A Modern Wishing WellMost people view roof gutters as an afterthought, but Josh Schweitzer makes an event out of rain. Instead of shooing it down a clunky aluminum drain, Schweitzer guides the water through troughs built into the house and then into a cement collection box that overflows into the surrounding landscape, creating a rainy-day fountain. The cascading rain has a peaceful sound as it trickles through the modern wishing well. Fear of CustomsDon’t be afraid to have furniture custom-made — it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think and sometimes can cost less than buying new pieces even from Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. Although Schweitzer is an architect, he’s never studied furniture-making, so like any of us might, he turned to the pros for help. He flipped through catalogs for ideas and found craftsmen by looking on Web sites and even in the Yellow Pages. He chose the ones who asked questions and added their expertise on how to make his ideas better. When he designed the dining-room chairs that he’s used for the past 10 years, the woodworkers at the company he used suggested raising the front of the seat by an inch to make sitting more comfortable. To this day Schweitzer and his dinner guests thank them. And here’s another tip: If you incorporate parts of designs that a company already uses (maybe the legs of one chair combined with the seat of another), the job will be simpler — and less expensive.Boy, You Turn MeSchweitzer often looks at the undersides of fabric and rugs, and pretty much turns everything topsy-turvy to see if something good happens that the creators didn’t intend. When looking to upholster his couch, he discovered that chenille, what he calls “grandma couch fabric,” is actually smooth and rich and lustrously pearly when you turn it inside out. He chose a champagne-colored fabricspeckled with silvery spots and a chocolatey brown one that had bronze flecks — much sexier than grandma’s house.Eureka IKEA You might think it strange to discover that an architect who has so many designers at his disposal would shop at IKEA, but the prefab furniture is hard to pick out from the custom pieces in a lineup. I never would have guessed that Schweitzer’s coffee table was an assembly-required piece. And while his sleek arm lamps and dining-room chandeliers look as if they came from some high-end lighting boutique, they’re really from Schweitzer’s favorite Swedish retailer.Let It GoAs Schweitzer says, “It’s hard to have a sense of austere architecture when you have kids. Toys migrate.” But having a house that looks lived in is not only okay with this architect, he says it’s all part of life. If you spend your time policing mail and books and corralling “stuff,” you lose out on enjoying your home and time with your family. And you lose the humanity of your home. Some of the most famous architects had messy homes. Eames’ home was rumored to have been a pigsty.Room for ThoughtSpace is a luxury, so don’t overfill a room with furniture just because you can. Having room to walk gives you room to breathe and think. “I would rather have space, which really is a luxury, than the fanciest anything,” Schweitzer says matter-of-factly. “So many people look at a room as just something they have to fill up; they don’t realize that they want space — they need it — or maybe they think they can’t afford it.” And if you don’t have a lot of space at home, Schweitzer says it can be stolen with impunity — all you have to do is open a window.Fight Narrow ThinkingSchweitzer’s lot is just 54 feet wide, so building a house with a sense of openness on the narrow space was a challenge. Most people build their houses in a block pattern, going as far to the edges as possible. But then, Schweitzer says, “you have about 3 feet between you and a fence.” Instead, the architect went long with his design so he could have a little breathing room all around the home. And instead of placing the hallway in the middle of the house, with rooms on either side, he shifted all the major rooms to one side and put the hallway on the other, creating what Schweitzer calls a “single loaded corridor.” Tucked outside the flow of the home, in a spot where you might expect to find a small patio, is a family room that can be separated from the hubbub of the rest of the house with a floor-to-ceiling sliding wood door. High ceilings and huge windows also help give the home spaciousness. The Standard“Be clever,” Schweitzer says when it comes to saving money. First, know that a good layout will give you the biggest bang for your buck — that’s why he always looks for ways to make spaces multipurpose. He also suggests adopting his Alice in Wonderland way of looking at things: “Change your perspective.” Instead of spending a lot of money on pricey door handles, for instance, elevate them from the usual waist-high position, even up to shoulder level. “It makes a $10 doorknob from Home Depot special, because it is unexpected and it forces you to be aware of your environment.” And if you can only afford standard-issue window frames, place the windows higher than you might normally so that your view incorporates more of the sky and opens up your space.Light FantasticSchweitzer suggests cove lighting instead of expensive lighting systems or designer lamps. That means building niches along a wall or near the ceiling where you can insert long-lasting, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs. Normally fluorescent light has a harsh quality, but tucked in a cove, the indirect illumination softens. He also likes to rework affordable fixtures. So instead of spending $400 to $500 on pendant lights, Schweitzer bought a few from IKEA for $14 and swapped the white wire for black, giving them an instant make-over.
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