Author Archives: Tommy Manuel

ICONIC HOUSE OF THE MONTH | March 2018 | Villa Tugendhat

A sedate exterior belies the acclaim and turmoil of Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic. Architect Mies van der Rohe, known for his “less is more” approach, designed the villa for newly-wed and industrial heirs Grete and Fritz Tugendhat.

View from the garden.

Completed in 1930, its steel-framed, glass and concrete construction expressed the budding Modern Movement through the intersection of its materials, including ebony and onyx, and textures. The interior offered the space and light that were seen as essential to modern living, and a panoramic view of the city.

The Glass Room featured walls that could retract into the floor like a car window, opening onto the gardens. Excitement over the house was short-lived, though; the Tugendhats fled the country just eight years later, shortly before the German occupation.

View toward Brno from living area with vertically retracted glass walls.

Sadly, as one of the most influential houses of the 20th century, it was not spared the ravages of war. The villa was used as a Gestapo military quarters and offices and was later damaged during combat.

In 1967, Grete Tugendhat returned to the villa with experts, aiming to renovate it; however, the Communist era intervened, and the new occupants subdivided the villa with pasteboard walls and used the garage as a stable.

View of entrance and terrace roof beyond.

The Czech Government eventually restored the building which, in the early 1990s, was the site of the signing of the document that divided the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Onyx feature wall in living area.

 

Today, Villa Tugendhat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site open for tours. To see more images of this iconic house visit Villa Tugendhat’s photo gallery here.

Four Considerations for Designing or Renovating Your Kitchen

Kitchen renovation with sitting room extension.

Whether you plan on updating your existing kitchen or designing one as part of a new home, getting the design right is usually a top priority on any homeowner’s requirements.

In either scenario, designing a kitchen to fit your lifestyle is a significant undertaking. Getting it right requires balancing your wish list with feasible options and a realistic budget. Working with an architect will allow you to evaluate the different possibilities available where your wishes, options, and budget intersect.

Addressing the four considerations below will help you clarify your priorities and more easily communicate them to your architect.

How should your kitchen relate to the rest of the house?

At one end of the spectrum we have kitchens that are entirely separate rooms, and at the other end are those kitchens that flow seamlessly into other areas of the house. The evolution of residential kitchens began with a completely separate dedicate building for cooking. Eventually, they became attached, walls began to disappear, and the kitchen became part of the open floor plan along with the dining and living rooms.

Consider how the kitchen should related to other areas as well. Should it be immediately adjacent to outdoor entertaining areas?  Does the kitchen need to be close to where you park your car for a shorter unloading distance? If your family tends to gather more in the kitchen during the morning, consider locating on the east side of the house to take advantage of the morning light. Will you need access to accessory functions like an outdoor grilling area or herb garden for example?

There’s not a single right arrangement of the kitchen for every scenario or lifestyle. Determining what works best for you and your family is the only right answer.

How will your kitchen be used?

Kitchens have come to incorporate design considerations far beyond their once purely functional concerns. Style, comfort, and connection have become important design consideration in the contemporary kitchen.

If your family and guests congregate in the kitchen, it’s better to think of it as an important hub in your home. Consider including ample seating along with generous work surfaces. Incorporating space for a table, a keeping room, a breakfast nook, or an island that accommodates stools will transform this utilitarian space into an enjoyable experience. On the other hand, a compact kitchen with a greater emphasis on functionality and efficient use of space may be more suitable for smaller family that rarely entertains.

You architect needs to understand how you intend to use your new or renovated kitchen in order to design the best spatial configuration for your lifestyle.

What appliances and fixtures will you need?

A significant portion of your kitchen budget should be dedicated to the appliances and fixtures you plan to install. The kind and number of appliances is so important that the functional and storage aspect of the kitchen are all but designed around them and their locations. You’ll need to provide your architect with a list of these appliance early in the process.

Your architect will take this list and coordinate the sizes and number of the appliances within the larger space and the surrounding cabinetry. Appliance selections will impact other things as well, including power and plumbing requirements, stub-out locations, installation tolerances, and working clearances.

