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Axios Architecture | Steve Robinson


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Aging in Place for Homeowners

First, you will find each user and situation is fairly custom re: needs. Find out what those needs are (or may become depending on the disability) and make sure you meet those needs. You will find in most homes, especially renovations, the need to be a bit flexible on what needs are met and how they are met. It is a process of prioritization meeting reality. Second, most homeowners are not aware there is an incredibly helpful design document available from the Department of Justice (responsible for enforcement of the ADA). These standards dimensionally define an amazing array of disability solutions. These standards have been developed to meet the broadest spectrum of disability needs (say shower size or door clearance), so meeting the standards will likely meet the need of the homeowner unless there is a very specific condition. The ADA standards can be downloaded for free from http://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm. Yes, the 2010 standards are current. It is thick and daunting, but is extremely helpful.
building codes

What Homeowners Need to Know About Building Codes

Building codes are primarily about keeping people safe, limiting property loss in certain events (say a hurricane)…and making it safe for first responders (fire fighters, etc.) in our homes. Admittedly, the regulations are complex, onerous and often seem unreasonable. But I can assure you (at least with major building codes) they are not randomly created, but go through a rigorous vetting process. I have been confronted with code provisions that at times have seemed capricious, over-reaching or unreasonable until I learned the logic behind them. All this to say that code compliance is an important issue and is for the good of the homeowner, guests of the homeowner and future owners of the home. A homeowner shouldn’t have to know all the codes. Rely on licensed professionals (architects, licensed contractors, plumbers, electricians, etc), it is their job to do due diligence to meet code requirements. Insist on a permit and inspections except for the smallest maintenance type jobs. Don’t make final payment until the city/county has signed off on the project as complete. One final comment. Never accept “the inspector didn’t say anything or didn’t notice.” Code compliance is still the responsibility of the installing contractor, not on an inspector “catching” it or not in the field.
managing projects

What’s the best way to choose a home improvement team?

It is important to keep this simple. Too many cooks (experts) in the kitchen can make a big mess! Start with an architect…and seriously consider hiring a contractor early in the design process. It is essential the architect and contractor be able to work together well. Architects and contractors both have a lot of technical knowledge, but are also generalists. Let them do the research and make recommendations to you as the homeowner…and have them explain WHY they are making their recommendation. Use this team of two to be your advocate in the marketplace, sift through the options and sweat the details. Deciding on both the architect and contractor are often the two most important decisions you make because they will help you make every other decision. Good luck!
home estimates

How should homeowners interpret estimates?

I'm an architect that does new houses and renovations that typically involve significant changes to the home…so I am not talking about simpler projects like repairs, drapes, fittings, etc. but actual rearranging/adding space and the like. A few rules will help in understanding what an “estimate” is telling you. Rule 1: Be realistic in your expectations. Design and construction are fairly complicated if there is any significant work involved. “What should this cost?” sounds like a simple question, but there are literally hundreds of variables in play. Understand that and you will be much smarter about reviewing estimates. Rule 2: Contractors are not mind readers. Don't complain that a contractor “missed” something that isn't clear. The classic example is constructing a sizeable rear addition and a homeowner assumed the contractor was going to repaint the entire house because it clearly needed it. Rule 3: Understand allowances. I can take any line item in an estimate and legitimately vary its cost significantly. Do you want the $75 faucet or the $750 model? Do you want the good, contractor grade of windows at $15,000 or the higher performing window with divided lights for $40,000? What about railings? What about light fixtures? A big one is what about mechanical systems? Contractors have to make reasonable guesses (and they are incentivized to guess low), so understand that. Rule 4: Give yourself a contingency. Until you have detailed specs and drawings, an estimate is still fuzzy around the edges. On my projects, the homeowner wants/needs a lot of price certainty early in design, but the detailed information isn't there yet. Hold a contingency for yourself to address inevitable changes in value as more detail is defined. Rule 5: Get a good architect!
2012 trends

What are the home improvement trends for 2012?

The trend right now is to make strategic, high-value improvements. Clients are looking for smaller improvements that have big (and personal) impact. Rather than the grand renovations, homeowners desire smaller, well-done improvements that give a lot of satisfaction day-to-day. Because these are personalized, they naturally add a lot of character to the home. Examples: 1) Upgrading lighting in any one space. “Upgrading” doesn't mean just new fixtures, it means developing a layered lighting scheme for a space so that there is a lot of flexibility in the ambience of the space at night. 2) Adding intimacy to spaces. For example, adding a projected bay window in a master suite that is well trimmed and fitted to create a comfortable sitting space where there once was none. 3) Adding built-in cabinetry. It helps manage clutter and, if well done, adds a lot of sculptural character to the space. None of these are large projects, but matter a lot to homeowners. As always, the level of design execution is really important here. A bay window added to a master bedroom is all about craftsmanship and detailing. Do it well for the best impact!
home improvement career

What career advice do you wish you had been given?

This is pretty simple…learn how to present your ideas well. This is as important one-on-one as it is in larger client meetings or in front of a larger group. Learning to be compelling, articulate and concise is a real skill (one that I'm still learning!). Make presentations any chance you get…and don't get caught in the trap of thinking others not listening is the problem. Naturally, it is part of the problem, but look at yourself and always be thinking of how you can better get your point across. When I was coming up there was a tremendous emphasis on creative and technical skill. Valuable…certaintly. Essential…absolutely. But you must communicate in a way that makes the results of your creative and technical skills tangible to others.

Where do you find inspiration for remodeling projects?

