Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Boxy, but Good" : Maxam Design Vs. Stock Plans

New Project: 3 Bedroom Ranch for a site on Pine Island drive, north of Grand Rapids.

Parameters: Approx. 1400 s.f., Large bedrooms, One story, Affordable to build, Construction price of $180,000 or less.

I was presented with the challenge of designing this house, in lieu of the developer using a set of 'stock plans' available from a lumberyard. Competing with stock plans is often difficult from a desginer's point of view. There is a certain convenience and simplicity to flipping through a catalog until you see a design that looks about right and buying a set of plans. It is Architecture packaged as a retail shopping experience. However Architecture, like Medicine, will always be a professional service. Sure, there are over the counter medicines available for retail purchase that are somewhat helpful for many common situations, but if you really want to be healthy, see a doctor.

The trouble with stock plans is that there are many that look about right; but close analysis reveals the problems of not designing a house for its situation. A stock house often won't fit right on the site, puts the bedrooms next to the busy street, has the driveway too close to the intersection; and that’s just the site analysis. Sometimes the closets and bedrooms are a bit too small for a good furniture layout, or there are no windows to take advantage of a nice side yard view. Perhaps the steep 'McMansion' roof line looks OK, but costs far too much to build. Maybe the plans great, but that giant brick arch entry is just too pretentious and out of scale for the otherwise humble home. What I'd really like to know is when having more than 1 window in a room went out of style. Having light and views from 2 directions in a room makes all the difference in how a space feels. So many stock plans make no use of the corner rooms in a house at all. No amount of superficial arches or pointless 45 degree angles to 'jazz up' a design will make up for the loss of windows on both exterior walls of corner rooms.

"Boxy, but Good" is a phrase that often comes to mind when I want to describe a design that is simple and straightforward yet still well thought out. Often times 'boxy' designs are the boring ones that no one put much thought into, or leave you thinking that saving every possible penny at any cost was the motivating factor. My design seeks to take the typical 3 bedroom ranch and make it something more than a vinyl sided storage bin for the average American family. The simplicity of the shape keeps it affordable and easy to build. The layout of the rooms creates a very livable flow and tucks the bedrooms furthest away from the streets of the corner lot. Bedrooms are separated by closets or bathrooms to give some acoustical privacy. The living areas are well defined, yet open to one another to create a light and spacious environment without needlessly wasting space. The curb appeal comes from the logical overall proportions and the porch which wraps around to present a facade to each street of the corner. It’s a real functional porch, large enough to enjoy a glass of lemonade or even a whole meal, and right off the kitchen and dining.

"Boxy but Good?" Comments?

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