I am sure you have come across a residential catalog pattern book at some point in your life. You can find them in store and online–there are thousands of options on Amazon for every style house that you could think of. These books or magazines are great for the everyday person looking to have a home built sometime. However, as architects in Michigan, we must warn people that using these catalog books should be solely for inspirational purposes, and not as an actual design for a real life house. Let me explain why.

In our firm’s history, there have been countless times when clients come to us wanting to have a house built and tell us they “already have a design”–by which they mean they have picked out a plan from a residential catalog pattern book. In many, if not all cases, the client says they like that plan, with the exception of a few elements that they wish to change. Or in some cases, they like the floor plan of one design but the elevation of another, which is a problem in and of itself, which we will explore later. The main problem with coming to architects in Michigan with these plans in hand is that it is our job to design something for you, not to recreate someone else’s generic design on your specific plot of land. When a client says they want a specific design they are usually not considering the land on which they want to build. This can cause issues because if the client wants a walk-out basement but the land is very flat, that means either they need to realize a walk-out is probably not an option for them, or that in order to build the walk-out they will need to pay a lot of money to create the type of landscape that allows for that kind of house. The goal of architects in Michigan is to help the client create the home they want, on the land they have, for the price with which they are comfortable; it is not to replicate a design from across the country on the most inappropriate piece of land for a price either much higher or lower than they expect. Architects in Michigan consider the topography and context of a site when designing, and most of the time the catalog design ends up being a distant memory when the house is actually designed and built.

What residential catalog pattern books are good for is giving clients ideas when they are having trouble imagining what they want their house to be like. Sometimes clients will know what they do not want before they can narrow down what they do want. In those cases catalog pattern books are a great resource for introducing clients to different styles or layouts they might never have considered for their own home. A person unacquainted with architectural design might have never looked at a floor plan before, so using catalog pattern books can help them develop the skills of visualizing three dimensional designs from two dimensional plans.

As was mentioned before, often clients will come to architects in Michigan and say they like a certain design from a catalog pattern book, but want to make “a few changes”. What that inevitably turns into is many changes, because once they start working with architects in Michigan to develop their design on their particular site, they realize that the great room with all the windows in the design from the catalog is actually facing north and will not receive the type of sunlight they anticipated, or the small loft area upstairs in the catalog is now an entire mother-in-law suite which will require a small elevator. These “small” changes always turn into drastic adjustments which in turn require in depth design changes and often times, a lot more money than the client originally wanted to spend. Alternatively, a client might come to us with a floor plan they like, and an elevation they like, but the floor plan and elevation are from two different designs! In this instance the client does not understand that the floor plan determines the elevation of a building, and that often having a certain floor plan will not allow just any type of elevation. Jogs and bump outs in walls create different types of rooflines and overhangs that will not always translate to the elevation the client desires.

Another problem with residential catalog pattern books is that the designs inside are usually not anything revolutionary. That does not mean the designs are necessarily bad, but when you come to an architect, we have the skills and expertise to design something special for you in particular, and not just regurgitate someone else’s cookie cutter house design that you have to fit into. Some features of some houses work for some people, but not all people. For example, open floor plans are very popular right now; many people love them, but they lend themselves to busy and loud areas as you are combining living areas with the utility of a kitchen. If you are not used to open layouts, you might not be expecting to hear the clang of pans and dishes when you are trying to watch a dramatic movie. Architects can assist in figuring out how you live and what is important to you and your family’s everyday needs. If you are going to go to all the trouble of actually building your own home, why not work with an architect to come up with a custom design that fits your lifestyle, not the masses’?

These examples are just a few reasons why architects in Michigan will always tell you to come to us first, before you are set on a particular layout, so that we can help you figure out what you want from the very beginning of the design process, taking into consideration your site, your taste, and your budget, to design something that fits your lifestyle and your wallet.