Design As You Go

In this age of instant gratification (if that’s what it is) there is no reason to wait on satisfying our desires.  But I was reminded of the usefulness of waiting while working on a recent project. We were trying to plan a kitchen make-over, and the owner and I were having a hard time visualizing the whole project.  No matter how much thought we put into it, we couldn’t come up with ideas that we knew were going to work.  So we wound up just doing one thing at a time.

 So the idea is simply this: don’t do it all at once.

 Instead, just do one part of the idea, then live with it for a while before diving in to the rest.

The idea is not for everyone, of course, or every project. But in this case, we had little choice. We could see that until we had some information about how the first part looked and worked, we’d be unable to visualize an idea for the rest of the makeover. The cabinet doors were the bottleneck in the design. Once they were in place, we would be able to decide what was next, but not before.

My wife and I inadvertently followed this philosophy…though we never intended to…when we built our new home and woodworking studio. It was a consequence of running out of building cash. The basic structure got built, a sympathetic building inspector let us move into the house with the basic safety essentials, but many of the other things we wanted–bookshelves, kitchen cabinets with real doors, a window seat, a fireplace, bedroom doors–had to be postponed.

Although frustrating, we discovered that the constraints had an unexpected benefit: by the time we did get around to finishing the kitchen doors, the bookshelves, the window seat, we had been living in the space for a few years. The time and experience being in the house without all those things, taught us much better what it was we wanted. We realized that many of the ideas we started out with would have been expensive mistakes, had we managed to get them done.

Sometimes design is linear, and you can’t know what Step B will look like until you can touch, feel, and live with Step A for a little bit.

It requires more patience, and being willing to wait. But the results are usually a better fit.

This isn’t my idea. I encountered it in a book that I will highly recommend, whether you’re currently involved in some type of design or building project or not:  A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander. This is a classic work, a compilation of what he calls “patterns” that he and his co-authors have discovered in the course of Architecture careers, in the designing of things from rooms to houses, to entire communities. The collaborative work finds these patterns, discerns which ones work and which ones don’t, then describes fixes for the ones that don’t.

A few of the patterns: “Light on Two Sides”;  “Cascade of Roofs”;  “A Room of One’s Own”;  “Zen View”, and my personal  favorite, “Site Repair”.  (Briefly: when placing a home on a building site, avoid the temptation to put the house on the nicest part of the site, but instead build it in the very worst spot.  Once you read the pattern, you will probably agree.) This book is an eye-opening read whether you are in the throes of construction or not.

But if you’re looking for inspiration, trying to figure out what will work best for the next idea, do things the easy way: just wait it out. When the time is right, it will happen.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *