Color Muse

One of the fun things about being an architect is finding cool products, finishes, and technology. Today, this tech nerd is going to share an awesome gadget called Color Muse.


The Color Muse looks like an old film canister that works in conjunction with a simple phone app. When placed against a surface, it scans the area and suggests matching colors from the larger paint manufacturers. Of course, we had to test it out, purely for scientific reasons. When placed against our office walls, Color Muse provided both the brand and color we used 4 years ago. Pretty cool!

Functional Gray was the color we used!


Putting the coolness aside for a moment, Color Muse will increase our efficiency. It’s pretty common during construction for us to pick paint. We frequently paint door frames and utility doors to match the adjacent finishes, as best as possible. If we are matching wall paint, it’s not usually a problem. However, when we have natural wood trim or brick at the doors, we want a color that compliments either the wood tone or the masonry. This is a bit more complex. Early in my career, I would ask the painter to match the colors, but what seemed like the right choice often turned out wrong. Now, we make the choices ourselves by getting several paint samples to compare, but with all the options available, it can be challenging. With the Color Muse, this task will now be much easier.

Now that we’ve tried Color Muse, we are wondering why we didn’t get one sooner. If you’re a DIY homeowner or a design professional, I highly recommend the Color Muse. It’s a must-have product in your bag of tricks that will save you time and money. Or at least a few trips to the paint store.


Parkitecture – Watkins Glen

Over the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to visit Watkins Glen State Park in New York twice. It’s the most popular state park in New York. The gorge trail is only two miles, but there’s a lot of steps along the way – over 800! It was first opened in 1863 and was a tourist resort until 1906 until New York purchased it. Today, I thought I’d share some of the architectural elements that can be found in the park: stairs, walkways, and bridges.


Watkin’s Glen Stairs. Photos by Janelle Horst



I really enjoyed my time in Watkins Glen and look forward to going again in 2019. Next time, I’ll explore Robert Treman State Park and Taughannock Falls in addition to climbing all the steps at Watkins Glen again. What’s your favorite park and how does architecture infiltrate? Check out the video below for some more images of the park:

In My Defense – A Rebuttal

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury:

I’d like to offer a rebuttal to Scott’s blog from last week. In said blog, he made a case for why our new office design could end in divorce court. I’d like to offer a different perspective, and argue that this is less of a case for divorce court, but one that could lead to a murder case where I am pleading temporary insanity.

First, let’s start by setting the Way Back Machine to 4 years ago when we were designing our current office. In those days, the office was in a former bank building in Myersville, which was two stories and had a LOT of storage space. I didn’t insert myself into the design process much. I thought I’d leave it to the professionals. However, I did take the time to point out that the storage space was inadequate. I also insisted on a coat closet, since we didn’t really have one. Time after time, I was told by my loving husband that there was plenty of storage. Fast forward to move in day. It quickly became clear that our storage was inadequate. Oh, and the coat closet morphed into a fish room, which wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

Fast forward to the beginning of our fire station adventure. Since Scott and I are purchasing this building, I’ve decided I must be more intimately involved in the design. A design that must include a coat closet. Since I’ve only mentioned the lack of closet space a few thousand times, I’m hoping no one forgets. Of course, Scott advised me early on that Architecture would be happening during this process. Just so we are clear, that is architecture with a capital A and pronounced with a snooty upper-class New England accent. It was also implied that Architecture was probably more than my feeble brain could process. I persevered.

During our first attempt at Architecture, they cut a large hole into the center of the second floor for a stairwell. I didn’t like that idea since it removed a good amount of square footage, which directly correlates to the building’s value. There were other examples where I was a stumbling block to Architecture, but I was trying to keep an open mind since I understand that this is a process. On the day Scott mentioned, I was trying VERY hard not to freak out about a large, triangular shape in the design. However, I was having difficulty imagining the space without it, since the drawing had some very bold lines. As we all know, bold draws the eye. So I mentioned I was having a hard time seeing past the bold lines. Scott told me it was because I didn’t understand Architecture.

