Initial Design Meetings

By the time we started the design process we already had some specific, overarching goals. We wanted to maximize the floor plan for how we expect to use space within the next 5-10 years. We wanted to maximize the site’s views and solar exposure, given the high and relatively cold climate (the site sits at 9,280’, exactly 4,000’ above Denver). And we wanted to make sure a number of basic requirements were met: at least 3 beds and 2 baths; a garage.

We had also collected photos and other ideas from books and the internet. The book A Pattern Language was a great inspiration; it’s a book that collects ideas about how people use space and the built environment, and divides them into stand-alone “patterns” that fit together, and each pattern is distilled to an actionable design item. A lot of them have a certain ring of truth to them, like the idea that people like to sit with their backs against something while facing a long view, or that balconies tend to go unused if they’re less than 6’ deep. While not every “pattern” in the book resonated with us, a lot of them did, and they became goals for our home’s design. It’s worth picking up if you’re planning to design a custom home.

Hide and Seek: The Architecture of Cabins and Hideouts was also helpful for inspiration, though it was a lot less weighty (and ultimately, probably less helpful than) A Pattern Language. Prettier pictures though.

We fed all of those things to Shaun, our architect, and he also came to our house to get a sense of how we were using the space we were currently in. Our house was a small Victorian, built in 1890, with a small lean-to addition that was probably added in the 1920s or 1930s. Finished square footage is about 1,300 sq. ft., with a small half basement packed to the brim with outdoor gear and a small climbing wall, and no garage. With two young kids, things are pretty snug, and kid stuff is pretty evenly distributed around the house. We kept the walls white (at least the ones that weren’t exterior brick), and used them to bounce light around the house and onto a fair amount of art.

Our use of space discussion with Shaun distilled out a couple of more key goals we wanted to push towards. We wanted the house to follow a public-to-private gradient, with public spaces near the main entrances and bedrooms away from them (another key idea from A Pattern Language). We wanted a second, smallish living area for the kids and for the TV, so that our main living room could be more of an adult space, particularly when friends and their kids were over to visit.

We wanted a stand-alone office with a Murphy bed, since a move to the mountains would mean that more of my work would be done from home (and the Murphy bed for guests; I don’t do that kind of work). It needed to be acoustically separated, for conference calls and the like. We also wanted to create some sort of separate entrance, or at least an entrance to the office that didn’t require clients to traipse through the more private areas of the house to get to the office.

We were sensitive to the house’s orientation to the site and the sun. The sun and the views were both to the south, so we thought it made sense to orient the house’s long axis east to west, exposing a lot of the house to the views and the sun. We wanted bedrooms to the east, and a living area to the west.

First Draft
Our First Sketch

And finally, if possible, we wanted to find space for a bunkroom. Even with the office converting to a guest space with the Murphy bed, we wanted more guest space. A lot of our friends have one or two kids, and we realized that a single guest bedroom isn’t enough to hold a family of three or four. Bunks would allow us to put up kids down by our kids’ bedrooms, while still maintaining a stand-alone guest room. We also wanted to look into potentially setting up the office/office bathroom suite into an Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, so that we would have the option of potentially renting it out in the future. 

Our next post will cover the design goals in detail, but if that gets too in the weeds for you, skip to the following post to see what Shaun did with the information.