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design ideas, DIY Like an Architect, architect on demand, advice without strings

Design ideas category is my focus for the next post and I am in the process of researching zen gardens. I am distracted by an email from someone who just downloaded DIY Like an Architect: “Ciao Alla! I can’t wait to read your book!”

She continues: “I’m Italian and I’ve found you on the web because I was looking for some design ideas to renovate a house that we are buying with my family. I have a Tea School and practice Japanese Tea Ceremony, so I would create in our new house even a little Tea Room!”

My new virtual client from Italy Fabiola is asking which might be the best way to go forward. I am excited to support and empower her! She writes: “I like your approach: clear, professional and inspiring, it really impressed me and I would like to collaborate with you for this new adventure. At the moment we have the current floor plan, some pictures and many design ideas and dreams.”

I ask Fabiola to email her notes, sketches, and pictures to me

design ideas, DIY Like an Architect, architect on demand, advice without strings

The Tea Room: will be on the ground floor; it is a utility room now (see pictures #2 & 3). Fabiola’s idea is to create a Tea Room of 3 tatami (each tatami is 90x190cm). In the same room she will need a mizuya (it’s a kind of little kitchen, see pictures #4 & 5). Fabiola writes: “Tatami should be oriented to the window, like in the picture.” (Tea room example #6).

The Apartment: will be on the second floor (picture #7 is the plan, picture #9 is the exterior). The renovation would involve creating a master bedroom, a study that can be converted to a guest room, and a bathroom. The general inspiration is represented with the picture named “our bedroom suite idea” (#8). Fabiola writes: “We also like the idea of having a dressing instead of a wardrobe in this space.”

The Son’s room: the room to the left of the small bedroom will be the boy’s room; he is 10 (#1 is the family portrait)!

Fabiola writes: “As the utility room will become the Tea Room, we need to create a side board for the kitchen, possibly near the kitchen. For the same reason we need also a launderette and a shoe rack…somewhere in the apartment!!”

DIY Like an Architect method starts with a parti not design ideas

That’s a good start for a mind map. DIY Like an Architect explains the process. Since Fabiola has the book, she can just follow simple directions. The purpose is to distill and organize information by asking lots of questions. I would do separate mind maps for The Tea Room and The Apartment.

An architect asks questions to generate design ideas. And the first question to ask is “why.” To understand why you really need and want something to be a certain way, you have to do some soul searching. Design ideas have to be steeped in meaning. DIY Like an Architect explains how to mind map and collage to come up with a parti, a “word” or a theme that describes your one big bold idea without you knowing anything about your design yet.

I believe that the inspiration for design ideas should not be literal.

Therefore, looking at other tea rooms would not be necessarily the best approach. Instead, I would try to conjure up a sense of how you would like the space to feel. Let’s see. Fabiola talks about tatami orientation. A window. I begin to envision a meditative place radiating calm and silence. It’s a place of delight and contemplation. My images are an abstraction, an ideal. I am defining a concept, not yet being concerned with the actual utility room converted to fit a set of requirements (pictures #3 & 4).

Collaging welcomes the inspiration. I can’t resist and do my own interpretation of Fabiola’s Tea Room. OK. It will serve as an illustration. I put together images that speak to me about order, simplicity, and beauty of natural materials. Something is emerging. Clean lines. Is the Japanese tea ceremony about savoring the moment? That’s how I interpret it. I find a headline in a magazine that hits the nail on the head. “Sit Back and Savor.” That’s it! That’s my parti (see collage in the cover image)! I am sure, Fabiola’s is going to be different.

Once she knows what the parti is, she has to figure out how to apply it. Next two steps involve diagramming to really understand what the parti (that one big bold idea) stands for. Not designing yet, but building a knowledge bank which will support all of her decisions. Have fun with it, Fabiola. Take the time to come up with something that is purely your own. DIY Like an Architect will help you generate original design ideas instead of adopting someone else’s.

P.S. For those who are in the Los Angeles area, there is a DIY Like an Architect workshop coming up. To register, please contact ArtCenter at Night online or call 626-398-2319.


  • December 18, 2015

    Dear Alla,

    thank you very much for this useful suggestions. Your idea of the Tea Room is exactly what is should be…a place where to seat in silence, savor and forget the world outside! I will continue on this path following the interesting approach of you book “DIY like an architect”. What you wrote is true; stimulating our personal creativity, we can really make our ideas come true and that’s the good architect job. Help his customers to find their way. So, once again, thank you for your original thinking and approach…for sure I will come back to you soon for your support on this project! A presto, Fabiola

    • Alla DIY Ally
      December 18, 2015

      Ciao, Fabiola! So happy that you embraced this way of thinking! Your words are very encouraging and inspiring! I truly appreciate it! We will keep in touch and I will help you with both The Tea Room and the apartment. Very exciting!!

  • Mia Kazovsky
    December 19, 2015

    It is so cool that you are working with a tea lover, such as yourself, on the other side of the globe. I guess, good design and the desire to curate beautiful spaces is universal. I don’t even have to guess, I actually know that it’s a fact. I am glad that your knowledge and inspiration is being spread around the world one DIYer at a time.

    • Alla DIY Ally
      December 19, 2015

      Mia! You always have something very sweet and insightful to say! Thank you so much for reading my posts! I truly appreciate it. Love you.

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