Are You Still Pregnant?

As construction continues and our youngest child graduates high school, I can’t help by draw comparisons between the building process and being pregnant. Admittedly, it’s been 18 years since I’ve been pregnant, but there are some things that you don’t forget. Years later, I can still remember what it’s like to have a tiny foot pushing into my ribs while someone stretched out luxuriously. I’m still deciding which trade has their proverbial foot in my ribs but trust me, it’s there.

In the early stages of pregnancy, you get to dream about all the possibilities. What gender is the child? Will it have your eyes or your spouse’s hair? What will your child’s temperament be? Will they get Great Uncle Harry’s uncanny ability to read people or Granny’s funny sneeze? The early stages of design were very similar to us, as we dreamt big dreams for our building. We wondered at the possibilities. Then we came to love the reality of what we actually got instead of the imagined perfect child.

We have also had our share of anxiety, like any new parent. Will my baby be healthy? Have 10 fingers and toes? What if my child encounters bullies? How will I pay for braces and college? Can I afford new gutters when I thought they were included in the roofing quote? How can I protect my new windows from vandals? These are the burning questions that keep us awake at night when pregnant.

It’s a girl! Or a building!

At this point, I feel like I’m at least in my third trimester. The novelty and excitement have worn off. Everything is routine and I feel like I’ve been pregnant forever. I’m looking forward to giving birth, but it feels like this baby is never going to come. Questions like “when will you be done?” start sounding suspiciously like “when are you due?”

I’m really hoping that the gestational period for this renovation is not nine months like a full term pregnancy. It was never meant to take that long. And really, if it means not being pregnant, I’m ok living with a premie.

Finding your Picasso of a Paint Color

I was talking to an interior painter the other day and the subject of picking paint colors came up. The painter lamented that clients often ask her to recommend color for their interiors, They say they are “bad with color” which means, roughly, “I’m afraid I’ll pick the wrong one, please help!” The painter explained she always hesitates recommending colors because color is such a subjective thing. She added that just because a color worked well in the last client’s home doesn’t mean it will work in this client’s home.

This is true for obvious color theory reasons — color hues change depending on lighting conditions and other colors paired with them. But what she was really alluding to is the emotional side of selecting paint colors. Color and the feelings they evoke are completely individual and personal. As could be said about a famous painting by one of the Masters, one person’s “I love it!” is another person’s “I wouldn’t be caught dead with that painting (and for the purposes of this blog, color), in my house!”

So how do we help people find the “right” color, i,e, the one that inspires them most? Here are a few tips:

  • Ask your client to show you a favorite outfit. If there’s a lot of blue in the wardrobe, blue may be a good place to start. The rule is: If you look good in that color, you will feel good in that color.
  • Pull colors from a favorite painting. If you feel like you want to jump in the painting Mary Poppins style and stroll down the path to the gray house at the end with the red roof, you may like grays and reds in your living room.
  • Look at a photograph from a favorite spot on vacation. If you feel yourself back on the veranda in France looking at green hills and golden wheat, those may be good colors for your kitchen.
  • Simply look outside. If your issue is whether certain colors go together, look to nature. A duck has emerald green, blue, gray and beige in its feathers, topped by an orange beak. These colors coordinate beautifully, even though they seem not to relate.

One designer I admire for her approach to overcoming fear of color is Jane Lockhart and her method of introducing color options using only things the client loves. She creates a color wheel made up of fruits, vegetables, place mats and tableware for a chef client, for example.  For a musician client, sheet music, instruments and guitar picks represent the colors on the color wheel. These themed color presentations help customers pick colors they gravitate toward without thinking.

Picking a paint color need not be fear-invoking. Find inspiration from things that make you happy. It’s not only a good, but a comfortable place to start!


Thanks for your Support

I have been practicing architecture for 24 years. It’s been extremely rewarding but can require a lot of extra time over the course of our careers. I have worked with some wonderful people that offered support as I developed as an architect. However, the one constant element in all those years is my wife, Kim. We celebrated 25 years of marriage this week and it has me thinking about the sometimes lonely road of architect spouses.

Kim and I have three kids. When they were little, family dinners were our opportunity to connect. Most nights, I was home for dinner and help put them to bed. Occasionally, Kim would bring the kids and my dinner to the office when there wasn’t time to make it home. However, there were many nights that I went back to the office after they were tucked into bed. Often on those evenings, Kim was asleep when I got home. The kids didn’t miss much time with their dad, but it didn’t leave much couple time.

As the kids got older, our family calendar got busier. Kim made sure that all the important activities made it to my calendar, so I didn’t miss events. I know it was hard for her, but she never complained. I have observed the same support from the other MSB Architects family/spouses as we pursue our careers in architecture.

A college tour or a cool architectural detail? You be the judge.

