We love Harrisonburg downtown

We love Harrisonburg downtown

Recently Harrisonburg has been getting national press for what we already know about our community: it’s an amazing place to live, work, and play. We love Harrisonburg, we absolutely love Harrisonburg downtown, and we know that you will too. As hype for ESPN College Game Day at JMU covers the town this weekend due to an undefeated JMU Dukes football team (we are also celebrating JMU’s #24 in the country basketball team), we are seeing so much hype for our friendly city. Recently, Southern Living Magazine wrote a love letter about the place where author Tara Massouleh McCay says “she could live.”
Duke dog holding gaines group t-shirt.
JMU football stadium.
The beauty of our city is that we know each other and want to see each other do well, thrive, have fun. We are the Friendly City in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by nature’s beauty and close enough to the bigger cities that we have access to what we don’t have in just a short drive (and still the ability to come back home the same day). If you have not visited our city, whether you are here for football, hiking, food, or just fun – here are some of the places and things you should know about that the national magazines and out of towner reports have not told you.
Visit the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, ask David Sutton with Port Farm about his plants, cutting boards, and rolling pins. Mention that you would love to hear more about his Dad and the Chesapeake Western Depot. Go see Nico at Mill Song Bakery and get a lunchbox loaf (maybe get two because it will not last long once you taste it). If you want the bread to disappear even faster, stop by to see Mike at Hott Apiary for some local honey. Pick up some flowers from Mary Jo’s Flowers and give them to someone you love – they will love them.
Love Sculpture.
We have the best Children’s museum, Explore More Discovery Museum, for young innovators, creators, and investigators. You can be a news reporter, car mechanic, doctor, dentist, scientist, actor. veterinarian, farmer, or builder. There is a maker space, airplane, ambulance, and stock market all inside the building. There are scheduled activities, classes, and even a Lego league available. The work that Lisa, Melanie, Marcia, Caroline, Kelly and their team do to make this the best museum possible is inspiring. Visit and see this amazing facility when you are downtown – shop in their store to help support them or just make a donation online to allow them to continue to grow this amazing community resource.
A must visit is to go see Mira at Rocktown Kitchen for lunch. Get the Fried Chicken sandwich (or the wedge salmon salad, or the burger, or the BBQ – everything that Chef Kristo creates is amazing). If you decide that you must return for dinner, you will probably need to reserve a seat while you are there for lunch. Word is out about how good it is to eat there. If Rocktown is too busy or not on your way, stop at Texas Inn for a Cheesy and say hi to Angie or pop across the street to one of Aaron’s places and get some fried mac and cheese at Billy Jack’s or Jack Brown’s for an Elvis (one of the best burgers you will ever experience).
You don’t want to miss Ten Thousand Villages for their amazing creations from around the world and stop in Agora Market to see what Heartworn Vintage has found that will have your vintage heart thumping.
Love Sculpture in front of Court Square
If you have someone that likes stickers, keychains, wall hangings, pens, candles, or jewelry, you have to stop by The Lady Jane to see what Sara has stocked for the holidays. The store is FULL of amazing finds. I always stuff the stockings at Christmas with the awesome things she has procured for the shop. This is also the shop where I find Ros O’Brien’s natured inspired ceramics. Her creations are beautiful and always a popular gift from Christmas ornaments to coffee cups.
As you continue up main street, drop in Oasis Fine Art and Craft to talk with Barbara and the other artists about their creations. You will want to see what Delaney has painted and let your young artists make something in the Kid’s Corner.
Old Harrisonburg building.
Now that you have made it to the historic Court Square you will want to take some time to enjoy the architecture of our courthouse, read about Charlotte Harris’s fate in 1878 on one of our local historic markers, and find out more about the springhouse.
Go visit Glen’s Fair Price Store – Harrisonburg’s most Unusual Store – to find rare and not rare toys, games, costumes, pranks and other fun things you did not know you needed.
That is a full day of fun and I did not even mention The Golden Pony pizza, Clementine’s Concerts, Kline’s ice cream, the shows at Court Square Theater, the games at Horizon gifts, the Massanutten Regional Library, The Lo (get the small) at Lola’s Deli, the murals throughout, the duck scavenger hunt, the buenos dias at Cuban burger, salmon at Beyond, the records you can find at Wonder Skate shop, or stopping in to talk to Mike at Water Street Vintage.
Then there is north downtown and all the shops and restaurants you should visit, the amazing team at HDR that works on programs and events for downtown, and of course my favorite place in all of downtown – The Depot. Come visit, see our art gallery, explore our historic artifacts, or get a building designed.
Ready Your Home for Winter Weather

