A, B, C – Time to Vote

If you have been following our Facebook page then you are familiar with our A, B, C – Time to Vote posts. If not, we post several design options we have presented to clients for their projects, and ask our Facebook audience to gives us your thoughts. We never mention which option the client has selected or a vote tally. I thought it would be fun to show some of the more popular posts and vote totals.

#1 Post by reach (1164 people)
Scheme A (8 votes)
Scheme B (0 votes – this was my favorite)
Scheme C (3 votes)
Scheme D (13 votes)

Ultimately, the client wanted a more simplified design because the majority of the work is internal and they really liked our multistory atrium which means we need to spend less on the exterior.


#2 Post by reach (937 people)

Scheme A (3 votes)
Scheme B (1 vote)
Scheme C (11 votes)

The client chose scheme A. Of all the schemes this one cantilevered over the edge of the hillside, which the client preferred. Can you blame him?

#3 Post by reach (740 people)
Scheme A (19 votes)
Scheme B (6 votes)
Scheme C (2 votes)
Scheme D (7 votes)

Scheme’s A-C have the addition on the east side of the house, which the client wanted. Scheme D we put on the opposite side because it worked better for the flow of the floor plan. The client chose to pursue Scheme D.

The past year of voting on Facebook has been a lot of fun and if you haven’t participated in the past please like our Facebook page and join the fun.



‘Tis the Season to Decorate: Holiday Tips to Avoid Clutter and Enhance your Existing Style

The holidays are here (already!).  It’s time to bring out the boxes of decorations – the ornaments, greenery, candles and holiday figurines you’ve collected over the years. With so many treasured items, it’s hard to imagine not showcasing all of them during the holidays.

In a fit of Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation, your living room becomes more a “Christmas Shop of a Thousand Items” instead of your home decorated for the holidays. The warmth and festive feelings that drew you to your holiday decorations in the first place become muddled with disorder and confusion.

How to Combat the Clutter

Remember The. Most. Important Rule: Add One, Subtract One. When the holiday accessory comes out, remove the regular accessory and store it until after the holidays.

For example, if you currently display a bowl of colored and textured decorative balls that complement your everyday decor, swap these out with holiday glass ball ornaments in silver or gold. Store the everyday items in the closet. When the holidays are over, make the return swap.

The same goes for decorative pillows and holiday candles. If you add a holiday pillow on your chairs, sofa or bed, subtract the year-round pillows. If candles and candlesticks are part of your regular decor, remove the existing candles and replace with holiday-colored versions.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to spread the decorations throughout your home. The bedrooms, kitchen, hallway, even the bathrooms, often get overlooked. Even though your guests don’t spend as much time in these spaces, the attention to detail is appreciated.

Avoid the Point of Diminishing Returns  

Refrain from using every ornament you own on the tree. If you’re like me, you fell in love with all your ornaments and find it impossible to restrain yourself from putting them all on the tree. The result: an overstuffed tree. To ensure the special qualities of the ornaments and the stories behind them are not lost, separate ornaments by color, texture and design style.  Rotate the new “sets” year to year.

If your shelf or credenza displays framed family photos, rather than adding holiday frames and photos to the bunch (making it difficult to focus on any of them), swap out the frames and/or photos with the holiday versions. In my house, the formal portrait-type picture of my sister and her two kids changes during the holidays to the one with the kids laughing (and crying) on Santa’s lap.

It’s OK to Step Away from the Red and Green… and the Traditional 

If reds and greens don’t feel comfortable in your room, don’t be afraid to use colors that complement the existing color palette. Shiny, sparkly Christmas ornaments come in all colors and textures.

What if you hesitate to use the Victorian-era painted glass ornaments your grandmother gave you because your overall design aesthetic is Rustic Modern? Try mixing the painted glass with simple, solid-colored, pressed metal ornaments or frosted pine cones strung with rope twine. The seemingly disparate types merge as you ground them with color, texture and shapes that don’t compete.

And finally, if you’re not a poinsettia fan, no worries. Instead, bring in the holidays naturally with red berry sprigs and greenery.Fill a silver bowl with red apples. Fill vases with red amaryllis, or red and white lilies. Add fresh greenery and pine sprigs and Voila!

Love It, Don’t Just Live With It

What it boils down to is this: Resist the temptation to use everything you own and feel free to explore non-traditional decorating ideas. You will be surprised at how much you will experience your holiday decor, rather than count down the days to putting it all back!


Continuing Education

Continuing education is a licensing requirement for many professionals, including educators, engineers, health professionals, and, of course, architects. For architects in the US, this means completing a minimum number of continuing education units (CEU). Each organization/governing body determines the type and number of required CEU. There are many ways to gain these crucial hours, including webinars, conferences, and lunch-and-learns. Additionally, CEU can cover a broad range of topics, including software utilization, design strategies, professional development, or product use and specifications.

The Frank Gehry Master Class webinar.

