A Story About Custom House Design

A Story About Custom House Design

This is a story about Ann and Roger Baxter and their desire to have their custom dream house designed and built on their beautiful land in Bowerton,  Indiappalacchia, USA.  Names and locations have been changed to protect the privacy of people.

Ann and Roger are in their late 50s and are planning for retirement.  They have planned well.  They have had their ups and downs, but have come out okay.  Especially now that the economy is starting to return to an even keel, the Baxters feel that they should plan to have a wonderful place in which to live on that country land that they purchased several years ago.

It is a panoramic ridgeline composed of 15 acres from the road down into the valley below.  Granite mountains are visible in a layered view, one offset behind the other, well into the blue haze in the distance.  Tall pine trees grace the sloping land, always green and gorgeous.  Boulders the size of houses dot the hillsides.  Turkey and deer graze on the fertile forest floor.  What a place in which to enjoy their well-deserved later years!


Ann was looking online and found a few “home design” companies that had several different premade sets of “plans.”  Roger liked to save a buck, so he thought that was the way to go.  He noticed that these were companies not indicating any licensed professionals on staff, like an architect.  “Well, “he figured, “What does it matter?”
So Ann bought a premade design, over the Internet, using her MasterCard, then waited.  Several days later, a cardboard tube arrived and inside she found the drawings.  She pulled them out with great anticipation.  She unrolled them and spread them out on the kitchen island counter with a big smile.  She started looking at the large, to-scale blueprints.  Gradually, her smile began to fade.  She immediately noticed several things that were not to her liking.  For instance, the kitchen did not have any windows, and was pushed off to the side, was not as large as she wanted, and was not close enough to the main Living Room area.

And the Master Bedroom faced the front (or entry) side of the house, which was not what she wanted at all, and the Master Bathroom faced a neighbor’s lot, and the garage was rather cramped.  Roger thought that it would be a tight fit there for both of their cars and that they would surely “ding” each other’s doors.  And the elevations, now more visible at this larger scale, looked rather cheap and did not have all the stone that Roger had wanted, and none of the timber beams he wanted in his retirement house, or roof gable features.  And the basement was an actual full basement with no windows.  Roger had wanted a walkout basement with a rear facing patio and wall of windows and doors.  The design they were looking at was not created for land with a slope as great as on their acreage.


Ann sat back and sighed.  “Well, I guess I just wasted some of our money on a design that we don’t really like…”
Roger drank a sip of his coffee, set his cup down next to the unrolled blueprints, and started to realize that perhaps ready-made designs were not what he had believed.
He said to Ann: “I guess we will not be able to find the exact home design we want in a premade configuration that satisfies all of our wishes.”
“Hmmmphf,” grumped Ann, crossing her arms and taking a sip of her iced tea.  Water condensed on the outside of her tall glass and trickled down onto the blueprints.  She didn’t really care.  She realized that her purchase was worthless.

What Ann & Roger just experienced is what many shoppers of existing plans experience: they have a very difficult time finding the exact design that meets their requirements, their land topography and their desires.

Roger thought for a few moments, then said: “Maybe we need to think about finding an architect to design a house meeting our specific needs and tuned to our property.”

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So, Ann got online again the next day, a Saturday, and looked again.  Instead of simply typing “Home Designs” into her browser, she typed in: “Home Architects.”
The first choice of the organic search options (after paid-for ads which she quite rightly ignored) listed: www.HomeArchitects.com .

This looked promising; the #1 listing of an architect who designs houses.  Ann clicked on the Google listing and up came the website… HomeArchitects.com
And lo and behold, it was the company of a residential architect.  Not just “residential designers,” but an actual licensed architect who specialized in the design of houses.   Ann looked at the homepage and was pleased to see that this company created custom residential designs, tuned to client lifestyles and client sites.

Still in his bathrobe and slippers, Roger shuffled up behind Ann, nuzzled her neck, then slurped on his ever-present cup of coffee.  “Watcha got there?’ he asked, looking over her shoulder at the residential architecture.

“Well” said Ann, “This appears to be what you asked for: the website of a company that has a licensed real architect who creates custom houses for his clients.”  She and Roger looked for about a half an hour on this website, clicking from page to page, enjoying various topics of interest to them, like how they could save hundreds of dollars each year by allowing this architect to specify more efficient insulation levels and higher efficiency lighting.  They realized that this was a very large website, totally focused on what they were seeking: professionals designing houses for custom client needs.  They realized that the website had over 400 pages of informative content, covering just about anything they might want to know about the programming, design and construction of houses.

