Posted by: jeb1 | March 15, 2011

Don’t Try These Designs at Home

Our panel of builders and architects weigh in on trends, practices, and products to avoid.


Trend reports from most media outlets—this one included—usually advise builders and consumers on what types of features are hot and desirable, and what they should use in their homes. This is not that kind of trend report.

We thought we would take a different approach this time, so we called up some of our old (and new) architect and builder friends and asked them what kinds of features and products they are avoiding in their homes.

“Recent residential real estate market volatility has revealed quite a few more ‘don’ts’ than we had previously encountered,” says architect Bill Moore, president of Sprocket Design-Build in Denver. “The current market has really not tolerated or rewarded many features, and all buyers and appraisers are largely concerned with is square footage–based value, which is undoubtedly bad for architecture.”

Indeed, the market has already killed many of the “custom” features that became almost standard during the boom when everyone had access to easy credit. The days of frivolous add-ons are gone (for now, anyway), but what about those things that builders and architects do every day? For example, some architects and builders are advocates of separating the garage from the house. It frees up the space you need to heat and cool, and it reduces the risk of exhaust contamination in the house. But this will be a hard sell. Home buyers are accustomed to attached garages and will give them up when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

And there are more. We’re not here to judge, but we are almost certain that you are using some of the “don’ts” listed here either because you don’t agree with these professionals, the features don’t bother your buyers, or they are acceptable in your market.

Either way, we’d love to hear from you. Are there design features you are avoiding in your market? What do you think of our list? Drop us a line in the comments section and let us know.

What Not to Do

Bill Moore, AIA
Sprocket Design-Build

Gadgets. “This would include additional appliances and systems that take a fair amount of energy and planning but return very little usefulness. Included in this category are in-wall vacuum systems, built-in espresso makers (especially in areas other than the kitchen), beer tap dispensers, independent ice-makers, extraneous TVs everywhere.”

Using every green product. “In a rush to be green, many folks are buying silly products and incorporating systems, when thoughtful design would be much more appropriate and green….  A recycled product is not nearly as green as not using a product at all. A smaller home is a greener home.”

Roof Decks. “These should be used sparingly and judiciously. The cost to install properly and the risk they create to a builder, architect, and homeowner are considerable.”

Beware the spiral stair. “These look great in architectural renderings and lend a bit of charm, but they really function poorly and once owners live with one, I have found that their opinion of it degrades rapidly.”

Donald Jacobs, FAIA
JZMK Partners
Irvine, Calif.

Fireplaces in the master bath and master bedroom. “Rarely, when installed, have I ever heard of anyone using them more than a couple of times in the first year and then never after that.”

Ed Binkley, AIA
Ed Binkley Design
Oviedo, Fla.

Powder room close to kitchen or dining room. “Not very appetizing for diners or users.”

Direct view of master bed wall from living/public section of house. “This necessitates the door staying closed or the bed staying made and the room straight.”

Inadequate corner space. “Window jamb minimum of 8” from a corner for window treatments or 18” to 24” if furnishing is to be in the corner.”

Overlapping door swings. “Use more pockets with good hardware. They don’t require one door to shut for another to open.”

No daylight visible from front door. “Seeing daylight will lead you through spaces.”

Stairs that bottom out at front door. “Just plain bad chi.”

Bed walls on same wall as access door. “Always have bed wall opposite the door.”

Oversized tubs in master bath. “You get much more use of an oversized shower, especially if it has access to an outdoor private courtyard.”

Too many places to eat. “Do we really need a dining room, breakfast room, breakfast bar, and outdoor dining areas? Delete or put spaces to better use.”

Oversized kitchens. “It’s not just about the triangle. It’s also about the work zone. Understand how the kitchen should work for multiple cooking and entertaining functions. Pay attention to the Food Network.”

Peter L Pfeiffer, FAIA, LEED AP
Barley & Pfeiffer Architects
Austin, Texas

Cars in your house. “Attached garages are a major cause of poor indoor air quality, especially in homes with central air conditioning and forced air heating.”

Chemicals (such as those automatically dispensed via the built-in-the-wall termite and insect repellant systems). “Stop using chemical pretreatment for termites under the foundations. I strongly suggest permanent termite barriers in the form of a stainless steel mesh such as the Australian TermiMesh system.”

Commercial stoves and over-sized exhaust hoods. “The products of combustion from a gas stove do affect those with multiple chemical sensitivities, so look into the resurrection of an old 1970s idea—the induction cooktop, which is closer to 85% efficient in terms of usefully applying its input energy into heating your food.  Also, oversized exhaust hoods can depressurize a home causing back-drafting down chimney flues, etc.—so you could end up replacing those fishy kitchen odors with bad air sucked in from your garage or down the chimney.”

Chad Ludeman

Tile beds. “We used to install full wet beds for the showers, which takes a few days and creates odd transitions. Now we install prefab fiberglass shower basins that are always the same size and do not affect transitions.”

Plumbing fixtures with long lead times. “We have eliminated some plumbing fixtures that we cannot get easily within two weeks. Some have four- to eight-week lead times.”

Anything fully custom. “[They] will delay production, so we try to avoid it. We don’t even let our countertop installers come in and do a template. We give them exact dimensions and they manufacture without seeing the kitchen, and any install discrepancies are our responsibility.”

Marianne Cusato, Designer
Marianne Cusato Associates

Square footage for the sake of square footage. “Homes that will maintain their value over time are homes that are designed to be livable, not designed to be sold by a checklist of items or amount of square footage alone. The key to making smaller spaces live larger is to design rooms with tall ceilings, windows on multiple walls, and whenever possible a connection to the outdoors.”

Homes located in the middle of nowhere. “Over the course of the next several years we are going to see gas prices continue to increase. This is going to make homes that are further out in sprawl more and more difficult to live in. Proximity to connected and walkable communities will be at a premium.”

Garages as the front door. “Make the garage secondary to the house, not the other way around. Streets with garages as front doors have more problems with speeding cars. Garage fronts make streets less friendly to pedestrians.”

The double-height entry (aka the Lawyer Foyer). “The attempt to create the feel of ‘luxury’ in the average American McMansion is expensive to condition and takes up room that could be captured as usable space. Achieving the feel of a point of entry can be achieved in a way that is more architecturally pleasing and much more affordable than the Lawyer Foyer. Keep the entry vestibule, but set the ceiling at regular height.”

Applied materials, such as wallpaper and endless gables. “Less is more. A patch of masonry on a building does not make a masonry building. Gables for the sake of gables do not add value. Differentiate to gain interest and value through clean lines and pleasing proportions, not simply by applying more elements to the home.”

J. Carson Looney, FAIA
Looney Ricks Kiss

Main stairway in the front foyer. “Don’t locate the main stairway in the front foyer, and for certain don’t create that 1990s grand two story, winding staircase foyer…unless one is actually building on the scale of Tara.”

Exterior vs. interior refinement. “Don’t put all your design efforts and budget into the exterior with little thought to the interior beyond the room count and general arrangement to fit the lot. The exterior character, style, details, materials, etc., are important, but the plan and the interior architecture is just as, if not more, important.”

Master baths and closets. “Don’t oversize the master bath space or undersize the closet space. With the baths, hard finishes in an oversized space can feel void and cold.”

Garages. “No different than other rooms of the house, assure garages are rightsized.”

Don’t downsize, but rightsize. “When downsizing or reducing square footage, think proportions and not across the board. Consider where people spend most of their time and what their needs are.”

Don’t forget to point out the unique features. “Stop selling square footage like sliced white bread. Only commodities are sold by volume or size.”

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