Lunch and learns seem to be the most prevalent method for gaining CEU in our office. And for the (currently) unregistered architect, they provide a perfect venue to be introduced to new and varied products, detailing requirements, and general information on how things are actually constructed. While school covers a myriad of topics, sometimes the practical aspects of real-world construction slips through the cracks. Product lunch-and-learns are prime opportunities to fill in some of those gaps.

Learning something new while we have lunch.

How does a door need to be flashed? How about a window? What actually is that line we draw through the mortar of a brick wall and tag as “flashing”? Which types of flooring material need to be sheltered from the sun and which can be used to create patterns? What’s the difference between a vapor barrier, an air barrier, and a moisture barrier and where do you use each one? All of these are things we’ve learned about in just the last year of lunch-and-learns.

Of course, there’s nothing quite like hands on education. Every time I have the opportunity to get on a job site or meet with a client, I learn something new. Then there’s the weekly rounds of internet searches for how-to videos, tutorials, help sites, and blogs about how to more efficiently use our software packages. And of course there are countless “Hey, Janelle?” or “Hey, Scott?” moments in the office trying to figure out how things come together.

Some things get better with time

Architecture school is 5 years minimum of intense design studios. Each semester, you are given multiple projects with various design objectives. These projects give budding architects an opportunity to explore some really wild ideas. Since school projects are theoretical, you don’t have to worry about nuisances like gravity, building codes, HVAC systems, and other design realities. Despite this theoretical flexibility, my college designs tended to be more conservative. I did well in studio, but my solutions weren’t as creative as some of my peers. Interestingly, I’m finding over time I push the limits more, despite real world constraints. I attribute this to my two previous architecture jobs before starting my own firm.

I worked at Carlton Abbott and Partners for 5 years, directly out of college. During this time, my mentor, David Stemann, spent hours making sure I understood how building materials come together. Everything was carefully orchestrated; every material change, joints between materials, and the exposed framing of the building all related to each other. Because it was a small firm, I was able to be on the construction site watching my details come together. Perhaps more importantly, I also saw how they don’t always come together as expected. Looking back at those designs, the details of the buildings are still great, but the spatial experience was average.

I spent the next 3 years working for Centerbrook Architects. My detailing skills were fine, but I realized that my floor plans required more revisions. I worked with Mark Simon and Susan Wyeth. Together, we spent a lot of time discussing the spatial experience of the design. This was not often discussed at my previous firm, and clearly a skill I needed to improve. After a couple projects, my spatial skills had developed and I was able to combine both details and spatial experience.

Not to discount my formal education, but the real world of architecture really helped me fine tune my design skills. As time goes on, I am more comfortable pushing the limits and creating opportunities for clients. It does make me wonder though. If I went back to school now, could I push the design limits of future architects?

Pinterest with MSB Architects

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Pinterest and the Design Process

In the design world, visual representation is the clearest means of communication. A picture speaks a thousand words. In a fraction of a second, the user knows what is liked or disliked faster than he can explain why. For this reason, Pinterest is an invaluable tool for design communication.

From the Design Perspective

Pinterest gives the designer access to a visual storehouse of standards and examples. The designer can rapidly curate and relate the possibility of a design. This makes it easy for the designer to establish their design intention for their clients. From there, they can formulate possible pathways for the design, as it evolves through the schematic process.

From the User Perspective

Pinterest is user friendly and easily accessible. The user can access the designer’s page and familiarize himself with the designer’s work and aesthetic. They can also relate to the designer through their own Pinterest page. By liking and pinning visual elements, users establish their own aesthetic identity.


Using visual ques to establish a design intention.

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Design Collaboration through Pinterest

In this way, the two can begin to collaborate. A series of likes and pins from the Pinterest stock of visual elements sets the tone. Through exploration, the designer and the user can establish an aesthetic language and can begin to understand each other. Then, they can start a collaborative board for that project and begin working towards a goal.

Pin us!

MSB Architects has its own page located at www.pinterest.com/msbarchitects, that we would love you to explore. We have shared both our own projects, and things that inspire us. Some boards are specific to a project, and show the inspiration behind it. Others are organized by construction elements, such as stairs, and show the possibility of specific details. So dive into the world of design and see what speaks to you. After all, every project begins with inspiration.


Use the heart icon on pinterest to like items on boards

Pin it!

A salute to the past

It’s been 13 years since I started HarneBowen Architects and Planners and 8 years since we changed our name to MSB Architects. Along the way, we have had employees who have helped shape the firm into what it is today. Today, I would like to recognize and salute a few of them.

Ashley Mogenhan was one of first employees at HarneBowen Architects. She was not an architect by training, but she was able to absorb information like a sponge. It didn’t take her long to understand how buildings are put together. Her focus and speed in AutoCAD were incomparable. She was able to complete markups faster than I could produce them. I never worried about her getting things done; I was more worried about me keeping up with giving her information.

In 2006, Michael Summers, a fresh graduate of the Catholic University of America (CUA), joined the firm. Because Michael and I attended the same school, I knew he would understand how important quality presentation drawings are. Michael contributed many things to MSB Architects over the years, but most notably was his attention to detail. As a craftsman himself, the details came naturally. Check out his wood turning at www.summerswoodturning.com.