Our spouses and families are the ones we share the joys and challenges of architecture. They get to listen to us talk about ceiling tiles, lights, and wall finishes. Sitting across the table from us in restaurants while we examine a cool new detail isn’t always easy. They also endure our time away from them. So to all the architecture widows and widowers out there, thanks for the support. We love you!

The Duomo di Firenze Part 2

The main dome of the basilica, a complex series of stone and iron chains keep the inner structural dome from collapsing outward at the base, while the outer dome relies entirely on the inner for that security. The stone ribs at the corners of the octagonal dome also help keep the massive dome stable and are four meters deep to accomplish the task. Photo by self.

As mentioned in my last blog, the crowning glory of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the Duomo – the dome. The dome’s construction was part of an architectural design competition in 1418. What’s interesting is the leading contenders were master goldsmiths, not architects. Filippo Brunelleschi won the bid over Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had previously won a competition for the design of the baptistery’s bronze doors in 1401. Work officially began on the dome in 1420 and lasted sixteen years.

The dome of the Duomo di Firenze is notable for several reasons. First is its size, rising an enormous 376 feet into the air. The Duomo was also the first dome built without the help of a temporary wooden support frame.  The decision to not include buttressing for the dome broke Gothic tradition and took the first steps toward Italy’s Renaissance period. However, the dome wasn’t considered complete until 1461 when the lantern by Brunelleschi’s contemporary Michelozzo was finished.

The façade is neo-gothic in style, speaking to the gothic look of both the campanile and baptistry. And includes three colors of marble, white, pink, and green. Photo by self.

The Facade

Despite all this work, the building facade was still incomplete.  The original facade was only partially installed as designed, and in 1587 was ordered dismantled by the Medici family due to its lack of reference to Renaissance themes.  Many competitions were held in the intervening years before in 1864 a final competition was won by Emilio De Fabris and work finally began on the multi-hued marble design in 1876.  Completion of the façade in 1887 formed a balanced trio between the Duomo, the Campanile, and the baptistry in the piazza brought the Duomo di Firenze to the forefront as an architectural masterwork and saw the end of a nearly 591-year long construction project.

Far left, the interior fresco of the dome completed between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari. Center left, if you take the tour to the lantern there are some interesting stairs you must traverse. Center right, from the ground the ribs at the corners of the dome look light, decorative even but up close they are hefty. Far right, roof tile on the main basilica proving that even 700 years ago cats stepped on things they shouldn’t. All photos by self.

Contractor Shout Out

As most of our intrepid blog readers know, due to budgetary constraints, we opted to act as our own general contractor. Walking in the shoes of the general contractor has certainly been a worthwhile experience that is both rewarding and challenging. We have learned that the general contractor spends a lot of time passing information between trades. It also involves a lot of time on the phone scheduling people to be onsite. And just like on our construction projects, sometimes things don’t go as planned and adjustments need to be made. This starts a whole new cycle of passing information and making calls.

The good news is construction of our new office is progressing. Although it’s never as fast as you want, I think we are still on target for finishing in July. We expect completion of all our rough-in inspections by the end of this week. This will allow us to finish insulating the exterior walls and start drywall. Honestly, if not for the sub-contractors we are using, I don’t think it would have been as smooth as it has been.

Here’s to the subs

So it seems appropriate this week to give a shout out to each sub-contractor. These are the companies getting Our Story Built.

Framing, drywall, and insulation by Quality Homes Construction

Mechanical by MS Johnston

Electrical by McIntire HVAC and Electrical

Plumbing by Andy Downs Plumbing

Demolition by Adam’s Demolition

Roofing by Colby Bachtell Roofing

Windows by Hagerstown Paint and Glass

All glass entrance system by Modern Art & Plate Glass

Floor finishes by Solara

Wood stairs by Beachley Furniture Company

Cable railing by Keuka Studios

Security and Access Controls by Spichers Security Services

Masonry work by AE Sweeney Masonry

Ceiling tile by Standard Acoustical

Countertops by Countertop Solutions

Painting by Crown Pairing

Thank you for your skill and patience with the process. Your collaboration is appreciated.


Thoughts from the Construction Zone

This morning I sit in the middle of the construction zone known as “The Fire House” or “The New Office.” The last remaining vestige of the old station is coming out. The building is shaking under the effort. I have mixed feelings about this because it’s the bathroom. It has to get done, but I’ve now been without plumbing for 2 days. If all goes to plan, I’ll have a toilet back Monday. While I’m always glad to see progress, sometimes the physical reality is painful.

Perhaps today isn’t the right day to discuss this. I’m tired. Physically and mentally exhausted. The renovation is progressing, but there are still hundreds of decisions left. And yes, decision fatigue is a thing. There are issues to unravel. How do we get the floor level so the glass conference room walls can be installed? What do we do when an item we paid a deposit for 2 months ago because it has a long lead time wasn’t ever ordered by the people we paid? How do I get reluctant tradesmen to come and do the work?

