Ask an Architect: How to Build a House

So you want to build a house. We get it. It’s a daunting process, especially when you don’t have an ally. So how do you get started? You often hear stories about what can go wrong, how expensive a project becomes, and how long it takes. You may wonder what it’s like to work with an architect: will they catch your home design vision? Can you understand their lingo? Will you feel comfortable sharing your ideas with them?

We’d love to help you get started on your home design journey at AIA Seattle’s Ask an Architect this Saturday, January 13. GHD architect Eric Drivdahl explains: “Ask an Architect is a fantastic opportunity for homeowners to ask direct questions of Seattle area residential architects.”

Eric Drivdahl answers your questions at Ask an Architect.

How to Build a House

Eric will partner with Matt Hutchins of CAST Architecture to answer your questions on setting priorities, communicating your budget, thinking through the home design and construction process, and finding an architect who works with you. “Attendees will walk away with a good understanding of the whole home design or home improvement project process. We’ll present and discuss everything from timeline to who all needs to be on the team. We look forward to hearing our guests’ questions and addressing their dream projects.”

It’s all part of what we love: building relationships and working with clients. Through this event, we hope to give you an opportunity to push forward on your dream project, to dispel fears and equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to make informed decisions.

Ask an Architect takes place Saturday, January 13 in Seattle at the Center for Architecture and Design. Bring your questions, ideas, and “napkin sketches,” and we’ll bring experience, coffee, and snacks. We can’t wait to see you and learn about your dream home design!

Register here!

The Future of Home Design

Each year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) holds a home design competition for collegiate architects. They inspire students to design innovative residential spaces along a specific theme. This year’s theme: “Here + Now.”

AIA encouraged student architects to envision homes in light of “context, culture, and vernacular, but fully embracing 21st century technology and ideas of domesticity.” In essence, the institute asked students to examine the design of current homes—the rooms deemed most important, the flow of spaces, the dominant materials—and to consider how each design choice reflects on broader cultural understandings of homelife and family.

Bellevue architect Eric Drivdahl reflected on the competition. “Based on the winning entries, it appears that there is a bright future for residential design taking a more integrated and holistic approach to housing solutions that address not only aesthetic concerns but also a host of other pressing needs in housing: affordability, ecological and sustainable priorities, co-housing, in-fill urban development, housing equity, energy independence, and other vital issues facing housing in our communities and cities.”

A Bellevue architect discusses the future of home design.

Students of Architecture

As technology continues to advance and day-to-day life evolves to accommodate its influence and demands on our time and resources, it’s important that architectural design likewise incorporates these factors into creating efficient, effective residential spaces.

“Students have always been a source of innovation and have helped move the profession forward with fresh and passionate ideas about how to improve our built environment and housing options,” Eric said.

“Here at GHDA, we have enjoyed the input and contributions that student interns have provided over the years. We generally take on one or two summer interns and have also collaborated with local high schools to facilitate student capstone projects focused on architecture, particularly residential design. Interns have contributed to GHDA projects as well as worked on self-directed design explorations with mentoring and input from our staff and principals. We greatly enjoy these opportunities as it aligns well with our core value of training and empowering our staff to become the best architects possible.”

A Bellevue architect discusses the future of residential design.

Part of our continuing growth as artist architects comes through mentoring young architects and challenging them to grow in their own art. We learn even as we teach, and our collaboration with one another results in more innovative home designs.

Prairie Style Architect

Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use. Frank Lloyd Wright

We love and live a variety of design styles, from traditional gothic architecture to contemporary design. Every project is a new opportunity to exercise creativity in our endeavor to create livable art. Several years ago, Kirkland architect Curtis Gelotte infused Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired prairie architecture into a predominantly colonial style community. The result: exquisite. Here’s what he had to say about the project and about Wright’s enduring influence.

A Kirkland architect crafts a prairie style luxury house in the Virginia Woods.

How did this particular prairie style home evolve?

