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A Guide to Good Design

Many homeowners are new to the design-build process, and there can be a lot to navigate⏤from working with designers and contractors to choosing materials, appliances, and finishes.  

We’re pulling back the curtains to show you what kinds of things we consider when designing a space.  Hopefully this will help you get started on your own project:


Setting intentions for how you want a space to feel will help guide your decisions around it.  We had a client once who realized that she wanted her space to feel earthy and modern.  Her decisions became a lot easier after that, because they had a simple standard to meet: Does this feel earthy and modern?  

You may want your home to feel like a farmhouse, a cabin, or a Scandinavian or Zen home.  You may want it to be a place where lots of people feel welcome, or a private retreat just for yourself.  You may want it to feel more or less child-friendly or pet-friendly.  When you can identify themes or feelings around your vision for the home, it becomes easier to make decisions that align with that vision.  


Does this one seem obvious?  It’s commonly overlooked.  People often have strong ideas about how they want a space to appear, but haven’t given much thought to how they would actually use it.  Here are two things to consider:

  1. We recommend living in a space for several months before making any big remodeling decisions.  Many people want to jump into remodeling soon after buying a house.  While that excitement is understandable, you will end up with a far stronger design if you live in the space for a little while.  Things you never considered will become apparent, and things that you thought were important will become less so.
  1. Jot down notes on how people in your household are using, say, the kitchen.   Could you use more space or less?  Do you like formal or informal gatherings?  Do you want the kids to be able to do homework on the kitchen island while you’re cooking?  There are some standard ways to design a kitchen (like having the sink, stove, and refrigerator in a triangular relationship to each other), but everyone has their own unique lifestyle considerations. 

Personal Style

Some people love high-quality and statement furniture pieces; others couldn’t care less.  Some people want everything to be colorful; others want more neutral paint colors and flooring, saving the color for wall art and throw pillows.  

Be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of the latest design fashion, because you could end up with something that just doesn’t suit you.  Your own style is often something you discover as you play around with different looks and ideas, and being light-hearted and playful about the process can make things easier. One of our clients likes the motto “Everything is fixable!”  Start collecting images of the styles and designs you like to get a feel for what your own personal preferences are.  

The Elements

We all live on a beautiful little place called Earth.  Earth has seasons, weather, and sunshine⏤all of which are worth considering to varying degrees in your home design.

Seasonal considerations include:

  • How the rain, snow, and sun can affect your siding and foundation.
  • Passive heating and cooling options.  Who doesn’t want to save money on their heating and cooling bills?
  • How exterior light changes throughout the year. In Minnesota we get more white and blue light in the winter and green light in the summer, which can affect color choices for your interior.  

Sunshine considerations include:

  • Designing spaces to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, or to watch the sunset on a porch with your neighbors.
  • How paint colors change with different levels of sunlight.  Fact: 98% of the painted rooms you see photographed online were shot in sunny Los Angeles.  That’s not really true, but it might as well be: there is a huge difference between how a paint color looks on a sunny day in a room with southern light exposure and how it looks on an overcast day in a room with northern light exposure.  Make sure the colors you choose are right for your space.


‘Well-being’ doesn’t always get much air-time in home design, but that’s starting to change.  Your home should be a place that nurtures your body, mind, and spirit.  Designing for well-being can involve taking these into consideration:

  • Air quality
  • Physical comfort and health
  • Noise levels
  • Connection to nature
  • Using non-toxic and healthy materials
  • Areas for movement, rest, and transition

You might find it helpful to draw on feng shui, zen, ayurvedic, or other spiritual principles for home design.  


This may seem like an elusive concept, but it’s something we’re considering at every step of the process.  Balance is the feeling of cohesion and harmony in a space.  It can include questions like:

  • Is there visual interest at different heights in the room?  
  • Do the textures and colors in the room feel balanced (smooth textures balancing rough, vibrant colors balancing neutral)?   
  • How are you styling for symmetry or asymmetry?  Symmetrical designs tend to be found in traditional and farmhouse styles, while asymmetrical designs tend to be found in modern and bohemian styles.  Some houses have a mix of both⏤you just want to be intentional about it.


Western design sometimes errs on the side of creating static and separate spaces. Designing for flow involves noticing how people and objects move through different spaces, and how to address their desires and needs as they do so. For example, imagine entering your home. What are looking for as you move from outside to inside? What would help ease that transition? Imagine moving from one floor to another. What kind of mental, physical, or emotional change might be happening when you do that, and what’s the best way to support that transition?


You could design the most beautiful and original space in Minnesota, but if it falls apart next year, what’s the point?  Consider the longevity and durability of your materials, friends.  You always want to be looking for the best value for your money in terms of materials that will stand the test of time.  For example, cheap tile can seem like a great deal, but may be manufactured to low quality standards that can end up causing more problems in the long-run than you bargained for.  

And what about the longevity of your designs?  Some people are happy to remodel every 5-10 years, and want the joy of creating en vogue spaces.  Others are interested in timeless styles that will last for many years.  Sometimes it’s hard to know: who would have thought that square tiles would scream ‘1990’s’ to homeowners in 2021?  Others are easier: we’re currently designing a space for a wood-fired stove that would be simple to remove should future homeowners decide that they don’t want it.  Give some thought to whether longevity is important to you.


Design is a big subject, and we consider ourselves lifelong students of it.  Hopefully we’ve given you some things to think about in designing your own home.  Please let us know if you have any questions!  

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