Ignorance really is bliss

June 3, 2010 — 37 Comments

Bob asked me to write a post on his blog at the request of several readers. It seems that there are a lot of people who are interested in knowing what its like to live with an architect. I wasn’t sure exactly what to write about because there are oh, so many peculiarities and defining characteristics of my husband being an architect. I do think, however, that I came up with the one thing about Bob being an architect that most changed me. I call it the ignorance factor. Let me explain:


“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin


Bob has ruined me.  Yes, I know that sounds pretty harsh.  My husband (and possibly all architects) are extremely specific.  Bob talks about how in college they had to be able to articulate the smallest detail and understand how to explain ‘why’ they liked something.  It wasn’t ok just to like something, there had to be a reason and you had to be able to articulate it.  Now, I don’t know if this is an architect trait or just a Bob trait, but either way, Bob has it in spades.  And by the way, he has passed this lovely trait down to my daughter.  You can feel sorry for me now.

How this relates to living with an architect is this.  Pre-Bob I would have been perfectly happy buying what I would call a ‘builder home’.  By builder home, I mean those subdivisions where every 6th house is the same and you go in and ‘build’ your home by picking out the floor plan, the roof, what the front will look like, etc. out of a pre-determined kit of parts.  When I was a child we used to go to the model homes and I would dream of those homes being mine.  We always lived in ‘used’ homes and I wanted one of those ‘new’ homes.  Somehow, new seemed better.  As an adult, I would still have blissfully loved to have one of these homes, even if it looked exactly like the house six doors over.  I would have never known that the house had too many rooflines or had poorly designed spaces or wasn’t built with quality parts.  I would have LOVED the large walk-in closets and big kitchens.  But no.  Bob had to go and point out all those things that are wrong with them and now, I’m painfully aware of their problems and I can’t stand them either.  And it makes me mad.  I just want my ignorant bliss back.  I really want to be able to buy my reasonably priced builder home, decorate it in floral fabrics, pick out wallpaper and coordinated paint colors, and enjoy it – and I can’t.

So now we live in a house with lots of ‘potential’ because it doesn’t have any of the typical pimples that architects abhor.  The problem is that my friends don’t really understand potential.  They just think my house looks run down.  They don’t care that the floor plan was carefully laid out on a grid and that each room conforms to that pattern.  They don’t get the modern aesthetic.  They just see that the closets are small and there’s no granite or stainless steel in the kitchen.  Bob’s friends, however, totally get it.  They can look beyond the old, dull concrete floors that need to be re-polished and say ‘wow, this house is so cool and has great potential.’  They then begin discussing all the things we could do to it with great excitement.  Unfortunately, we never have ever, ever hit that ‘potential’ because of the amount of money it costs to get there.

So, therein lies the dilemma.  I’m tired of living in a house that has potential.  I want a house that looks good.  I want people to say ‘you’re house is gorgeous’ rather than ‘you’re house could be gorgeous’, but I can’t afford the house that would be approved by an architect and complete.  Besides, I think Bob likes the idea of getting there more than the finished product.  I find myself driving down the street going ‘wow, look at all those conflicting rooflines’ and I actually cringe at myself.



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  • austincat

    I’ve been married to an architect for almost 4 months. As I was reading, I laughed as your words brought to mind the binder we have with the plans he drew (3 times) for our 90+-year-old home that he started restoring 7 years ago; took him 2 years just to get it to plumb. Forget even looking for another home — I don’t think I could find anything that could come close to any of the plans he has for this home. There will always be a project going on around here and I truly enjoy being a part of it. The beauty of being married to an architect is I can always count on him to keep life interesting. Combine that with the fact that he was also a contractor in another life and I get to actually see (and help) with the construction. Shopping for furniture is never really shopping because he can build anything — and do it better and make sure it fits in the perfect location. I don’t have to worry about missing any flaws no matter what we’re looking at — he always finds them. If I think I like a certain color/painting/light fixture, etc. and I can’t accurately explain why I like it he’ll find a way to make me like the same color/painting/light fixture, etc. he does. I have no idea how he manages to do this. He’s the only person I have ever met that has the same affinity I have for rocks. Yes, rocks. If I want something that he says won’t work my response is always — “You’re the architect. Make it work.” 😉 And he does. And does it better than I imagined.

    If I could just get him to replace the $1000 words with the $3 to $5 ones that the normal population utilizes…of course, that requires coming up with a substantial reason why. It’s easier to just write down the word and look it up later.

    Thank you for your insight and humor.

  • timallard

    Just finding this blog and reacting.
    To add in off-grid function to the look quandary, this tiny home demo’s look follows function … adding daily storage of thermal for space heating-cooling, has the water-sewage along with power.

    So this is from helping design & build passive solar first one 1980, an indie architect having an AIA sign it off, they were all over-designed using the design criteria of the era, too conservative on gain, too generous on losses.