Curtis Gelotte: I designed a prairie style home in the Seattle area, and a woman living abroad had seen it featured in an online publication. Over several years, she would contact me with concepts for a luxury house she was hoping to retire to, until one day, she called to say that she and her husband had purchased land…in Virginia. So I flew out to Virginia and looked at the site, and we plotted where the house would sit. On the plane, I had done some sketches for how the house could be arranged, and we ended up going with that basic sketch.

It was an opportunity to do a house that really tried to model Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophies, especially the usonian house. We aimed to really carry the details through. It became a very delightful house.

A Kirkland architect crafts a prairie style luxury house in the Virginia Woods.


Did you face any challenges in the creation of this home?

Funny things happened. This home was built in Virginia. Everything around it was built with traditional red brick, and we wanted gray brick. The mason had a hard time believing that we didn’t want red brick. Everything in that region was colonial style, so something that was prairie style was a foreign concept.

Even so, we tried to be very, very true to the style. We used the sculpting of the ceiling to define spaces. The fireplace is actually patterned after a specific Wright fireplace that the homeowner admired.

What about prairie style architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright that continues to draw people back to this design genre?

Visit Oak Park outside Chicago and take the walking tour. In one of the places, they have you stop next to one of his prairie style houses which stands right next to a Victorian style house: those homes were built the same year. That was the style of the time, and Wright was so radically different that it was shocking. In many ways, he was the first modern architect, because he wasn’t following the normal patterns.

But I think the thing that makes him continually appealing is that he created a great sense of flow from inside to outside and flow from one space to another. He was the first to do open floor plans, which now is the norm. He sculpted volumes. He was extremely good at creating spaces and having spaces relate to each other. He knew how to follow decorative themes throughout the housewhich was not uncommon at the timebut he did it in a way that was different from everybody else.

Most of his homes have a human scale to them. Even if they get large, they’re very comfortable. When you go to one of his houses, everything’s a little bit smaller than you think it will be, because he designed things for himself, and he was short!

But I think the appeal is that he created comfortable spaces and allowed spaces to flow from one to another and to the outside in ways that were so totally different from the Victorian style. His spaces were very open with level upon level of consistent detail.

A Kirkland architect crafts a prairie style luxury house in the Virginia Woods.

Check back often for more information on building a prairie style home with Kirkland architect Curt Gelotte, and allow us to serve you as you create your own luxury house.  

Teamwork in Design

Steve Jobs once said that “great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” We’re inclined to agree.

And while Gelotte Hommas Drivdahl is a gifted, creative group of artists, our team extends to the contractors and vendors we work with. After all, that’s why we look forward to Gelato, Hummus, and Drinks every year–it’s our opportunity to celebrate and catch up with the people who partner with us in the art of architecture.

Partner in Design

We’re privileged to partner with people who share our passion for enduring homes, molded perfectly to fit lives as unique as our clients’. Real Sliding Hardware is one of our partners. Located in our own Seattle, Washington, RSH emphasizes craftsmanship, excellence, and innovation in interior sliding barn doors and barn door hardware.

We relish opportunities to work with RSH. Their professionalism and creativity combine for extraordinary results, especially when it comes to barn door designs.

We used one of RSH’s barn door designs to provide a seamless flow from Cedar Haven’s main living space into the hallway. The doors captured the rustic-modern look that the homeowners desired and added to the illusion that the rural architecture grew out of the forest–that every inch of the home belongs in that space.

These custom sliding barn doors fit naturally into the home's rural architecture.
Our partners at Real Sliding Hardware provided exquisite custom barn doors for our Cedar Haven project.

The barn doors are perfectly imperfect and alive with the neutral colors of the forest. They complement the rural architecture’s surrounding details and add opportunities for both privacy and open space.

That level of attention to detail is essential in the design of a dream home. Every inch–from shingles to stairways to doors–speaks to the character of the house and the lives of our clients.

