… because that’s what architects do for fun

June 10, 2014 — 40 Comments

I don’t have a lot of spare time on my hands … in fact the last few weeks have been brutal. In a “I’m not complaining” sort of way, I think I’m sort of complaining – but just a little bit. One of the projects I am trying to tackle is the renovation of my own kitchen, which by all rights should be a lot of fun. While all architects, when working on their own home, suffer from paralysis from analysis, I am suffering from the age-old problem of simply not having enough time.

But that didn’t stop me from having a bit of fun this weekend when I decided to create a 3D model of my own house – because that’s what architects do for fun. They go into the office on the weekend and do the exact same thing they do all week-long … except this time they don’t get paid for the work they are creating.

Doesn’t that sound awesome!?!

Bob Borson existing kitchen plan

This is the plan of my kitchen as represented in the original construction drawings created in 1967. The kitchen looks like it was built in 1967 and most of it remains exactly as intended … from 1967.

3D house model plan perspective


So like any other self-respecting architect, I decided that rather than simply start drawing my kitchen plans up, I needed to model my entire house … because it’s fun.

No really, it’s a lot of fun.

I totally mean that and if you are an architect, you probably read that line and thought to yourself “He’s right … it IS fun.

3D house model birdseye view without beams

Despite the fact that it was fun, it will serve a purpose. I will use this 3D model of my house to have design conversations with my wife who will probably appreciate how much easier it is to see the various design concepts we have been discussing. Up until this point, those conversations typically involve a lot of pointing at stuff and waving our arms around as we both try to describe our point.

Hmmmm … if only one of us knew how to draw stuff. Oh yeah, that would be me, except I haven’t had time to do any real drawings.

Until now … but I have to keep it fun because I think that if you approach the design of a problem as a chore, the final product reflects your attitude. May sound stupid but that’s why I try so hard to make the design process fun, not just for me but for the people I work with. This is “supposed” to be an enjoyable process, remember? (When working on my own house, I have to keep reminding myself of that fact)

3D house model birdseye view with beams

I’ve been using SketchUp for a long time and when it comes to down and dirty models like the one I’m showing here, I can cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. I put this model together on Sunday – about 6 hours total. It’s not done, I haven’t added doors and it’s missing a few windows but for the most part, it’s pretty spot on.

3D house model exterior rear elevation

I had company up at the office when I was building this model – we have a project (it’s more of an art installation) that’s in Riyadh – the capital city of Saudi Arabia. It is extremely complicated and we are using Rhino and Grasshopper (fancy modeling software) to help generate and document the design – I’ll show it on the site here when I have a bit more information to present.

At any rate, I don’t know Rhino or Grasshopper but John Charbonneau, one our summer interns, knows it apparently quite well.

That’s right, I said “summer interns.

3D house model exterior preston elevation

So John and I both spent our Sunday up at the office working on modeling stuff. I needed to be there because a) I want to learn how to use Rhino and Grasshopper, and b) I needed to be around to talk design and construction regarding the stuff John was modeling, and c) I needed to get some work done on my own house project.

3D house model exterior back yard elevation

So here I am, watching John work all sorts of magic in Rhino (the stuff that program can do it ridiculously amazing) while I sit about 6 feet away modeling my own house in SketchUp. Don’t get me wrong, while I can’t work every bell and whistle in SketchUp, I consider myself to be extremely good at the software. I am as fast as anyone I’ve ever seen and so far, there isn’t anything I want to do that I haven’t been able to do.

I’m what’s know in my world as a “SketchUp Badass.” The fact that I am on the downhill slide of my mid-40’s just makes it that much more amazing. I’m like the Hell’s Angels of SketchUp …

3D house model rear perspective 02

So there I am, making SketchUp magic happening while John is sitting there doing his little Rhino model and we had this conversation:

Bob: So John … how’s your model coming along?
John: Pretty good. I’ve inserted the all the
Bob: [interrupting] Uh-huh, sounds great. So I’m modeling my own house over here in SketchUp … I’m (tongue-cluck with finger snap into pistol fingers) pretty good at Sketchup. Really good. Do you know SketchUp? Do you ever use SketchUp?
John: I haven’t really used it since high school.


What? [sigh] That’s right … he said he hasn’t “really used it since high school.”

Kids these days.

3D house model kitchen section


So much for feeling cool.


