT?!?!

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Thanks, Google.  So now we are looking into underground houses…that I imagine are probably also in Switzerland, and THIS is the house that he wants us to build.  Not our house that we have been slaving away at, and finally have a design that works, and finally have contractors working on to give us construction numbers on.  No, not the house that works for us, works with the grade of the land, and that will be our “forever house”.  He wants an underground house. . . . and that’s it.  He hates our house.

Yea!

To learn more about how I can design homes for your family that your kids will hate, contact Studio m Architecture + Design!

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Rear of future residence.

Every day is Father’s Day

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Every Day, I get to be a dad.

Stocks in neckties are up!  “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” sales are rising quickly.  It’s the time of year when we stop for a second to recognize some people who have put in some effort and accomplished something great.  Dads & Grads!

Every day is Father’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we  have a “special day” to tip the hat to the guys who are doing it right, but to me it’s the same as recognizing, on a yearly basis, that my name is “Tim”.  It’s part of who I am and I don’t necessarily need a special day to point out that I’m a Dad.

Sound ungrateful?  Let me elaborate.  Yesterday, my Little Guy brought me 3 pictures of houses and buildings that he and his Papa made together.  “Daddy, these are for you because you are a Architect, you are my daddy, and because I love you lots and a lot”.  Yesterday was Father’s Day.

Last week, “Dad, I want to watch a show, play with my tablet, have some milk and a snack ANNNND, I reaaaaalllly want to hold your hand (this took a lot of planning and coordination to pull off)”.  Last week was Father’s Day.

This morning, “Dad, my favorite part of yesterday was being with you and my mama”.  Today IS Father’s Day.

Any time I get to explore something new with him, any time he looks at me and says something like “Daddy, I want you to know I love you”, any time I get to fight the pretend bad guys with him on my side… THAT’S Father’s Day.

Every day….

Today was great.  I got to spend time with my Son, my Dad, my Father In Law, and three of the best ladies in the world (Wife, Mom, MIL, of course!).  Spending time together, recognizing each other as great dads doing a great job. . . I think we’ll make tomorrow Father’s Day too!

This is Life

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Bring it on!

Very frequently, I’ve said that the primary reason for this blog is to just do something else once in a while.  It’s a necessity, sometimes, to break away and just be somewhere else…or do something different.

So, here we are.  I “should be” doing about 10 OTHER things besides writing a blog post.  I SHOULD BE getting a client presentation finished.  I SHOULD BE reviewing the drawings that were sent to me today from a consulting engineer.  I should be working, billing, cleaning, mowing, working out, researching, organizing, learning…I should be doing these things.

So, I poured a scotch and opened up the blog…because with everything going on at the moment…I “should be” insane.

All good things.  Seriously.  I am extremely busy at my firm, Studio m Architecture + Design.  The phone keeps ringing, and it’s not primarily telemarketers anymore, so that’s a good milestone to track.  Lots of work, the firm is a success, and I still get to do what I love to do.

“I just want to be with you”.  Little Guy has been so patient with me.  In my endless late nights and my increasing time with a laptop in front of me, he has remained my little intern.  “Can I come in your room with you?”, he asks.  I tell him I have to work (again), and he tells me , “That’s ok.  I just want to be with you.  You can work and I’ll read a book or play with my tablet.”  And he does.  He sits patiently, frequently checking in with me to see if I am done yet so that we can go play soccer or build with Lego, or just be together.

 

He truly keeps me centered.  It’s so easy to kind of spiral off out of control when you are inundated (ask my wife how I get sometimes).  It’s the little things that keep me going:  a quick robot dance, a private showing of a new lego airplane design, or the gift of a Batman sticker are so vital to my existence sometimes.  When I start to feel like I’m drowning, he’s right there to help me out (whether he knows it or not).

Back to work!

Coffee Break

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Time to refuel

For multiple reasons, I (like most people) require coffee to get me thru the day.  Sometimes it’s precisely prepared and enjoyed, two hands grasping the cup as I contemplate the view out the window.  Other times, it’s a pre-ordered sprint into “the mermaid” (Starbucks) to grab some fuel on the way to a meeting.

But sometimes. . . it’s something else.  On occasion I get to make a visit to “the mermaid”, or “the place with the cookies” (a local shop) because Little Guy and I are driving back from preschool and we want to take a little break before we head home.  We select our drinks, maybe a snack, and after we sit down he usually kicks it off with a default, “so. . . how was your day, dada?”  It’s important time that I very much look forward to.

