What special design feature makes a dream home?

What special design feature makes a dream home?

If you could have one special thing in your new custom home, what would it be?

We have awesome opportunities to help people create their dream homes. The first meeting we have with custom home clients is an interview where we talk about everything that they want in a home to achieve the life they want to live in a particular place. This process is how we design dream homes. 

I have talked in the past about the difference between a new home and a custom home. Our custom home design process allows us to walk with our clients through their Wishlist to find the special strategies that make their home just right. It is a process where we get to know our clients and use empathy as a design tool. This emotional investment into each project takes energy, time, listening, and experience to get it just right. It is the why in why we do custom home design. 

Over the years we have had some really special, unique things in the dream homes we have designed, like the ones featured below – and more. Check out the special features below to inspire your own dream design features of your custom home.

What are your dream home amenities?

Indoor basketball court

indoor basketball court

Indoor Pool

Open kitchen

Open riser stair

Glass walls

living room couch. a wall of windows behind overlooking the mountains.

Interior brick walls

floating wooden staircase hill top house

Two story porch

Spa-like bathrooms

sitting area in the bathroom by the vanity

Wrap around decks

Exterior side.

Double islands

Car guy garages

garage, car shop


living room with two chairs and a sofa looking out to the views through large windows on three sides.

At home gym

Golf simulator

Indoor Golf Simulator.

No step shower

bathtub and roll-in glass shower hill top house

Solar PV

Listen to Hear

Listen to Hear

One of the key characteristics of a good designer is someone who listens well. I was speaking with one of our teammates about how to articulate this skill to others, and I used the phrase “Listen to Hear”. This started a conversation about listening / hearing / comprehending.


James and Paul talking by a computer about a design.


Listen to hear, not to respond.

This idea is one that I picked up from 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peoplewe have to listen to hear, not listen to respond. The natural tendency is to listen to respond, and when you do that, your agenda will impact what you are taking from your clients. At the same time, as a design professional with years of experience, I am being hired to use my knowledge to take the goals of a project and translate that into the dream. Even if the client doesn’t know the magic work triangle for a kitchen, we know it and automatically use it in our projects. Even if the client doesn’t know the magic ratio for a comfortable stair in their dream home, we know it and automatically use it in our projects. However, we cannot know the exact ways our clients want to live in their dream home on their dream property without listening without filtering that through our preconceived ideas.


modern home harrisonburg exterior


Some of the tips we use to listen better are:

1. Stop thinking about how you will respond to something said – slow down, process what is being said, write it down, and then ask more questions.

2. Listen intently and be interested in body language, words used, who is saying it, and how the others you are designing for are responding to the language being used.

3. Be a reporter – ask questions, and more questions, and more questions.

4. Watch their body language, let them stray in the conversation, go down a story trail, explain the why so that you understand the design goal and what is behind it. 

5. Avoid judgement. If you need to offer a best practice, explain why the request sparked that comment and let the dreamer tell you why they want what they want. It will almost always lead to something that works with best practices and fits their goals and dreams.

6. Process the ideas, goals, and dreams, from all parties involved in the new project, equally so that you can develop the best possible solution for that particular project.


While “listening to hear” is a bit of a confusing phrase, the reality is that you engage all of your senses and absorb the why in what is being said in order to design the best possible solution

Life as a small architectural firm

Life as a small architectural firm

As a small architectural firm, we have to stay flexible and have a wide understanding of building types. We work with lots of clients with the common characteristic between them is that everything we do is custom. How we approach the project, what we design, how we deliver information is all custom to what our client needs and wants. That has led to some wonderful opportunities in many places across our area. 