Many appliance manufacturers produce several types of kitchen equipment, but not every one of those is the best of its kind.  Fortunately, many of the finishes offered by different manufacturers are similar enough to work alongside each other, so look for the best appliance across manufacturers.

How much and what kind of storage will you need?

While your kitchen’s spatial configuration requires some creative organization from you and your designer, the other critical component that deserves just as much attention is storage. Cabinetry can conceal as well as reveal. What things do you want out-of-sight? Do you have special items that you’d like to show off?

Apart from a dedicated pantry, your cabinetry will store everything including food, pots and pans, frequently used items and rarely use ones, small appliances, plates and flatware, first aid and medicine, emergency equipment, cleaning supplies, and recycling and rubbish.

If you’re renovating your existing kitchen, document how much space is currently dedicate to the different types of things being stored. Will you need more or less of these? Do their locations and adjacencies to each other need to be reconsidered?

Make ease of access a priority in selecting new cabinetry. Choose drawers or racks that pull out for better accessibility. Ask your architect to incorporate aging-in-place and universal design solutions that will allow your new kitchen to be functional for many years to come.

A new kitchen ore remodeled one is a complicated project. To arrive at a successful solution that meets your present and future needs, expresses your unique lifestyle, and is within your budget, you’ll need to work closely with your architect. It’s a process that can have a long lasting and positive impact on your day-to-day life.

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Palmettos, Patterns, and Pigments

L: Photo of palmetto frond sheaths, commonly referred to as bootjacks. R: Initial single tile design with abstract bootjack pattern.

This past fall, I taught a graduate-level design studio at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, where I’m one of the part-time faculty.

I like to introduce an exercise at the start of the term that challenges the students’ preconceived notions about architecture and design. Twelve students first analyzed a plant species of their choosing from the native pine rockland habitat of South Florida, identifying structures, geometries, and proportions, and patterns.  Using this information that they described through drawings and diagrams, they then developed three-dimensional systems for architecture, exploring things like connections, structure, space, and form.

On my morning commute to campus I like to grab a Cuban coffee passing through downtown Miami.  Waiting outside a vintanita at NW 1st Street and NW 1st Avenue on that sweet dark caffeinated nectar, it hit me. Cuban tiles! I’ve had a pattern tessellating through my brain for a while then, but sometimes an application for an inspiration doesn’t hit you until later.

Cuban Tiles are Cement Tiles

One theory as to why cement tile is called “Cuban Tile” in South Florida is that these finishes were entrusted to Cuban tile manufacturers who made them by hand for residences and other buildings.  The origin of cement tiles goes further back though, to Catalonia in the 1850s when they were first produced.  Because they were cheaper, more durable, easily produced, and offered virtually unlimited artistic potential, they were considered a revolution in floor finishes.

Sample medallion tile pattern from Cuban Tropical Tile Company, Miami.

Sample geometric tile pattern from Cuban Tropical Tile Company, Miami.

By the beginning of the 20th century, cement tiles were a popular high-end floor covering installed in thousands of notable public buildings and luxury homes.  During the 1940s, they regained popularity once again in Florida.

Unlike other tiles, cement tiles are not fired and there is no glaze on the tile’s surface. Instead, they are produced by hydraulically pressing a patterned layer of mineral pigments onto a layer of finely dehydrated ground Portland cement and a coarser layer of sand and cement.  High quality cement tiles use only mineral based pigments which do not fade over time like non-mineral based pigments.

Cement tile mold, France, 1920.

A handmade metal mold with a pattern design is used to apply pigments, a combination of natural mineral color pigments, high-quality white Portland cement, marble powder, and fine sand.  The handmade process gives each tile its own character and depth through slight imperfections.

Elongated hexagonal cement tile handpress.

Elongated hexagonaal cement tile handpress with pigment layer in place.

Manufacturers worldwide produce cement tiles for floor and wall applications in a variety of sizes, shapes and patterns. Smaller companies tend to use a hand-operated hydraulic press.  The inconsistent pressure applied with this type of press means that the quality of the tiles varies. Electric-powered hydraulic presses typically used by larger companies consistently produce a higher quality product with a thicker pigment layer embedded into the tile.

