Project headed “south”

Author: Travis Kinney

Here’s a project that I started that did not turn out so well.

As a residential designer it is often difficult to explain the design process in just a few sentences. So here’s a little behind the scenes look at what happens with a custom design and why the hours add up and therefore the cost.

Some homeowners think the design process is flat and/or linear. If they have a tight design budget they will want me to focus on floor plans only. Simply put, this doesn’t work. Or, to put it another way; if a house is built using this approach it won’t look too good and besides didn’t you contact the designer because you do want it to look good?

So here’s the thing, architecture is a 3-dimensional art which you can occupy and interact with. I know, sound fancy doesn’t it?

Good design that looks natural and simple is often the hardest to design. All the pieces have to fit together 3-dimensionally which is a difficult process. Most of you have probably tried a Rubik’s cube and had great success solving one side. How did it go trying to solve three sides? Not easy, you have to think of the other planes at the same time. Custom residential design is a lot like that. When I am working on a first floor plan layout I am also thinking of what could be happening above, usually not in a concrete way but schematically. For instance, I might be designing the kitchen and developing a volume for that and thinking that that shape is perfect for a master bedroom and both of them could be on that end of the house which faces east and will get morning light. At the same time I might be thinking about ridge lines and site views. Again, I’m working on the first floor plan and most of my thought process is consumed with that, but at a visceral level I’m also thinking of these other things. A designer is able to do this quite efficiently because they are drawings from years of experience.


So here’s a first floor plan that I drew for a project that had a small building window and a narrow view corridor of ocean to lower left. Driveway enters the site on far right. The owners gave me their program requirements, first floor laundry, open floor plan, screen porch, TV room etc. The basic puzzle pieces. So I began sketching some layouts. What the client often doesn’t realize is that I am often thinking about site lines through the house, flow from room to room, size of openings between spaces and how they may be framed, if a space is single story or two story. Now of course I could just “wing it” and ignore all that other stuff and develop a killer first floor plan. However, after having designed many houses over the years you do learn a thing or two. To ignore these other aspects is to find yourself in corner later in the design process where your first floor decisions have complicated all these other future decisions because you ignored them. This is where friction with an owner can occur because they don’t see the piles of trace paper you may have gone through to draw this simple looking floor plan. What they don’t realize is how much time you probably saved them by planning for future design decisions.


Stairs can be difficult on story-and-half structures because of head height issues as you go up the stairs. There is a reason many online floor plans and spec houses are full two-stories. The reason is, they are simpler and less expensive to build and you don’t have as many puzzle pieces, there are no low knee-walls, dormers and sloped ceilings to contend with. But in my opinion, the end result often looks like a spec house. Not always, but often.


I was struggling to the find the right location for the stair because I was thinking ahead of where the roof slopes were probably going to be and where the roof valleys might be. I could have simply ignored all that and just told the owner that they should have a stair tower and how cool it would look! But if I did that I’d be ignoring their budget, so I needed a real solution. This plan (below) shows two stairs, not because I thought they should have both, but because the flow up and down from basement to second floor works really well with both. We needed to pick one and I wanted the owner’s feedback to help push the decision toward one or the other. A note of importance; most of my clients hire me because they want to be involved in the design process and don’t just want me to appear one day with a completed design that I must then “sell” them on.


The second floor layout is ok, but still needs work. The stair is either a tower here or, what I was hoping was making it into a dormer which would be in budget unlike the tower. Problem I was having is that the flow was not working on second floor. I had a large left over area by the stairs that could have been open to foyer below (wonder why so many houses have two story foyers, it’s often because there’s excess space up above and difficulty with roof lines). I  thought this would make a great laundry room. However, I knew the owner wanted laundry on the first floor but wasn’t sure that maybe they wouldn’t mind this as it makes for a nice location at top of stairs and wasn’t sure if the first floor laundry was an absolute must-have. The priority list of “must-haves” and “ok’s” develop with the design as the owner begins to realize the complexity of the layout and the designer begins to learn what is most important to the client.



So this elevation is to show the owner “roughly” what I am thinking for building forms or volumes. They may say “Why are you showing us that now? We want to figure out a floor plan first.” Well the answer is “You can’t.” Again, a house is 3-dimensional and must be designed 3-dimensionally if you have hired a designer to help create a specific look with nice lines and proportions you need to look at it holistically.