2023 Project Locations

We are so fortunate to have a wide range of locations for our projects and a wide range of project types. This past year we have worked in:

Davis, West Virginia

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Albemarle County, Virginia

Bergton, Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

Chesterfield, Virginia

Christiansburg, Virginia

Earlysville, Virginia

Elkton, Virginia

Farmville, Virginia

Floyd, Virginia

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Hinton, Virginia

Howardsville, Virginia

Lake Anna, Virginia

Lake Monticello, Virginia

Linville, Virginia

Massanutten, Virginia

Maurertown, Virginia

McGaheysville, Virginia

Midlothian, Virginia

Mt. Crawford, Virginia

Nelson Country, Virginia

New Market, Virginia

Orange, Virginia

Orkney Springs, Virginia

Palmyra, Virginia

Penn Laird, Virginia

Quicksburg, Virginia

Rockingham County, Virginia

Scottsville, Virginia

Singers Glen, Virginia

Sperryville, Virginia

Timberville, Virginia

Verona, Virginia

Waynesboro, Virginia

Weyers Cave, Virginia

Winchester, Virginia

Wintergreen, Virginia

Our project types varied, spanning from apartments, custom homes, kitchen renovation, deck addition, Golf Center, Christian Church School, Lumber Company, Furniture Store, Therapist office space, Gymnastics Studio, Affordable housing, pavilion, corn crib, fraternity, historic porch renovation, law office, food bank, industrial office renovation, community center, dental office, warehouse, manufacturing space, home addition, medical office, historic farmhouse renovation, townhouses, bathroom renovation, Barndominium, pool house, and a basement renovation. As a (relatively) small architectural firm, we love the opportunities to meet each client where they’re at for each design dream they have.

Trauma-Informed Design

Trauma-Informed Design

*Content Forecast: This blog includes discussion about trauma. These discussions are located in the First, a quick explanation of trauma. section and are broad definitions of trauma, not specific stories.

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

In recent years, the conversation around mental health has expanded to encompass various aspects of our lives, including the spaces we inhabit. Architecture, traditionally seen as a field focused on aesthetics and functionality, is now exploring a more empathetic approach known as trauma-informed design. This design philosophy prioritizes the well-being of individuals who have experienced trauma, recognizing the profound impact that the built environment can have on their healing journey. 

In May of 2023, I attended Trauma Informed Design: Breaking the Stigma, a Webinar by Lynsey Hankins and Sarah Gomez. As someone who has experienced trauma, the emerging field of trauma-informed design is of particular interest to me. It’s also relevant on a large scale to make spaces more comfortable and empowering. One example in the global context is the collective trauma experienced from the COVID-19 Pandemic, which still impacts many of us on different scales.

*First, a quick explanation of trauma.

Mind describes trauma: “Trauma is when we experience very stressful, frightening or distressing events that are difficult to cope with or out of our control. It could be one incident, or an ongoing event that happens over a long period of time.” They explain that “most of us will experience an event in our lives that could be considered traumatic” even though it will affect people in different ways. The effects can last long after the initial incident.

Trauma is sometimes split into three broad categories: acute, chronic, and complex. There are also many types including physical, emotional, collective, cultural, generational, natural disaster-related, and many more.

The Built Environment and Trauma



Our surroundings play a significant role in shaping our experiences and emotions. Trauma-informed architecture acknowledges that traditional design principles may inadvertently trigger or exacerbate trauma symptoms. For example, harsh lighting, loud noises, and confined spaces can be particularly distressing for individuals who have experienced trauma. Conversely, a well-designed and thoughtful space can create a sense of comfort and contribute positively to a person’s healing process.

As Lynsey and Sarah explained, “The goal of trauma-informed design is to use empathy to create environments that promote a sense of calm, safety, dignity, empowerment, and well-being for all occupants.” The lens of trauma-informed design is a broad and intersectional lens. “Design decisions should be filtered through the overlapping lenses of psychology, neuroscience, physiology, and cultural factors”.

Design Considerations


Soft blanket draped across a chair.


Trauma-Informed Design is frequently talked about in regards to public spaces such as hospitals and educational buildings, but it can be applied to any space that we inhabit. There are many many ways to apply this design, but here are just a few things to consider:


1. Safety and Security:

        • Prioritize creating spaces that feel safe and secure.
        • Clear wayfinding signs, well-lit areas, and open spaces to reduce feelings of confinement.

2. Sensory Considerations:

        • Incorporate natural light, soft textures, and calming colors.
        • Minimize loud noises and disruptive elements
        • Include natural elements to your design. There is wide-spread documentation that connection to nature provides physical and psychological health benefits.

3. Empowerment and Choice:

        • Allow individuals to have control over their surroundings when possible.
        • Provide flexible spaces that accommodate different needs and preferences.
        • People can use their own artwork in communal spaces. Including people in a space gives choice, control, and belonging.