If you want to see the other posts I’ve written on my house and the adventures I’ve had since I bought it, just go here. If you just want some of the highlights, here are some of my favorites –

An Architect’s House | Ye Olde Sconces

Master Bath Shower – You Displease Me

Me + My House = Sucketh

Architect’s Don’t Always Get it Right


Happy modeling!

Bob AIA signature

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  • Nemanja

    I really like making models in SketchUp, it’s kinda best program for modelling by my opinion.

  • Bamgbopa Folarin

    i used sketchup for this too

    • dave

      hey hi . sir did you used sketchup for this ??? what’s the version you are using ??? this looks a heavy model .whats the size ???

  • Bamgbopa Folarin

    i too only use sketch up, and its been amazing, though it has made me unnecessarily lazy to learn revit though, but i love the laziness, making improve my sketch up modelling

  • Troy Mason

    I only used SketchUp, until I started using Rhino – after a pretty intensive 2 week stint of ONLY Rhino, there’s no way I could go back! Once you learn the basics it is MUCH easier and more intuitive than SketchUp (for starters, the blocks don’t all stick together automatically!). Also, Grasshopper is mind-blowing once you get your head around it.

    • I can imagine – seeing what John here in the office can put together and then the options of what he can do with the product afterwards is a strong argument to learn Rhino.

  • Jess Hopkin

    If it’s any consolation, I use sketch up all the time for trying to make my point at uni

  • Tony

    Bob, Im new to your blog, and I have had some reading a lot of your posts and insight. Although this one kind of struck a chord with me…

    Maybe you were being frivolous about your sketchup gloating, and sorry if i misinterpreted it, but it seems your modeling techniques need some serious work. For example, a lot of your solid forms seem to be connected, or on the same layer. Your chimney is in the same form as your walls, as are your kitchen counters. Down the line, its going to be a heck of a time trying to model new layouts with your existing geometry. Good practice in sketchup should be to group certain forms, and name the form on an appropriate layer.

    Ive been using sketchup since about 2003, when it was owned by @tlast software. I learned very quickly that its in best interests to set up models as organized as possible. It seems you might be sacrificing headaches down the line for ‘fast’ modeling from the get go.

    • Tony

      And after re-reading that, it came across as preachy, haha. Im just trying to share insight!

  • AlmostJane

    Very familiar with those “Oh I haven’t really used it since high school…” kind of comments. Next time you get one, see if you can work in something about your student loans being completely paid off – LOL!

    • especially if I want them to curl up under their desk and start rocking themselves back and forth as they mutter indecipherably

      • AlmostJane

        Hahaha! Still waiting to see that with even one of my university students. How mean am I? :>)

  • Joshua Mohr

    Bob are you using SketchUp or SketchUp Pro? Just curious as I am about to embark upon my own fun journey of modeling my own house so that we can renovate our own kitchen.

    • I literally upgraded yesterday to the latest release – SketchUp 2014 Pro

    • Michal Kuzniar

      Honestly, there is very little difference between Pro and Make. For beginners you won’t notice and if you would like plug-ins, they still work on both versions. Pro is necessary if you would like to create construction documentation, editable vector illustrations, or are using the software for commercial purposes. Amazing piece of software.

  • Ron Campbell

    I’ll be sharing this post with my wife later. I’m not sure if it will help her to know that I’m not the only one who does this, but at least it’ll make me feel better…

    • good thing your wife doesn’t read this blog …. or does she??

  • Rafael Gomez

    Oh men you are so funny I have been laughing all morning. You made my day..eh Kids these day !

    • I’m sure this happens to people in architectural offices all over the world. That’s okay, it will happen to intern when he gets older. It’s the circle of life!

  • Bobbi Roberta O Amico

    I enjoy SketchUp myself but don’t have enough time either. I remember the days when it was all done by hand…I don’t have the courage to throw out the old water color renderings I did in college (many moons ago). I also am designing a house for my husband and I – he is my worst client (LOL). I literally have years of floor plans in AutoCad and a few in sketchUp but hopefully one day we will build something. We already have the land in southern Az. As for your kitchen layout, it appears that you (or the chef) is right handed….I’m right handed but I use the left counter more due to the BTUs of the front burners. The area between the cooktop and the oven is small and could be larger in case a left handed person is cooking, if the huge pot for pasta overhangs or if the handles on the pans are rotated that way. It’s also good to have a larger counter next to the oven in case something is really hot. Have fun!