Katie House, a graduate of Virginia Tech, joined MSB Architects in 2011. I don’t want to say I was in a rut, but I had become timid about pushing cutting edge designs, since a few weren’t well received. Katie had a strong understanding of design and she was able to challenge our concepts. Through our design discussions, Katie reignited my passion for good design. We continue to push good design and challenge our clients to think outside the box.

Alison Pavilonis and Chris Weir joined the firm in 2013 and 2014. They had both gone to Penn State and were close in age. The energy they brought made you excited to come to the office. It was during this time we had decided to switch from AutoCAD to Revit. Their enthusiasm during this transition made all the frustrations of Revit tolerable. Chris ultimately became so good, we still don’t understand how he did some things in Revit. Ultimately, the urban call was too strong and they both migrated to DC area firms.

Employees, both past and present, are MSB Architects’ most valuable asset. We have made huge strides with out-of-the box designs and creating a name in our community with tireless commitment of Janelle Horst, Brianna Blackaby, Claudia Hapenciuc, Raquel Orsini, and Kim Bowen. When I think about MSB Architects and its success, I realize that it wouldn’t be possible without these people. Thank you for your dedication to MSB Architects and for the occasional kick in the ass.


Brianna so kindly reminded me that I’ve already done a blog about redlines, but I’ve transitioned from the person receiving the redlines to the person creating the redlines. Let me tell you – it’s a whole new world y’all!

Since Scott basically taught me how to redline, I create my own similar to his. Red, then, is for the overall corrections to be made. Blue is for general notes made to the person that will be receiving the redlines. Blue, then, is typically a more “teaching” color used to explain or question a particular item. I also use blue when it no longer makes sense to use red. For instance, in a wall section or other detail where the information is very dense, I’ll use blue to note the air/vapor barrier because that dashed line can be easily lost in the other information. There are all also different kinds of redlines a person might receive ranging from the typical construction document redlines to snarky ones.

Schematic Design Redlines

These are loose and sketchy. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

Schematic design redlines completed on an iPad and through sketching.

Construction Document Redlines

These are more refined and technical in nature. This type is the most typical and, in my opinion, the most time consuming to create. They come in several forms – notes directly on drawing, trace paper over the drawing, graph paper drawing, and details or text from previous projects.

Fully detailed wall section, door schedule, landscape detail, and text notes.

Redlines for Redlines

This type is when I’ve already completed a sheet, but then realize something needs to change so I have to go back to the previous sheet and redline my own redline.

Oops! Didn’t need those doors after all!

Fun Redlines

These generally come when you’ve just started redlining or after you’re so tired that everything is funny.

Missing floors, silly drawings, and laughable comments.

Snarky Redlines

These typically occur midway through redlining a construction set when you’re past being funny and starting to become a bit edgy.

If you leave it blank, the response might be a bit snide.

Edgy Redlines

This type will occur once you’ve been redlining a set for a while and you see things that shouldn’t need to redlined or you intended to be silly, but it came out like this:

Wrong! Fix!!!


In the end, redlines are a system of checks and balances. They ensure that the drawings are coordinated and correct. Redlines of any type are a valuable learning tool, not only for the person receiving them, but also for the person creating them. As I improve in my redlining abilities, I learn better how to communicate my ideas with my peers and I gain a more thorough understanding of the products and methods of construction that we use everyday. All of this means a better building for you.

Virtual Reality, yes or no?

Here at MSB Architects, we love technology and how it lets us get our ideas across clearly to our clients. One technology that has been around for decades, but is finally becoming mainstream is Virtual Reality (VR). It’s a fun toy, but is it a tool for MSB Architects? After much internal deliberation, I think the answer is yes, but not at this time.

Earlier this year we started exploring ideas for our next tech investment, which included Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and 3D animation. I am a technology junkie and was drooling at the idea of adding Virtual Reality for our clients. As a gamer, I was familiar with the interface and how they work, but until recently they have not been an economical choice. We had an opportunity earlier this year to test drive the latest VR technology, thanks to High Rock Studios. It demonstrated some great possibilities for client experience and showing various design options in a fully immersive environment.

The VR headset is quite the fashion statement too!

However, one of the downfalls of VR technology development is a lack of smooth movement within the environment. You tend to bump into walls and furniture as you navigate around the space. This awkward movement is the primary reason I decided the timing was wrong for MSB to go virtual. When I started thinking about how we typically present design ideas to clients, I imagined how we would accomplish this with VR headsets. The first stumbling block came when I realized only one person can wear the headset at a time. Which is problematic considering we rarely have a client meeting with only one person. We could project the image for others to watch, but it wouldn’t be the same experience. It’s also imperative that we have a smooth experience when we present design ideas. We want clients focused on the design, not the technology.

In the end, we chose to invest in the 3D animation software as a first step towards a more virtual environment. I am certain in the near future we will reconsider Virtual Reality, but we’d like to see it become more natural first. Technology is critical, but it’s important to invest in the right technology. For MSB Architects, we judge our investments on how it improves the client experience. While VR is really cool and can be a great tool, I think it needs to get a little farther. What do you think?