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As former Los Angeles transplants, for whom a side yard consisted of a 4×4 grassy patch adjacent to the garage and the streets are anything but quiet, a backyard in a quaint neighborhood was pretty high on our wish list when it came to house hunting. After perusing the market for what seemed like forever, we found our dream neighborhood in one of the best school districts of Fort Wayne.*


My new favorite place to walk our dogs and ride my sweet little bike, Betty.

Full of walking/biking paths, close proximity to errand-running and my favorite local shops, we fell in love with the neighborhood from the get-go. And because the majority of these homes were built in the mid-century, we knew we’d be in for a bit of elbow grease. Yet after settling for the worst home on the block (complete with mold, rot and odors I can’t even communicate), we had a score that required more than just elbow grease. (Don’t believe me? See the home in shambles right here.)

But first? We wanted to take things slow. We stalked the neighborhood at various hours of the day, taking alternate routes to and from meetings/errands to see if the commute was right for us. We visited our neighbors, dropping off goodies and finding information about our Homeowner’s Association, like dues and neighborhood history/events.

Finally, we tackled the auction process and landed our dream property, despite knowing the risks of foreclosure. Fortunately, the auction went swimmingly and we got down to business.


This is our architect's original blueprint, right before my head exploded from all of the lines and shapes. Shortly thereafter, Husband started meeting with the architect on my behalf, and I was demoted to picking out fabrics and paint colors.

Because we were embarking on an entirely new process, we consulted one more key player in the process: an architect. We reconsidered the entire floor plan of the home, from kitchen plans to bathroom layouts and overall renovation. Although we wanted to keep the budget small, hiring an architect was essential in seeing our home in a new (wayyy better) light — and saved us hundreds of dollars (and incredible functionality) in the long haul.

Although hiring an architect may not be for everyone, Husband and I decided it was integral in realizing the hidden potential of our home. Who else would have encouraged us to borrow the natural light from the kitchen and craft a half wall into the office? Or switch out a few existing windows for sliding glass doors for easy access to our deck patio? Or [gasp!] install a sauna in our master bathroom? (Actually, that one was our idea.)

Regardless, the benefits of hiring an architect in the initial stages far outweighed the cost. Not only did we have the help of a third party professional, but we heard some fantastic ideas for re-purposing our existing space — and ways to cut costs in doing so.

Of course, I have a few tips to help when choosing an architect, as well as some additional feedback for making the most out of your relationship! (Note: These tips work pretty well when hiring any help for your home, whether it be contractor, architect or plumber!):
1. Give yourself a break. Think you can do it all yourself? Sometimes hiring an architect doesn’t mean admitting failure; it’s simply a way to open yourself up to new ideas you hadn’t considered. And trust me — renovating a house you plan to live in is not the time to be prideful.
2. Be honest with your architect. Are you the kind of client who will call daily with small problems? Or do you prefer to consult your architect/contractor for big picture ideas/feedback only? Be up front with your ideal relationship so he/she knows exactly what to expect in terms of communication/schedules.
3. The more information, the better. Talk to your architect about how you plan to use your space itself, not just the rooms. We sat down with our architect and discussed everything, from how I plan to display my art collections to my dream sunroom. In doing so, our architect encouraged us to check out a local vendor that sells rustic barn doors (I never would have found them otherwise!). Which brings me to my next point…
4. Use him/her as a resource. Not only are you hiring your architect to plan your space, but you’re hiring him/her for their expertise and knowledge. Architects work with all sorts of vendors, so if you’re in need of a great plumber or a hot local spot for flooring, your architect is a wealth of information.

design_for_mankind 2010-06-01 at 9.32.24 PM

This is a sneak peek of my kitchen inspiration board. Our architect took one look and said, "Oooh, this is going to be FUN!" He was very, very right.

The end result to our lovely architectural partnership? We now have plans for a swanky country retreat, mixed with bright, modern natural lighting and furnishings. And because I know y’all simply can’t wait to see how it will turn out, my next video will be showcasing our inspiration board, tear sheets and files galore. Get excited!

*Although we don’t yet have kids, a great school district is key for re-sale. Even though you think you’ll be in your new home forever, not considering the re-sale factor (and school district value) is one of the 25 biggest real estate mistakes you can make.


Design Inspiration

23 Responses

  1. Very nice. I am also a fan of the open kitchen. I like where you're ideas are headed. Cozy, functional, clean, with some lovely colour accent options. It's going to be gorgeous!

  2. karey m. says:

    your architect sounds perfect. as does that ladder in the kitchen. covet covet covet.

  3. cindy k says:

    i love where you're going, especially those large windows over the sink. if space allows, it's so nice to have a minimum amount of upper cabinets. great advice!

  4. Krys72599 says:

    One thing to add when choosing an architect – meet them and talk with them first! We had several references for ours, and everyone seemed to be pleased with her. We hired her, she created three designs for us, but really never sat down with us to discuss all the things you mentioned: how we were using the space, what we liked (mood board suggestions), etc.
    Now I know we were "only" adding a second floor and moving a staircase, but we wound up with space we like, but no linen closet on the second floor, no closet on the first floor, and the aesthetically prettier side of the house on the street side. But we have a lakefront home and spend all of our time in the "back yard" on the lake side, so the prettier side should have been there, or at least it should have been equally pretty… I'm not saying we didn't walk in with our own ideas, but I think she should have fought harder to help us see the error of our ways and our pre-made decisions…
    We have no one to blame but ourselves but it's easy to share the blame with her…

  5. erin / dfm says:

    Hi Cindy!

    That's so funny, b/c we only have two upper cabinets! I've always had an aversion to upper cabinetry, so yes — I love that you picked up on that from the inspiration files. ;)

  6. erin / dfm says:

    Krys — You are so right. It's super important to talk about where you spend the most time in your home (unless it's a new construction, and in that case — guessing is appropriate, I suppose?).

    I wish you could have learned that lesson differently, but I'm glad you shared it nonetheless!

  7. [...] no problem putting things in the hands of those who are much more skilled than I.Case in point? I talked about how Husband and I hired an architect over at HGTV today, and although I thought that would be the end of the third party labor, I was wrong. Because today? [...]

  8. abeth says:

    Great ideas, great husband to implement them!!

  9. Melissa de la Fuente says:

    Love, love the sneak peak to your inspiration board darlin! It all looks so exciting and beautiful! I cannot wait! I also love your architects response. Awesome. Now, did I miss an episode? I fear I did? Just checkin!

  10. erin / dfm says:

    Hi Melis!

    You didn't. The next one will be up in a few weeks! :)

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