    • My wife and I typically share the cooking duties and I’m left-handed but she’s right-handed. The plan above isn’t the finished product but in some regards it’s not to far off.

      And you can never throw away old water color renderings – someday, somebody important to you will want to see them.

  • Dzintars Berzinskis

    Here in Shanghai SketchUp is actually used quite a lot for models, and the 3DS for renderings. I keep hearing that in EU, though it varies from company to company, they use a lot Rhino or other software and sketchup is falling behind a bit in popularity.

    • interesting – I’ll have to chat with John about that, see what he thinks. The stuff the architecture students are learning in college is whacky. Cool, but whacky.

      • Dzintars Berzinskis

        It’s also a bit frustrating at times, if you want to learn a new software. Because at this point there are quite a lot of them, and depending on where you go, USA, EU, Asia it can depend what’s more popular or not. For example the Revit. Here in Asia i haven’t noticed that it is used, but in USA it’s on a rise, and in south, like Dubai and other country’s in that area it’s quite popular supposedly from what i heard from few friends. Although i did use Revit in university, this problem still apply’s to other software >.< sigh

  • Ken Weinert

    What? [sigh] That’s right … he said he hasn’t “really used it since high school.”

    I know the feeling. I’ve been doing programming for a long time – I used the front panel switches to load my first program – and when another experienced guy and I were talking about those days one of the younger folks spoke up with “I learned about that in my computer history class.”


  • That does look fun. Unfortunately, my own house is only built in parts in sketchup (and I started a Revit model too, but the key word there was “started”). I suffer from the same ‘not enough time’ problem… Looking forward to updates on your kitchen though.

    • I had to just sit down and do it. Even though I didn’t really want to take the time, in the end I am happy I did – it took just the right day of playing hooky from the family to get the time

  • Doug Kuchta

    I’ll admit, I was making a revit model of my house before I actually closed on it. By the time the house was mine, I already had plans for a major renovation in 6 phases. A year later of swinging the hammer, all phases seemed to blend together and I’m almost complete phase 4… Good Luck on the project, I’m excited to see it progress.

    • 6 phases?!! I think my wife would kill me if I proposed a plan like that although it’s not really that much different than we are doing it. Ours isn’t in phases but rather room by room.

  • Christian

    its ok, I have to sketch things out with pencil and paper and have my father help me do the fancy design stuff with the computers.

  • Tina Ryan

    Just one suggestion about the layout of the kitchen. Place the fridge at other end of bench. It makes life easier for ducking into to kitchen to grab something from fridge without getting in the way of main activity around sink and island bench.

    • that doesn’t work due to the placement of the island – we need the clear space in front of the fridge doors. The island shown in the existing drawings didn’t get built but we are adding one during the renovation – pushing both ends towards the eating area

  • Dave B

    Great post as always! You are spot on! The only probably I have is you should be using Revit to model it! SketchUp is so 80’s and based on your age you know what I am talking about! I was fortunate and not so fortunate to design my own home at a young age (not the best time to do it have learned so much more since then) and it haunts me to this day! Enjoy the remodel!

    • Revit would have provided me with a more practical end product but it definitely would not have been fun – not at my skill level.

      I still do love SketchUp, it is a fast and effective tool for me. If I spent more time actually drawing on the computer, I’m sure things would be different.

  • Manuel Sá

    “I totally mean that and if you are an architect, you probably read that line and thought to yourself “He’s right … it IS fun.””

    oh god, you are a mind reader. I was so happy to read this post because i know what you mean by pure fun!!! I’m making the same thing for my house too, but on revit. So i leave you with a question: why dont you make the house on revit? i’m having a great time making all the little details 🙂

    • If I knew Revit better it would be a consideration but I wanted to try and get this model made in a single day – that wasn’t going to happen with Revit (at least not with me at the helm).

      I did show the 3D model to my wife and I could tell that she would still rather have the regular “contractor can price this out” sort of drawings.

      So practical …

  • Alan W

    That does sound like fun, and I’m not even an architect. When you are done, you should see if you can find someone with a MakerBot and 3d print it up. Probably in pieces so you can take strategically take it apart.. or so it could be used as a doll house! How awesome would that be?

    • Never thought about it but I know just the guy to talk with …. thanks for the idea!