We realized early on in the design process that it is very useful to visualize a space in three dimensions. While Carsten is driving the overall design, bringing the concept to life, and doing the heavy-lifting around drawings, Erika and I have wanted to maintain a rough 3D model of our own that we can update on-the-fly to capture new ideas as they emerge.
Since I’m no CAD wizard (and certainly no artist), I started looking for a simple 3D rendering tool that we could use to build the model. I decided to go with Google SketchUp on the recommendation of a designer friend. I’ve been very impressed. It takes a few hours of serious focus to learn how to use SketchUp, but it’s quite simple when you get the hang of it. The tool allows you to draw in 3D, “orbit” around the model to see it from different perspectives, and even let’s you see how the sun and shadows will hit the house at different times of day. It’s definitely not the most advanced modeling tool, but it’s perfect for amateurs like us.
Below are a few snapshots from our latest model, including the front of the house, top floor section, and bottom floor, respectively. Having this in our back pocket has really helped advance the conversation with Carsten, as we are able to show him our ideas rather than just telling him.
Ok, enough with all the pretty pictures, let’s talk about the reality of designing a home. For the last month, we have been working with our great friend and architect, Carsten Stinn, on the conceptual (or “schematic”) design of the Soos Creek house.
The schematic design phase started with the seemingly simple, but practically complex task of articulating what we want from our house. This of course requires pouring through hundreds of magazines and books in search of inspiration. But, more importantly, it requires careful reflection about how we want to “live” in the house and what activities we prioritize over others.
Our goal from the beginning has been to integrate modern principles of efficiency, authenticity, and simplicity into the design of the house. We like the aesthetics of modern homes and the way they function, but I think we also just want to take a bit of the city with us to the new house.
After thinking hard about about our needs and priorities, we settled on three guiding principles for the design. Specifically, we would like a home that:
Promotes social activities
Inspires a hands-on existence and gains character with use
Integrates with the surrounding landscape (is “of the hill, not on the hill”)
Carsten shares our same sensibilities about what is important in a home, so he immediately understood our three principles and had some great ideas about how to extend them further.
The next step in the process was to develop a “Program” for the house that starts to translates these principles into design specifications (e.g. # of bedrooms, proximity of rooms to each other, etc). For our Program, we listed the rooms that we’d like to have in the house, the most common ways that we’ll use those rooms, and how we’d like the spaces to interact with each other. We recorded this information in a spreadsheet (yes, I’m a finance geek):
We’ve discovered through our research and through developing our Program, that a well-functioning home does not require a lot of space — we’re targeting about 2,100 sqft for our home. Despite the availability of large (mostly ill-conceived) suburban housing, the idea of living with modest space is very appealing to us.
After reviewing our Program, reviewing hundreds of photos, and discussing our tastes and preferences over numerous glasses of wine, Carsten went off to design two concepts for the house.
Both of the concepts include a large open living space upstairs, an outdoor covered terrace, and bedrooms downstairs.
The first is the “stacked” concept with the top floor aligned directly above the lower floor. This design is simpler (i.e. more economical) to construct given the efficiency of a smaller foundation and roof. Here’s the upper floor layout:
The second is the "stepped" concept which includes a top floor that is offset from the lower level, creating a visual effect of the house “stepping” down the slope of the site. This creates more interesting dimension and fantastic outdoor spaces, but is more complex to build. Here’s the upper floor layout:
Our next step is to select a concept, make some minor tweaks to the floor plans, and submit the design for preliminary permitting. We’re leaning toward the “stacked” concept because we see less risk in the execution and construction, but we do love the stepped concept as well.
For a wannabe architect like me, this process has been a true delight.
I’ll try to post more frequently as we go along in order to keep these updates more brief.