Ready Your Home for Winter Weather

These cold mornings have me thinking about how much I appreciate the work done to make my old house more comfortable. The best investment we made when purchasing an existing home was to get a home inspection. That way we had a solid list of how the home was working. After all, a home is the most complicated machine you will ever own.

There are many items in an existing home that I wanted evaluated by my home inspector, including the roof shingles, heating and cooling system, and electrical service. While home inspectors are not experts in all products, picking one that has the right experience and depth of knowledge will produce a comprehensive report and how-to manual for your new home.

From that report, I was able to learn more about and prioritize where to invest my maintenance budget to keep my new home as efficient as possible and keep me as comfortable as possible on these cold winter nights. We immediately replaced our heating and cooling system (below) which was 15 years old – which is the average lifespan of a heat pump. We also decided to add a ducted mini-split to maximize efficiency.

Along with efficiency, we focused on indoor air quality by picking a charcoal filter and UV light (right) to kill viruses in the air. This was before the pandemic, so I have been very thankful for this investment over the last few years.


APCO Whole-House Air Purifier.
Old attic insulation

Old attic insulation (above) and new insulation (below).

New Insulation.

Old HVAC (above) and new HVAC (right).


When we moved into the house, I also utilized thermal imaging (right) to determine where we needed to add or change our insulation to keep comfortable. Our attic insulation was well below the minimum required by today’s standards, which would lead to high energy bills if we wanted to keep comfortable in cold weather. We insulated our attic (above) and added insulation in the basement to reduce air infiltration and plug up holes used by mice to get into our warm space.

Some other tips that are easy to implement is weather stripping around doors and windows, caulking any holes in exterior walls, sealing around electrical outlets, adding outlet plugs, and using insulating curtains.

Design Strategies to Make Your Kitchen More Functional

Design Strategies to Make Your Kitchen More Functional

Is your kitchen ready for the big day? Thanksgiving is coming.

Turkey Day is upon us and that means some of us will be spending a lot of time in our kitchen. As one who cooks (or heats up in some cases) a traditional Thanksgiving dinner each year, I know how important it is to have an efficient and functional space for cooking. I also know that if your kitchen is cut off from the rest of the house, you can feel isolated while others are cheering for their favorite parade float. Our kitchens are a central hub for activities for our family, so we’re providing some kitchen design tips to make your kitchen the best possible and most functional space it can be for turkey cooking and everyday family time. (Click each image below for a closer look).


Universal design standards say we should have pull out shelves, drawers, multiple height counters, pull down shelving, and places to sit and stand to allow everyone to use your kitchen effectively.


Including composting, recycling, and trash center makes for easy clean up and it can be hidden in pull out cabinets to keep your kitchen looking tidy.


A large walk-in pantry allows you to keep things organized and in one place and for everything to have a place. Don’t settle for a small cabinet solution. If your home can handle it, make a space that works for your way of cooking.


Maximize your storage opportunities, filling in blind corners and “spacers” to put in viable and functional storage options.


Pick the right countertop for your kitchen goals. Click here for the pros and cons of different kitchen countertop materials.



Make sure you have lots of natural light in your working space. You don’t have to have wall cabinets on all the exterior walls, you can use a walk-in pantry for added storage and open up your wall space with large windows.


Add undercabinet lights so you can see what is on the counter while you are working.  Having the ceiling lights in the right place can also add light to your work spaces.


Install a 24” deep cabinet above your refrigerator to gain a little more functional storage space in your kitchen.


