From: Chapter I: Bones and Architecture
I define architecture as both form and structural embellishment in a particular style. It can be traditional or contemporary, new or old, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Shingle, or Shaker, but the architecture always drives the design direction for me. I am comfortable working with any style, and am always an advocate for the architect and for having an architect create a house that will be true to a style's traditions.
I invariably encourage clients to take the time to “get the bones right.” When I speak of “bones,” I am referring to the actual structure, the underlying configuration and shape of spaces and their placement in a house. When I walk through a house or read a new set of plans, I look for those bones, the skeletal strengths and weaknesses. And I look at the bones first, because for me, bones define potential.
I admit that I'm slightly obsessed with floor plans, and I love studying old plans from historic buildings. Floor plans reveal the inherent gracefulness of a house as well as the problems and possibilities of each space: where traffic flows and stops, whether moving a particular wall or widening a specific doorway will improve the quality of the space for the people living in it. I think about how to accentuate the positives and eliminate or diminish the negatives. Do the existing proportions work? Will altering structural elements such as walls or doorways improve the flow of the room? The house? People often think it's easier to remodel than to start from scratch, but remodeling frequently entails stricter challenges and tighter boundaries: in a sixteenth-floor apartment for example, the exterior walls are usually not negotiable. In contrast, it is often easy to get carried away with the seemingly limitless possibilities presented by building a new house-bigger is not necessarily better.
Floor plans must suit both the architecture of the house and the people who inhabit it. Planning with function in mind is essential to create a balanced, fluid, harmonious, and comfortable house. While aesthetic and stylistic considerations are important, function must come first, in every space. Years ago I was working on a house where the master bedroom had multiple windows and doors on all four walls. All those windows were lovely, but with so many punctures in the wall planes, placing furniture became a challenge. A simple action resolved the problem: a large single window centered on the longest wall was removed, creating a landing spot for the bed. It was replaced with two new flanking windows, which maintained the room's architectural balance and still satisfied the client's desire for several exposures.
Once structural bones are set, I turn to architectural details. Does the style suggest clean, contemporary lines, with simple moldings or no moldings at all? Are the corners sharp or eased? Does the residence contain any elements of architectural or historical significance that should be preserved or enhanced? If so, I'll campaign to keep them. I once worked on a San Francisco apartment with original interiors designed by Julia Morgan. It was suggested that smoothing over Morgan's plaster tracery ceiling would make necessary electrical work easier and cheaper. Horrified by the idea, I simply had to say no—with no further discussion allowed. The ceiling won! Good bones should always be preserved, and they will ensure that architecture remains distinctive, original, and appropriate.