Less is More


Last week I visited the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Barcelona. Mies is the architectural icon who coined the phrases “Less is more” and “Form follows function”. These are two of my favorite design philosophies.


My belief is that good design requires minimal ornamentation or ‘decoration’. It might seem counter-intuitive for a designer to be saying this, but for me the feeling of an interior is largely defined by elements such as flow, light, texture, and function. Don’t get me wrong – the right furniture and fixtures are important and can enhance or detract from the experience in a space, but there’s a fine line between interiors that are too sparce versus over-complicated. It’s a delicate balance.


In our Western world today we accumulate so much stuff. Managing it is a constant challenge. I have read a few books on Feng Shui, and a concept that resonates with me is that 'clutter in the home is like clutter in the soul'. Wow – that’s powerful! Studies have revealed strong links between clutter and depression. It reminds me of a little story…


I have a loved one (who shall remain nameless, but she remembers the occasion well) and one day I walked into her bedroom and immediately burst into tears. I don’t know what came over me (it was a little embarrassing) but I saw the assortment of tables, curio-cabinets, chairs, etc. piled up with receipts, bills, flyers, magazines – suddenly I couldn’t breathe! You see, she was a “collector” of sorts (she liked to say that her hobby was “sale-ing… GARAGE sale-ing”), but despite keeping a sense of humor, she was depressed. I could immediately feel the link between the collecting behavior and her emotional wellness. That stuff had to go. I offered to help get rid of it, and she was thankful, because sorting through it can be over-whelming.


So here’s this month’s challenge – get rid of stuff! Okay now I've inspired myself, so I'm going into my study to tackle those piles right NOW!

Good luck, have fun, and be sure to share with me how happy you are afterward.

What is Green and How Does it Apply to Me?

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

You have likely heard of a term called Green Building. Many might think of it as something specific to the building industry. You know it's related to protecting the environment, but it doesn't seem to apply to you if you are not in the process of building or remodeling a house.

On the other hand, I prefer to think of Green as a mind set rather than a building term. It's true that there is a very real set of standards for designing a 'Green' building, and the Green philosophy was developed by the construction industry as a guideline for how to reduce the impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment . These general strategies, however, can be adopted and implemented by all of us in a much broader sense as well. Let me explain...

If we evaluate the many ways that human existence affects the environment, the list is endless. From tearing down trees and covering the earth with man made materials, to depleting mother nature's resources, releasing chemicals and toxins back into the air, and generating waste that can't be naturally processed - our daily lives have an impact on our world (I realize there is some disagreement as to just how much affect. I am not here to argue that point). The bottom line is, our existence on this planet is inter-twined with our environment, and I sometimes feel sad thinking about how we as humans have a negative impact.


In my early twenties I lived in an apartment near Treaty Oak. Some of you may recall it's a historic Austin tree that was poisoned with chemicals and the man who did it was sentenced to a few years in prison. I felt sick to my stomach each time I saw that dying tree outside my window, and for months I felt compelled to ride the bus to work as a small gesture toward improving the air quality for that tree. I began to reconsider many things about my life, and even the fact that I had studied architecture felt a bit hypocritical. Over time I managed to squash that guilt and accept that if I wanted to be a normal human being and not live in the Alaskan Bush, I'd better just get over it. But now each day as I work with clients to design the homes of their dreams, I realize that there is a choice we can make to either have less impact or more impact on God's universe in the process.


So let's get back to what this means to you. For the most part, the high level concept involves some RE words: replacing systems that are inefficient, recycling material resources, and reusing items that we might otherwise choose to discard. These strategies can all be applied in some way in our homes. In addition to reducing the environmental impact, many of these changes will have a direct affect on your quality of life and your monthly energy bills. Here are some examples:

- If you need a new lightbulb, consider replacing your incandescents or even compact fluorescents with LED. There are HUGE benefits of this, not only from a long term cost savings standpoint, but in a practical way - no more changing light bulbs! The average lifespan of an LED is approx 10-15 years. And there are now LED bulbs you can put directly into normal light sockets.