    Three images for remodels to share:

    First, exterior insulation on top of sheathing is the way to insulate homes, batting is “helpful” by contrast, less heat-loss via far less conduction over 6-2/3hrs, showing 1/3rd the temp loss using the board, hemp-mortar is better by adding thermal-mass & fireproof as an exterior, gunite equipment ok for application.

    Second is a thermal-mass stack for crawl-space or deck for any home to use attic air & the existing heater & AC to soak up therms BEFORE going to rooms to get most excess into mass for later that plugged into existing ducting.

    Third is the elevation facing east of the tiny home demo for myself with an enclosed “porch”, the glazings angled as it’s gusty to 35-knots & using Earthship principles to demo them applied to existing homes with the goal to PASS CODE as add-ons for any home.

    Great blog, nice to find, yours … tom

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  • James

    I’m still a kid at 19 years old and I’m still single, but I do talk a lot like an architect (being an architecture student) when shopping for furniture- dissecting its dimensions, ergonomics, and how well it will go with the rest of the house. My voice tends to be heard throughout the whole furniture store. Lol. That explains why my parents get that annoyed, bored look whenever I would talk about furniture. So yeah, we end up not buying anything from the store in the end. My future wife might feel the same way. Thanks for this info anyway. Hilarious, and possibly might explain why it takes me at least ten attempts before I am satisfie with my designs.

  • Amn

    “But the house doesn’t _want_ to have that couch…” I can hear it now! LOL.

    Same goes in this household of 2 architects, but at least we speak the same language. Our trouble is that we have different favorite styles.

    So I suppose that I’m not the only one who has complete floor plans drawn of every house that I’ve ever owned, complete with outlets and our furniture -before we closed on the purchase?


  • Akil

    As a free spirit who thinks design should be based on feeling not constrain, I always thought my boyfriend had anal retentive disorder. After reading your blog and replies, I no longer think that. I now think he is just anal. God Bless our architects. 🙂

  • Peter

    I thought I had a way around this – I married an architect.
    That way I hoped we could skip the intro to architecture and get directly to our
    sophomore year. Hellas! Now it is even worse.
    It is like 2X magnification: everything doubles: the too many lines on
    the roof look double, the screwed details look awful, and the mismatched paint
    is terrible. The time to make a decision doubles too. It took us two years to
    agree on a kitchen table, four years for the couch. Six years after we both the
    house the paint color is still on the workings. Same goes for the carpet, the
    fire place, the kitchen, and the garage storage cabinets. For this reason almost
    everything is in its initial state. But we keep working on it. Maybe one day we
    will come to an agreement. Meanwhile our
    twins grow up.

  • Andrea

    ABSOLUTELY brilliant and we both laughed and my husband agrees…..  (although he does have an architect’s mind too due to upbringing)

  • Usonian2

    I have been married to an architect for over 50 years, went all through school with him.  Although I was in a different curriculum, I spent my studying time in the design studio (then referred to as the drafting room).  Definitely wonderful preparation for “living with an architect”.  Our house has been under construction for 42 years.  Cannot imagine living in a finished house.

  • Bob

    I turned my wife into a modernist and now she has her very own architectural rants.

  • Brian B.

    Dear Bob’s Wife: You’re not alone out there. Before I (finally) got married, a lot of the women who dated me said that it was like taking an intro course to architecture with side benefits of dinners and movies.

    We actually built a house of my own design a few years back and at one point my wife commented, “I didn’t know there were that many decisions to make! Since you are obviously enjoying yourself why don’t you finish up the rest yourself.”

    With that she kicked off her shoes, fixed herself a drink and reclaimed all the Saturdays for herself. (And she was very happy with the results I might add.)

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  • “I think Bob likes the idea of getting there more than the finished product.”  How many relationships have been killed by this truism?  One of the most destructive things I “learned” in archschool was that nothing is ever done.  I loved the idea of it then, but fight against it every day now.

    • David Bourbon

      As Valèry said, “A poem is never finished—it is abandoned.” So goes architectural design.

  • archimags

    He’s lucky you listen and understand.. 🙂

  • ElizaM

    You’re reading my mind! As an architecture wife, I underhand ALL of this! We did finally get to add onto the house, but I see all the things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

    We critique layout and design everywhere we go! On the other hand, I’m in marketing and have made him notice every instance of product placement in movies and TV. Turnabout, I suppose.

  • Julie

    Brilliant! and oh so true. I have however totally contaminated my husband as well… and just to let you know – our house currently looks like Beyrouth – and my Husband (a non-architecte) is behind it all!

  • AndraWatkins

    Michelle, I am a very late commenter, but I just found this blog today as a link for my own post about being dragged around a freezing graveyard by my architect husband. Your post made both of us laugh out loud, as we can equally relate to it. Thank you for guest starring and providing the partner perspective in the architectural universe. 🙂

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  • LOL great article, reminded me of the time I dragged my wife to a model train show, and as we passed one display, she commented “that tank car is too new to be running with that train”. I laughed out loud.