I presented this sketch to say that we can tweak the exterior materials to either push the design to more modern or more traditional, more shingle-style or more farmhouse-revival.



A quick glance at what the other sides may look like. Most of my projects are on oceanfront lots so there tends to be one side with a lot of glass and one side with fewer windows. This influences the plan because I won’t have a pantry and powder room on the ocean view wall where it limits the view. The spaces that require more wall and less window will tend to be pushed furthest from the view. Again, thinking three dimensionally and with views in mind.



Stair stair stair

I knew we wouldn’t end up with two stairs like the other sketch so maybe the best area is dead center. If designed well, a central stair can look great as well as function great. Many houses have stairs that are in the foyer and are an attraction when entering. So here was a thought where the stair was in the center and people could go up the stairs to the balcony without passing through the master suite or guest room which was  a client requirement. In the end the client decided they did not want to see the stair upon entry, they would rather have people see the view when they walk into the house even it meant more hallway space on second floor and I agreed. All this stair research led us to a single run stair in the living room. It is far from the kitchen and garage but after researching various options, this seemed like the best spot.



These sketches had included a few comments that I wanted the owners to notice, like the large open space in foyer. Maybe it was too large and what would the space be used for? Something we needed to think about. The second floor sketch pointed out the fact that the stair was going to reduce the usefulness of the second floor space over the living room making two ensuite guest room that much more difficult to solve.



Now that I had a much better understanding of the layout the owners were drawn to and what is important and not important I could then begin to see how it was fitting on the site. I knew for the most part it was close and that eventually we’d get the size of the building squished down through efficiently looking at each space and remove all the waste that we could. So now I put the plan on the site and started running lot coverage calculations and shoreline expansion calculations and saw more concretely what I had to do.



The second floor plan shows that the ensuite guest rooms could not fit in the space over the living room. I would had to have increased the size of the living room to make the space above work. Notice how the one floor influences the other! The owner suggested expanding over the TV room which I agreed had to be done.



These elevations are basically the same drawing. I am just showing what it could look like with black sashes, dark sashes and dark trim, colonial grille patterns as opposed to greek revival. Again, I wasn’t expecting them to point at one of these and say “That one.” I was giving them a chance to see if we’re headed in the right direction. This would be the time without a lot of investment to say “No, we are more drawn to a rambling organic feel. Something less rigid.” To a designer that is great feedback and we as a group would talk aesthetically what that means so that when I go back to the drafting board I have a better feel for roof locations, slopes, knee-walls, orientations etc. I should have noticed that the owners did not comment much or look at these elevations too long. I took that to mean they liked the direction and we could keep moving forward on the plan. In reality and with the clarity of hindsight I believe they were getting pissed by my spending their time and money on elevations when a plan solution hadn’t been finalized. I did mention at one point that the building style is important to know because different styles have different a massing and they have an impact on the floor plans. It may have been too late for that comment to help lessen their irritation with me.



I revised the exterior sketches and showed what a two-story structure at the end of the house would like from the driveway side. I could see from this sketch that I could make it look fine. This exploration sketch is important because it gave me the confidence that a solution was possible so that I could “table the thought” and move onto more pressing design matters like back to the plans.



This is where things began to go south on me. I did not get a particular email that the client had sent expressing their frustration that they were paying me for designs that did not “work” and felt I was abusing their trust. I knew what the problem was; they thought you could design in a linear fashion – first floor plan layout, second floor plan layout, front elevation, side elevation, etc etc. Problem is, custom design work does not work that way and it’s difficult to explain that without giving a lengthy speech on the design process of custom coastal houses within the Shoreland zone. At this point and time that would not have been wise as the stress was already at a point that that approach would have felt combative. We decided to part ways and they feel they can find better value buying a drawing set online. Should I have known they were leaning toward spec-house plans I would have told them on day one that they should not hire me. That is not what I do. I get at least two calls a week from people inquiring about buying plans of designs of mine that they like and I tell them that it won’t work for them. Each house is unique to that particular owner, site, view, solar orientation and budget.

