Time and time again, I stress the need to hire a professional in Design, when embarking on the the construction of a new home, renovation or addition. Sure, I'm a bit biased, but really it boils down to the fact that builders are NOT trained in design. You wouldn't commission a house painter to paint you a one-of-a-kind canvas to hang in your home. Why leave the design to your builder? Those that bill themselves as "Design-Build" typically hire a drafting person who may understand construction, but has never taken a single course in design. More often than not, a builder will learn certain construction "designs" from having worked on houses that were professionally designed, then simply replicate them on every job. Unlike a century ago, when builders were also craftsman and understood the nature of design almost inherently, today it's usually about getting the job done and moving onto the next. There are quite a few who will even use a set of stock plans from a website and "tweak" them for the client (this is a Federal Offense, incidentally, and both the Builder AND the Owner can be liable.)
Below is an example of a home that is currently on the market. At first glance, it appears to be a fairly nice, well-constructed home, the owners which clearly having had the means for better-than-average materials. Taking a closer look, however, there are a number of design faux pas that could have been avoided with an experienced designer. The end result is a disjointed 70's ranch-meets-BushGardens.
- The entrance to a home starts at the street and continues in what the design community calls "Procession" to the front door. We're not quite sure what happened here. A single stair would have been far better, and the metal railings do not relate to the ranch style of the house. Really, there's just way too much going on here. Less is MORE!
- Shutters - if you don't know how to use them, simply don't use them. Shutters were an essential part of life before the advent of air conditioning and double pane glass. They were used to protect the glass during a storm, or to allow air flow on a hot day while keeping the heat of the sun out. Today, they are mostly used for aesthetics. However, even shutters used "just for looks" must relate to the window. A shutter, if it were able to be closed, needs to cover the whole window. Large windows like this one on the left do not need shutters. (Don't believe me - look a the two large windows on the front porch - NO shutters.) The windows on the gabled portion to the far right are much better proportioned and the shutters are essentially correct.
- Angles tend to weaken an otherwise strong design. This front entry could have worked, but the entry door needs to be aligned with the front porch gable. Incidentally, this entry door doesn't even remotely relate to the overall scheme of the house. Based on the materials and color scheme of the trim, it really should be natural wood and preferably the look of an old world door to relate the stucco and stone on the right.
- This bay window is really not too bad. But the window to the right of it is poorly proportioned and not aligned with the porch above.
- The best possible solution here would have been to simply replicate the dormer on the left. Okay, so the owners wanted a balcony on the front of their house. This would have perhaps worked a bit better if the porch did not extend so far forward. Secondly, the railing does not relate to the old-world feel. A nice wood railing, painted the same as the columns and trim would make this balcony more relevant. Also, there appears to be no trim around the doors, and a single, somewhat smaller pair of french doors would have made more sense. To top things off, some kind of roof is needed. The doors could have been recessed under the gable, or a shallow trellis woudl provide the feeling of enclosure that is desperately needed here. Regardless, the porch rail sits too far forward.
- The porch columns are properly sized! Yeah! The brick porch pavers, however, are too thin and flat. The solution is rather simple - the stone brick at the edge of the porch should have had a profile edge. The brick used on the walls is a bit too modern for the stone and stucco.
- Finally, the mix of materials is a bit to contrived. The brick banding is out of place, especially where it is used in following the roof line. Clearly this is a veneer, but even modern technologies used to give a traditional look need to relate to the traditional construction, and brick would not have been used in a gable like this. A trim board, painted to match would have done the trick. Additionally, similar trim should have been used to transition from the stone to the roof returns.
Contrary to the common belief, it doesn't cost that much to hire a design professional, when compared to the savings of poor design.
It doesn't take tons of money for good design; just knowledge.