Wall application of cement tiles by Crafted Tiles featuring a medallion motif.

 

Cement tile by Granada Tile used in a stair riser application.

Abstraction

Abstraction has been used throughout our history from our earliest beginnings and across every culture and continent. It has been applied to nearly every material including wood, clay, stone, concrete, glass, metals, fabrics, and even our own skin. From jewelry to buildings to entire landscapes, abstraction is our shared inherited graphic language.

Designated the state tree of both South Carolina, as well as Florida, the sabal palmetto is both ubiquitous and iconic. Its range extends from the Bahamas and Cuba up across Florida and, like its boot jacks, diverges west along the Gulf of Mexico and north up the Atlantic toward Charleston, a route I know mostly by rail since I’ve been teaching in Miami.

L: Repeated single tile of abstracted bootjack pattern. R: Photo of palmetto bootjacks.

What’s been of interest to me is the patterning created where the fronds emerge along the palmetto’s trunk.  Light plays across the cylindrical imbrication, creating shadow, shade, and highlights.

The still-attached frond sheaths (the bootjacks, what are left after the upper petioles have been pruned or broken off, form a pattern similar to fish scales. The texture of the lower trunk is a result of scaring from shedding eventually shedding the bootjacks.

Abstracting the palmetto’s bootjack imbrication was actually very simple and turned out to be most similar to an argyle pattern.

Variations of abstract bootjack pattern.

Where it gets interesting is in playing with the pattern’s tessellation: rotating, offsetting, grouping and repeating sub-patterns to create some surprising geometric fields.

Two different tiling options using initial single tile. L: Alternating up/down row layout. R: Vertical mirroring and alternating up/down rows.

The other element in this developing sabal pattern is the use of color. Up to now, I’ve been working with a monochrome of four hues, focusing more on the geometric patterns.

Moving forward, there are two design elements I’ll be exploring, with color being one. The other will look at using the geometry of the pattern instead of using a square tile in which the repeating pattern is contained. I expect it to open up some really exciting results. Here’s a look at where that’ll be going. Stay tuned!

Irregular hexagonal tile organized in a repeating radial pattern. This would require two additional tile shapes, a parallelogram and regular hexagonal tile.

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Iconic House of the Month | February 2018 | Fallingwater

“Can you say when your building is complete, that the landscape is more beautiful than it was before?”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1935-38, Bear Run, Pennsylvania (photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress #LC-DIG-highsm-04261)

Floating above a mountain waterfall on a forested hillside in Southwestern Pennsylvania, about a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh, is perhaps America’s most famous private residence designed by the most famous American architect.

The Kaufmann residence was completed in 1934. Its unique design makes it look like the house stretches out over a 30ft waterfall, with no solid ground beneath it. Of course, this isn’t the case, but the innovative design demands one’s attention upon arrival. Now a national historic landmark, it was instantly iconic.

The home’s commission was a late-career milestone for the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, then sixty-seven-year-old. A notable tale to come out of the project is that the initial design was conceived in the time it took the Kaufman’s to drive the 140 miles – about two hours – from Milwaukee to Wright’s studio, after the architect procrastinated for nearly nine months.

An apprentice to Wright recalled that upon talking with the client over the phone, the architect sat down and started to draw saying, “Liliane and E.J. will have tea on the balcony…they’ll cross the bridge to walk in the woods.” The feverish tempo culminated with a bold title below a rendering of the future home. It read Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1935, Color pencil on tracing paper, 15-3/8 x 27-1/4 inches, © The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Believing that human life was part of nature, Wright endeavored to build in ways that reflected this belief. He expressed this in the Kaufmann house in several ways.

One approach was to incorporate an existing rock outcropping projecting above the height of the living room floor into a great central hearth instead of destroying it, bringing the earth into the home.

Another approach emphasizing connection with nature was the abundant use of glass. Wright avoided using solid walls facing onto the stream and falls, offering panoramic views beyond to the forest. His creative use of “corner turning windows” without mullions dematerializes corners of the house where they’re used.

