Last year, Dura had the opportunity to design a large interior renovation. The client was great because they were very aware of their functional requirements for the renovated kitchen and living area. I always find that clients who have written down their “program” (I’ll explain this soon), are better at making decisions in light of that benchmark, as well as exploring new design ideas and comparing it to what they have stated they need.

So what is a program? Put simply, it’s a written description of how the designed space should function. How do you plan to use the space? What particular functions do you want to see happen in the space? Are there any special equipment or electrical requirements? Should the room or space be loud and lively or quiet and contemplative? As you think about a renovation, a new house, or commercial space, sifting through questions like these really help an architect better understand what you have in mind. Not everything needs to be decided, because architects interact with a program, pushing here and there to figure out how to reconcile a program to (usually) a budget.

Institutional clients, like universities or public entities, are very good at writing very long program descriptions, even breaking down each space into a data sheet with requirements on it. But those large clients are not very good at talking about the vision or ephemera of a project. Private clients, like homeowners or business owners with a commercial space, are pretty good at talking about their vision, but haven’t typically thought out alot of details. There is room for both approaches. But this post focuses on the private client.

With this project, the kitchen had some functional problems. Being that it was a builder’s home, the one size fits all nature of the original design was not only cheap, but there were glaring workflow issues. The refrigerator door was partially blocked by the island, drawers wouldn’t open completely, the pantry closet door blocked circulation, the island seating wouldn’t allow people to comfortably move around behind the stools, and lighting of work surfaces was poor. The window you see in the picture below used to let in too much light, making the countertop surfaces dark by comparison.

The owner was conscious of all these issues but couldn’t necessarily pinpoint how to fix them. In this case, plantation shutters control eastern sunlight, while better (not necessarily more expensive) and well-placed task lighting improve worksurfaces. The entire kitchen was redone. The pantry closet became a built in to improve access to the pantry but also make moving around the kitchen unimpeded. The refrigerator was moved, the island was reduced (while still maintaining 4 seats).

The living area was a big “fishbowl”: an undefined space with no focal point or defined pattern of stasis and movement. By programming a wall of built-ins, the owner allowed Dura to design a gracious living arrangement that spatially corresponds to the programmed wall you see below.

While not an exhaustive tour of the project, the space below was a work space that was not working. Baskets clung to wall baseboards in hopes that no one would trip over them, or worse, discard them and their contents. Designing a built-in desk was the owner’s programmatic wish: Dura sees this as providing a worker (in this case, mom) with the right tools for their job (in this case, a desk with storage). The desk made use of a area in the builder’s home that was previously wasted space.

So aside from the specifics of material selections and colors; Dura’s approach to design is to take the Owner’s program and turn it into a productive part of their life.

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