Designing Minds

Doug Graybeal, Dominick Tringali and Louis Narcisi share their thoughts on the home design process.

September 01, 1999

It takes a team to build beautiful homes like those featured in The Tour on the preceding pages. Builders, homeowners and architects must all work together to achieve a stately yet livable home which will satisfy all involved. What follows is a peek into the process from the architect’s point of view.

Doug Graybeal does not put any more focus on the front elevation than other parts of the homes he designs. "There is a whole process that you have to go through," he says. "If you put too much attention on or miss any single step, then the end result will suffer."

For Graybeal and the rest of his firm, that process begins with the topography and other physical features of each site. They welcome the challenge of working with those features rather than fighting or trying to overcome them, because they see those aspects as making each site special and unique.

Integral to Graybeal’s design process is a conceptual statement - a written document concisely defining each home’s entire program and function. This document becomes a reference point throughout the process.

"We also do bubble diagrams to make sure everything is placed correctly in terms of capturing sunset views, keeping morning light away from the master suite, accentuating rock outcroppings and everything else that may come up," says Graybeal.

To maintain design cohesiveness both outside and inside his homes, Graybeal uses many different methods. He sometimes specifies stone floors that run through the family room out a set of French doors to a patio to create a singular, expansive space, or he uses the same technique with wood floors running out to a covered deck.

"Fireplaces are a great opportunity to bring external elements to the inside of a home," says Graybeal. "We often use stone, either in the same pattern as the exterior or in a minor variation to add interest."

Louis Narcisi agrees that the entire design process is more important than any one element. "You have to keep all four sides in consideration," says Narcisi. "You can’t shoot for curb appeal only."

He explains that keeping the materials and lines of the house consistent, either on opposite sides or all four sides-depending on roof slope-is instrumental to this notion. "It’s a good idea to pick up on and accentuate repeating elements of a home, such as eaves and gables, so that no matter what side of the house you’re facing, you know it is the same house," says Narcisi.

Many of those lines can be useful in linking the inside of the home to the outside. In keeping with the Frank Lloyd Wright school of thought, Narcisi places window and door heads on a consistent line, and he often brings exterior wood trim elements inside.

"Wood strips on ceilings are great to define certain spaces such as breakfast nooks and hearths," says Narcisi. "And when they are the same material as the exterior trim they serve as links to give all these areas a sense of cohesiveness."

Dominick Tringali also looks at the entire process rather than any one element when beginning the design process. His first step is to get a floor plan concept going, then move directly to elevation massing to create an overall balance.

"That is a must," says Tringali. "If you don’t follow a procedure like this, then the inside and outside of a home don’t work together."

Because many of Tringali’s homes sit on lakes, the "fronts" of these homes face the water, which means extra care must be taken with four-sided design. "Even with massive glass walls facing the lake and smaller windows on the street side, you have to bring similar elements all the way around," says Tringali. He points out that consistent details like half-round windows (even when mixing big and small), dentils, wraparound porches and gables are excellent ways to tie all four sides of a home together.

Details are also important for Tringali in tying the inside to the outside. He likes to take spindles, rails and balusters from the outside and use them repeatedly on the interior of his homes on staircases. He emphasizes the importance of researching the history of the particular architectural styles of homes in order to keep these details as authentic as possible.

Narcisi says downsizing is now one of the more prominent trends in luxury homes, "They have gone from palatial exhibits of wealth to more ‘homey’ and scaled-down spaces," he says.

Tringali agrees, as he has found that, "people want these houses to be more livable and casual. Big, elaborate spaces are not as popular as they were say, five years ago."

All three architects assert that most of today’s luxury homeowners are looking for timeless architecture. They want homes that will be remembered for their style, that won’t look dated a few years down the road and that maximize resale value.

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