I am an Architect and this is what I do

July 15, 2013 — 41 Comments

Bob Borson Devil and Michelle Borson Angel

My wife has told me on several occasions that I have ruined her. Before me, she would have been happy to live in a nice large, new, builder home with furniture straight out of the Pottery Barn catalog. Now, after spending 21 glorious years together, I have made her painfully aware of the terrible, the unplanned, the haphazard … I have shown her crazy roof lines, fake shutters, and all the perils of asymmetrical hierarchy when in the hands of an untrained professional. Unfortunately, I know shopping for houses, furniture, dishes … whatever, is a complete beating for her because I have a strong opinion about everything.

In my office, the design direction on most of our residential projects is driven by the women with the men relegated to creating one or two “man” rooms (typically a study, media room, or garage). For the most part, the men are grateful to not participate in the design meetings when fixture packages, color schemes, furniture arrangements, kitchen layouts, etc. (I could keep going for a while) are discussed. I can’t really guess as to why this is, it just is.

In the Borson household, my poor wife can’t make a move without getting unsolicited input from yours truly. You can’t really blame me – I’m an architect … this is what I do! I spend an exorbitant amount of time thinking about these things compared to the average person (you know … because it’s my job). For all I know, I am judged by every Tom, Dick and Harry Jill, Sue and Mary who comes over to my home (not that there are lots of women coming over to my house, let’s focus here people!). I can’t help but think that all the design concessions my wife and I extend to one another in the “spirit of compromise” dilute the design vision of our house. We have spent hours talking about cabinet pulls, butt hinges, concrete pads, even plants, but since we don’t have a single leader, everything decision goes through a selection process.

Another crippling blow that I routinely strike comes when it times to buying furniture. If I can’t afford to buy exactly what I want, I would rather not spend anything. As a result, and after 18 years of marriage, we still have rooms that contain furniture that has been cobbled together over the years from a myriad of questionable sources. I want an Eames lounger AND ottoman but I can’t buy them yet, so be prepared to sit on someone’s lap if you come over.

This process is insane and I know I don’t handle it well. I’m used to people coming to me as the expert and paying to hear me tell them what to do in all matters of design. Only since moving into our current home have some of these things have started to change. 4 years ago we moved from our house of approximately 3,000 square feet to our current house of 2,000 square feet … we had to get rid of a lot of stuff. That process of reduction has empowered us to buy nicer things for the simple reason there was less to buy. A perfect example is door hardware. Our previous four homes all had door hardware from Home Depot or Lowe’s – but this house, since there are only 7 doors, we were able to purchase some really nice stuff, almost extravagant. This was a luxury we never considered possible before.

Borson House and Site plan

Borson House and Site Plan

Lately, my wife and I have been spending more and more time talking about how we can add an addition onto our house. We don’t need the additional space from a square footage standpoint, it has more to do with the programming associated with the rooms we have – we need a second living space (aka – “a playroom”). I am a big advocate of having two living rooms in a house, especially if you have children. The house I grew up in had two living rooms and this allowed my parents to be in one room and my friends and I in the other. I didn’t ever think this through when I was a kid but now that I am a grownup with a kid of my own, I want her to have a space where she can have her friends over to hang out and play.

As much as I want this playroom, my wife REALLY wants this room. In fact, a few moments ago she said that we should have a design competition between she, my daughter and me (the professional, highly skilled, and licensed super-architect) to design this new space. C’mon man! I’m not just some guy in the next cubicle, this is what I do!! She might have tossed this comment into the room just to get me off the computer and to actually start sketch something up, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case.

Truth is, my wife is way smarter than I am (despite the fact that she married me) and she probably knows that it’s really difficult for architects to work on their own house -and this is simply her way of helping me move things along.

So I suppose I should start working on some designs to create a playroom …

… or maybe a pool?

Wish me luck, my wife is going to need it.

Bob-AIA scale figure

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  • JamieinKona

    You (we) don’t “have to do it” because it is your job… it is your job because you have to do it…

  • Lee

    Architect isn’t a proper profession though is it?

