The Cheapskate Architect, Explained
What the heck is a cheapskate architect? I’d like to try to answer that in a series of blog posts. The short answer is: an architect who helps solve tricky design problems in a simple way that doesn’t have to involve spending loads of money. The solution must have integrity and quality; cheapskate in this case doesn’t involve cutting corners or doing things ‘on the cheap’.
Partly it is a response to living in rough economic times, and while these times doesn’t affect all strata of society equally, I have met many people who want to improve their houses but are unable or unwilling to pay the huge costs that most architect designed projects require. In looking back at some of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on in recent years, they all share a common thread: a lot of design bang for a limited buck. It is also a response to the other realities of our time.
While I think we are all entitled to live our lives the way we want, we happen to be living in times that allow us unprecedented access to consumer goods, to suburban houses, to incredible technology. I think that these things have not brought our society all that was promised, and I don’t think this ease will last. I think it’s important to find ways to live a good life without such dependence on consumer items, and on cheap fuel. I think there are better and simpler ways to do things. I would rather grow a few vegetables in my garden, and be reconnected to seasons, to mild labor, and to the always rewarding phenomenon of harvest, than to spend that time watching tv or on the internet. I like having a backyard cottage, and the sometimes complex and more often rewarding social interaction that results, not to mention the income generated, and the incremental increase in the density of the neighborhood, which has many other benefits.
To bring this back to architecture, I plan to go over a few recently designed and built projects that show the subtle design moves that enabled the project to feel more generous and whole than expected, while keeping an eye on the budget. I’ll also go deeper into my ideas of how to get more out of your house and your living arrangements by incorporating some simple design strategies, and I’ll show some ways I’ve tried to integrate this line of thinking into my life.
Case Study, part 1
A major house remodel, with no added square footage. Today we’ll look at the bathroom.
The clients have 2 young children, and their house had a poor interior layout that they wanted to change. While the house had 3 bedrooms, the front bedroom had 2 doors, one of which opened into the living room and the other which opened into another bedroom. The front entry opened directly into the living room, which felt abrupt. The small kitchen felt disconnected from the rest of the house. And the bathroom felt small and inadequate. We were able to solve all of these problems, and the design solution gave the house a wholeness that it previously lacked.
The bathroom is the focus of today’s story. The before version of the bathroom felt cramped, and had very minimal storage. The toilet had inadequate clearance, the tub was shallow and unusable for adults.
Our solution was multifold: we moved the plumbing wall to increase the toilet clearance, and to allow for a 2 sink vanity. We swapped the swinging door for a pocket door, and we trimmed back the back of the adjacent bedroom closet to improve clearance. We added a window, installed a soaking tub, retiled the tub / shower stall in a beautiful client-chosen glass tile, and we added a skylight. Now the bathroom is a real retreat, open to the sky and the yard (luckily we didn’t have any privacy concerns), and it serves the needs of the family much better.