Caffeine, in it’s own way, is medicine to me.  Since I was a teenager, I have suffered from migraines and have sought out remedies and diagnosis from a multitude of doctors.  In the end, it turns out that increasing my daily intake of caffeine has had incredible effect on my life.  Once a week migraines have dissipated to one every few weeks. . . or so.  And the intensity of the event has been greatly reduced.  Medicine, indeed.

But my weekly visit to “the mermaid” (Starbucks is also referred to as “the place with the cake pops”) with my son is its own sort of medicine.  After a day of being on the phone, in meetings, writing emails, invoicing, drafting contracts, and. . . oh, right. . . getting the actual work done, our little side trip becomes a welcome pause in the day; a necessary break from owning and operating my own business.  It’s similar to running. . . or to the existence of this blog.  I don’t necessarily think I “have time” for these things. . . . but they are so necessary to prevent myself from burning out.

For him, he selects his drink, places it on the counter, and says “thank you” to the cashier.  Very much the way he learned to talk (by watching us and trying it out for himself), he is learning how to interact with people in public.  Be nice.  Wait your turn.  Say thank you.  Throw your trash away so that someone else doesn’t have to (this, apparently only applies to being in public. . . not necessarily to being at home, for some reason).

Most people have their own methodology.  Meditation, reading, exercise.  I’ve found that clearing my mind for a while really helps me re-focus on projects that I have running through the firm.  Since I have a ready, willing, and able 3 year old, who’s willing to share the details of his day (and who is genuinely interested in mine), why not optimize this time and benefit from it in multiple ways?  While breaking away for a bit, I get to connect with my son and dose myself with a little caffeinated medicine.  What started as a rushed, scattered routine has become a vital piece to both of our schedules.

Time to Dig in

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It’s time to start building!

As many of my friends and family know, my wife and I have been talking about building a house for a long time now.  Our most recent attempt was 2 years ago.  As it turns out, banks don’t favor borrowers who quit their jobs and start a new business.  Something about needing money to pay the mortgage…picky, picky.

Now that Studio m Architecture + Design is a “viable business” (Two full years seems to be a “make or break” point), we’re starting the conversation again, and like we do with most things, we’ve involved our 3 year old as much as we can.  He’s gone over the plans with us several times and gives us his thoughts.  Of course, the most recognizable part of the drawing is the car in the garage, so that’s where he focuses most of his input.

We’ve also asked him what he wants his room to look like.  I think we were expecting him to let us know what color he wants it to be. . . but we got full design specifications:

  1. “Make it look like Radiator Springs.”
    This involves a “mud carpet”, “mountains on the walls”, a racecar bed, and “tires in the closet.”  Further questioning about the tires in the closet revealed that they were “not real tires….like….pretend tires so it looks like I can stop there and put more gas in my bed.”
  2. “A telescope in the window so I can look for treasure…but not one like at the playground where you see colors.  A REAL telescope that I can find REAL treasure with.”

Before we get there….here’s a little bit about how we got to this point.

The epicenter of the House
The general layout of the house was decided a while ago, based on function and our wants/needs as a family.  This was done almost in isolation of what the exterior looks like…although as an Architect, I made sure that we weren’t making moves that were detrimental to the look and feel of the exterior.  Like most families, we spend most of our time in the kitchen and have seen what happens when he host a party:  everyone ends up in the kitchen.  So, our layout accommodates that and enhances it.

 

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Kitchen area layout

The design of the Kitchen area hasn’t changed all that much over the past few years.  Every time we look at a new layout for the house, this area tends to remain the same.  The proximity of the garage / pantry / kitchen allow for easier flow when coming home with weekly grocery orders as well as exporting trash and recycling.  These sound like such mundane issues, but they are things that we do on a daily basis so why not try to make them easier?

Primarily, the kitchen itself is designed to accommodate large groups of people.  During the holidays especially, there is a tremendous amount of time spent preparing food.  During the warmer months, we spend a LOT of time outside and eat most of our meals there.  Immediate access to the outdoors & proximity to a grilling area was vital.  Actually, we grill throughout the winter months as well.  All of this means that there is a lot of traffic in/out and around the kitchen area.  We’ve over-sized the island (12 feet long by 4 feet wide) and left plenty of room around it.  Not only do we intend people to gather here, but it will become the landing zone for appetizers, beverages, etc. while leaving plenty of room for preparation to continue elsewhere in the kitchen.  On a regular day, the island becomes a place to eat breakfast and for kids to do homework, again, while not interfering with the function of the kitchen.

My plan is to take the next few posts to walk thru the house as we prepare to break ground.  Meanwhile, I’ll be researching how to make a mud carpet for my son’s room!