Design Lives in the Details

Design lives in the details.

As architects and designers, we find ourselves oscillating between a larger, holistic view of design one minute, and then headfirst into the details a moment later. We must be adaptable and open to looking at each project through both lenses individually and simultaneously. I recently sat down with Charles to talk through this concept of how we approach design and asked him a few questions. Follow along below to learn from our conversation.

Charles, what does it mean to you to approach a design holistically?

We get calls all the time with the same question: “how much for you to design a 3 bedroom house in the county?” I see this question as an opportunity to talk about custom design vs new construction. Many homes and even businesses are not designed holistically, they are just drawn to look like a certain style. When we take on a project we want to approach it with more than just the facts (3 bedrooms, 2 bath, kitchen with window above the sink – check). We want to think about how the building sits on the site, frames views, how it performs over time, and how it impacts the environment. A holistic approach to design asks questions about the life the inhabitants want to live in that place and not just the budget, square footage, and the number of bedrooms. We want to not only hit the budget with our designs, but we also want to enhance livability with our custom solutions that are environmentally sensitive, durable, and healthy.

While it is important to think holistically, we know details are what can really set a design apart. How have you trained yourself to approach a design through both lenses?

We are always looking for those special opportunities and challenges to make a project, detail, or design solution unique. As an architect, you are constantly zooming into a small detail and stepping back to see the whole picture. If you don’t you will not be able to think through all the elements that make up a good design solution. It is important to keep the overall goals in mind even when working on the very small details so that everything is coordinated in the end.

Do you prefer to spend your time on the details of a design, or are you a larger-picture/holistic thinker?

I have done both over my career, but where I am at now, I deal with the holistic a lot more. I have an amazing team of talented architects and designers that work into the details and then we discuss them. So I still get to enjoy the detail, but I don’t get to spend a lot of time on them.

What are some of your most memorable design details to date?

I have so many amazing clients that have allowed us to design for them over my 23+ years doing architecture. The rooftop deck on East Grattan Street and all the small special spaces and elements in that house are very cool. The painted address on Duke Garden apartments came out better than I expected. The sign in front of the Depot that pays tribute to the railroad is one of my favorites. The views we framed on top of Afton mountain are amazing. The playhouse I designed for my girls is one that holds so many special memories. The first LEED-certified project I completed way back in 2005 that has the look of a much older home will always be one of my top projects. There are simply too many options to pick just one. From the half-wall shadow detail we have used to the lambs fence for deck rail to the glass walls into a mechanical room at the elementary school so kids understand the building systems we have used many opportunities to create details I am proud of over my career.