- Replace older toilets and plumbing fixtures with low flow versions designed to give the same amount of pressure using less water.

- Add a water filter in your home for drinking water. If doesn't seem to be an easy task - buy a Brita that you keep in the fridge. Using your own purified water in a glass at home minimizes the waste generated from bottled water (even if those bottles are recycled) and costs less too. 

- If you replace an appliance, look for energy star ratings for new ones.

- Improve your home's efficiency by sealing windows & doors and adding insulation. Hire a professional to replace weather stripping and add insulation in your attic. If it's time to replace your windows, invest in high performance versions that filter UV and are much more energy efficient. You will notice a distinct improvement in interior climate control, comfort, and your monthly energy bills.

- Incorporate a 'recycle station' somewhere in your home. If your kitchen can't accommodate it, add a dedicated trash can for recycling in your garage or somewhere easily accessible from the kitchen. Try implementing the same thing at your office. Austin has been adding large recycling containers for many local businesses (including at LBI!)

- If you purchase paint for a project or to paint a room in your house, look for Low-VOC paint, which is non-toxic and improves air quality for your family.

- If replacing furniture, think about how your existing items can be reused elsewhere in your house or even in a family member's home. Can your table be painted and look good elsewhere? Can the old chair be covered and refinished for the bedroom?

- If you decide to purchase new furniture, be aware that some manufacturers are more committed than others to the Green philosophy. They use environmentally responsible processes, formaldehyde-free stains and finishes, and all natural materials. A few of my favorites are Lee Industries and Palecek.


Obviously this topic runs far and wide, and I have barely scratched the surface. Some of these suggestions refer more to waste management than to Green Building, but it's all inter-connected. My suggestion is that if we each take a moment to reflect on inefficiencies in our home, we can find ways to personally benefit from making a change, while at the same time protecting our environment.

What is the Architectural Style of Your Home?

Photo by An Indoor Lady

Photo by An Indoor Lady

I have written about consistency in design, and finding your own style while making sure it works with the bones of your home. This post is a guideline for how to determine the architectural style of your house.


First, let's start with a fashion analogy. Imagine a woman in a conservative black dress. As a safe choice, she might pair it with pumps and a pearl necklace. Or, if she is a little more daring, she might wear interesting shoes or dramatic jewelry. You would not, however, expect her to wear brown suede boots with fringe. It just wouldn't be right. Why then, do we feel tempted to fill our homes with decor that is equally inconsistent with the core style of our house? For the purposes of this blog, consider the architecture of your home is ‘the dress’. It is the over-riding style driver that dictates what type of interiors and decor will coordinate well and feel right. Now let’s dig deeper into some architectural details.


I get this question often. It’s true that there are many gray areas in residential architecture, and houses don’t always fit neatly into one category. I am going to list some key styles and characteristics below (for those of you who are architecture buffs - please allow me some leeway. I know this is over-simplified!), and in the interest of making it easy, if your home has 3 or more items from any one description, it is likely in that category. Okay here goes:

Traditional - this style varies depending on the region, because it has historic reference to the popular style of that area. I would venture a guess that over 60% of the houses in Austin fit the description below:

-       gabled roof (often two-story)

-       combo of either brick and lap siding or limestone and lap siding

-       arches, columns, shutters

-       divided lite windows

-       sheetrock and trim details on the interior

Here is my traditional house - it looks like most of the other houses in the neighborhood. 

Modern - this style pertains to a specific movement that started in America in the middle of the twentieth century. Architecture buffs love it (myself included). It feels honest, pure, and simple. Here are some features: 

-       flat roof

-       large windows (often floor to ceiling)

-       frequent use of metal and wood

-       minimal ornamentation

-       focus on space, simplicity of architecture, and natural materials

These are examples of a Modern 1950's home in Austin designed by a local architect. 