One might tend to look for websites, books and other physical resources to answer this question…but I would encourage you to mine your own memories! The best projects are always the ones that strike you as the tree fort you always wanted to build as a child. There is something about a physical tree fort, or even draping sheets over sofas and chairs, that make spaces that really resonate with us. My daughter once cleaned out her closet to make a delightful, enclosed adventure space that was only 2x8 feet. This or some other significant memory can provide a delightful way of thinking about a renovation because it makes you think about space, degree of enclosure, light, adventure, etc., etc. These strong memories create a framework for then solving the more practical aspects of remodeling…THEN you can go to Houzz.com and observe with a child's eye!
Home Design

What elements are overused in home improvement?

There are a lot of candidates for this answer. Interior trim is my selection…it tends to be way overused. Trim designed thoughtfully and well is delightful. But for every great trim design, there are 10-100 bad trim designs. So often trim is smeared all over the interior of a house like lipstick…to about the same effect. Trim should be thoughtfully done and bring out the proportions of the space and reinforce the sculptural spatial quality. It is mean to delight the eye…not just deal with the corner between wall and ceiling. So often trim is installed and simply runs around a perimeter, following every corner…and then when an odd condition is found it just returns to the wall or collides with the offending item (like a cabinet). Trim must be thoughtfully done to have its greatest effect…often no trim is better than bad trim. Give trim design the thought and respect it deserves.
outdoor living

How can you create the ultimate outdoor living space?

Rather than specific suggestions, I offer three ways of thinking about your outdoor project: BE REALISTIC: There is a lot of romance in all the things an outdoor space can be. Keep in mind what you can reasonably afford as a first cost and as an ongoing maintenance cost/effort. Put your energy into those elements that provide a lot of value and that will see a lot of use. LEVERAGE THE NATURE YOU ALREADY HAVE: Don't fight what is already there! Every outdoor space, even a tiny courtyard, has some distinct type of light, view, native plants, local materials or other natural qualities. As you consider your “wish list”, balance it with what nature wants to have there. CONCENTRATE YOUR RESOURCES: This is difficult to do if you have a larger space, but not a larger wallet! If necessary, think of your outdoor space as a gem within nature, rather than trying to recast nature to a new idea. In the outdoors, small with high quality really pays off…going inexpensive over large areas really shows. Do you really need a 1,000 SF deck when 200 SF could be done exquisitely and for less money? Small outdoor spaces are often nicer…so concentrate your resources and keep the quality high!
obligation green

Should professionals promote the green movement?

The question is a bit like asking a doctor whether or not they support healthy living…the short answer is yes! It is also a bit like asking whether or not professionals should support creating safe buildings. Again, the answer is yes. The way I look at it, being “green” is an integral part of what I do and is not something I have to turn into a “brand”. Accordingly, I have chosen to not make it a specific item I promote. It is but one of many aspects of design that matter. It fits in right along other design priorities such aesthetic quality, safety, functionality and durability. All of these are “promoted” as a natural part of the design discourse with my clients.

How will our homes change in the next 5-10 years?

The big change that is already underway is moving from a "resale" mentality to one "quality & lifestyle". We have created our own plague of houses designed for resale, an unknown buyer that exists somewhere on a 3-8 year time horizon. In doing so, doing the house we really wanted got lost to a generic design paradigm of curb appeal and marketing features. A growing emphasis on "my" house is developing. "My" house will be 1) more tailored to how I live, 2) will be viewed as more of a lifestyle, rather than monetary, investment, 3) will include more emphasis on personal preference, and 4) will be built/renovated with a longer time horizon, say 5-20 years. This doesn't mean homes will become odd or more expensive. To the contrary, I believe homeowners will discover that designs that resonate with their own heart will resonate with a future buyer...it just won't be the generic, trendy, future buyer that has driven so much of design over the last many years. This shift is a very good thing because it will drive a much higher level of design going forward!
diy do and dont

When should a homeowner hire a home professional?

There are many reasons to hire a professional. For my practice, the essential benefit is making a client realize what the design possibilities are (often possibilities they never thought of), assisting them with selecting the right design option, and then making that a built reality. An architect is trained (and typically naturally gifted) to develop more robust solutions, even for seemingly small design problems. The second major benefit is the majority of homeowners just don't know how to translate what they want to a rich design solution and then a built reality. Architects provide the big design picture as well as carefully integrating the small details that make a big difference. Design done in a piecemeal manner (i.e. contractor input, flooring sales staff, kitchen designers) can certainly be helpful, but often lacks the overall sophistication that an architect, who has solid familiarity with all of these design components, brings. Finally, an architect will help you envision the space as a three dimensional reality. Design is much more than arranging rooms, extruding up walls and adding a roof…it is about creating a warmth and sophistication you will delight in every day. Find an architect you can trust and watch the magic happen!
working with professional

How can homeowners make a professional’s job easier?

Some quick thoughts on what homeowners can do to make working with an architect better: 1) Define what you need in performance rather than prescriptive terms. A performance requirement is "I need to manage briefcases, cell phones, wet shoes and dog leashes near the back door" vs. a prescriptive requirement of "I need a shelf and two outlets at the back door". The performance requirement creates more of a dialogue between homeowner and architect so the architect can find a better solution. Prescriptive requirements limit the range of solutions an architect can provide. 2) Develop a working relationship of trust with your architect. This is tied to the suggestion above. Architect's don't work in a vacuum. A working dialog allows the architect and client to engage with one another so needs are better understood, making for more effective and helpful design solutions. Engaging in a dialogue like this with one of my clients led to an understanding of their love of the backyard garden and hatred of the mosquitos. This led to me suggesting a screen porch they had not even asked for.which is now their favorite place in the house.