4. Cultural Sensitivity:

        • Recognize and respect cultural backgrounds when designing spaces.
        • Reflect inclusivity and avoid triggering cultural trauma.

5. Community and Connection:

        • Foster a sense of community that encourages social interaction.
        • Incorporate communal areas and support networks to promote healing through connection.

The ways this theory can be applied will differ between buildings and inhabitants, but a few key things to consider are spatial layout, lighting, paint colors, noise reduction, biophilia, adding soothing art and visual interest, and designing with the 5 senses in mind.

Trauma Informed Architecture

Trauma-informed architecture represents a shift in the way we approach design, emphasizing empathy and understanding. As the architecture world continues to explore the intersection of mental health and the built environment, trauma-informed architecture illustrates the transformative power of thoughtful design in fostering healing and resilience.  As Architects and Designers, we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to influence people’s lives through the built-environment, and trauma-informed design is an important lens for developing our designs. 


Intersectionality: Designing Truly Inclusive Spaces

Intersectionality: Designing Truly Inclusive Spaces

By Aliyah D. White


Inclusivity and diversity are buzzwords that have continued to gain traction in the design world. However, issues such as race, gender, and ability are often distinctly separated, resulting in the unique problems of people who belong to more than one marginalized group being glossed over. Acknowledging the intersectionality of these issues can develop ways to better identify and intervene for the benefit of all people using a given space.


The term intersectionality was created in 1989 by activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to illustrate the way an individual’s characteristics such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation can overlap and influence their lived experiences. Merriam-Webster defines intersectionality as, “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

Definition of Intersectionality.

As a theory, intersectionality is not as much about having control over identity and expression as it is about the negative effects systemic discrimination has on people who lay at the intersection of multiple groups. Addressing intersectionality in the design process provides the opportunity to consider all users, give great care for who is at an advantage or disadvantage in each space, and figure out how we can level the playing field.


Architecture through the lens of Intersectionality

As architects, it is critical that we acknowledge how limited our own perspectives can be when tackling these problems. It is important to lead with empathy and consult with people who have differing views from our own. No amount of research into an issue can amount to collaborating with people who have that lived experience and know exactly what insights and recommendations will be most helpful. This is the most important part of creating a more inclusive future.

When thinking about increasing the inclusivity of the spaces we design, The University of Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access has created an intriguing methodology called their “8 Goals of Universal Design”. They are as follows:

  1.     Body Fit – accommodating a wide range of body sizes and abilities.
  2.     Comfort – keeping demands within desirable limits of body function and perception.
  3.     Awareness – ensuring that critical information for use is easily perceived.
  4.     Understanding – making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous.
  5.     Wellness – contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and protection from hazards.
  6.     Social Integration – treating all groups with dignity and respect.
  7.     Personalization – incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences.
  8.     Cultural Appropriateness – respecting and reinforcing cultural values, and the social and environmental contexts of any design project.
List of the 8 Goals of Universal Design.


At the heart of inclusive design is consideration. Often, we find that one simple change to make a space more accessible to one group will benefit other groups as well. Within our own firm, we have designers who come from various backgrounds and lived experiences. Designing spaces that we can all enjoy is a top priority for us and implementing practices such as sustainability and accessibility is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do for our communities to create environments that all kinds of people can comfortably inhabit.

What lighting should I choose?

What lighting should I choose?

By Interior Designer, Jarod Sankar:


We’ve all seen it… you enter a friend’s house, and you’re immediately jolted by the starkness of poor lighting that is anything but welcoming. As an interior designer and an avid believer in the fact that your home kitchen shouldn’t give off the same first impression as a medical-grade janitorial closet, I highly value the importance of lighting. While it may be tempting to buy the first light bulb you see on the shelf, using the correct bulb type and color temperature for your space can be one of the most cost-effective ways to give your home a visual facelift.

First, let’s start with the basics. There are 3 typical light bulbs that are found in residential spaces. When choosing a light bulb to best suit your needs and its environment, it’s important to weigh the facts and limitations of each.