Connect your kitchen to the living space so the entire family can gather while one or two people are preparing the meals.

kitchen, looking into the living room
Finding Balance in Architecture School

Finding Balance in Architecture School

By Aliyah D. White.


Now that I have earned my B.S. in architecture, I want to shed some light on the effect such a rigorous academic program can have on student health and offer some tips that helped me find balance in school. Architecture itself has been shown to have the capacity to positively affect mental health. However, being in school for it is a completely different story. During my time in school, I knew plenty of students who would work themselves sick in sustained periods of barely sleeping and eating, so here is some advice for students (and newbies to the workforce) that can also apply to people outside of the architecture field as well.

I always loved school when I was growing up, but when I became an architecture student, I found unexpected challenges in and out of the classroom. I was involved in multiple student organizations, doing research with professors, and working 2-3 jobs by my junior and senior years. Luckily for me, putting my physical and mental wellness high on my priorities list has become second nature after over ten years of practice. This is not the case for everyone. It is incredibly easy to fall victim to the unhealthy work culture that permeates architecture schools. Finding a good work-life balance is vital.

The most important thing I can say when it comes to work-life balance is this: GET SOME SLEEP. In my experience, all-nighters are not worth it, and there’s an abundance of evidence that lack of sleep, in whatever amount, is detrimental to your health. During my time in school, I only pulled two all-nighters. The first was in the fall of my second year at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. It was also one of my first semesters learning how to use Rhino and Adobe Illustrator for architecture – and it was while I was home with my parents. It turned out to be harder and more time-consuming than I expected. I sat in my little corner of my mom’s home office and worked from 6 pm the night before my review to 8 am the next morning. By the end I had a project that has not seen the light of day since — and hopefully never will.

Avoiding all-nighters ended up being very beneficial for both my studies and my health. Making a schedule to track all of my assignments in and out of the classroom allowed me to efficiently meet deadlines, avoid overworking myself, and successfully complete my tasks. I kept strict boundaries for myself such as not letting what reviewers had to say about my work — whether negative or positive — affect me too much, avoiding comparing myself to my peers, not staying at my studio desk past 8 pm (a rule that I admittedly broke more often than I would have liked), and waking up before 9 am every day. Waking up early incentivized me to go to bed early as well, so most nights I got plenty of sleep. I avoided becoming obsessive over my schoolwork because I had other passions that needed taking care of. I personally do not operate well when there is only one activity, project, or interest occupying my mind.

Aliyah pointing at screen, defending undergraduate thesis.

Other than being sure to get plenty of sleep to fuel my studies and extracurriculars, I also found time to just exist. Studies show that the mind is the most creative when it is idle. However, finding stillness during a busy day is not easy. If you struggle to find time to do nothing, you can try my method. After classes and during work sessions I would simply look out of a window for five to fifteen minutes (there’s a great article, here, about the benefits of this). In semesters that I would get lucky with the location of my studio, my desk was in front of humongous two-story bay windows, so I would look outside while listening to music or the commotion of frantic architecture students around me. I wouldn’t think about my work or my responsibilities, I would just exist and idly people watch. The art of observing was, and still is, my favorite form of relaxation. I have been fortunate enough to be assigned a desk at work in front of a big window with a view of mountains, trees, and cars passing by. In truth, this is something I have done since I was little and before I knew of the potential benefits, so I have always enjoyed taking my little “window breaks”.

View through office window at Luxor, our Charlottesville office location.

Another important part of finding balance in school was a method my mom taught me when I was young — which I still credit for my healthy work-life balance today. It is the 8 Dimensions of Wellness model, conceptualized by Dr. Peggy Swarbrick of the School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. She defines wellness as, “A conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of and make choices for a more satisfying lifestyle.” I suggest that people of all personal backgrounds keep an updated priorities list that covers their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, financial, and environmental health. There is a comprehensive guide towards using the wellness model co-written by Dr. Swarbrick, here. Now that I am out of school, I mainly work towards physical, emotional, environmental, and occupational wellness on a day-to-day basis, but am sure to give attention to all 8 long-term to maintain my overall wellness.

