suit yourselfCreating your perfect home starts by looking inward, then communicating that personal vision to your architect, designer, or builder.

Getting good advice and building a strong team of designer, banker, and builder are essential for building a house. Later on it will be equally important to properly manage the project, with its too-huge budget and ten thousand details. But as you set about designing, here’s the truth of the matter: exceptional houses are always the result of an exceptional vision, clearly communicated.

Not knowing how to articulate their vision, many home builders simply leave everything to the architect. But if you want your house to truly reflect what’s important to you, then you’d better get involved. Somehow, you have to be able to transmit to your designer not just your “wish list,” but the essence of your self and of your dreams. These intangibles are extremely difficult to communicate, belonging as they do to the realm of the intuitive, the artistic, and the right brain—qualities in short supply in a brick-and-mortar industry and in our culture at large.

Of course all of this is going to be much easier if your architect is open to your ideas and is intuitive enough to sense the aspirations that you just can’t put into words. The best architect is also part psychologist, part visionary artist, and part psychic. Yet even that ideal person will probably agree that the most important component of the design is you, the client. Architects dream of attracting clients who demand a really great house, communicate effectively, and then empower the designer to dig deep and produce a stunning design.

So the ball is initially in your court—and if you feel a little lost, perhaps that’s a good thing. Let go just a little and trust the mystery of the creative process. If it seems like nothing is happening, remember that most creativity goes on subconsciously, beneath the radar. So it’s hours spent together when subtleties of personal interaction tell a sensitive designer how you think, how you see the world, what your marriage is like, and what helps you greet the day with a smile. It’s time spent on-site which allows everyone to become attuned to the elements of light, wind, and sound. Such patience and quietness of mind will open your eyes to inspiration, often when you least expect it and sometimes even in dreams. If you, your partner, and your designer do a good job of doing “nothing,” chances are you’ll be surprised at how the first drawings bring into view just what it is you’ve been trying to envision.

Words are handy, however, and there are some techniques to help you on your way. If indeed you want substance with your style, you might organize your thoughts in terms of self, relationships, and environment.

Get a sheet of paper, write self as a heading, and develop a concise and pithy list of what’s most important to you in life. List items such as comfort, family, work, health, music, or food. Trim this list to 10 key items, and then rank them in order of importance. Are there ways your house can support every one of these priorities? You bet there are!

On a second sheet write relationships, and create subheadings for partner, family, friends, pets, and community. Rather than prioritize them, list your goals or wishes for each. For example, you may want to maximize romance with your spouse, create opportunities for the family to spend time together, or see to it that everyone can enjoy privacy or solitude in healthy ways.

The third sheet is labeled environment and can have categories for energy, water, land use, aesthetics, materials, and community. For example, we want to identify your goals for conserving energy and water. Will your landscape be xeriscapic, ornamental, or simply revegetated? Should the house employ natural materials and blend in with the land, or do you imagine a bolder contemporary rendering? Do you want to feel quite secluded or more part of the neighborhood?You can take plenty of time to do these exercises, you can do them separately or as a couple, and you might have an initial go and revisit them after a few weeks. Chances are you’ll discover the need to research a few areas. The point is simply this: until you yourself are clear on your goals, you’re in no position to communicate them to someone else.

While it may sound far-fetched, when you design your house you have the opportunity to design yourself. If health is foremost, then the food you eat, the air you breathe, and how you bathe and sleep are really important, and your designer needs to know that. If family cohesiveness is paramount, then you’ll want to bring everyone together at the dinner table or family room and de-emphasize the isolation inherent in bedroom TVs and video games. If you want to come into greater harmony with the natural world, the design of your home is going to dictate how you touch the environment.

Enthusiasm and joy are reliable indicators that the process is working, and they are absolutely the best ways (along with prompt paychecks!) to inspire your team to generate more of the same. So take time to celebrate each step forward, approach each challenge as a creative opportunity, and keep that spirit alive.

Vishu Magee designs homes around Santa Fe and Taos. He is the author of Archetype Design: House as a Vehicle for Spirit. Contact him at