And we’re grateful for our colleagues who share our passion for intentionality and excellence in design.

Design + Structure

Last month, Panache Partners released Structure + Design: Signature Work by Leading Architects and Interior Designers. The coffee table book features exquisite residential design from fifty of the country’s leading home design experts, including Seattle’s Gelotte Hommas Architecture.

Structure + Design includes custom design inspiration from GHA’s Lakefront Splendor, Casa del Sol, and Cedar Haven projects. Every photo in the volume is accompanied by a detailed caption that articulates the beauty of each design.

Design + Structure showcases the best of residential design.
Design + Structure showcases the best of residential design from across the United States.

“Creating habitable art requires an ever-listening ear to discover the client’s unique perception of what ‘home’ means to them, and utilizing an artistic eye to evaluate proper scale, proportion and composition.” Structure + Design

One of Gelotte Hommas’ defining features is our love of story. Every home we create celebrates the fruition of a dream—and the story behind that dream. We select a specific theme and narrative to guide our residential design scheme through every home. The homes in this design collection celebrate the beauty of their surroundings, the careful skill of their craftsman, and the cherished visions of our clients.

Design + Structure showcases the best of residential design.

The luxury design book also showcases the work of forty-nine other residential design professionals from across the United States. We enjoyed perusing the book and appreciating how our fellow designers incorporate their own regions’ unique landscapes into their craft.

Kitchen and Bath Industry Show Recap

Earlier this month, architects and designers converged on Orlando, Florida for the annual Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS). Gelotte Hommas Drivdahl Architecture has been keeping an eye on the news, trends, and innovations that emerged from the 2017 convention. We thought we’d share a few of the most significant home design trends.

Distressed finishes rank high in this year's home design trends.
Distressed finishes rank high in this year’s home design trends.

Here are a few of Architizer’s conclusions and finds from this year’s kitchen and bath show floor:

  • Concrete is in. Concrete countertops continue to grow in popularity. For homeowners who aren’t ready to go hard on concrete, design experts introduced concrete-esque colors and finishes.
  • Go Nero Marquina. When it comes to marble, you want Nero Marquina–a black stone with deep white veins extracted from Northern Spain.
  • Distress it. No matter the surface, the aged, weathered look continues to add character to any room. There’s beauty in imperfection.
  • Tough it out. Many traditionally interior surfaces are now touted as resilient and versatile enough to bring outdoors.
  • Overlay quartz. For people looking to remodel their kitchens, Caesarstone introduced its Transform line of quartz countertops. The quartz fits neatly atop existing surfaces for a sleek, fresh look.
  • Smart charging. Install wireless charging ports into your countertops!

GHDA architects reflected on this year’s KBIS and the home design trends it identified. Eric Drivdahl mused, “Of the four kitchen and bath finish trends identified, I am most excited about the creative use of materials traditionally used for interior surfaces which are being adapted for use on home exteriors.  Using a unique surface or material can be just the thing to accent an entry wall or other significant feature of a house design. Focal points deserve special and unique treatment such as this trend may avail.”

We look at exterior home design trends.


For the complete KBIS finish and surface trends assessment, visit Architizer.

Story in Architecture: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

In honor of Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, GHDA spent some time musing over the National Museum of African-American History and Culture and researching the story it strives to tell…and to glean some architecture inspiration!

We explore the NMAAHC's historic architecture.
Photo credit: Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

A rectangular, glass building planted in the heart of the National Mall, the NMAAHC is the newest addition to the Smithsonian collection, and it seeks to model the principle that “the building (as a container) embraces its contents.”

Designer David Adjaye and architect Philip Freelon set out to synthesize “a variety of distinctive elements from Africa and the Americas into the building’s design and structure.” The museum’s historic architecture, therefore, manifests its contents. 