Making it through the hustle and bustle of architecture school is rough but doable. If I did not find a groove that worked well for me, I never would have made it, so find what works best for you. It is worth it.

Black Women in Architecture

Black Women in Architecture

By Aliyah D. White.


According to The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), just under .5% of licensed architects working in the U.S. in 2022 were Black women. This means that out of the 121,603 licensed architects working in the U.S., 2,492 were Black, and 566 were Black women. Becoming an architect is by no means an easy path – even without considering factors that disproportionately affect people of color. It can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in degrees and exams. Additionally, it takes an average of 13 years to become a licensed architect according to NCARB. The high cost and required level of dedication are factors that keep many people from pursuing architecture, but the added lack of representation can make it especially difficult for Black women to chase after the profession.

I have been drawn to architecture ever since my 7th grade science teacher pointed out how much I enjoyed doodling houses on my schoolwork. However, that enjoyment has not stayed with me through the years like it may have for many others. It has been a ten-year battle of deciding every day that my chosen path is worth it. For me, architectural design provides a way to find and express stories through space. As an architectural designer, who also writes avidly about the Black experience, this means that I feel a responsibility to uncover the ways Black people have been forced to move through space in history, how we have struggled and flourished through that movement, and how we can find better rhythm while moving through present-day constructed spaces.

Though I have dealt with these issues my entire life, they are only recently coming to the forefront of many peoples’ minds due to a heightened awareness of racial disparities in the country and abroad. In large part, this is due to a lack of representation – and consequently a lack of understanding the adversities people of color face as they move through the constructed environment. When Black women do not get to enter the room, we lose the opportunity to influence decisions and solve issues regarding the ways people move through space. Moreover, the people who are gaining entry are missing out on the unique perspectives and understanding we bring to the table. To be a good architect is to be a good listener while in the service of others. To be a great architect is to be a great empathizer while in the service of others.
Sometimes Being an Architect is a Roller Coaster

Sometimes Being an Architect is a Roller Coaster

The job of an architect can be an emotional roller coaster. You get the opportunity to walk with your clients to hear their goals, dreams, and aspirations for their new home (or business), feeling the excitement. Then the fun begins as you translate all the challenges, stretches, and opportunities into a cohesive design. We get to use our analytical side to process the information and constraints and our creative side to create a beautiful and functional design solution. This is architectural design, walking with your client through their dreams, grabbing the parts of the dream that matter the most, and creating a holistic design solution that brings it all together. You invest emotionally in their design as you sculpt their dream home, and when you get it right, you feel joy.

We recently designed for clients that had a very specific vision for their dream house. Their vision was centered around how they wanted to feel in the space that is sacred to them. Yes, they had some very specific aesthetic goals as well, but merging those aesthetic goals with a sense of softness and modesty was key to the final design. Working through the process we found an architectural language to define spaces and captured the right feel. We walked with our clients on their land, listened to their hopes and dreams, gathered inspiration, discussed goals, and developed a design concept. We absorbed their emotional connection and goals, developed the design concept, gathered feedback, and modified – multiple times.

bonus room with couch and chair. Light during golden hour streams through the window.

Once we had the right feel of space, we started working through the building science implications. The design demanded delicate details to achieve the right finished product. While designing with empathy is an important tool we use on a regular basis, a focus and understanding of building science, structural design, and material knowledge allow us to create beautiful, durable, healthy, and energy-efficient buildings.

outdoor seating area, sun setting over mountain view

This idea of creating / designing dream homes (businesses) can be challenging because dreams tend to continue to unfold as opportunities can better be seen (first draft of the floorplan) and room sizes and shapes start to form. As an architect you are often the one left to remind everyone involved that there is a budget that goes along with the dream. You are the one that has to break their heart when the budget doesn’t match the dream. You act as the sounding board for ideas, bringing your own and evaluating others. Years of experience, training, education, and trial and error feed your sense of design.

While I have heard many times that someone has an “eye” for design, there is no replacing years of experience and knowledge. The process of design relies on a “feel” for the right solution. It requires an emotional investment to get it just right. Sometimes you are in a state of joy and sometimes you are struggling to hit a budget emotionally strained.