Category Archives: Home Design

Design Tips: Choosing Exterior Finishes

The Disneyland Approach for choosing exterior materials

Imagine the knock-down, drag-out arguments. Owners of this house clearly couldn’t agree. One demanded a traditional brick city home, the other a rustic cabin. In despair, their architect negotiated a mashup to satisfy both parties. Why else would formal brick and precast be mixed with rustic stone, timber, stucco and even log construction? Continue reading Design Tips: Choosing Exterior Finishes

New Research Says Homes Need More Sunlight

A healthy traditional sunroom

Are Today’s Homes Bright Enough?
According to new research, they’re not. Psychologist Kenneth Wright and a team of scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder recently discovered today’s homes don’t include enough sunlight to kickstart the body’s clock. Combined with too much artificial light at night preventing sleep, these scientists argue designers simply don’t respect that humans are light-sensitive animals. Continue reading New Research Says Homes Need More Sunlight

Review: Pocket Doors

Old dining room pocket doors

Pocket doors slide inside a wall. When closed, they can look like other doors or provide a dramatic focal point. Either way, they’re hidden when open. Which means they don’t waste space or swing into toilets, cabinets and furniture. Since they slide on tracks (instead of swinging on hinges) pocket doors can service larger openings. For these reasons architects and designers rely on the pocket door as a versatile design tool.

Sadly, pocket doors aren’t a panacea. While they look good in pictures and usually work right after installation. Designers are long gone before the pocket door’s shortcomings become painfully apparent. Continue reading Review: Pocket Doors

Room Echo is Annoying and Unhealthy

After the new room is painted, furnished and finally ready. You sink into the couch and turn on the television expecting a blissful evening at home. Instead you’re accosted by a nasty echo. “No big deal, I can ignore it”, you murmur. But soon you’re acting like a torture victim. What seemed like a minor problem is destroying your life. Continue reading Room Echo is Annoying and Unhealthy

Review: What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You

What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You: The Essential Guide to Building and Renovating, could be called “What Your Contractor Should Tell You”. This paperback is full of valuable advice for everyone building or remodeling. Written by a construction manager, the focus isn’t about self-building or self-contracting. Instead, the reader will learn to reduce risk and increase success when hiring building pros. Thorough discussions about working well with others, budgets, contract types and avoiding common pitfalls are included. Also covered are tips for using budget as a management tool and understanding the pro’s perspective.  Continue reading Review: What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You

The Not So Clean Home

Kids love dirt. Adults should too!

Can Homes be too Clean for Health?
Yes, a growing body of evidence suggests hyper-clean homes aren’t always healthy. Not only are today’s homes dirt free, energy codes encourage tight building, effectively sealing the environment like Tupperware. Together these trends reveal Westerners live in sterile bubbles. Yet the research is clear, this lifestyle choice is causing a public health crisis. Continue reading The Not So Clean Home

Mold Resistant Home Design

Mold growing on old weathered window

Can Homeowners & Pros Prevent Mold?
Homeowners often wonder if mold can be entirely eliminated from their home. Sadly, the answer is no. Don’t panic, mold naturally occurs in every environment. Humans have evolved to coexist with small amounts of this tiny microbe. Many foods humans love, including cheese and soy sauce, contain mold. Antibiotics like penicillin, which transformed modern medicine, are derived from mold. Continue reading Mold Resistant Home Design

Review: Carter’s Way

carters-wayCarter’s Way: A No-Nonsense Method for Designing Your Own Super Stylish Home is an interior design book based on Carter Oosterhouse’s HGTV program. Sadly I’ve never seen his show. But I have read this book. Switching between images of well decorated rooms and Carter pretending to cut boards, at first worried me. Employing a ghost writer furthered suspicion. And suggesting his method leads to “super stylish” homes didn’t help either. Yet buried within these pages are loads of practical advice that may help homeowners take charge of their interior design projects. Continue reading Review: Carter’s Way

Featured Term: Architect

From the Buildwise Unauthorized Dictionary

Common Definition: A person who designs buildings.

Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead
Gary Cooper as architect Howard Roark in The Fountainhead

Unauthorized Definition: Architects are media darlings. The Fountainhead featured Gary Cooper as an uncompromising architect. Robert Reed’s character, Mike Brady was a cool architect dad for The Brady Bunch TV sitcom. Paul Newman was a white collar hero saving lives in The Towering Inferno. For at least three movies, Steve Martin played an intellectual yet romantic architect. However, the funniest architect characters came later when Matt Dillon and Lee Evans both faked being architects in There’s Something About Mary. Sadly few architects in the media are women. Although this is changing in the real world. Continue reading Featured Term: Architect

Zoning & Building Code Basics


Building regulations were enacted to protect everyone’s health, safety and well-being. I tell myself this when visiting a building department. Reality however, appears far from this goal. Instead I usually find a morass of confusing red tape and contradictory information.

No matter how frustrated I get, building regulations are here to stay. Because they carry the force of law, I don’t bury my head. Instead, I ask questions, write down conversations and work hard to understand each rule’s intent, even the ridiculous ones. I’ve seen do-it-yourselfers and Libertarian leaning builders try bucking the rules. Most end up paying hefty fines. Others find trouble insuring or selling their illegal monstrosities. Some even call me after the fact to help calm down angry inspectors.

To help everyone build wisely, below is a basic primer for understanding the typical regulations I’ve encountered during 30 years of designing and building homes around the country.
Continue reading Zoning & Building Code Basics