Why Architecture Matters

And how you can tell good from bad.

February 1, 2008

If you’ve ever had buyers turn up their noses at a house before they even got out of the car, you understand that architecture matters. But the question remains: What is good architecture and how do you get your buyer clients to focus on the bones of the house, not just the exterior?

“Good architecture, whatever the style, is what makes a house feel like a home,” says Keith Moskow of Moskow Architects in Boston. “It’s not just aesthetics. It’s a certain feeling that this place feels like home. You could live in a jail cell, but it wouldn’t feel like home.”

Is it Sited Right?

How well a home integrates with its site is a key to make a home feel welcoming, says Moskow. A house should connect with its outside environment and be placed on the site so that it seems to fit in.

For example, an infill house on a street of dozens of homes shouldn’t stick out or be conspicuous. At the same time, it doesn’t need to mimic a historic home as much as offer a contemporary version of the same design idea. Likewise, if the site has a positive or negative aspect, such as a great view or a noisy highway, the home should be oriented accordingly.

The home’s position on the site also is important because it affects how natural light and air flow through the home at different times of day.

In Portland, Ore., where cloudy days are the norm, “light is a huge consideration,” says Jeffrey Lamb, associate principal and senior designer for Sienna Architecture Co.

Too much light also can be a problem, so homes in the sunny South should have awnings, roof overhangs, or trees to reduce the heat of afternoon sun in living areas facing south or west.

The home owners’ lifestyle and the use of interior spaces can affect where and how much light is desirable. Ideally, rooms where residents begin their day should face east, says Lamb. Office spaces should face north, where there’s no direct sunlight to create glare. Rooms for living and entertaining should face south and west.

TIP: The positioning of windows in a room may offer a clue to well-designed homes. Windows on the ends of a wall allow the light to flow across the entire space, while a window in the center keeps corners dark, notes Louis Smith, principal of Microtecture in Charlotte, N.C., and 2007 chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Small Projects Group.

Go With the Flow

Sight lines inside and outside, as well as between rooms, are a consideration in assessing a home’s livability and aesthetic appeal. Kevin Harris of Kevin Harris Architect LLC in Baton Rouge, La., recalls a client who loved a house he’d seen until Harris pointed out that when you entered the front door, your first view was all the way through the house to the master bathroom. “I told him we could have fixed the problem, but he just lost interest in the house after that,” says Harris.

Flow between rooms is another big factor in making a house feel more livable, says Moskow. Buyers should look for a house in which the rooms they plan to move through often are easily accessible from one another.

“They should walk through the house as if they lived there,” Moskow advises. “They should think about where they’re going to leave their coat, how they’re going to move from the public to the private space, and how they spend their time when they’re at home. No home style or layout is going to be right for every home owner’s needs.”

Do the buyers entertain? If so, do they want a formal dining room with an intimate space for eight or a large space that can easily accommodate 30?

Moskow advises that buyers “make a list of what’s most important to them and then evaluate the home’s design accordingly.”

TIP: Changes in ceiling height between rooms can create a sense of variety and add architectural appeal, says Smith. “I don’t mean those houses with the gratuitous cathedral ceiling that makes you feel like you’ve walked into a tube,” he says.

A ceiling a few inches lower can create a sense of intimacy; a little added height will make a room feel more open when you move from a lower to a higher space. If the house is fortunate enough to have 9-foot or 10-foot ceilings to begin with, variety in ceiling height is an easy feature for buyers to add, Smith notes.

Notes on Design

Just as lifestyle should impact the house that buyers choose, it should also dictate room arrangement and material choices.

Owners will be happier with room layout if they’re honest about their preferences, suggests Oma Blaise Ford, senior deputy editor at Better Homes and Gardens. If they spend a lot of their time watching TV, for example, they should put the TV set near the main living areas, not hide it away.

With regard to materials, durability should be a consideration, especially for owners who have kids or pets. They should avoid easily marred wood floors and stick to tile in high traffic areas. They also should consider countertops with rounded edges to cut down on injuries. “The materials of the home should be attuned to the way an owner lives,” says Moskow.

Finally, it’s important to remember that good architecture isn’t just for the wealthy or the trendy; instead it’s a fundamental part of what makes a house a home.

Mariwyn Evans

Mariwyn Evans is a former REALTOR® Magazine writer and editor, covering both residential brokerage and commercial real estate topics.


Residential Styles & Structural Elements


Tudor arches have a low point and are seen mostly on Tudor Revival and Gothic Revival styles of architecture, both popular in the late 19th and...