Another example of Wright’s respect for nature can be seen in the bending a trellis beam to accommodate a pre-existing tree.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater, detail with tree (Edgar J. Kaufmann House), 1937 (photo: Daderot, CC0 1.0)

Architecture historian Vincent Scully wrote that Wright’s Fallingwater reflects “an image of Modern man caught up in constant change and flow, holding on…to whatever seems solid but no longer regarding himself as the center of the world.”

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Three Design Concepts for a More Livable Home

Whether you’re building a new home from the ground up or undertaking a major renovation to an existing house, hiring an architect is money well invested in creating a more livable home that suits your personal lifestyle while simultaneously improving the value of one of your most important assets. Before hastily purchasing a set of stock plans (seriously, why would you?) or making your wish list of home renovation improvements, consider the following three concepts first.

Important things first.

What’s important? Differentiate the decisions that need to be made as either difficult-to-change-later or easy-to-change-later. Important decisions are the ones you need to make early in the process. Less important decisions are those made later and can be changed in the future without major disruption to the more important ones.

Selecting the right context (e. g., urban, suburban, rural) is the first step followed by the neighborhood and then the specific building lot. Having your architect conduct a site analysis to determine the best location for your home is critical and ensures that the end result takes advantage of the site’s assets while mitigating any disadvantages the lot may have.

The next step is organizing the spaces, and the relationships between them, that you need and want. You and your architect will want to discuss things like a typical day for everyone in your family. What works well now, and what doesn’t? What activities require dedicated spaces? What interior spaces should have direct access to the outside, and which do not? How should the flow of space move people through the home?

From here, other aspects of the design are incorporated, including the construction method, building systems (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), exterior materials and colors, and interior materials and finishes. Working out decisions with your architect from most important to lesser important decisions will lead to the development of a comprehensive design solution.

Smaller can be smarter.

Meis van der Rohe adopted the motto “less is more,” a phrase originally attributed to Ad Reinhardt, an abstract expressionist artist. Think of designing and building a more livable home as distilling the best features and options into a smaller but more impactful home. Consider what activities can occur together in the same space. What spaces should be adjacent to each other, possibly eliminating hallways?

In the case of renovation projects or additions, aim to maximize and improve what you already have first. Identify those areas that are rarely used or no longer contributing to your lifestyle. These spaces are resources that could be repurposed to serve your family’s current needs. Additionally, you may want to address the furniture layout of an existing room to improve your homes livability and reduce the need for additional construction.

A home should be a dynamic assembly of spaces and functions if it’s going to serve a family with a myriad of different interests and priorities. An architect’s service is invaluable in making the most of all the decisions that go into building a new home, renovating, or adding to an existing home.

Take it outside.

Along the South Carolina coast, and particularly more so in Florida, outdoor living spaces are used year-round. Here in the Lowcountry, the addition of an outdoor fireplace can increase the usable living space during those colder winter evenings.

Porches are ubiquitous throughout the South, and they work best when connecting interior living spaces with outdoor dining areas, kitchens, terraces, and pools. Balconies that provide enough space for a couple of chairs and small table are a great feature for less public rooms in the home such as bedrooms or a study.

A new residential design or improvement project should improve your family’s connectivity as well as satisfy each family members individual needs. Selecting an architect specialized in residential design will help you increase your odds of getting it right by coordinating all the important decisions necessary for a successful project.

How Much Will Building My Custom Home Cost?

Before you so much as set pen to paper, there’s usually a host of questions that come up when you consider building a new home.  The one question that encapsulates all others is, “How much is it going to cost to build my house?”

When I’m asked this question, my first response is usually, “How much have you budgeted for the project?”  Far from being an unpleasant retort, it is a serious question.  Often, people will respond with so many dollars per square foot, which, with a simple multiplication by their desired conditioned area – Voilà! – the project budget!  But…

Ce n’est pas un budget.

Approaching your project budget in this manner obfuscates more than it accounts for.  There are just too many factors that influence the cost of your custom home, but this simple arithmetic persists as a way to easily talk about costs, from rough framing to floor finishes.

In order to meaningfully address such a complex undertaking within the space of a post such as this, we need to set some parameters, because not all houses are located, designed, and built the same.  Let’s assume the following.

