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What Designers Wished You Knew Before Building

Have you ever wished you had the inside scoop on what designers wished their clients knew before planning a custom home?


 Photo by Sven Mieke / Unsplash

We’ve said it time and time again — when it comes to creating your dream home, there’s no such thing as too much planning, researching and discussing with your design team. But where do you start? As it turns out, sometimes the most basic thinking can spur the conversation and result in a home that suits your very specific needs.

“As humans, one of our most basic and primal drives is to create shelter,” says Ty Allen, design director at New Energy Works Timberframers in Farmville, New York. “Out of an instinct for survival we separate ourselves from, and control how we relate to, the environment. The sun, the rain, the wind and the cold are all natural, but too much of any one can be hazardous. Through the ages we’ve employed the materials around us, mixing them with human intelligence, to build things to keep us dry, warm and safe.”

And then something interesting happens. “Almost at the same moment we create boundaries and edges, we then try to break them down,” he says, “but only to a level that we are comfortable with. We begin to make holes so that we can access the surroundings we have just cut ourselves off from. We desire to see the grass, feel the sun’s warmth, and smell the fresh breeze. We feel the tension of wanting to be immersed in that which is most natural to us while needing to gain physical separation from those elements.”

So, what does this say about how and what we design and build? “It should inspire us to look for new and interesting ways to allow the inhabitants of the shelters we make to reconnect with their surroundings,” Allen says. “As designers, we challenge ourselves to help homes engage and interact in new ways. Rather than traditional methods, such as porches and decks, how else can we reconnect?”

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To decide for yourself (and your future home), Allen suggests asking yourself these questions to get started:

  • How do you want to engage with your outdoor environment? Directly on the ground level? Through framed views? In large gathering spaces or intimate pockets?

  • What indoor versus outdoor needs do you and your family and friends have?

  • Will you host frequent large gatherings that overflow from inside to outside? Occasional outdoor private parties? Morning coffee with a view?

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“By answering these questions and sharing your answers with your designer, the shelter you call a home has the capacity to be so much more than walls, a roof and windows,” Allen explains. “It can be a lens, a filter and a bridge, allowing us to carefully and deliberately reestablish our relationship with the environment we have worked so hard to protect ourselves from.” 

About our Designer

Ty Allen, AIA, is the Design-Build Manager at New Energy Works Timberframers.

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