What can be more exciting than designing your own dream home? It can be a lifelong dream for many, including myself. Soon after starting our Design+Build process many years ago, the opportunity finally came along. I had sold a speculative home and now it was our turn for a new house. I remember the experience like it was yesterday. I would now experience what our clients go through, as an architect turned client. It was a tumultuous mix of excitement and anxiety.

What brought me on this trip down memory lane? I’ve recently been reviewing our office processes and how we create the best possible experience for our clients. Most of the best practices we developed were reinforced during the process of designing and building my own home. From my experience, every architect should design and build his or her own home and see the process through their client’s eyes.

Our home was designed as a version of a Craftsman Style house. We began by doing some soul searching. We questioned everything, from what we liked and more importantly what we disliked about our existing home. A long “wish list” was then developed detailing what was most important to us. Near the top of the list was a large garage for my race cars. For my wife Kerry, a multi-purpose craft room that included natural light and large enough for a long arm quilting machine.

The next step was to prepare a construction budget, a critical part of the process. Only after all our “homework” was complete, was it time for the design process to begin. It was now time for all the pieces of the puzzle to come together. We braced ourselves for the conflicts and disagreements that would occur along the way, which is typical and has to be expected as part of the process.

So were there lessons learned? You bet! The first was the influence of outside sources. In our case, we were selected to have the house become part of a Luxury Home Tour. Why not? It would be a great way to promote our Design+Build option.

This all occurred before the housing crash. Money was flowing freely, and if you had a pulse, they loaned you the money. So square footage increased, the basement was finished, including a “Sports Room”, and a whirlpool tub that we didn’t necessarily want was added. After all, what luxury home wouldn’t include a tub? In retrospect, we would have been better served by sticking to our original design criteria. However, it’s a trap that a lot of people fall into.

I’m proud of how well the design and details were executed. One of my favorite features is how the master bedroom suite had the bathroom separated from the sleeping area using the walk-in closet as a sound and light buffer. Throughout the home, every room had a special detail designed into it.

But the beauty of the process was how well the construction was executed. There were very few issues during construction. Everything was planned for because we are not only architects, but we are builders as well.

Wonderful memories were created in that home that will last a lifetime. We celebrated many Christmas gatherings, a large family party for my mother’s 80th birthday, and our daughter stepping down the staircase in her wedding dress. Not to be forgotten – the three Chicago Blackhawks Championships that we watched on the large screen in the Sports Room of our finished basement.

Ultimately, the home is the background of family memories that will last forever.
Seeing this process through the eyes of an architect turned client was a phenomenal experience and has made me a better architect.

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