A Good Design Philosophy is Everything

Designing and personalizing a small, completely independent home like an ADU, is a wonderful, rewarding challenge of residential design and flow. No property is alike, no home is alike, yet every solution must provide a safe, comfortable, private, and independent space for our family.

At Acton ADU, one of our core philosophies is to always provide these core elements. Every time. No exceptions. No small task right? Well, we found that the only way to really be successful is to adopt just that—a philosophy for design. But what does that mean, really? Here’s a simple definition:

Philosophy [Noun]

The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.

One of the key words in that definition is, “fundamental.” In design, as in nearly every other discipline, a lack of strong fundamentals results in an underwhelming result. Thus, a true design philosophy is one that is based on a strong fundamental blend of aesthetics, functionality, context, and of course, clearly defined outcomes. But, design is a broad and subjective topic that begins with dreams, hopes, desires, and aspirations. In practice, design has to take each of these into account while incorporating constraints, regulations, current practices and technology, and varying opinions. A robust, usable design philosophy should be prepared for the ride ahead while keeping its focus on the dream of the end goal.

The importance of a great design philosophy.

At the outset of any well-executed project is the crafting of the project vision. Without a collaborative vision between a homeowner and a design team, the dreams and aspirations of a project erode. A great design philosophy is woven directly into the project vision. The design philosophy defines how every aspect of a project is approached – from motivations, investment goals, regulations, to opportunities, and great aesthetics. The size of a project isn’t always irrelevant, because a good design philosophy is applied and executed to any project. Now, that’s not to say that all design philosophies are created equal. The truth is, they aren’t. We’ll talk about designing small spaces in just a moment.

The draw of residential design.

Despite it sounding cliche, I’m still drawn to residential design and Design every day. When I was a child, I loved building cities with Legos. Today, I get to “play” with Legos with my kids and it always makes me nostalgic. As I grew up, I realized that my main passion was for sketching and illustration and that formalized my draw (pun intended) to the field.

Honestly, I wasn’t originally interested in how buildings are actually put together, nor inspired by any particular designer. I’ve always loved the creation of Urban Design – the study of the nexus of residential design, planning, and landscape residential design. It was this union of disciplines that set me on the path to creating a design philosophy that incorporated them all. A holistic approach that shifted from designing a permit-ready building, to creating a lifestyle that would be enjoyed by homeowners for decades to come. Truly, an ADU is so much more than a box with plumbing and lights—it’s about how it’s lived in.

A design philosophy will always create better results.

Listening is far more important than speaking, yet many designers use their mouth more than their ears.

A recent customer, in this case, a whole house remodel, envisioned their “new” home to be a significant upgrade in terms of style, modern expression, and quality, yet needed the home to “fit” into its neighborhood context. It would have been easy to have presented a very flashy and contemporary design that “sung” design designer but stood out like a sore thumb. After all, we’re designers. We love to “inspire”. But that’s not where our value shines. We need to be listeners.

So, instead of crafting a shining testament to modern flash and glamour, the design approach led us to listen, consider the context, imagine opportunities for something fresh, yet appropriately constrain the design to feel like a great example of a neighborhood icon. The end result is a home design that truly fits, yet still raises the bar of neighborhood design, which in turn actually appreciates the value of the surrounding homes and their history.

The smaller the space, the more thoughtful the design needs to be.

Design exists and is important in everything we do. With an ADU, we effectively need to make the same elements of a larger house fit into a smaller space, yet feel welcoming, airy, and useful. This is not a simple recipe nor combination to achieve! Yet, this is precisely the welcome challenge.

Rooms need to be more than single use. Could a second room function as a workshop by day, and a bedroom by night? Can a kitchen counter be a food prep area and a study or impromptu arts and crafts area? Double and triple uses are essential and just one of the ways to make smaller spaces come alive. Finally, we want Acton ADUs to feel “right,” not “small or cramped.” And much of that “right” feeling is driven by the homeowners’ motivations, meeting their limitations, opportunities, and investment goals.

Modern living allows us the luxury of using less and achieving more. Desktops are now laptops and laptops are now tablets. More utility, smaller package. Space and purpose are the sublime elements that drive the vision of a space. When those are captured by a design in harmony with a homeowners need…Magic is made. Magic that changes how we live.

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