  • Location:  Urban, suburban, rural (on high ground)
  • Scope:  New ground-up construction only
  • Area:  2,500 – 3,000 SF (square feet), conditioned

Your budget, and the final cost of the project, will depend largely on two interrelated factors; 1) Size, meaning how much you build, and 2) the Quality of all that you build.  Keep in mind that both are more nuanced when taking into consideration areas not part of the conditioned area – porches, decks, terraces, etc. – and the difference between a finely finished library and a bare bones mechanical room.  These differences also need to be reflected in the cost.

LOCATION

We have quite a range of options for building sites in the Lowcountry; a dense historic downtown, spacious suburban neighborhoods, meticulously maintained resort communities, prized beachfront sites, and magnificent river marsh locations.  These fall into roughly three categories; urban, suburban, and rural.

Urban sites located in downtown Charleston or the Old Village Mount Pleasant have their own unique set of conditions.  Limited parking, narrow lots, the historical context, and public design review are just a few issues that present challenges to designing and building a custom home.

Suburban building sites, whether as far out as Summerville or closer in like West Ashley, are generally less expensive, less design prescriptive, more spacious, and easily accessible.  The exception would include luxury resort communities like Kiawah Island, that requires a 60-minute commute, security gate passes, specific community design guidelines, and an architectural review board (ARB) that adds costs up and down the project team, from architects and builders to subcontractors and suppliers.

Rural sites located in remote areas such as Awenda to the northeast or Wadmalaw Island to the southwest generally have far fewer design restrictions – unless located in an exclusive enclave – than suburban and urban sites, but their distance from labor and material sources does add to construction costs. It’s difficult to say exactly how much, but it’s safe to assume an increase of 15%.

SCOPE

Foundation

The cheapest foundation to build is a concrete slab on grade, a method preferred by track home builders here and across the region. If your building site is on high ground and NOT in a flood zone, then this can be something worth considering.  The next cheapest foundation is concrete footings – preferably continuous to mitigate differential settling of the building – and concrete masonry units, or CMUs.  Piles driven into the ground using heavy equipment is the more expensive foundation, but is also a necessity on sites with soft ground or in “V” flood zones where scouring from flood waters can undermine other types of foundations.  For foundation costs only, pile foundations generally cost up to three times that of slab on grade construction.

Structure

There are three interrelated factors that determine the cost of your homes structure; method of construction, labor, and time.  As a baseline, stick-built is the common construction method here, consisting site built walls framed with 2×4 (or 2x6s) studs at 16” on center, but other construction methods have made their way into Lowcountry, offering faster build times which translates to cheaper finance and insurance costs.

  • Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) – Slightly costlier (2% or so), than an equivalent stick-built home, this method offers advantages of speedy construction, high thermal performance, wind resistance, and, for urban sites particularly, greater noise attenuation.  Homes can be built in about 75% of the time for a comparable stick-built home of comparable size, saving a lot of money that gets eaten up by a typical construction schedule.
  • Modular – Modular construction methods present can impact design choices, but for homeowners wanting a minimalist aesthetic and a quick build time it’s an attractive option.  Savings resulting from this method can be pocketed or applied to other aspects of the home like higher quality finishes, lighting and plumbing fixtures, or more energy efficient windows and doors.  Homes can typically be built in 50% of the time for a conventionally framed home.

If we assume that the minimum construction cost for a simple home is around $160 – 180/SF, as the design becomes more complex and higher quality finishes are selected, this guestimate will quickly reach to $250/SF.  Highly custom designs and artfully crafted homes will start out around $300/SF and rise as high as a homeowner is willing to pay for more refined details, high performance systems, and luxury items.

All of this is to say that, at best, a ballpark cost-per-square foot construction budget can only give you an approximation at the outset of your building project.  You would have to develop a highly detailed set of drawings and specifications describing the level of desired quality, fixtures, finishes, etc. to have a more complete picture of the final cost.

This is certainly prudent when you’re ready for your project to move forward, but if you’re not, doing so could mean wasting tens of thousands of dollars on design services only to find out what you’ve dreamed up is beyond your budget.  A low-cost Discover and Focus consultation that includes conceptual level design and preliminary budgeting can help you avoid such a scenario and save you a lot of pain in the process.