Ann clicked the “Contact Us” menu choice at the top of the tool bar on the right side of every page of this website and up popped a simple, short form.  Ann typed in what she was looking for and clicked Send.  She sat back, expecting she would probably receive an answer maybe in a few days, maybe never. But suddenly her phone rang.  She picked it up and answered: “Hello?”

She was greatly surprised to discover that it was the architect whom she had just sent a form to.  And on a Saturday morning!

Roger looked at the website as Ann talked to the architect, a fellow named Rand Soellner.  Roger saw that this architect claimed to be available to his clients from 9AM through 9PM, 365 days a year.
“I guess he does what he says he will do,” said Roger.

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Needless to say, Roger and Ann Baxter engaged the residential architect to create their custom house, which he did, and they were very pleased and proud of the design.  It was built on their property and fit it perfectly.  The large glass doors and windows captured their views; and closets and other solid elements blocked other people’s ability to see within their house from surrounding roads and neighboring properties.  There was a very efficient use of space, with artistic results, suiting their requests.


The kitchen was everything Ann wanted, spacious and tall, with a large island, so that 8 guests and relatives could sit outside the Kitchen, but along the buffet side of the island, chatting with her as she prepared her meals.  And because the architect planned the aisles wider than in most kitchens, little Suzan and Jimmy could help clean up afterward, because there were 2 sinks and lots of space in which to move without bumping into each other.

And the utility bills were half of what they used to be in their previous house, thank to the architect’s energy efficiency specifications and higher levels of insulation.

Roger especially enjoyed the man-sized fireplace and the gas ignition feature, so that he could have wood fires during cold winter nights, and not have to be a Boy Scout to get the wood burning.  And the Summer Kitchen on the Outdoor Living Room had a bar and gas grill, like he had always wanted!

And Ann was delighted to enjoy having three floor to ceiling “shoe stacker” shelving units in the “Hers” side of the Master walk-in closet, to accommodate all of her sneakers, heels and sandals right where she wanted them.

There were large windows over the whirlpool tub, looking off at a private garden view.  And the master shower could fit both Ann and Roger with plenty of room to spare, because they got ready in the mornings at the same time.  No bumping elbows in there!  Lots of other features pleased them and every day they noticed something else that made them happy to have had a design custom made to their every wish.


One day, years later, it was Roger’s 60th birthday and the house was full of family and friends for a party.  Many relatives remained in the house that night, as the architect had planned for the guest rooms for the adults and a bunk room for the grandkids that Ann and Roger had requested, now, so long ago.  The wind started to blow fiercely outside.  Roger gave that no thought, he knew his house was built to resist high winds.  They heard cracking sounds in the woods outside but gradually fell asleep.

Long about 2AM, Ann felt a subsonic rumble, then the house shook.  Earthquake.   They both rolled out of bed, put on their bathrobes and slippers and opened their exterior glass doors, and listened.  It was dark, and they couldn’t see anything outside, but they heard sirens and burglar alarms from near and far.  The wind had stopped, but this was something else.

“Nothing to do right now,” said Roger, and they went back to bed, imagining that it was a minor tremor.

The next morning, as dawn was breaking, they got out of bed, put on their bathrobes again, and walked out on their Sleeping Porch, outside of their bedroom.  To their astonishment, many of the trees in the woods had fallen over from high winds, and the homes all around them were piles of rubble: total collapse.  And yet their house was intact.  How could this be?

County paramedics were everywhere on the neighboring properties, searching for survivors and those not so lucky.

Then Ann remembered their architect mentioning that residential building codes did not require that houses be built to resist seismic loads below a certain level, or higher winds beyond a certain speed, but that the architect felt it was important to provide some sort of additional capability in this regard, beyond “code minimums”.  Specifically, he had talked about “hold downs”, shear walls and other steel reinforcing and strapping, that their builder had grumbled about installing.  However, Roger had insisted that the architect’s documents be followed.  Ann and Roger walked into their kitchen and found their relatives joining them there, wondrous that they had survived the night, and thankful that they had a house designed that was strong, no matter what minimum code and cost cutting carpenters may have said.

Roger said, “thank heavens we had a real architect design our house…”  He looked appreciatively at the many family members coming into the kitchen from downstairs, swallowed, thinking about what could have happened, then turned around and walked to the bedroom.  He put on his bluejeans, an old Purdue sweatshirt and his running shoes, then walked outside toward the neighbors on the right, the Levy’s.  They were friends and he hoped he could lend a hand in helping the medics find them in the rubble.

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