Unfortunately I had created these two sketches below to present to the client before things ground to a halt. I was having difficulty reducing the floor plan size, keeping lot coverage below that required by code and having the house face the view. If any one of those parameters were removed, then I’d be good. So instead I went back and looked at the site and felt a semi-attached (or attached) garage in a different location may be the answer. I could even give them a two car garage if they were ok with this location! This layout kept lot coverage down in shoreland zone, kept house oriented toward best view and kept the majority of the floor plan intact. I felt like this was a great option and we’d be close to a schematic design solution for their property. However, the damage was done and feelings were hurt so I was told to stop all work.





It’s an unfortunate ending to a project on a great piece of land and a great couple to design for. For some reason we were not on the same page initially and I did not catch on to that soon enough. I know from talking to other architects that this scenario is not an anomaly and happens to many of us. We try to “walk” our clients through a challenging process that has a lot of competing priorities. We often cannot explain everything that goes into our work during our first few meetings as it would be overwhelming. So instead we work alongside our clients and they begin to see the complexity and are often drawn into the challenge of finding best case scenarios as a design progresses. Sometimes a project goes south and you can’t grab it back without adding fuel to the fire. You just hope that they somehow stumble across an online drawing set that somehow fits their site, view and budget and that in the end they are happy and have a house to enjoy and pass on to the next generation.


old house

Author: Travis Kinney

This is a new project that I am working on up the coast. My clients have an old house on oceanside property that the extended family uses off and on through out the year. The house is tired and in need of some updates including a mudroom, new kitchen and large family room with view of field and ocean beyond.

The process on a project like this is to measure the entire existing structure and put it into cadd. This gives me an accurate, to scale print-out that I can then use to sketch over. I will then go through a tremendous amount of trace paper as I work through different design ideas. While I am sketching I am also keeping in consideration what I saw for existing framing, plumbing and electrical. I do not like to design “in the dark” and then figure out how to accomplish it. That approach sometimes works and can result in great unexpected design ideas, but for the most part my  clients have a budget in mind and want me to be careful with it. To that end, I am always thinking about the grading, the views, the framing, utilities etc. while I sketch.

The plan sketch below is a typical sketch that a client would see from me and the tags correspond to a long email that “walks” them through each space along with my thoughts.

Below is a front elevation sketch. I had a rough vision of this before drawing the plan and it solidified as I advanced the plan drawing above. I knew I wanted some sort of barn-like addition but didn’t want it to overpower the little house. The barn idea also gives us the option to easily introduce a new siding material without having new clapboards look odd against the old clapboards.

The elevation below is not shown at the same scale as the sketch above. This elevation is to the right of the elevation above. The grade at the site drops away to the right of the old house, providing a perfect spot for a garage under the new addition. This would mostly be used for longer term car storage and seasonal lawn furniture and boating equipment.

The grade rises back up along the rear of the house.

Schematic Design – island house

Author: Travis Kinney

I have a client that is thinking of tearing down their existing house and building something new. They are interested in a gambrel style house with some large arched dormers.

They want a number of wood burning fireplaces and lots of deep covered porches facing the ocean.

This first sketch is a study of the gambrel volume. Doesn’t look like much, but there’s a lot of thought and study and that went into this. I tried house widths from 28′ to 36′ in two foot increments. I was trying to get the scale just right without the house looking too “chunky” or having it so narrow that the usefulness of the second floor would be too far diminished.

This drawing is not uploaded at the same scale as the above sketch. The elevation below is the left hand face of the sketch above and faces the ocean, which is why there is so much glass. This exposure also faces south and one request from the owners was to provide porches deep enough to block out some of the sunlight which at times can be a problem. Plus, they wanted more outdoor covered seating than they currently have. To the far right is where the wrap-around porch starts near the new entry. Guests can enter then house and if they want, walk straight ahead out onto the covered porch and out around the far side of the house. The window panels on the first floor are actually very large sliding door panels which allow the dining room, kitchen and living room to be open to the porches. Because of where this house is located there is not much concern for bugs which is great!

The center portion of the porch curves out onto the lawn and is faced with stone. This allows some portion of the porch to be in the sun for those who don’t want to sit in the shade. The stonewall also acts as a retaining wall and the curve helps to visually break-up the long run of the porch. To the far left is a round covered porch with outdoor wood burning fireplace. This space is intentionally a bit more sheltered and would be used late into the fall and early winter when the temperature dips and the fire can be blazing.

The second floor consists of two large arched dormers and a recessed outdoor balcony between that is accessed off the master bedroom.



