While I got into architecture to make thoughtful spaces and beautiful buildings, I specifically enjoy residential projects—the process allows us to get to know the client and their family through an approach that is completely unique to them. Of course our end goal is to create well-proportioned and carefully detailed structure, but our top priority is to craft spaces that respond to a client’s living patterns and desires. Our role is both architect and investigator—to pose questions that delve into the finest minutiae of a client’s daily home life. I find this process enlightening and hope that this is also true for our client; it is an opportunity to think about, and verbalize, the possibilities of their built surroundings in ways they may not have considered before.

For many clients, this is the first time they’ve hired an architect for a new home. When you move into a house that’s already built, you adapt to the existing layout without too much thought. However, when you’re having a house built for you, there are a lot more choices to make than you might have expected. To craft a house that you will truly enjoy, we need to take the time to think about every detail of your ideal environment.

This analysis begins with the first moment you walk in the door: What is your ritual when you enter your home? Do you slip off your shoes immediately or remove them later and store in a bedroom closet? Where do you set your jacket and keys? In Japan, this ritual is built into the entry of every home. Here in America, an entry is often a lot less prescribed; but we understand that arrival and departure from your home is an important part of your day and reflect our clients' particular rituals in the architecture.

Traditional Japanese Entry

Wine Country Retreat Entry by Pfau Long Architecture
Photo by Matthew Millman

Mill Valley Residence Entry by Pfau Long Architecture
Photo by Joe Fletcher

I enjoy getting to know families. It may be the first time you’ve considered certain questions: What is your family about? Are you about privacy or transparency? I ask a lot of questions to find the balance of private spaces versus those for congregating. I find out their philosophy about TVs: do they go in bedrooms, are they out in the open, or are they hidden away in a den?

I learn about their parenting philosophies. How do you feel about locks on doors? Will the kids have a desk in their bedrooms? I grew up with one in my room, but nowadays, many clients prefer their kids to bring their laptops to work at the kitchen table. How do you feel about the physical things in your life? Do you prefer them displayed or hidden away?

Toys Out or In? The Activist House by Pfau Long Architecture
Photo by Michael David Rose

For a lot of clients, the bathroom is a space of refuge where they start and end their day. Does this involve a brisk shower in the morning or a quiet soak in the evening?

Combined Shower and Bath at the Mill Valley Residence
Photo by Joe Fletcher

Master Bath at the Northern California Family Retreat by Pfau Long Architecture
Photo by Art Gray

We also want to create space for obsessions, whether the client is a coffee snob, a collector of vintage pottery, a baker, an artist or a musician. All of these questions aim at discovering ways that a new home can become an active participant in our client’s life, creating spaces at all scales that bring them and their family enjoyment.

Cast-In-Place Ping Pong Table at the Northern California Family Retreat
Photo by Art Gray

Once we identify what you want to achieve in a house, then we figure out how to make it a reality. We typically bring in a preconstruction contractor to provide estimating very early in the process and use the preliminary budget information to help the client prioritize and make decisions.

I tell clients that design is discovery but, quite frankly, construction can be stressful. Construction is a time when issues arise and we all work to solve them. It is a normal part of the process and we work with the contractor to be sure to allow the client ample time to make decisions and minimize the pressure as much as possible.

In the end, our goal is to create a house ideally suited to our clients and their unique habits, relationships and priorities, providing the physical and psychological space needed to live the life they imagine.

Northern California Family Retreat
Photo by Art Gray

Tree Swing at Mill Valley Residence
Photo by Joe Fletcher