My Current Mood. Photo from

While I worry at night about these things that I know still need to be done, I’ve also learned some things. “We’ll be there after lunch” is code for “we aren’t coming.” Hardened construction workers can be big babies and want everything their way. Some also gossip like teenage girls. Neighbors sometimes yell at you when you go to chat about something unexpected and out of your control. There are still true craftsmen in our society. And some people still take pride in their work.

I know, this blog is a downer. But I really am grateful for this building and the new insights I am getting. Part of my frustration stems from how anxious I am to see things complete. I can’t wait to work at an actual desk again with everything I need in the same place. So I am going to take this weekend to try to rest and rally. Monday should bring working plumbing once again. And if not, “I’ll be there after lunch.”

Aw Yes, Oh No: Insights in the Profession

Do other professions have times when you think “what did I get myself in to”? I can absolutely think of a few professions that might second guess themselves. In my time as an architect, I can think of a few times when I wondered what I was doing with my life. Let’s consider then, all the “Oh, No” (aka reconsidering all life choices) moments of an architect’s life.


Give me a wall to climb and I’m fine, until about 12 feet. Beyond that, I start to have second thoughts about why my feet are nowhere near the ground. But there are many times when you’re at a construction site or field measuring where you are forced to soar to previously unimagined heights. One of the few heights I didn’t reach was a church bell tower because I was too short to reach the next platform.

At least it wasn’t scaffolding!

14 stories up with no edge makes the heart race

Creepy Basements

I quite like old buildings, especially when they are well lit. The trouble typically comes when we get to basements or dark hallways. Always remember a flashlight or headlamp – your phone doesn’t count when you’re also field measuring. You can’t hold the tablet, write down the measurement, hold the measuring tape, hold the flashlight, and be on the lookout for monsters.

Little girls holding hands come to mind…

Old-timey elevator pit access doors


Building Second Guesses

Sometimes the building that’s under construction gives you pause. Many times you consider if you should even be standing in the vicinity. While asbestos removal is nothing new, the seismic monitoring on one of our projects certainly caught my attention. Turns out the original building took the vibrations from rock removal like a champ, but we did switch to grinding the rock out of the site instead of pounding.

Seismic monitoring on your building – Please don’t breathe too hard!

Entrance to asbestos removal area.


Now that I’ve scared everyone, let’s (1) take a deep breath, and (2) consider all the good that makes an architect go “Aw Yeah”



Schematic Design Awesomeness

In general, excitement, surprise, and exhilarated anticipation are what we like to see for any proposed scheme. But when the concept takes you to unexpected territory, the schematic design gets a bit crazy. This will, at times, cause delight for clients. This makes me happy.

New project working with the idea of centrifugal/centripetal forces.

Sweet renderings

For me, there is nothing, nothing, that compares to finishing a rendering or 3d print where you’ve surpassed your previous abilities.

Completed Buildings

Okay, this might supersede sweet renderings.

Over the Edge

It’s happening. After years of being on the edge, I’m finally going over. No, despite being very close during this renovation process, Scott is not directly the reason I’m going over the edge. Ok, so he might send me over the metaphorical edge before the fire station is complete, but this is something different. And good. Also, scary.

On a day where I’m sure I can plead diminished capacity, I agreed to participate in the Over the Edge fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County. In this completely novel concept, intrepid volunteers agree to raise a minimum of $1,000 in exchange for the “pleasure” of rappelling down the 11 stories of the Alexander House in Hagerstown. That’s right, I’m dropping 115 feet off the outside of a perfectly good building that isn’t on fire.

The “course” courtesy of Melissa Fountain’s social media.

For those of you who know me, I’m not an adrenaline junkie or someone who’s always looking for the next rush. What I am though, is willing to go completely outside my comfort zone if the cause is right. By necessity, I was a kid of 2 working parents trying to make ends meet so I would come home after school, look after my brother, and complete the dinner prep my mom had started. Being a former latch key kid, I understand the types of trouble one can get into between the hours of 3 and 6 pm (or so).

I don’t know if there was a local Boys and Girls Club around me when I was growing up or if I would have taken advantage of it if there were. What I do know is the programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County help their young people grow as students, leaders, and generally productive members of society. They help with homework, give kids options where they may have had none, and open doors to possibilities some of these children don’t know exist. They change lives.

So, to support their vital mission, I’m taking the plunge and I’m asking for help. Would you please make a fully tax-deductible donation to support my insanity and a good cause? Just use this link that will take you to the Team Vertical Avengers page and find my name. You’re also welcome to come out on April 6 and watch the spectacle. I’ve heard the first 100 people there will get a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Oh, and costumes will be involved. You didn’t think I’d be on an Avengers team and not dress appropriately, did you? It will be a good time and worth the price of admission. Thanks in advance!