Archive for April, 2011

Progressing the Dream

     I’m the type of person who will tend to latch onto a dream or vision and then keep an unwavering, stranglehold type of grip on it until I am able to bring it into being.  Usually the “Dream” serves as a means to provide Hope and Inspiration.  Most of the time, Motivation.  And, it always drives me to new levels of Creativity.  I love the mental focus that comes along with the process.  Even more, I love the reward of finally achieving the goal.

     For the longest time, I have desired a studio office.  A place that is truly my own.  In our household, it seems that everyone has their own sacred place that they can slip off to except me.  Which is fine.  I’m not complaining.  I’m taking my time with mine.  No need to rush because I certainly want to get all of the details just right.  The detached, stand alone, office/studio concept has intrigued me for some time.  Frankly, I find it hard to believe that more people are not asking for these of their own.  From time to time we will get the request to design and build one, but, they are few and far between.  Even though, as expected, they almost always turn out quite fascinating.  A lot of time they will borrow some of the stylings of the main structure.  But, they do not need to replicate or take on a “Mini-Me” approach to their presence.  When successfully accomplished, they have a definitive personality of their own and are often more in step with the true personality of its occupant.

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     I came across this home about 4 or 5 years ago and have always taken a liking to it.  It’s not 100% my style but it does have its share of nice detailing.  It is unique with a lot of uncommon and personal touches.  Very relaxed and comfortable in its presentation.  One that is definitely Well Composed.  And thus, a lovely home in its own right.  But now, throw in this awesome studio office and it takes on a whole new dimension.  The building in the rear has many of the same attributes as the main structure but you do not get the feel that it is competing with it.  Just complementing. 

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I love the second story shutter and window detail that is carried over from the main home.  Anchoring the office with a masonry chimney is an exceptionally nice feature especially since it is on the opposite end as the primary home.  Both buildings working together actually create a more interesting and integrated whole.

     Then, the other day, I came across this photo from a project by the legendary Bobby McAlpine and it stirred me to start Dreaming of my own personal studio all over again.

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This pretty much sums up the feel of the space that I am going for.  From the stained concrete floors, to the dark interior walls, to the expanse of natural light, to that incredible desk as the center piece.  I’m not sure how much I would actually get done out there, but, I do know that it would feel like shear Heaven.  Thanks for the inspiration to Bobby and his team ’cause now the Dream has been advanced another step further.

BTW – Someone has got to share with me where I can find such a desk.


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     “We build in the end, because we believe in the future – nothing shows committment to the future like Architecture.  And we build Well because we believe in a better future, because we believe that there are few greater gifts we can give the generations that will follow us than great works of Architeture, both as a symbol of our aspirations of community and as a symbol of our belief not only in the power of imagination but in the ability of Society to Continue to Create Anew.”

                                                                                        -Paul Goldberger

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     Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of working for one of the Nation’s top homebuilders and we literally had a blast every day.  In looking back, I can clearly say that it was the people who made the true difference.  For one, our Atlanta Division President was an absolute Leader of Leaders.  He definitely knew how to empower the staff. 

     Keep in mind, this was Production Building at its highest.  We were consistently in the top five for sales volume in the Atlanta Market year after year.  While most production companies are managed with tight controls, checks and balances and strict oversight, our company President gave us the freedom to call our own shots and create profitable opportunities for both ourselves and the company.  This may sound trivial, but, it was really cool.  One of the things that he challenge each community builder to do was to develop a signature design that would set it apart from the competition.  Every builder had a given amount of cash and complete autonomy to create the features that would give them an edge.  He would further fund these side projects with money that was saved from un-used “Area Costs” dollars.  The area costs division was where we would allocate a certain amount of money to take care of developing the lot like clearing, grading, extra landscaping, etc.  For the most part, these divisions would become depleted due to project managers not being diligent in monitoring the expenditures. 

