Ashton Woods Expertise

Why I Design Houses

by Jay Kallos

Have you ever wondered why you do what you do? For me, it seems natural. I truly love what I do. I enjoy getting up in the morning and make my way to work. I think about houses morning, noon and night. It is part of who I am. It drives me. The line between what I do for work and what I do outside of work is a very blurred one.

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “do what you love.” Following the path of what is innate in you will lead you to the best profession for you. The nurture/nature argument comes into play here too, as is a trait inherited or learned? I have come to the conclusion that it is good mix of both. I am the son of an engineer father and a creative mother and my great-grandfather and great-aunt on my dad’s side were somewhat successful artists, so that gives weight to the nature side.

On the nurture end of things, it gets a bit more complicated. I call it the tale of three houses. I was eight when the younger of my two sisters was born and our three bedroom, one bath house was getting a little tight—or a lot tight if you consider that my sisters’ room resembled a small closet. But I loved that house. I had a train “room” in the unfinished garage attic off of my bedroom that did double duty as a fort. I walked to school, and had a shortcut through the yard of the friendly neighbors behind us, as they lived immediately across the street from the elementary school’s playground (ground zero for after-school activities).

I learned to ride a bike while living there, running smack dab into our neighbor’s “for sale” sign and falling on my first solo spin. I remember not liking the fact that we were losing some great neighbors much more than the pride I lost falling down. The neighborhood was filled with many young families, and I still have friends that I met in Martin Farms. A true hallmark of a great neighborhood, then and now, are the people who live there and the friendships that are created there. The move to North Shore got us a lot more space in a house that was under construction, which enabled us to make tweaks to personalize the house to make it our home. Watching it take shape was magical, and it all seemed to happen so quickly. It’s there that I fell in love with the smell of freshly cut sawdust.

Source: Bikecation

Our first house was in the village and the new one was in a more rural setting. The new neighborhood was built along a meandering river, and the linear sidewalks that I was familiar with turned into curving sandy shoulders. My fort moved from the attic into the woods. But by still living in the same small town, my Martin Farms friends were close by and I made tons of new friends in North Shore. The new place was exciting to explore, and easily transitioned to old and familiar when friends from my old neighborhood came by.

One day, a few years after we moved in, I got to visit two friends unexpectedly. My teachers told me my parents wanted me to get off the bus before my stop at one friend’s house and then walk through the woods to Jimmy Mear’s house, where my mother would pick me up. It didn’t make any sense to me at the time, until I heard there had been a fire at our house.

Being young and not all that smart, I thought it might be kind of neat, especially if it started in my room, as I could get all new “stuff.” Be careful what you wish for. My aquarium’s electrical system had caused the fire, and my room, with all of its beloved stuff, was a complete loss. Not only did I lose my fish, my model cars and balsa wood models were fried. The things I loved were gone.

What I didn’t know was how transformative this experience would become.

As we lived in a small town and in a rather rural neighborhood, we had no architectural review boards or design guidelines to adhere to. Everyone maintained their houses, and for the most part, their yards, quite well. Without restrictions come things that you need to watch out for. Shortly after the fire, with the five of us scattered across town staying at various friend’s homes, we were reunited in a mobile home parked smack dab in the middle of our driveway. I thought it was the coolest thing. They rolled it in with carpet, furniture, and pictures hung on the wall all neatly in place. It was cool for a second and it then it got really small really fast. But as they were rebuilding our house, I had a front row seat, again, watching in amazement as it took shape and form. The nurture part of this story continued to impact me. Over the next couple of years we enclosed the garage to create a game room and built a detached garage. Again, I marveled at the morphing of this place that we called home as it evolved to meet our family’s needs.

As we continued to live in the house, things started to get a little tight as our lives changed. The breakfast table got cramped when we had friends over. Parties overflowed the rooms that were meant to hold them. Family visitors were sleeping in nearby motels—nearby being a relative term.

It appeared that dad’s career was going to keep us in this sleepy little town where everyone knew your name, where people kept their doors unlocked, and everyone climbed out of the woodwork when you needed something.  After growing into one house we decided to meet with an architect when I was eleven to start designing our dream home— our forever home.

The architect’s office had models of houses all over the place and plans and elevations in varying stages of completion scattered about.  His drafting table was mesmerizing. Before we got started, he let me draw a plan of our house—how I envisioned it, on his drafting board.

I was in heaven, but the house was a nightmare.  Even though I grew up in a small rural town, we actually always had the luxury of indoor plumbing. The house I designed had no bathrooms or closets (I know this as my mother saved the plan). Luckily, it has been kept away from my employers…

Source: The Blueberry Girl

As the house started to take shape from our collective ideas—pictures from magazines, spaces enjoyed in our current home, and the sage advice of our architect, I saw an entirely different perspective of how a house is designed, massaged, and evolved to become a true home. Our traditional split-level house that had been such a great home to us five, was being replaced by a contemporary single story home modeled after a house that my mother had seen in a magazine (long before Pinterest and Houzz).

During the construction of the house, my friends and I cleared the land to open up views from the rear of the house to the pond behind the house. There were many days I spent more hypnotized by the concrete being poured, the stud walls going up, the roof, the sheet-rock, and the finish materials being installed, than I was cutting down trees and pulling out stumps from what would soon become “Patrick’s Pond.” Move-in day brought in our familiar belongings—reinterpreted and reinvented in this new space. It felt like home immediately when all of us, including our pets, settled in. It became alive when our friends and extended family experienced it.

And it was then that I knew that I wanted to be intimately involved with home building when I grew up. I was bitten by the architecture bug and started pursuing architecture classes in high school and then college, where my bubble was burst when I was told I would have to wait until retirement to design houses, as there is no real demand for residential designers.

Patrick's Pond House

I was drawn into residential design as a result of both nurture and nature and with a passion that goes to my very core. As a building type, a home design evolves at a fast rate and is scaled to allow for experimentation. It has the capacity to easily marry both architecture and design. The passion involved with the typical owner, architect, and builder relationships runs much deeper when you are designing a home than that when you are working on a school, an office building, or a resort design. The end user is front and center in the conversation when you are designing a place that someone will call home. We are shaping the environment where they will live. If we do it right, they will live richer, better lives. With commercial buildings, you are using design to create a feeling and a place that will stimulate people or make working in that environment better, but the heart and soul is often wrung dry by the bean counters. With a home, no matter the cost, the design impacts the resident and they deserve the best house that they can get from their budget.

Residential design is alive and well at Ashton Woods, and I cannot begin to tell you how happy I have been to be a part of the design team that creates our homes —and, more importantly, your home.