3 Types of Light Bulbs



Whether you see incandescent bulbs as tried and true, or as tired and due for a change, the incandescent light bulb has been around for over a century. Incandescent bulbs are known for giving off a warm light that can make an area feel cozier and more welcoming. 

While incandescent bulbs are good at promoting a comfortable at-home environment, they are also known for a short lifespan and are not energy efficient. Another negative trait that can be attributed to incandescent bulbs is their heat generation, which can be dangerous depending on the fixture it is being used in, or if the bulb is in an area that little fingers could get a hold of.


LED (Light Emitting Diode):

For a lot of people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about LED lighting are the blinding headlights on new cars that pop over hills at night and seem to be aimed directly at you, almost as if they were specifically designed to give oncoming drivers temporary vision impairment. In reality, LED lighting is one of the most versatile and most capable lighting options that is available today. As opposed to Incandescent Lights, LED bulbs come in many different color temperatures, many different shapes and sizes, and have a much longer lifespan. As an additional bonus, LED bulbs are significantly more energy efficient, and are a more sustainable option that creates less waste.


CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp):

CFL, also known as compact fluorescent lamp bulbs, have been dying off in popularity over the last decade. Decades ago, CFL bulbs were once the superior choice due to price and efficiency. CFL bulbs were seen as a more energy efficient option due to their 25% higher energy efficiency compared to incandescent bulbs. However, as LED bulbs have come to the forefront, we now see that LED bulbs are roughly 75% more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, making them the clear winner. CFL bulbs are now harder to find and have minimal options in terms of color temperature and bases. Aside from aesthetics, and more importantly, CFL bulbs contain mercury. While some sources say that the mercury vapors from a broken bulb are not enough to cause harm to humans, it is still not a viable option for keeping a safe environment for you and your family. As of February 2023, CFL bulbs are being banned from production in some regions, which will further reduce the ability to find CFL bulbs on the market.

Color temperature:

Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K). The Kelvin scale ranges from 2000K to 7000K, with the warmest light being 2000K and coldest being 7000K. For residential use, a warmer color temperature promotes a less sterile environment, and is associated with more calming energy. Warmer temperature light bulbs, like Warm White, are great for bedrooms due to the relaxing light provided. Cooler bulbs such as Day White or Cool White are associated with a harsher environment, casting a sterile glow that is usually seen as brighter and cleaner. Day and Cool White are more functional in bathrooms and closets. While these bulbs serve a purpose, it’s important to be picky when it comes to color temperature in your home. For example, Cool White bulbs contain more blue light, which can negatively impact your sleeping schedule.

Lighting temperature is a very important factor in relation to your space, as the cool or warm light cast on your walls and furniture may make them appear differently as the sunlight from the day fades. Test out different bulbs in a dark area of your home and see which color temperature works best with your furniture and finishes. Using a consistent color Kelvin throughout your home promotes more continuity throughout the space and can also create less visual discomfort from the difference in brightness and shadows throughout the home.

Examples of difference in light color temperature.

Which bulb is best for me?

With so many bulbs available, now it’s time to narrow down the best option for in-home use. In general, LED lighting is best in terms of its versatility and its energy efficiency. Not only will switching to LED bulbs save money on your electricity bill, but it will also mean less time spent on a ladder trying to reach that awkward bulb in your ceiling. After finding the specific bulb base for your fixture and finding an LED bulb that has the proper wattage according to your fixture specs, look for bulbs with a color temperature of 3000K. This is a warm, bright, and even light that will supplement light in dark areas without being cold and sterile. 3000K is relatively universal, with warm undertones to promote relaxation but enough brightness and less yellow tones to work well in higher traffic areas that may require a more intense light.


In summary:

  • Incandescent bulbs: produce warm light, but they do not last as long and are not energy efficient. There are also limited options of light colors available.
  • LED lights: wide range of light temperatures available, much more energy and cost efficient than incandescent lights.
  • Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL): more energy efficient than incandescent lights, but less efficient than LED lights. Have mercury in them and are being banned.
  • Color temperature is measured on the Kelvin scale, with the warmest light being 2000K and coldest being 7000K.
  • Warm lighting makes a space feel cozy, relaxed, and well… warm. Cool lighting can be brighter, feel cleaner, and work well in closets and high traffic areas.