     This became an awesome competition for the entire company.  We chose to create and build the most “Fantastic” Chimneys that we possibly could.  Reasoning – Every Chimney, in Every Subdivision looked exactly the same.  And, who ever heard of a Production Homebuilder spending money here.  Of course, we solicited the opinion and buy-in of everyone involved ie. agents, architects, vendors, suppliers.  Ours became a Huge success.  The level of detail increasingly became more complex.  We intentionally and deliberately tried to save everything we could in area costs so that we had more to work with for our Pet Project.  The general public also seemed to really take to our approach.  These were homes starting in the mid $400’s  and yet they had an element that was traditionally found on upper end luxury custom homes.  There were somewhere around 400 – 500 homes in this neighborhood and we were steadily closing 70 to 90 a year.  Talk about busy.  Not all of our community’s success can be attributed to this one decision, but, it did create a lot of Buzz and certainly fueled the momentum. 

     This just goes to show; when you free people up and provide them with adequate support and funding, Great things can happen.  It also takes a strong leader to be able to set the challenge for the team and then get out-of-the-way.  A lot of companies would have prefered to pocket any area costs savings or spare the expense of the higher design, but, by planting the seed and letting it grow, we were rewarded many times over and everybody won.

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The Elusive Element



     For the longest time I have admired this home and yet I could not fully describe what it was about it that had me so drawn to it.  I do tend to like symmetry, but, I’m certain that there is something more here.  I also appreciate that it has a simple elegance, and yet, it is truly simple in regards to materials and detailing.  So – I went to the most relevent reference book  in my library.  That is “Get Your House Right” by Marianne Cusato.  I studied the roof plan.  Evaluated it from the perspective of proportion, balance and scale.  Considered the Hierarchy.  And while all of these things are working for the most part, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most exquisite detail about his home was brought about by the hands of the builder.

     You see, Simply Put, this home is just “Comfortably Sited”.  The builder, through genuine vision and thoughtful planning, has selected the perfect style home to go with the lot conditions and then tailored the homes features to create a continuity of elements.  By tucking the garage away to the rear of the home, not only was the facade kept clean and stylish,  but the driveway was able to be lengthened and thus its pitch has been minimized.  In this photo, you can pick up on the increase in the rise of the driveway for the home to the right.  30 years ago, it was a common practice to build homes with rear loading garages.  You will see this in communities all over Buckhead, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.  I know we steered away from this design technique as a means to reduce construction costs, but, I believe this is a classic example of how a few extra dollars and some careful planning can have a lasting impact.

     The crowning jewel of the entire home lies in the Main Entry.  By terracing the lawn and extenuating the driveway, they were able to create a level lead walkway that brings you up to a curved staircase and an elegant Front Porch.  The Composition of the Whole Home brings your eye to this welcoming point.  Siting a Home is an Art Form and by executing this phase of the construction process meticulously, this builder has created something of True Lasting Value.  Well done.

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Spec Building

A couple of years ago, I took a leap of faith and started my own Homebuilding company.  We jumped out of the gates pretty aggressively and quickly had 14 homes under construction. 12 Specs and 2 Pre-Sales, priced from 600K to 1.1M. We were Bold, Brazen and Full of Energy.  Excited about creating and bringing to market our visions while trying to wade through the complexities of starting a new venture.  Then the world came crashing down.

In the aftermath, I swore off “Spec” Building.  Thought that it was the most Evil endeavor a man could pursue. I questioned everything. I wondered, what in the world was I thinking…How could I be so careless.  Self-Criticism consumed me.  And, for three years, I have believed that the craft of Homebuilding has been forever changed.

Then I had an “Aha Moment”.   A true realization.  Of course it came from the Brilliant mind of Seth Godin.  In creating and living a dynamic life, we are ALL involved in Speculative Building, Speculative Design, Speculative Art, Speculative Goals, Speculative Pursuits.  To go after something of meaning, of tremendous value, we have to lay ourselves on the line.  We have to commit to the cause and put ourselves, our products and our ideas out there for the whole world to examine.

