Architectural decisions

With the details of the roof coming into form now, the architectural details are now becoming obvious to folks passing by. I realize I haven’t really written about why we chose an architect and it’s not something I want to miss, so here goes!

Sept 29 - east dormer!

I grew up in “the house that Fred built”, a single storey rancher on a quarter acre near, but not quite in sight of, the ocean. It’s the only home I knew for most of my life and I quite like it. It’s far from perfect but it’s certainly much more homey than any modern spec home.

upstairs dormer view windows

By the time I was a teenager the three bedroom house started to feel a bit crowded for 3 girls, their parents and a handful of the neighbourhood kids. My parents tossed about the idea of moving to a bigger house or adding on to the existing house, but instead we just managed the squeeze for the last few years that we were all at home. That’s not to say we didn’t long for some sort of “away” space, but the thing is, we were able to make do and the squeeze didn’t last that long anyway. It’s also nice that my folks have been able to remain in and enjoy our childhood home as empty nesters.

The house hasn’t gotten any bigger but there have been some great changes over the years. While I was still at home sky lights were added in the living room and kitchen and they enhanced the quality of the space immensely. Later on my folks removed the mish mash of flooring types in much of the main living spaces and brought in radiant heat under one type of tile.

My mom’s desire to improve the house introduced me to the concept of away spaces, the sequence of spaces and the importance of natural light and “right-sized” rooms. My favourite book quickly became Sarah Susanka’s “The Not So Big House“.

Over the years I added to my home design library and spent a lot of my spare time sifting through old Sunset cottage catalogues and websites for cottage kits. Eventually I started taking plans I liked from Ross Chapin Architects and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and started tweaking them in the hopes that one day I’d be able to build. I was really inspired by the beauty and functionality of smaller homes like those mentioned above and this one from “Good House, Cheap House“.

Some of my interest in housing definitely comes from my dad’s side. When I was little he made me a wooden loft bed that was the envy of all my friends and both his sister and his mother designed the homes I visited in my childhood (although I didn’t know it at the time). In the last decade I’ve filled pages and pages with drafts for homes on vacant lots or for tiny houses that could be moved anywhere and they all feature plenty of beautiful wood.

house book sketch 3

house book sketch 4

When we finally got our lot a year ago I started madly drafting up ways designs for our future home. It would take a whole day to get the details but I just couldn’t seem to get the light or the flow I knew I wanted in the space. We both recognized something was missing so we started asking around for help.

Main floor - green plan V3

So often we’d hear recommendations for local house designers but they weren’t speaking our language. To us they just designed big spaces with truss roofs, huge fish bowl windows and some nice wood finishing. We’d already lived in a house that felt big and cavernous and knew we liked the quality of the space that could be created in the corners under a hand-framed roof. In fact, a few of our friends had already built homes with those features.

By studying housing forms on every road trip and taking in lectures on pocket neighbourhood design, we’d also come to appreciate the importance of landscaping and creating layers between the street and the living space.

Ross Chapin pocket neighbourhood WA

house book sketch 5

We also knew enough to know that we wanted a smaller home with a worthy entry, some sort of away space, stairs that went around a corner and weren’t too steep, and main floor living. Our list of requirements was far from short and to complicate things further, our building site was rather unique.

Our lot is an unusually small one for our town and on either side are much bigger lots with old ranchers. As you know by now, there are also some pretty nice views and we wanted to capitalize on those as well.

I think the years of looking at architecturally designed homes in books taught me the sorts of benefits that can be found in working with an architect so I started looking and it didn’t take much to convince Kevin that that was the way to go either.

We contacted many, met with a few and then we found our guy. Funnily enough, I had just read about his little suite a few months earlier and had wondered if someone from Bowen Island would ever work on a project over here. It didn’t take long to go from finding the answer was yes, to learning that our project was just the kind of project he could get excited about. James at JWT Architecture has been so down to earth and easy to work with and we love seeing how his conceptualization of our desires is turning out.

House - front view


7 thoughts on “Architectural decisions

  1. Found your blog because Sarah Susanka herself linked to it on Facebook! I’m also a “Not So Big House” groupie and blog over at (where we talk about sloooowly renovating our 100 year old house!) …be warned, we just migrated two year’s worth of posts and broke all of the links to our pictures – we hope to get that fixed up soon. The joys of blogging! Anyway – can’t wait to follow your progress!

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