Time To Rethink How We Value How We Build

I met with some colleagues to discuss our infill development plans for downtown Charleston yesterday at the Rarebit on King. Ideas on what to build and where to build it were being batted around over dinks and carefully placed jokes.

As we were focusing on a particular lot, the issue of appraisal values came up. Specifically, how they really don’t account for much, yet can determine how much the bank will provide you on a mortgage or construction loan.

For example, take two different buildings built at the same time, the same neighborhood, the same size, and the same finishes, but with one difference. Building A was built by a shitty builder using shitty sub-contractors doing shitty work, while Building B was built by an excellent builder using excellent sub-contractors doing excellent work.

Or, think of it a different way. Say Building A was built to the minimum standard, which is basically the local building code, while Building B was built to a much higher standard such that its operation costs were dramatically lower than Building A by hundreds of dollars.

Guess what? More than likely, a comparative appraisal of the two won’t show a difference in value. An appraiser briefly walks through a house, getting a very general idea of the condition of the building and its room count, and may ask if there are any unobservable problems. That’s it. It’s still pretty hard to find a comparison for a higher performing home in most areas these days.

So, why would you want to build a better performing home if its energy and cost saving features aren’t reflected in its valuation? (insert record scratch sound here) Well, because those energy and cost saving features add up big time over the life of the building! 

Take for example the case of Gene Myers, a builder in Denver, CO. Myers’s company has built standard three-bedroom 2,000 SF homes that are highly efficient, with HERS scores in the low 40s (that’s pretty good by the way), for sale competitively around $480,000. In that same development, they also offer similarly sized homes with photovoltaic panels to achieve net-zero energy, and those houses cost just $35,000 more than the standard houses.

But here’s the thing, they’re only $35,000 more expensive when you look at the initial cost. Factoring in operating costs dramatically changes the formula. According to Myers, the $35,000 up-charge to his customers adds $100 a month to their mortgage payment, but sis analysis shows that owners will save $300 a month in energy bills.

If I said to you, “Give me $100 and I’ll give you $300 back,” how would that sound? Sounds pretty good, right? Now, why don’t we do that the first month you live in your new home, and then let’s do that every month for as long as you own the home? A net savings of $200/ month over a 30-year mortgage is a lot!

So, homeowners, and architects, builders, real estate agents, appraisers, and lenders need to rethink how we value how we build if we’re serious about building a better preforming built environment.

Your High-End Home Isn’t a High-Performance Home Without Proper Ventilation

Ventilation is an essential component in achieving healthy indoor air quality, and if your high-end home isn’t proving that to you and your family, it could be increasing your chances of poor health for everyone who lives under its roof.

Ventilation – The catch phrase use to be that homes needed to ‘breathe’. They still do, but not in the uncontrolled manner they’ve been allowed. Buildings are now being constructed with more air-tight envelopes. This has led to the need for greater control over a home’s breathability by introducing controlled fresh outside air in addition to a home’s typical HVAC system. Controlled whole-house ventilation is a cost-effective and energy efficient way to supply fresh air throughout the living area.

Here’s why you high-end home needs to prioritize ventilation:

Removes excess humidity (we do live in the South)

One of the primary reasons for using a properly sized, well-designed ventilation system in conjunction with airtight construction is to lower humidity levels that have a negative effect in two ways. First, Significant differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures can pose a problem by causing condensation inside the structure of a building and the spaces within. When this happens in your high-end home, you can end up with high levels of mold and mildew. Second, a lower relative humidity level dramatically improves the comfort for those living in the home.

Reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies

Respiratory problems like asthma can be triggered by damp and moldy conditions. Without adequate ventilation, your airtight high-end house could be producing excessive humidity levels that promote mold spores and dust mites. In general, keeping the relative humidity below 50% considerably reduces the growth of dust mite. A whole-house ventilation system extracts the excess humidity and keeps mold and mildew from forming.