    • I don’t even know what that means – I get up, go to work,collect a paycheck … seems pretty proper to me at the basest of levels and with the most minimal of criteria.

      maybe I’m missing your point, which is …?

      • Lee

        I mean its a bit wanky – you aren’t down a pit hacking away at a coal face or rounding up sheep on a mountain top. Your good at drawing straight lines with a ruler and have some basic engineering knowledge but can you put a garden shed up or dismantle a Motorbike?

  • Bri

    Get a roper job you pretentious tw@t

  • Majid Ronnie

    I like being an architect and its what am on because am doing ma bachelor in arctecture but there many challenges that comes in ma way i really dont know what to do,I need some advises or support to full fill ma dreams

  • Leah Sophia

    The few months I spent cleaning new construction was one of my favorite jobs ever (I’d have done it lots longer if my boss hadn’t kept underbidding jobs to get them, and then paying her daughter $1.00 / hour to break even). As we’d go around the mostly residential properties that in a previous life I would have jonesed after, she’d point out everything in the world that was wrong with almost every aspect of their construction, typically preceded by “this is the type of house you’d be buying.”

    • I’m sure that was a good learning experience for you – that’s a great time to get into a house, it easy to see the intent before life gets in there and starts to cloud things up with “actual living”

  • Thanks for the tips… Now gearing up for the married life 🙂

  • Aimee Gray

    Glad I am not the only that has these experiences. I love your site, especially the “Do you want to be an Architect?” section. I am an architect but teach interior design and find there is a lot of misperceptions about exactly what it is that we do. I started my own company three years ago and have found that it has not been terribly difficult to make the money I made working at a firm, while have the freedom in my schedule to make life much more enjoyable.

    • so glad to hear that things are running well for you – I wish more people with positive experiences would share them, at times it seems only the folks down on the profession make time to debate the value of becoming an architect.


  • idarchie

    My husband is a residential builder and I am an architect. We are sooo good at picking EVERYTHING apart! Sometimes we talk about building a house together. I’m not even sure we are capable of finishing the design process…..

  • Mark Mc Swain

    A realted note. Back in my brief, firefly DB life, I wound take advantage of being one of the “bosses” and go work out my frustrations in actual labor to finish the creation of one of our office’s marvels. This was educational on several levels. Particularly on one special day.
    Because of the desing process, there wound up being 4 different schedules for interior window trim. This was both compromise and brilliant success in value-added design. I’m taking a break from the hardscaping outside, and having a cool drink indoors. Wher I hear the trim carpenter going off–“[quite skilled profanity]-Archy-teks! They are all [more well-crafted profanity]. every one of them. Lookit this winder–MDF, M-D-F, M [expletive] D[expletive] F[expletive]! Am’ wastin’ guud wuud traim inna laundry and bat-rooms, anna like! [Neat summation in profanity[”

    While inpressed with the skill in invective, he was not getting work done in a timely way, so, I let him off the hook.

    “Buddy, the MDF cased windows are getting drapes, skrims, and a swag, each. You could create the Sistene Chapel of window casing in these rooms, and no one will ever see it. These will get a contrasting trim paint that will look exceptional in MDF, and you will not have to return any corners nor cope any joints (you have the skills to get the parts to fit right, that’s why you are here–if any one looks, every flaw you make will be there to be seen.

    The “utility” spaces are getting hardwood trim because they are getting wood shutters in a “pickled” finish–your casing work there has been superb. You might want to do School Call for your helper for the paint-grade ash casing.

    Oh, and we’ve deciding whether to ask you to do the stain-grade work in the Library and Study–right now, the only thing holding that back is that your cousin is taking too long with the casework–are you willing to work with a different supplier?”

    Yeah, “gobsmacked” had his picture in the dictionary that day.

    Just one more thing I miss in this horrible economy.

    • you seemed to handle the situation quite skillfully, look like things worked out pretty well for the both of you!

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Question: Full living space, or Away Room a la Susanaka?

