How to Plan a House, Stage I

Do you recall the first house you designed, the little box house with a gabled roof, a four-square window, a door, smoke from a chimney, the sun the tree the path, mom and dad and dog, tail-wagging, and yourself there, perhaps with brothers and sisters.  Well, that was my first house design, best I can remember.  I expect your first house design was some variation on the type.  We all want much the same thing, being the creatures that we are.

Later house designs became fantastic.  Solar house designs were in fashion some sixty years ago, so mine had a glass roof, a courtyard, alike the homes of my Mid-Century Modern California family.  As with me, I expect that as you grew so grew your dreams, your knowledge, your desires.  Mine grew beyond reason, beyond sensible economics.

How to Plan a House

Italian Renaissance, Color Variations and Plan; TBH, Michael Curtis, designer

And then, I have some gift in rendering, in imagination, in organization, in procrastination which allowed me to hone skills in numerous crafts, not least, the craft of architecture.  Perhaps you too suffer these gifts, though most do not.  God’s plan, I suppose.

If I want a house, as occasionally I have, I draw the thing in pencil or CAD and set about finding a fellow to build the house for me, then I get-in-the-way with hammer, saw, and opinion.  Here, I expect that your experience differs from mine, most do, that you have neither a scale, a CAD program, an education in architecture, and worse, have never heard of a Simpson Tie Down.  If so, your progress in mature house-design stalls at the pencil on lined paper, clipped-photographs stage.

Well, what’s to do?  Contact a fellow like me.  Or contact me.  Or choose among the hundred horrid houses-of-too-many-gables now common through every houseplans website.

Let us say, “I like that house, and one like this house.  I like those windows, this yard, and some of the features.” and you can see the challenge.  Consider the challenge to be alike a simple polka composed by a hard-rock band performed by The London Philharmonic.  You get the picture.  Disparate elements.  Incompatible themes.  Cacophony.  To simplify the task and narrow the challenge: Usually best to choose a style, a style compatible with a neighborhood, a style suited to your and your family’s personality and identity.  If you would be content, if you would be happy.

How to Plan a House

Mid-Atlantic Neighborhood: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer


How to Plan a House, Stage II

So then, a good place to begin is with books on house styles; one of the many available is linked, at bottom.  You will find, as most do, that you incline to this style or that, that you have a feeling alike the feeling when in a museum-period-room where you think or say, “Ah, this feels like home.”  Likely, you will find several styles with which you feel at home, and likely these styles will share common characteristics.  Soon, by studying close, you will discover what it is about a style that attracts you.

How to Plan a House

Italian Renaissance, Plan and Elevation: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer

A style selected, list and count the rooms, bedrooms, water-closets, common-rooms, specialty-rooms, outdoor-rooms, storage, cars and the rest.  The house might become large, might become small, might become grand, might become tiny as the family and family budget is inclined.  And, as the site is inclined, a site in country, suburb, city, each after the character of the place.

A style, a size, a site selected, and now to design.  And here, choose a designer with whom you feel comfort, in whom you have confidence.

Now, should you choose a ready-made plan from a houseplans site, select a style from a drop-down menu.  Most sites have some variation of style selection, though many sites … in truth … houseplans sites do not much consider style, beauty, your needs, hopes and desires, they just want to sell you a digital or paper plan and move to the next customer.  The style sections of houseplan sites are baskets of confusion, because the tech-servers, the designers and architects have, for the most part, no style, no knowledge of style, and often dislike the constraints of style.

Yes, because trained in modern schools that eschew traditions and disciplined practice, the vast majority of architects lack detailed, and sometimes, working-knowledge of style.  You should know: architects are trained to self-expression when they should be trained to expressing a client’s vision.  Best to choose your design or designer with foreknowledge and care.

How to Plan a House

Traditional Neighborhood, House III: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer


How to Plan a House, Stage III

How to plan a house?  By political persuasion, by material condition, by economic discipline, by definition of the person(s) for whom the house is planned?  The first of these considerations, “political persuasion”, can be jettisoned because impermanent, always changing and soon forgotten.

A house is permanent, for the most part, a thing created of materials in economic constraint, fashioned to serve a family, to gently integrate into a community both friendly and neighborly.  And a house is a building of civilization, a family’s contribution to history, to the beauty and to the wealth of the nation.  Most importantly, a house is a home, center of love in family.

How to Plan a House

Tidewater, The Franklinton: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer

The Beautiful Home [TBH] houseplans are fashioned to strengthen families, are designed economically, are traditionally modeled in sensitivity to neighborhoods and neighbors.

To date, TBH offers 14 houseplans in 4 styles, examples of what is possible.  Each month, readymade plans are featured, are illustrated to demonstrate qualities of style and history, the history of precedents that lead to a style’s creation.  In the first month of TBH, to place the American home in context, and to demonstrate a house-style’s potentialities in design (then until now), Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello was highlighted.

These days, much of what is found in houseplans is a mishmash, a flubbing of the architect’s art, of the builder’s craft, an embarrassment to architect, builder, and owner when, eventually, an owner compares her house to some more refined, more beautiful example.*

TBH plans are thoroughly, carefully, artistically considered; TBH plans historically update cultural heritage to accommodate new convenience; TBH houses respond to social and technological fashion by inventing within tradition; and TBH homes are family-centered, arranged to usher a family through a day, to return a family into its self.

How to Plan a House

American Empire, The Ideal Villa: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer


Next month, February 2022, The Beautiful Home will offer building-sets of style examples already presented in these pages, and TBH will begin to design homes unique to specific families.  Throughout the years, TBH will follow construction of select houses by photograph and description (and perhaps video) so that families can come to know the process of house construction, its practices, potentialities, and limitations.

Details of building-sets, the commissioning process, participation in The Beautiful Home program and magazines will be forthcoming in these pages.

How to Plan a House

Tidewater, The Franklinton-104 Elev & Truss: TBH, Michael Curtis, designer


*   *   *


* If in the process of designing a new house or creating an addition, you might want to reference these books on tradition in construction, on architectural details, and on domestic architectural style: Mouzon & Henderson: Traditional Construction Patterns; Cusato & Pentreath: Get Your House Right; Virginia & Lee McAlester: A Field Guide to the American House.


Featured image: Dreamhouse.  credit: Szasz-Fabian Ilka Erika


*   *   *