I admire the men and women of the homebuilding industry so much.  A friend of mine once commented to me that he regarded Homebuilders as the last of the truly great entrepreneurs in America and I couldn’t agree more.  Where else do you have a profession that allows for so much creativity in the product line and yet requires such a personal financial obligation if it fails.  Of coarse, none of us fully realized the depth of how far the industry could fall.  And, I certainly do agree that we should take a more analytical approach to reduce the level of risk. With this in mind, we need to fight to preserve this once magnificent profession.

We need Homebuilders who are not afraid of putting their product out there.  We need ones who are willing to push the envelope of design.  Ones who question the conventional way of doing things.  The concept of “Home” is too important for our society.  We need Builders – and not just the fortune 500, National guys – but Builders on the local level who will continue to create truly inspiring homes for families to cherish. 

I don’t ever want to lose the passion that I have for the Home and I hope that we as a society will not let this happen either.

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Something that is Well Composed has a sense of integrity to it, both inside and out.  No matter which way you look at a home that is gracefully composed, it appears balanced and has it’s own unique sense of beauty and harmony.  Architects use this word “composed” to describe the interrelationships amoung forms, whether at the big picture level (such as how roof meets wall) or at a detailed level (such as how window meets surrounding surfaces).

With many new homes today, although the facade has usually been composed somewhat – it has a fairly balanced and appealing “face” to the street – as soon as you move a few feet in either direction along the sidewalk, you discover that the sides could very easily belong to a completely different house.  They haven’t been composed in any way and in fact often look like an accidental assemblage of parts that have been thrown together.  It makes the house seem insubstantial and inauthentic, as though it’s trying to be something that it’s not. 

In our lives, the same can be true.  How many people do you know who have a face that they show to the world, while just below the surface they’re feeling empty and freightened and are not doing any of the things they yearn to be doing.  A life that is Well Composed is one in which there is authenticity all the way through, a life in which the outer appearance and the inner substance match up.  It is one in which you are living your passions and finding ways to express the essence of who you are.  It is through this process of using your life experiences to continually explore your true self that delightful and vibrant composition comes into being.

A satisfying composition takes time, care and introspection, whether you are designing a home, writing a short story or Living a Life…

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What it’s all about

So what is the Well Composed Home Site all about? 

For me, the level of design that goes into a new home or a renovation project is the most critical element there is.  This is where it all begins.  It is the foundation.  In fact, it is only when we give the appropriate amount of attention to the design details up front, that the project is able to have an adequate budget assigned to it  and that the construction can be executed in an orderly fashion in the field. 

But, we are not simply talking about features like the spacial layout of the floor plan, the mixture of materials on the front elevation or the architectural theme of the home.  No, a Well Composed Home is more than that.  It is a combination of many different design disciplines coming together in an orchastrated manner for the betterment of the home and it’s owners.  It is a Well thought Out and Organized composition. 

During this economic downturn and the subsequent housing bust, many of my colleagues have focused their attention on becoming a specialist in an area of their preference.  Some have chosen green building.  Others; universal design.  Many;  becoming kitchen and bath providers.  While I do not wish to discredit their pursuits  in any way, I have always felt that we need to be striving for more when designing a home.  We need to take on a more holistic approach.  This endeavor can be daunting.  Almost overwhelming if you really think about.  Because of such, I do not claim to be an expert in this entire area.  In fact, I would always be an advocate of utilizing the appropriate design professional for each chosen discipline. 

With this site, not only do I hope to spotlight some projects that have done a remarkable job in composing beautiful homes, but, I would also like to try to distinguish the subtle nuances that make them special.  You see, I would like to treat this as a learning experience for myself.  Similar to when a photography enthusiast commits to a full year of posting a photo a day or when a poet produces three new pieces a week.  Inevitably their work becomes better because their understanding of their art becomes stronger.   I tend to find it difficult to convey or articulate the distinguishing attributes that make up a Well Composed Home.  I do know it when I see it though, and, I would like to become better at painting the picture on how to get there.  I also believe that we as a design and building community need to embrace this “Big Picture ” approach on creating Homes of magnificent and lasting value.  We can do so much better than we have in the past couple of decades.  And now we literally have a blank slate to work with. 

What a Golden Opportunity!

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