    • full living space

      • Mark Mc Swain

        The logic of it ‘works,” too.
        I know I have to be careful, since my own preferences are very much shaped by some of the elegances of “Not So Big.” Particularly, the appeal of a larger, “sprawl” space contrasted to a more intimate, closer, neater space like an “away” room. (If occasionally through a Usonian filter.)

        Which is a good reminder that this biz of ours is not about what we want, but what the customer wants.

  • nathan

    my wife once accused me of being conceited when i dared to disagree with the 17-year-old Home Depot clerk’s assertion that the $17 discount light fixtures were “really nice”.

    • that’s one of those moments when technically speaking, you were both right. Nice is a relative word and for as much grief as I receive at time for designing the large houses I do when only 2 people live in them I’ve learned that everyone has a different scale of what’s reasonable, nice and/or appropriate.

      I believe some people call this “working the room your in”

  • Matthew

    My wife and I are both architects so it is 2x as painful. It typically takes us 1 year to make a decision (1 day of disagreeing, 363 days of not-discussing it, 1 day for compromise, 1 day of execution) then a lifetime of hating the outcome. We decided to paint our house, took us forever to pick the colors, we came home ½ way through, we both hated it so much and made the painter re-paint all of the trim because
    it was masking-tape yellow!

    • I have heard from several architect husband/wife teams and they seem to be split on how hard (or how easy) the design process is when there are two architects involved. There’s probably a lesson in all this … compromise is a makeup in everyone’s process.

  • Try living in a house with another architect. My wife also has a background in architecture. Our biggest problem, is she comes up with these ideas that I am left to design/build. I am still trying to finish our second living room/play space and I already have the kitchen, elevated deck, etc. on the list of projects that need to be done.

  • Sara

    I grew up in a 2 story house with 3 siblings that had the main living room downstairs and then a small playroom upstairs with all of the kids’ rooms off of it. It even had a door, so if we got too loud we could just shut it and not bother our parents. This was by far one of the best rooms in the house.

    • I’m sure as the kids got older, your parents were glad to have your friends over at your house so they could keep tabs on who was where and doing what … typical parenting type stuff really.

  • LAK

    We have lived in our house for 43 years and we are still in the process of “finishing it”. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a finsihed house. I can only imagine that it must be very boring! LAK/ Architects Wife

    • 43 years and it’s not done “yet”? I think this is more about the evolution rather than starting at point A, knowing where point B is, and never getting there. No architect will ever be done with their house – ever.

  • Brett Wolfe

    I began to notice that most things my wife picks out have some random frilly pattern on them (she loves the patterns, and the patterns may be great, but she never relates it to everything else we already have). she looks at me with scorn every time i point out that frilly-pattern-1 will never match frilly-pattern-2…. we eventually to settled for a “one frilly pattern per room” rule

    • Settling … that’s where it starts. Before you know it, your going to wake up one day and discover that you have sofa’s with rounded arms and dust covers.

  • Robert Moore

    My wife of almost 29 years simply refuses to acknowledge that I am an architect. Recently she and my son(27) we discussing something about our house and my son naively said “why don’t you ask dad, he’s an architect” . My wife looked at him like that was the most stupid thing he had ever said.

    • If that didn’t sound so funny I would probably cry.

  • Ha, the phrase “I am an architect” was recently stricken in our house.

    • You should move on to the phrase “I am THE architect” (but only after you’ve done something amazing like picked up after yourself without having to have been told to do it)

  • Sheldon Wolfe

    While in architecture school, we often were invited to small parties at the professors’ homes. After the fourth one, my future wife asked, “Do any architects live in finished houses?” After more than forty years, she still asks the same question.

    • Hah! I hope my wife isn’t reading this – I think she’s still holding out hope.

  •  Wait, wait, wait. You have strong opinions? 

    • maybe … sometimes?

    • my opinions are tempered with love, care and understanding (as long as you eventually agree with me)

  • Bob

    my wife blames/accredits me with making her a modernist.