Even historic monuments provide home architecture inspiration in the stories they tell.
Photo credit: Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

The latticed, three-tiered corona structure stands in stark contrast to the surrounding granite and marble buildings. The corona draws upon the three-tiered crowns depicted in West African Yaruban art and is a signature icon in African art–much like the Corinthian column is an icon of Western art. The bronze filigree screens that comprise the crown draw inspiration from the ironwork forged by African American craftsman in the South, and the lattice’s reflective nature allows the building to change in appearance. Depending on time of day, the corona may appear bright and lively or dark and somber.

Light and the lattice play a practical, as well as an aesthetic, role. The invitation of natural light into the museum moderates energy use and makes the structure sustainable. In fact, the NMAAHC is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building on the National Mall.

We explore the MNAAHC's historic architecture.
Photo credit: Alan Karchmer/MNAAHC

Inside, the museum invites visitors to start at the bottom of the museum (fifty percent of the structure is underground!) where they begin to explore history chronologically: from Africa, through slavery, and to the present. Visitors ascend through history along gradually sloped ramps. Above ground, the NMAAHC showcases African American culture and its contribution to American food, art, literature, music, business, science, sports, the military, and more.

Adjaye hopes that the narrative of his historic architecture design serves as reminder that the National Museum of African American History and Culture is (like the rest of the National Mall) a museum for all Americans.

We explore the NMAAHC's historic architecture.
Photo credit: Karchmer/NMAAHC

GHDA loves stories in architecture. We consider the story of each client and infuse it into the design of his or her dream home, and it’s always a pleasure to consider the larger stories communicated through cultural monuments and museums. 

Where do you find architecture inspiration?

A Delectable Dream Kitchen

Thanksgiving is now behind us, and the Christmas season is upon us. It’s that scrumptious, food-filled time of year that has many people dusting off their dreams for the perfect kitchen.

When clients approached us with their vision for a delectable kitchen, we invited Chef John Howie of Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar to lend his expertise to the Hillcrest Farm project. From expansive kitchen to a spacious butler’s pantry to a home bar, here’s the fruit of our partnership with the illustrious Bellevue chef:

Spacious Kitchen

The dream kitchen features a full range with an additional oven on the left and a second stovetop located on the island. The island offers the family and guests a comfortable space from which to eat or to interact with the meal’s cook. To the right of the range, the fridge melds with the surrounding cabinetry in order to offer efficiency without disrupting the kitchen’s visual flow with a clunky appliance.

The Hillcrest Farm dream kitchen.
This dream kitchen features multiple stove tops.

Designated Prep Area

A defined food preparation area sits adjacent to the primary kitchen. Complete with a double sink, extensive cabinets, and plenty of counter space, this kitchen companion provides home chefs and caterers alike with ample room to create their culinary masterpieces—from Thanksgiving turkeys to Christmas cookies. With access to the outdoors, it’s also a great home base for outdoor entertaining.

This dream kitchen offers a designated prep space.

Butler’s Pantry

Large pantries and secondary kitchens are among the top trends in home kitchens. A butler’s pantry offers considerable storage for food and kitchen supplies and provides additional space in which to cook and clean outside of your guests’ view.

This pantry features an exquisite island, an extra sink, an additional dishwasher, and storage for cookbooks.

A butler's pantry offers extra storage and clean up space.

Inviting Bar

If you’re searching for an additional entertainment space, consider adding a luxurious home bar and a well-stocked wine cellar. Mounted television screens and inviting bar stools fanned around a curved bar ensure that game day camaraderie will flourish in your home.

A home bar offers extra entertainment space.
A home bar offers a casual alternative to a formal dining space.
A home bar offers extra entertainment space.

Designing Peace

In light of the United Nations’ September 21st International Day of Peace, we’re looking at architecture history in Hiroshima’s Peace Center and Memorial Park.

Following the devastation of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan sought to rebuild the city and dedicate it as a national cry for peace after a long and tumultuous war. Kenzo Tange—a premier Japanese architect—was asked to lead the city’s reconstruction efforts.

