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A project you designed, when built, may present itself in ways that were ultimately unpredictable. Picturing a space with a degree of certainty is an acquired skill, and a scaled model is an invaluable tool for training your eye. It just makes it much easier to imagine what a room will feel like, to anticipate the spatial experience within it.

A client writes: “Hi Alla, when we were working on the design, I had hoped for a kind of feeling for the entry – big enough not to be cramped but definitely enclosed. As someone enters, it seemed like there could be a wonderful reveal and release as we progressed into the large open space. Even framed out with lumber, it already feels like such a success! I wonder how it will feel with that beautiful shed roof…”

Yep, that’s the idea. The entry feels engaging instead of cut up, awkward and dark. We intentionally molded the space to achieve perceived expansiveness.

Designing your dream home should be fun. It’s a chance to experiment and create something that reflects your personality and taste. But it’s fraught with difficult decisions. How do you go beyond a rectangular shape in plan? I am not talking about what materials, finishes, and furnishing to use, but about molding space — a light-filled uplifting enclosure.

When designing, it’s so important to test your ideas three-dimensionally. Picturing a space with a model, even if it’s just a crude mock-up, truly helps.

A DIYer contacts me: “Hi Alla, my spouse & I are in the process of building a home and the framing has currently begun. I designed the floor plan/concept (in addition to the landscape & pool) and we are acting as the general contractor. I’m not an architect, though we previously designed and built a 7,000 square foot home and we were very happy with the results.”

He continues: “This time, however, we am feeling like we would greatly benefit by a professional to help us better interpret and realize the look and feel we want. We are worried that we are missing some opportunities for architectural detail that we might be able to achieve by some simple framing or by adding some off-the-shelf products that a novice may not know are available (I’m thinking in terms of faux beams, exterior foam elements that add texture & interest to the stucco, etc.).”

The phrase faux beams makes me cringe. But it’s my job to offer help. Perhaps there’s a way to get them to refine their vision. What if they try a DIY Like an Architect 11-step method? In addition, I mention one of the posts on my blog. The idea is to convince them to make a model. There’s an excellent model-building tutorial on YouTube to guide them.

A reply states: “The plans are final, so in terms of design and the flow of the floor plan, things are pretty much set in concrete (literally & figuratively). We’ve already incorporated some details such as arches, exposed ceiling beams, rock wall applications, etc.”

I have serious objections to this approach. He is talking about space as if it were two-dimensional.

Why isn’t he concerned with achieving balance and coherence? Instead of designing spatially, he wants to apply surface treatments. Arches and beams are structural elements. It’s against my religion to pepper them throughout as decorative enhancements.

Thus, when in the planning stages, don’t think in terms of embellishments — try picturing space instead. Build a model to help you. You are sculpting volumes. Your medium is air.


  • Mia S Kazovsky
    September 2, 2018

    You are so right. I also think a model is a critical element of the design process. It allows you to see the end result, but you get more than one shot to get it perfect! I built a mock-up of a bag design just last week! This process helped me to fully flesh out the design and see elements that I simply would not have been able to envision two-dimensionally! Oh, did I mention it’s a really fun creative project!?

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