As we say in the South, it pollens instead of snows, and pollen is one of the major causes of seasonal allergies. An effective ventilation system filters out pollen and other large particles while suppling fresh air that results in improved health for seasonal allergy sufferers. Keeping the windows closed during high pollen levels helps ensure that your air conditioning system is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Reduce exposure to Radon gas

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is found most commonly in areas where granite and other ‘igneous’ rocks make up a large part of the geography. While not a problem here in the lowcountry and coastal areas, high-end homes in the mountains and foothills of South Carolina should take precautions against exposure to radon gas. It can be pulled into living spaces from the ground around basements and crawlspaces by air pressure differences between the interior of the house and the exterior.

Reduce the impact of chemical pollutants

We spend much of our lives inside. We also live and work in environments where there are far more chemical compounds in the air that can have negative health effects. Many of these come in the form of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. While you can’t see them, they do usually give off a smell.

VOCs are found in paints, stains, sealants, carpets, furniture, and even house cleaning products. A newly built or renovated house can have VOC levels that reach as much as 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels. When designing and planning your new home, renovation, or addition, choose finish materials that have minimal off-gas.

A whole-house, balanced ventilation system utilizing a HRV or ERV unit (preferred for hot humid climates) that introduces a constant stream of fresh filtered air to dilute and control a wide range of pollutants. Stale air is then typically exhausted through spaces like bathrooms and kitchens. To ensure your high-end home provides a high quality indoor living environment, be sure to prioritize a high-performance ventilation strategy from the outset.

Prioritizing Your Priorities: 4 Tips to Help Your Design Project Go Smoothly

Starting your new design project is an exciting endeavor. There are more questions that await your decisions than you’ve probably considered. Fortunately for you, the decision to work with an architect will greatly help in answering all the remaining questions more manageable.

Throughout my practice, I’ve found that the best way to move a project ahead efficiently during the design phases is to address the many issues in the following order:

  1. Resolve Upfront DecisionsResolving decisions that others need from you will help them understand the scope of your project, begin the work on time, and keep to your project’s schedule. Ask your architect for all the information that they will need from you. Your program (the area, function, and number of rooms needed) and other design objectives, a current survey and soil test of the property, anticipated construction budget, and a desired completion date are a few of the things you’ll need upfront to get the project moving.
  2. Identify and Resolve UnknownsIdentifying and resolving unknowns is critical to avoiding costly changes or re-design. It may seem like your time and investment could be better-spent designing what you’ve been dreaming of, but it’s not. You will waste more time and money accommodating the unidentified unknowns later in the project than it takes to resolve them up front.
  3. Take on the Important Stuff EarlyTake on the important design decisions early so you aren’t overwhelmed as your deadlines get closer. The important stuff includes ‘big picture’ issues that will determine whether your project ends up being the best possible design solution or a costly example of missed opportunities. The important stuff is often the intangible, or more usually, the unseen decisions when your project is finally complete. Careful site planning and orientation, program layout, structural integrity, efficient mechanical and electrical systems, indoor air quality, daylighting strategies, and sound attenuation are just some of the important stuff that will determine the quality of your project. Good design isn’t fast, so take your time and think things through with your architect. Your future self will be glad you did.
  4. Leave the Not-So-Important Stuff for LaterLeave the not-so-important stuff for last because nothing else depends on it and it depends on all the important stuff. So, what’s the not-so-important stuff? Often clients begin preparing for their design project by collecting images of beautifully furnished interiors and finely crafted exteriors. This is great, and I highly recommend doing this to communicate your design goals. However, things like paint colors and stains, accessories, decorative fixtures, window treatments, and other finish level decisions generally don’t impact the important stuff. Like everything, there are exceptions. Ask your architect if something you have your heart set on should be taken into consideration earlier on in the process.

Implementing these tips will help you engage your project during the design process on a deeper level than just what people will see in the finished result. I will also give you valuable information as a custodian of architecture in the maintenance and life cycle of your building project.

I’ve found that it helps organize the decisions you’ll need to make under these four headings. If you’re not sure about something, ask your architect. It’s a great feeling to see a simple, and even fun, list of stuff between you and your project’s finish line. To get more helpful tips on preparing for you design project, you can download your free guide here, Preparing For Your Design Project.