Architecture 101: Designing the ‘Perfect Home’


By Lee H. Skolnick, FAIA


It is a rare architect who does not begin their career by designing someone’s house.  This seems perfectly logical as the most fundamental, and oldest purpose of architecture is ‘shelter’.  Shelter from the natural elements, shelter from predators, shelter from the marauding hordes!  Designing a house is also often the first assignment that an architecture student is presented with when beginning their professional training.


Of course, the hidden message to be discovered is that designing a house is much more than providing basic protection.  It is about creating a safe, comforting, supportive and, hopefully, life-enhancing place where people feel ‘at home’.  A place to nurture one’s humanity; a place to develop and foster everlasting personal and familial bonds.  A place that is an embodiment and inextricable part of who we are.


rothenberg home

One of the firm’s home designs from the 1980’s


And for us, too, it all started with ‘home’. Over the past forty years, we have had the privilege of designing houses for a diversity of clients.  Along the way, we have discovered some fundamental themes that resonate and inform us when designing places to live.





The first key revelation we encountered when designing homes in the 1980’s is that no two people are really alike.  While people share many similar functional needs, the wonderful reality is that we have wildly divergent lifestyles, habits, cherished beliefs and interests, and personal taste.  Embracing the uniqueness of every situation is among the very first steps in designing a truly authentic and meaningful home.  And in the beginning of our practice, we were supremely fortunate to have as our initial clients an array of creative artists who embraced the adventure of discovery and exploration that can result in a home design like no other.  They thrived on the process, were open to thinking out of the box, weren’t afraid of a ‘blank canvas’, and had a rich and varied mix of home and work upon which to draw inspiration.


axonometric diagram

By way of recommending us to a fellow artist, one client offered the following tribute: “He lets you draw on his drawings!”





Another formative aspect of our work is the desire to create homes which are timeless.  The worst thing that we can imagine is for someone to say: “Oh, this must have been done in the nineties!”, or some similarly pigeon holed description of a project.  What we have always sought to achieve is a blend of the eternal idea of what ‘home’ means to everyone and an absolutely appropriate response to the unique qualities that characterize the individual client and their hopes, dreams, and needs.


Home design for artist client

This client wished for a dynamic interaction between the home’s outdoor and indoor spaces. The sight and sound of water throughout the compound was also identified as a priority.





Although we have always said “no” to style, this is not to say that we are neutral in our design approach or that we turn a blind eye to trends that are current at any given time.  When we started out, there was a particularly upsetting scourge of ‘post-modern’ design which promoted woefully inappropriate quotations of anachronistic architectural styles and features.  We had no interest in this nostalgic pursuit and instead turned to formal inventiveness and a dynamic mix of materials to provide the visual interest, detail and scale that architects were seeking through looking backwards to history.  Our projects at the time were quite active sculpturally, and often juxtaposed individual forms for each of the functional components of the building. It was a decidedly empirical approach, giving expression to the different ways that people would use parts of the house and celebrating their interrelationships to create a rich and varied experience.  By synthesizing these creative explorations with the particular stories brought forth by our clients, we sought to achieve a transcendent result.


Unique home design

Building on the base of an old fisherman’s cottage, this house took on the quality of an attached village, with each room expressing itself as a separate pavilion arranged around the central house. The result was an almost cubist composition of interpenetrating spaces and volumes – a modern bungalow colony for a close-knit family. 





These fundamental considerations have always been at the core of our work, shaping our residential projects and leading us to new opportunities for design expression. Based on the success of some of our early work on the homes and workplaces of artists,  the positive attention that these projects garnered in the design press, and the inexorable power of the network of conversations and referrals, we began to receive inquiries from the broader base of art world clients.  Like a pebble dropped in a pond, the ripples radiated out to include collectors, galleries, art critics and writers and artists in other mediums and disciplines.  And a curious and extremely serendipitous phenomenon emerged:  our involvement in the world of the creative arts and culture situated us to move naturally into the realm of other cultural and arts commissions – museums, galleries, arts centers, etc.  Every architect’s dream of getting to design a museums relatively early in one’s career came true for us.  More to come on that in our future postings….and stay tuned to learn more about our current residential projects and where we see things moving towards in the future.






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