Contemporary –this is often confused with modern, but they are different. Contemporary design follows current trends and is not anchored in the mid-century. It changes over time. Currently it can be described as follows:

-       clean lined roof and architecture

-       large windows with a special focus on views

-       natural materials (in Texas it is often limestone and cedar)

-       more focus on warmth and comfort than true Modernism

If your home shares characteristics between this category and Modern, but wasn’t designed in the mid-century or directly modeled from it, it is most likely Contemporary.

This Contemporary house is a new construction project of ours designed by Kai Geschke, built by Enve Builders, and photographed by An Indoor Lady.

Ranch Style – this style was popular in California and Texas (probably because it is spacious and sprawling, which makes sense where there is land) and seemed to be a style of choice in the 60’s and 70’s. Some characteristics are:

-       single story, predominantly horizontal

-       gabled or hip roof

-       a combination of stone, stucco, brick, or siding

-       sometimes arches, often vaulted ceilings

-       large windows

These Ranch Style examples are from a remodel project of ours in CA (house built in 1978)

Spanish – this style is fairly eclectic and there are many off-shoots and versions. It was popular in the early 1900’s in the western U.S., Florida, and Texas, and made a resurgence in the 90’s. It was originally inspired by Spanish Colonial architecture but later took on Mediterranean touches as well. Here are some popular features:

-       gabled or hip roof (often Spanish tile)

-       light colored stucco or stone

-       arches, curves, and interior ornamentation

-       focus on tile and natural materials, frequent use of iron

This photo courtesy of Getty Images is a home in Almeria, Spain

Tuscan - this is a near relative of Spanish that takes root in old Italy. It has similar characteristics but is more typically stone than stucco. Unfortunately a version of it that took off in Texas in the early 2000's became cheapened and over-used and now has negative connotations. If done well it can still be quite charming, but there are too many poorly done examples in Austin. If you have one of these don't despair - there are suggestions I can make for injecting quality and character.

Craftsman – this style took off as a result of the Arts and Crafts movement and flourished in America in the early 1900’s. The philosophy was focused on quality, nature, and simplicity of design. There are several versions of this style as well (you may have heard of Bungalows, Prairie Style, and Mission Style?) but some simple characteristics are:

-       gabled roof (often with wide eaves and exposed rafters)

-       expansive porches and tapered columns

-       stone, board and batten, shingle or lap siding

-       special attention to trim, often highlighted by color contrast

This fresh version of modern day Craftsman was a project of ours in Westlake. Architect is Heimsath architects, photographed by Whit Preston. 

Farmhouse – okay, this is the last one I am going to cover, because… Fixer Upper! I know, I was resistant at first, but I’ll admit it’s fun to watch. And Chip and Joanna Gaines have called new emphasis to this style in Texas. Now, philosophically I can’t say I agree with transforming any old run down house in Waco into a ‘farmhouse’, but I’ll agree the couple is talented and I love what they have done for that town. Oh yah, and they’re pretty adorable. Anyway here are some key elements:

-       simple gabled roof

-       siding (either horizontal, vertical, or occasionally board and batten)

-       minimal color variation - typically lots of white

-       rustic and raw materials, focus on texture

-       shiplap on interior walls (as opposed to sheetrock)

-       divided lite windows, but simple - no curves

Brief aside… there is a version of this in Austin that is described as “German Farmhouse”. There are several architectural differences, but on the exterior you'll see that it incorporates more stone than siding, and richer color palettes are utilized.

These are simple farmhouses courtesy of Getty Images.

Okay, now there are so many other styles popping into my brain, but I'm getting worn out and you probably are too, so I will stop with these.


So the point I have been trying to drive home in the last few posts is:

1) Identify the architecture of your home (i.e. the DRESS).

2) Decide what your favorite qualities are about that style.

3) Aim to find a consistency from the exterior to the interior. It will allow a better flow and more effectively highlight the aspects of that style that you like best.