My Connection To Home Design
Technically, my first connection to home design was the day I was born, and I obviously have no memory of it. That’s the day my dad was putting the plates on the foundation of our new home. He renovated and added on a few years later, and it was amazing to live on a job site. I watched a simple ranch home transform and expand.
We lived on fifteen wooded acres in the country, with a pond and a small lake. He was self-employed and had a studio in the woods—a geodesic dome he built—near the lake. I spent many evenings in the studio listening to records, daydreaming, looking through his books and reference files, and pestering him at the T-square end of his drawing board—sometimes, I would run his blueprint machine for him. He was an exhibit and display designer and produced miles upon miles of pencil drawings of the designs he created for his clients. I’d often get myself set up at one of the drawing boards to work on various art or design projects of my own making. Several times, I "designed” houses.
After high school, I moved to Pittsburgh and attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, majoring in Visual Communications. City life and apartment dwelling was a fun change of scenery for the next few years as I moved several times, to all four sides of Pittsburgh. Upon graduation, I was self-employed for a time, until I took a job at Carnegie Mellon University as a graphic designer, working in their publications department.
My parents moved from my childhood home to a large piece of land overlooking Moraine State Park in Western, PA. Dad had designed a post and beam carriage house which they were going to live in while building the main house. I remember looking over the detailed drawings he did for both structures and visiting the site several times during construction.
In Pittsburgh, I met my future wife, Rosanne. After we got engaged, my parents helped us buy our first place. It had been a YMCA camp, situated on 36 acres along the Slippery Rock Creek. It had eighteen various camp buildings and cabins. I designed a two-story addition and remodel to the small 460 square feet infirmary, while renting at my last apartment on the East Side.
I worked on building the addition and remodeling the house in the evenings and on weekends. I moved to the Camp to "live" in one of the small rustic cabins as I tried to finish up the house prior to our wedding. The cabin was a fourteen feet by sixteen feet wood-framed structure, with no insulation or running water! We were married in 1991 and moved into the unfinished house. Over the years, I made improvements to, and landscaped around, many of the buildings. My parents renovated the Craft building and made that their northern cottage. They had moved to the Florida panhandle shortly after we were married. Dad had designed a house across the road from a public beach and had a custom builder construct it.
Rosanne and I, along with my parents, had big plans for turning the former camp into "Creekside Village,” an artist community and event venue. But as time passed and our family grew, we realized we had taken on more than we could handle. We sold that property and moved to a lot in New Castle, PA (back to city living). This move was supposed to be temporary. I had hopes of buying land and building a new house in three years.
We moved into a "four-square" house with two kids—and one on the way. The third floor was one of the things that attracted me to the house. It was a large, finished attic space, with plenty of natural light coming in from dormers on three sides. This would be my office because it was separate from the rest of the house, where I could take phone calls and get work done, uninterrupted. Over the years, we switched and traded rooms as our family grew (eventually having five kids) and, in time, I got kicked out of my office and moved to the smallest room on the second floor. We did minor renovations throughout the years and decorated it to our style; but many times, during the 24 years we lived there, I had my heart set on moving.
In Florida, my dad’s career had transitioned full time to land development. However, he was also receiving many beach home design projects on the side. There was a lot of building happening on nearby St. George Island, and through word of mouth, referrals from his builder, and a growing network of other connections in the area, he had more work than one person could handle. He enjoyed the creative outlet, but it was too much–and he didn’t want to turn any of it away. In early 2000, he invited me to consider a career change. I was burned out on graphic design deadlines, so I jumped!
With his CAD software and training CDs in hand, I taught myself the basics and in time began doing his drafting. For several months, he was my daily, long distance tech support. It took me a while to transition from thinking in 2D (for graphic design) to thinking and visualizing in the third dimension. We worked together on dozens of beautiful beach homes for several years. Eventually, two hurricanes hit back-to-back in the same year, followed by the housing market crash and my parents’ move away from the coast. This put “southern” design work on hold for a time and had me shift my focus to design in the North, where I had already begun growing my own network of custom home builders.
My parents would build or move several more times over the years, before returning to the area—only five minutes away from us. Our kids were graduating and going to college; moving out; getting married; and only one remained at home and was getting ready to leave.
Over the years, Rosanne and I had looked at dozens of homes for sale, but nothing ever compared to what we already had. I spent years designing beautiful homes for other people and (internally) struggled with the fact that I never had the chance to do a project of our own. From time to time I'd subscribe, then unsubscribe, from realtor websites alerts. I had pretty much given up the dream of building, having come to the conclusion that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for us.
Then, on September 11, 2021, I was on a walk one morning and remembered a realtor listing email I had received earlier in the week and thought I’d alter my usual route and do a walk-by. Looking this house over from the street, I was intrigued. I texted my wife, then my dad, then a realtor friend, and we all toured the house a couple of hours later. The house was a vacant, 1950’s, mid-century modern ranch, with a flat roof, and a TERRIBLE layout. We all thought it had great bones!
Later that afternoon, I went back to take pictures and measurements. I wanted to get the house into my computer and see if I could uncover a workable floor plan. The kitchen was small and undesirable. The big living room (which was wonderful) led through a second room; then a third; and ended at a fourth room—the master bedroom. There was a bathroom for this room, but to get to it, you had to travel back through those four rooms; down a hall and an odd room located in the center of the house, and finally into the bathroom—which was ugly and oddly shaped! I worked on the design very late into the night and finally had something that I thought I could get excited about. In the morning, when Rosanne woke up, I told her, “I think I cracked the code—come see!” Long story short, she loved it and we closed on it six weeks later!
I wanted to do as much of the remodel as possible myself. So, I worked every available evening and weekend on it for eleven months; working my day job; refining the design as we went; and coordinating with other sub-contractors to keep things moving. I now have a much greater appreciation for what my clients are going through, having experienced it all firsthand. It’s definitely a marathon and not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it! We moved in on September 1, 2022, and are now 90 seconds from my parents (who are done moving). Rosanne and I have been loving this 1950’s remodel ever since. With its southern exposure, big living room windows, and stepped back design toward the rear, most all of the rooms in the house are sunny and happy year-round! The interior is currently about 95% complete; and the outside still has a way to go. But, we’re still enjoying the process as we turn this house into our own dream home.
What about you?
I would love to take all my experience, working on approximately 800 new homes and additions over the past 23 years, and play my part in helping you create your dream home! I really enjoy that first meeting at the beginning of the design process. I love to interview a new client and hear all their ideas; look over the reference materials and all the sketches and links they’ve collected; and then, start asking my questions. I’m a good listener. I take great notes. And I’m in your corner. I want to help you express all your desires and develop a very complete “wish list.” After that, I only have one agenda—to hit that target!