  • Michelle, I had to chuckle more than a little over your post. I’ve been following Bob’s blog for awhile now. My husband works at an architecture firm and is back at college for his degree in architecture. We have a 1930’s “run down” farmhouse that has tons of potential (with a bulldozer and temporary housing for about a year *smiles*). He has drawn and redesigned the house a ton of times to make it better. Sadly, to bulldoze half of the house is expensive so we wait for potential one day and I in the meantime will don my paint brush and “make it better”. But, working for a timber frame company, I too suffer from going to a new town and finding myself looking at the design of a home or business and pointing out flaws, so I guess I’m just as bad 🙁

  • carmine

    it's very beautiful!

  • Nell

    My husband wont let me comment on a restraunt's design until after dessert – sigh… But when we go out with a sister architect and her husband the guys don't have to know how we tear apart the design on our way to the powder room – and how we stroke all the finishes on our way! I have also bought a home that has nice bones but worry that my architect's salary will NEVER let me flesh out it's structure and skin it in what it deserves.

  • I too have been married to an architect for many, many years. Gone are the holidays of walking into a holiday hotel room, enjoying the view and the flowers/chocolates on the pillow and saying “wow this is a great hotel”…. he in the meantime would be tapping on the walls, looking at the fixtures, commenting on the cheapness, bad workmanship and poor design. We don’t argue about: what furniture to buy, paint to use, renovations… It means soooo much to him, I let him wallow in doing his thing.

  • Great job Michelle! I think you have nailed it on the head for many significant others. I know it has around my house.

  • Fantastic post Michelle, it's good to hear the other side. Enjoy your vacation!

  • INFILLnc

    Thank you Michelle! I've forwarded this to my wife. I'm guessing she'll be nodding in agreement as see looks around our drafty house of potential, in NC.

  • Ahhhh yess… I have that same affliction and am sparingly passing it on to my wife to save her the anguish I suffer. As an artist I spent years providing decorative arts to the rich and famous. I have seen almost every amenity and luxury ever offered in a home. I've adorned hand carved custom cornice with gold leaf in walk-in-closets as big as my entire house. I once watched in awe as a tile-guy (more like artist himself) hand beveled the edges of his marble tiles at the threshold using graduating degrees of emory blocks. Quality… I've seen it… excess, I've seen it… The downside of this exposure is that I want everything to be of the same quality in my life. Alas I point out to my wife that the cased opening in our kitchen is 9ft. and the casing is only 8ft. ( A 1ft. scab was put in to make up the difference). To this observation my wife said…”I never noticed that before” And so it began…

  • you called the builder houses a “kit of parts”, i would say that the phenomenon has seeped into your vocabulary too.

    ..and yes, architecture school makes you explain exactly why you like something and why you chose to do something in a design. You learn to be critical of everything. This is a way of thinking and communicating that I used to express frequently. I suppress that tendency now in everyday conversation because it's a completely obnoxious personality trait. But the critical thoughts are still in there.

  • Both my wife and I are architects. The misery of architectural knowledge is easier to live with when you have a companion to share it with.

    We are working on our second house together. The first had lots of potential. This second one is all new.

  • Michelle – too good, thanks for this “confessions of an architect's spouse.” made me chuckle! I love these ideas that Bob does on his blog. Your daughter last week, now you, good stuff.

    No worries, it's not just Bob, it's all of us. You are in good company.

    Only certain people with generous hearts learn to live with an architect and find the beauty. You get five stars for your excellent humor too. Surely over time you will have that special home, the envy of your friends and Bob's.

  • Oh dear, Michelle — I was smiling and nodding as I read this. It's not fair, is it?

    My best friend has had several years living around my design family and says now she can't refer to anything as a cabinet. “No,” she says, “I actually told my kids to look in the BDC36 (base double corner). I hate you.”

  • Oh wow do I relate to this! My hsuband sent me this link to read so I could see I am not alone. He is an architect who definitely has these traits. We can't even buy furniture without him dissecting it, knocking on it, talking about the wood (if it even is wood and not particle board), etc. We have the same house issues. I think my husband would be happy to buy what I would think of as a dump and spend the rest of his life turning its potential into reality.

  • Priceless Michelle!
    I hope someday you can get your granite countertops & walk in closets in a house that has no “conflicting rooflines” 🙂

  • Erica Dugdale

    Great post! My husband just rolls his eyes at me when I get started on why something is bad and how it could have been better. Thankfully (or not!) my husband has definite ideas on what is good so at least I am not the only one in the family!

  • Lucinda Buford

    Ditto! We were in a house the other day, and Barry and I both agreed that it was decorated exactly the way I would have done it, if I had never met Barry the Builder! Since we have been married 19 years, there is NO WAY I could ever live in that style now. Bummer! I'm with you – I want my ignorance back!

  • Thanks for the little article Michelle. I don't know your husband Bob, other than we're followers on twitter. But I do a similar thing with my wife when it comes to logos/websites. It has driven her mad at times. But somehow she loves me anyways. Keep saving and someday you'll have that finished architect house.