“Don’t design for you” is a phrase that came to mind today while showing a property on West Street in Stoughton today. The house is situated nicely on a lot that abuts a pond. The architect designed a home that was well suited to appeal to the typical buyer in 1987 and the builder built to specifications that wouldn’t warrant a closer look. And that’s where the trouble began…
There was seemingly an addition added to the right side of the home sometime after the original colonial was built, I’m guessing it was added sometime in the early 90s, and I’m assuming it was meant to serve three purposes. There was a master suite added off the second floor level, a family room added off the first floor level and a two car garage added off the basement level. It was, in theory, a great answer for the apparent main purpose of the addition which was the want of a luxurious master suite. The problem is that the person who designed the addition didn’t scrutinize it in its larger context.
After seeing thousands of homes throughout my career, I often feel as though homeowners think through design problems themselves and then instruct their architects to build to their own, usually feckless and imprudent, specifications. I feel as though architects who take orders like this without trying to dissuade their clients from embarking on poor design choices, whether aesthetic or functional, are disrupting the karmic universe because design choices usually put forth by homeowners are often shortsighted because they solve issues only limited to themselves. The property on West Street fits into this category of homes with myopic additions.
I noticed the home looked a bit odd as I was eyeballing it shortly after arriving. The additional had casement windows while the main house had double hung windows. Casement windows were popular for a time in the early 90s. The fireplace was located on the front of the addition. You don’t usually see fireplaces located on the front façades of homes. They’re usually located on the side of the house away from the driveway which is where the living room is usually located. Those design choices weren’t killers.
We entered the home on the first floor and we started to look at the layout. I immediately noticed the family room and it was a “sunken family room” which means I had to take a step down into it from the hallway which is a telltale sign of an addition. It was carpeted and the rest of the first floor had hardwood floors except for the kitchen and bathroom which had tile floors which are typical. Those design choices weren’t killers.
We went up to the third floor and went into the master suite which was large and impressive. I didn’t sense that the master suite felt too much different from the rest of the second floor and it flowed nicely. The master suite wasn’t a killer and, in fact, it was done nicely.
We went down to the basement and there were some issues down there with the layout of the rooms; they were obviously later designed by the homeowner without much consideration given for their layout except to have maybe solved some needs germane to the homeowners themselves. There was a pedestal sink sitting by itself with a paper towel holder fastened to the wall above it in the main room as you entered in from the backyard; it was probably used by people working in the backyard but it sat right outside the basement bathroom. Those design choices weren’t killers.
We were still exploring the basement and finally decided to open the door to the garage. Boom! The garage couldn’t have been more than 12 feet long. It was entirely too short to house anything more than a Smart ForTwo which is 106.1 inches long. That design choice was a killer.
Here’s the thing… All the other design choices could’ve been overlooked but everything was thrown into question when the homeowner make a mistake like building a garage in which nothing more than a compact car could be stored. Buyers start questioning the education of the architect and the quality of the builder and the judgement 0f the homeowner. What other issues could be lurking behind the drywall that aren’t obvious? So the tiny garage, in and of itself, isn’t a big deal. There are buyers out there that don’t value a garage for much. The thought of embarking on the design and construction of a large addition without taking into consideration the thoughts of somebody else other than you is oftentimes a fatal mistake.
The home, as of today, has been on the market at a fair price if it were designed with the typical American buyer in mind but it’s been languishing on the market for 110 days, which, in this market is an eternity. I feel like the homeowners wanted to design a great master suite but left the family room and, especially, the garage as afterthoughts. Extending the addition out another 3 or 4 feet would’ve solved the glaring garage issue.
Would it have cost more to extend the addition out another 3 or 4 feet? Absolutely. Maybe the homeowners didn’t have any more money to put toward the project? If so, maybe don’t built that addition.
This sounds at first glance like a rant but it’s actually a cautioning anecdote. It’s prudent advice to anybody thinking about making any design changes to their homes and properties. My advice would be to design for the typical American buyer and, without a doubt, “don’t design for you” because you’re not thinking about the future you or your future heirs and, more importantly, it’s going to cost you or your heirs down the road.