Design Chat: Janet Hobbs

By Courtney Pittman

This courtyard house plan by Janet Hobbs is all about easy indoor-outdoor living on the lanai off the great room. Plan 935-14.

[Editor's Note: Janet Hobbs is one of Hanley-Wood/Houseplans.com's Signature designers, with a very successful practice in Austin, Texas called Hobbs' Ink, LLC. Hanley Wood staffer Courtney Pittman interviewed her for this post. Janet's latest design is Plan 934-14, above. See all our Hobbs' Ink, LLC's plans here.]

What inspires your designs?

Inspiration comes from many places. Historic home tours, travel, any built environment can provide inspiration. Design publications help. I also enjoy seminars given by other design professionals who help me see things through their eyes. But, my best inspiration comes from my clients and from the properties they buy. Every project has its own personality. The client speaks; certain things make their eyes light up. The lot tells me what feels right for the site.

As we begin I try not to assume I know anything and need to learn about this project as if it were my first.  I stay quiet for a long time just absorbing the elements that will make up this home. I LISTEN to the homeowners, sometimes to other members of their family. I LOOK at the photographs that give them joy.  I HEAR what their daily routines require. I find out everything: about their pets, about who showers first, who cooks at their house, where they like to hang out. I let them tell me how they live.

And, finally, I walk the property, looking at the views, feeling the slope of the land, being thankful for the trees and other things that make it special. And, after I’ve taken that all in, I KNOW what to do. (Plan 935-4, above)

What house style would you design for yourself?
Oooh, tough question. I used to think it would be totally edgy and modern, but now I’m not so sure. I grew up in a white clapboard home that seemed nothing special at the time, but that could easily have been an inspiration for the modern farmhouse style. One set of grandparents lived in a very classic gray stone home in New England. The other lived in a bungalow that my grandfather, who worked building for Frank Lloyd Wright in Usonia, NY,  had gutted and rebuilt with wooden light coves and horizontal lines reminiscent of Prairie style.

For my clients I’ve done everything from Colonial to Modern to Mediterranean and, of course, lots of classic Hill Country as well as Modern Hill Country. (Examples here: clockwise from top left: Plan 935-14; Plan 935-2; Plan 935-13; Plan 935-4; and Plan 935-6.)

Can you tell I’m stalling? I am. And, that’s because I’m not sure what I would design for myself.  I suppose the answer is that I would have to treat myself as one of my own clients and take the time to LISTEN to what my heart is telling me. I think I might have to start backwards and see what evolved.

I think I’d start with a Frank Lloyd Wright style Inglenook – a cozy fireplace built with big rounded river or ocean rock and seating on either side.  I’d have a studio with big north facing windows and medium high ceilings – not too high, probably 12 feet. The kitchen would be the heart of the home.  I’d have a nice screened porch on the back with another fireplace. But, the style? I don’t know. I think to make me happy it would have to be something new, something I haven’t done for anyone else yet. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what I come up with!

Are there any design trends you see in Texas homes for 2017?
Absolutely.  The modern farmhouse is enjoying a strong following right now and will continue.  Modern is still strong and, as long as it is warmed up with nice wood floors and other finishes that add yin to its yang will continue to be an important part of the market for a while.  Tuscan has been quiet for some time though an occasional client – I have one now – tries to get away from it, but keeps coming back to it because they simply love its warmth and appropriateness to our climate.

But, I think that while there will continue to be a market for clean lined modern, the pendulum is going to swing back to more traditional design – steeper roof pitches (which you are already seeing on farmhouse), more masonry (people will get tired of painting their siding farmhouses), warmer, cozier designs that remind them of where they grew up, more European or something like you’d see in a nice neighborhood built in the early 1900s.

Laundry/craft/studio rooms are the biggest floor plan shift we’re seeing. These rooms are moving up in importance like kitchens did decades ago. They are no longer just a practical place to get some household work done. They are showplaces with wrapping paper stations, drawers with electronic device charging stations, lockers for backpacks and islands for crafts or dog grooming or whatever is important to this family, pet showers, commercial stainless steel sinks for project clean-up, bins for craft storage, and any number of project oriented pieces.

Outdoor living is never going to go out of style. With about 11 months of warm weather here, outdoor rooms, screened porches, pergolas, courtyards and the like are possibly the most important part of a home.  One architect I know considers his outdoor spaces far more important than the actual homes.  He considers the building to simply be a vehicle for getting the occupants connected to nature. I think that’s a really great outlook and it reflects what I’m seeing on nearly every project.
When I started in the design world, I designed a porch 32’ x 8’ on a 1700 square foot home. One for one, everyone who looked at it said, “That porch is WAY too big.”  Now that’s almost expected on every home. In fact, an 8’ deep porch is considered woefully inadequate. That’s why we don’t call them “porches” any longer. They aren’t just a place for a rocking chair. Now these outdoor spaces are full living and dining rooms that just happen to be outside the walls of the home. (Plan 935-6, above)

If you must be inside, however, openness is key. The trend toward larger and larger pieces of glass just continues and gets more extreme. Sliding and multi-fold doors now come in a dizzying array of sizes. You can get them 11 and 12’ tall – nearly twice the height of a front door on a home in the 50’s. The New American Home in Florida this year had door units 40’ wide. Motorized screens are a frequent request for outdoor living areas (and to cover those BIG doors.)  More commercial glass, more black framed windows, more metal windows for slimmer profiles, it all leads to more glass, less wall. Bigger is better on interior design, too. Light fixtures are very unusual – and very large – with new techniques possible because of LED lighting.  Porcelain tile is available in oversized pieces big enough to cover a kitchen island with a single tile. There are lots of exciting products out there, too, but that can be the subject of another blog.

What are the most important things to remember when doing a remodel?
1. Find out what you will be ALLOWED to do.  There are more governmental and neighborhood restrictions limiting you than you think.
2. Estimate 2 – 3 times the cost of new construction for any addition because you’ve lost the economies of scale and simplicities of building a new home.
3. Once those things are out of the way and the program altered to accommodate what you find out you can begin, DON’T listen to what the client’s solution is to his issue. Instead get him to tell you what problem he is trying to solve. Then think outside of the box to figure out what is the best way to solve that problem. It is often NOT the way the client is proposing. Often you will find a simpler (and hopefully more cost effective) way to get the owner what they need and want.

The courtyard design in Plan 935-5 (shown below) is a great outdoor living/dining space - have you designed a lot of these?
Absolutely. Partly thanks to the exposure this particular home got first by being in a local Parade of Homes and later because of its popularity on plan sales websites, we have designed lots of courtyard homes and

certainly lots of great outdoor rooms. The outdoor room on this one is the image of our work on Houzz.com that has been saved to Ideabooks the most times. There are lots of great outdoor rooms out there, but I think

this particular style gets a little more attention because it’s clean and simple, not too cluttered up with oversized furniture and scroll-y iron work.

Courtyards are great for protection – from the wind, from prying eyes, from the whole outside world. It creates a spot where you can go that is completely yours.  It should be noted that a courtyard home is going to require a lot of perimeter wall and a lot of windows and doors so it will increase your price per square foot over a more boxy design. But, by all reports it is completely worth it.  One for one, the owners who have had us design these for them, LOVE it.  And, you may think that would only be true in warmer climates, but we’ve done quite a few north of the Mason-Dixon line, too. You asked me earlier what I would design in a home for myself and courtyard living would definitely be on my list of requirements.

Thu Jun 01 00:00:00 PDT 2017