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DESIGN PHILOSOPHY | Berlin+Opsal Residence :: Dallas, TX

Archive for the 'DESIGN PHILOSOPHY' Category



So exactly how do you build a house that eliminates the trades?

You use your brain and you question things. Does a wall have to be drywall? No. A wooden fence can be a wall. A pile of rocks could serve as a wall. Dense vegetation can be a wall. Water can be a wall. Cabinets could be a wall.

In fact, they will be. When we sell the house it will be listed as a three bedroom, two and a half bath house and it will function just like any other three/two. Perhaps even better. Because every wall in the house is actually a cabinet. That means as a structure it defines space and as a space it’s functional, so virtually every wall in the house provides storage. Brilliant.

But what about the exterior? It’s a new type of concrete masonry unit. It’s finished on the outside, finished on the inside, accommodates a vapor block area so moisture can’t pass through, provides an R50 insulation value and it’s structurally stable. Not bad. And because it’s finished on both sides and it’s solid, that means no painter, no electric and no plumbers are needed for the exterior walls.

We’re off to a good start. More to come.



So we found the perfect architect. He just happened to be crazy. Loony. Batty. And down right insane.

It’s our first meeting. Russ starts by saying “What if we could build a house, just like any other house, only we eliminate the framer, the taper, the bedder, the drywaller and the painter. And then we minimize the electrician and the plumber.”

A look of fear engulfed Amy. It was quite amusing. All I could think of was, “A. You call that a garage. And B. Oh, boy, Amy’s going to kill me for choosing this guy.”

OK, Russ. Go on.

Here’s the deal. It’s called a concept. The concept was to eliminate as many trades as possible to maximize the budget, yet still build the same house that we would have built in a traditional stick and mortar style.

As a designer, some of my favorite projects are the ones with limited budgets. Why? Because they force you to focus on the concept. Which means there is an idea behind the development, not just a bunch of random elements chosen to make a pretty structure.

So is it possible to eliminate half the trades that it takes to build a house. Yes, it is. Are we going to do it. We are certainly going to try. It’s kind of like when robots started making cars. When email replaced standard postage. When you could check yourself out at the grocery store. Or when mail order DVD’s replaced the video rental store on the corner. They all still produce the same results. They just revolutionized the way we got there.



What an odd experience it is to write down your life on paper and then ask someone you don’t know to build walls that can accommodate you, your spouse, your dog, your good habits, your bad habits, your daily routine, your private times, your social times, your dinner times and the times you haven’t seen coming yet.

But we did. We built our program and we started with our want list. Our needs list. And our love list. The love list was our way of explaining what we loved about “home.” Not necessarily our home, but rather homes in general which helped us narrow down our wants and needs. So with that we started the process.

Jonathon Delcambre
Clifford Welch
Ogelsby Greene
Russell Buchanan
Doug Hildinger

The first thing we quickly learned was that a personal connection with the architect and the team was as important as the architecture itself. It’s a long process. A personal process. A financial process. And you have to be more than comfortable addressing all of those issues through good times and bad.

We got much smarter as the process unfolded. We learned a lot about what we wanted, what we needed, what we could afford, and what questions we needed to ask.

The work was absolutely amazing, but again you have to ask the right questions to determine what is doable within your budget.

Surprisingly, Amy and I settled in on our top three relatively quickly. The final two, however, were a bit more difficult - equal parts good and bad. You see the personality in one, the architecture of the other, the budgets of one, the benefits of the other. It’s difficult, but you can only chose one.

Our advice: Go with your gut. And if the decision is close, call the parties involved. Express your concerns or desires. Make sure all the cards are on the table before you commit. Get everyone on board from the beginning.