Kenzo Tange's Hiroshima Peace Memorial makes architecture history.
Fountain of Prayer, Hiroshima, Japan.

Historic Opportunity

Kenzo Tange faced a unique architectural opportunity: the chance to redesign a city without the constriction of preexisting structures. His historic design centered around a memorial dedicated both to the victims of the bombing and as a symbol of peace and future hope to the world.

Completed in 1955, Hiroshima’s central memorial is comprised of a large peace park at the hypocenter of the blast zone and features a memorial museum, a children’s peace monument, and the Genbaku Dome.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Center stands above the ground on large pillars, and is accessible by a free-standing staircase that allows visitors to climb up into the museum. The Peace Center is one of the few remaining examples of modern-style Japanese architecture from the 1950s. Most contemporary buildings have since been demolished.

Kenzo Tange's Hiroshima Peace Memorial makes architecture history.
Peace Center Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by: Wiiii, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 2009, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Peace Center’s modular design crafted with bare, reinforced concrete allows visitors to focus fully on the exhibits contained within the structure. The historic design also provides stark contrast to the shocks of vermillion, bountiful greenery, and artfully curved roofs that are so prevalent in traditional Japanese architecture. For Hiroshima, this intentionally modern piece of architecture history embodies the city’s desire for rebirth and longing for future peace.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial’s windows look out across the rest of the park and frame a view of the Genbaku (“atomic bomb”) Dome, the eternal flame, and the Children’s Peace Monument.

Genbaku Dome

The Genbaku Dome stands in contrast to the Peace Center and represents a rare picture of ruin within a country that constantly seeks to project the most polished and beautiful image possible. Originally a landmark exhibition hall designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel, the Dome is a raw glimpse into early twentieth century Western architecture in Japan. It’s also the only surviving building that was directly impacted by the atomic blast. The building is now permanently preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Genbaku Dome's historic design stands strong in architecture history.
Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan.

From the Genbaku Dome’s raw destruction to the Peace Center’s bare hope for the future, Kenzo Tange’s Hiroshima Peace Park walks visitors through history with architectural excellence. His historic design, a work that evolved over the course of the project, incorporates elements of imperialism, destruction, and modern hope to tell a story he hoped visitors would not soon forget.

Architecture history and designs like Kenzo Tange’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial inspire us to create homes that tell stories and stand the test of time.

Cocktails & Mocktails

While we ordinarily spend our days turning our clients’ dream homes into a reality, we also embrace opportunities to flex our creative muscles and apply our skill to other creative ventures.

Last week, we traded our drawing boards for 5-by-5-inch cocktail napkins and entered our designs into the Architectural Record Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest.

The rules were simple:

  1. Create a unique, architecture-oriented design specifically for this competition.
  2. Draw your design on a white 5-inch-by-5-inch paper cocktail napkin.
  3. Use an ink or ballpoint pen.

The rest was up to us!

The Gelotte Hommas team indulged in Zeek’s pizza and Classic Shirley Temple, Arnold Palmer, and Raspberry Fizzler mocktails as we sketched out our best contemporary designs.

Take a look at what we dreamed up, and share your thoughts in the comments!

Architectural sketches on cocktail napkins.
Tom Brown contrasted light and dark in his bid for the prize.
Cocktail napkins serve as another canvas for our creativity.
Scott Hommas adds a splash of color to his garden scene.
Cocktail napkins serve as another canvas for our creativity.
Eric Drivdahl proves that simple’s always in style.
Cocktail napkins serve as another canvas for our creativity.
Notice the reflection in Curtis Gelotte’s cityscape sketch.
Cocktail napkins serve as another canvas for our creativity.
Eric Drivdahl “drew” inspiration from Louis Kahn, a leading twentieth century architect.
Cocktail napkins serve as another canvas for our creativity.
David Grubb’s modern design.

Wish us well as we submit our cocktail napkins–the winner will receive an Apple Sport Watch! And while we await the results, take a look at our past entries.