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Developing a comprehensive program is essential to the success of the home or structure under consideration. The program must be taken very seriously and when considering the design of a personal residence, can be considered an exercise in personal reflection and family dynamics. A good program does not include images from the latest architectural or design magazines; in fact, these can be a distraction. The program is not a discussion of design, style or taste; because these are too often influenced by current trends and modes and are, more often than not, superficial “likes” and “dislikes”. A useful program is an examination and reflection of emotions, character, spirituality, and sensuality. It is a discussion of the abstract and the details. It can be one of the most challenging “phases” of a successful design process. It is absolutely necessary to spend the time and energy on a complete and thorough program to help guide the architect. A well thought out program can be the difference between, a 'house', and a 'home'; a home that is both a enhancement of your lifestyle and reflection of your character. Your architect should be involved in developing your program, can assist you in clarifying the program and can make suggestions that will aid in your documentation, exploration and reflection.



Most of us have become accustomed to 'private' property boundaries and lines. The size and shape of those boundaries can vary in dimension and form, so we have formalized a legal method for defining the private boundary. It is within those lines that we can start to imagine a home and the personal, public, and private spaces we would like to create. There are many influences beyond the boundary lines that will affect the decisions that we make within the lines. Views, noise, sunlight, shade and prevailing weather are a few features that lie beyond the borders that can influence our design decisions. Responding to those external features, while considering the program, we can begin to change and manipulate the existing conditions to create our new spaces within the lines.  



It might be helpful to imagine two extremes: Imagine one extreme is a structure, a simple box, located within the unseen boundaries of the property boundary. Beyond the walls of the 'box', there are no visible boundaries. Imagine only a large, open expanse separates it from the neighbors, street, and sidewalk.   All the functions of the home are contained within the four walls, floor, and roof of the box. Now imagine, on the other extreme, a situation where the 'private' property line is clearly defined by a tall solid fence and the only entrance through this privacy fence is by way a single gate. Stepping through the gate you enter a private world where few influences from beyond the fence are perceived. The home located within this perimeter fence is defined by fragmented walls and planes that come together to form spaces. The spaces appear to be both interior and exterior with no clear definition of landscape and hardscape.



Although homes that are designed similarly to these two extremes do exist in the world, most home designs fall somewhere between these examples and incorporate elements of both. The goal of this program worksheet is to assist you, and your architect, to better explore and define the kinds of spaces and functions that you need and desire within your property boundaries. The first phase of this program will help you to describe the spaces and functions within the home. During this phase, it is important to describe the function of the space and not space itself. For example, using the word bedroom to describe the sleeping area should be avoided. The reason it is important to avoid the use of these words to describe the space is that the use of these words will conger up preconceived and predefined images of the space. By reconsidering our preconceived ideas about space and function we can better explore unique and truly personal solutions for your particular needs. The following is a list of words that will help describe use or function, feel free to add or invent your own words as needed. During this phase try to reflect on the need for natural light, direct sunlight (when available), darkness, privacy, separation, proximity, volume, and enclosure.

Sleeping area-

Resting area-











Formal dining-

Informal dining-

Group activity-

Personal grooming and makeup-


Cleaning clothes-


Food preparation-

Food storage-   Frozen-




Personal hygiene-

Auto storage-




After you have created your list of words that describe the 'functions' you need or desire, describe in general terms how you imagine the ambiance of those spaces. Finally describe the specific needs of the spaces, for example, the need for two sinks in the food preparation area or the need for parking more than one car. You may find at the end of this exercise that your original notion of space and the use of space have changed, and you need to revisit and reflect on your needs. This exercise of revising and documenting will provide the architect with the needed insight to further question and define your specific needs and will prove to reduce future regrets and/or epiphanies during the construction phase when changes are costly or unfeasible.    



The second phase of the program is far less abstract and personal in nature. The second phase is the inventory of possessions, such as furniture, art, clothing and so on. This is an exercise in quantities, numbers, and storage requirements. It is possible that after spending time on the first phase of the program, your priorities have changed slightly and the perceived needs for some of the items are in doubt. And likewise, after the documentation of items required for the second phase is complete, you may find the need to revise the first phase. This is precisely what should happen and is part of the process.



For some reason, perhaps it is the constant barrage of marketing or our collective notion of success; many of us struggle to balance our 'needs' and 'wants'. I know, from personal experience that, during the moving process, seizing the opportunity to simplify or 'purge' many of the material things that follow us through life can be liberating. Having said that, if the items, objects, or heirlooms are destined to follow you through life, take a moment to consider the possibility of a storage space or spaces that are dedicated to those “things” that are kept but not used. Creating a dense, well organized, and isolated storage area will alleviate the need for excess shelving, closets, and cabinets in the home that tends to clutter the spaces and interfere with their intended flow and use.



Keep in mind the basic understanding that each square foot of space that is built has a cost and although some spaces are more costly than others no space is free. A well-organized small home can feel larger and function better than a poorly-organized, large home. Depending on the region, it is possible to create more outdoor living spaces thus reducing the need for conditioned built space. For example, a covered 'breezeway' can function as a dining area or a family room during the summer months here in the Northwest and with portable space heaters can continue those functions into the spring and fall.

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