This is the same sketch as above except that it shows dark trim and dark windows and doors. I’m just starting to think about color options for the house and whether it would be better to stay light and silvery or dark and maybe green. I could see the first scheme above with white trim, doors and windows and cedar shingles with a bleaching oil that will silver over time. I see the scheme below with very dark green or bronze colored trim, windows and doors and maybe stonework that is darker too. Siding could be stained shingles.



Both schemes could have a bright, light interior even if the exterior is dark.

I drew a number of covered porches that I was thinking about and settled on the one above that is more closed off and can block the wind more than the one shown below.


This partial sketch below shows how the dining room on the right extends out toward the ocean under the porch roof. The entire corner of the dining room can be opened to the outdoor seating area without a corner support post. The large outdoor seating area is directly off the kitchen and the two center glass panels are actually bi-parting sliding doors that open up. This house will be great for entertaining!


Major renovation photos

Author: Travis Kinney





Vintage photo

Vintage photo


After I did some preliminary design work, it became clear that this portion of the house would have to be removed to make room for a new, larger, addition. Plus it was in sad shape.



As you can see from the photo below we tore everything out of the house, including these two chimneys.


Cadd elevation of same side of house.



This is the elevation around the far right end. This end of the house faces the ocean. As you can see the final cadd design was very close to what I had sketched.

elev black sash daylightwindowsR1



Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography


Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography












Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography







Kim Case Photography

Kim Case Photography














Site photos

Author: Travis Kinney

Sheet rocking is done, heating system is running and floor finishes going down. Here are two photos that my client sent me.

winter 01


winter 02

Under construction

Author: Travis Kinney

Here’s a project that is currently under construction. The contractor is in good shape to have the house buttoned up before winter where he can shift his focus onto the interior work.


There was an original house in this location which was torn down to make room for this new house. Normally a house cannot be built this close to the water, but since there was an existing structure we were able to take advantage of allowable expansion and construct on existing footprint. The initial hope was to save some of the existing foundation but we found that it was in such poor shape that it needed to be removed. The bad news is the owners didn’t save any money but the good news is that they have an all new foundation with modern water-proofing.






We moved the house away from the ocean an additional 4′ because the corner of it was so close to the embankment. Near the center of the photo you can just pick out the railing to steps that go down to the water.


This is the view looking back while standing on those steps. Formwork is in for foundation footing.

View from back up at driveway. Foundation wall is in. We used a drainboard screen against the foundation as there is a significant slope down to the house where a lot of groundwater may travel and we want to make sure it is wicked away, out and around the house. The majority of the basement consists of finished spaces so we want it dry. As the owner says “arid.”




To the far left are the french doors from the basement space. The stairs to the water are just cut off from the photo to the far left. To the far right is a screened-in porch. If you scroll back up to my rendering you will see that there is a deck off the screened-in porch. To the left of the screened-in porch is the dining room with french doors out onto the deck. Notice the shed dormer, it’s located right above the kitchen.


Here’s a sketch of the kitchen showing those same dormer windows and flanking pair of casement windows.



In this photo, you can see a portion of the garage foundation. The owners will be able to park in the garage at the higher driveway elevation, go down a set of stairs in the garage and out a side door where they can walk across to a side door at the house (to right of screened-in porch) directly into the mudroom.



Here’s a photo of a typical daylight condition where the foundation wall extends up above the slab. The concrete wall needs to be covered in rigid insulation (silver foil faced in this case) then stud work applied over it. So there will be a deep shelf below these windows because of this detail. Typically, I try to avoid any foundation stem-wall from extending above the floor elevation because it just “smacks” basement space. But for this room, the grade on the exterior rises fast and I needed to step the foundation with it. If you look out the window you can see a boulder which is part of the retaining wall that “steps” the grade up.






The door in the photo below is the one mentioned above that leads directly into the mudroom.


View from driveway approach.


The garage for this project is located on a hill so there is going to be finished space under the garage. The best way to detail this is to install steel beams and/or open web bar joists with a metal pan deck above. A slab is then poured on the metal pan creating a watertight surface. This is a great detail and prevents any leaks from snowmelt or oil from migrating through the floor. The only problem is that the metal pan and steel will sweat profusely in the summer so it needs to be covered with closed cell spray insulation.



The cutout in the metal deck pan to right is the stair opening. As described above, the owners can drive into the garage, walk down the stairs and out a daylight door and over to the house. img_0192