After that, I called an immediate timeout. Otherwise, I would be telling this story like Velma Kelly did in Chicago (around the 4:50 mark in the video below). “…I completely blacked out. I can’t remember a thing. It wasn’t until later when I was washing the blood off my hands, that I even knew they were dead.” I had to leave the office for a moment. Ok, the moment was really 45 minutes where I walked around outside in 38-degree weather without a coat. A coat that was probably on the back of my chair instead of in a closet.

And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I put it to you. Am I too practical? Possibly. But when faced with Architecture, I’m not sure if it’s going to Divorce Court or if it’s going to be the Trial of the Century. One thing I can say without a doubt–there will be a good spot to hang our coats in the new office.

New Office = Divorce?

If you didn’t know Kim, my wife, also works at our office and runs “everything but architecture.” In fact, that is her official title on business cards. When people realize we work together, we are always asked about what it’s like to work with a spouse. Most expect a negative response. However, in our case (and in general) we don’t have many issues working together. This is mostly because I am out of the office a lot and our daily workloads don’t overlap. However, that has all changed now that we are designing for our new office. So far, our new office design is going to equal a divorce. Let me explain.

What I have learned so far in this process is that Kim and I approach design from opposite ends of the spectrum. Kim wants to work out the layout of the space first and make sure everything fits before enhancing the design. This is a perfect example of the classic Robert Venturi Form follows Function. On the other hand, I approach design with the overall aesthetics first and then work the spatial requirements. This would exemplify Function following Form. Needless to say, this has created some tension as we work through various design solutions for the new office.

To make matters worse during one of our tense design sessions, with Janelle between us making the changes, Kim was questioning something in my floor plan design and I made the mistake of telling her, “you don’t understand architecture!” In hindsight, this was probably not the correct response. Needless to say, she politely said, “we need to take a break,” and left the meeting. Realizing my error I looked at Janelle in despair and she said, “I hate when mom and dad fight.” We joke a lot in the office and Janelle’s comment captured the mood of the moment, which brought a little chuckle inside, despite knowing I was going to get the official response from Kim later that evening.

After some healthy time away from the design, we are both able to joke about it and have been working well at progressing the design. Kim and I have been a couple since we were 16 and happily married for 24 years, but its moments like this that can test you. I have learned a few lessons, the hard way, but the final design will be better because of it. Or I will need to find a good divorce attorney. Only time will tell. Just in case, can anyone recommend a good attorney?

New Office Design Charette

Now that we have figured out what spaces we need, it’s time to start the design process. This is the perfect time for an internal design charrette. What is a design charrette? It’s an industry term we use to describe quick sketches, concepts, and collaborative designing. Design charrettes typically don’t involve our clients because the ideas are often raw, unrefined, and incomplete. The team at MSB Architects reviewed the requirements together and highlighted the more important features or adjacencies.  It is a great method for our design team to express ideas. And if one happens to feel right, we take that idea and start refining it.

For our charette, we had each designer take a crack at the design on their own, before coming together to share. First up to present ideas was Brianna. She provided two schemes for review in Revit. Her entrance was very open with a decorative stair to the second floor. Raquel was up next, with an open space defined by furniture and floor finishes. Andrew, like Brianna, designed in Revit, but took it a step further and included some 3D images. He had our conference room at the entrance and proposed adding a central door to the exterior (nothing is off limits here). Janelle presented four designs in various sketch formats. Her ideas included engaging the exterior of the building for outdoor space during good weather days, indoor plantings, and crazy shapes, which is always a personal favorite of mine. Was she pandering to the judge? Finally, I presented some really sketchy ideas.

We left the sketches on our conference room wall for a couple days to soak it all in. Kim and I spent some time reviewing the ideas, along with our original program requirements. Initially, we hoped to include some space we could lease since we don’t need the whole building right now. We ultimately decided to forego the leasable space because it required too many sacrifices. Now that we have completed our in-house design charrette, it’s time to start refining ideas into our new headquarters.

Interior Decorating, Meet the Hagerstown Home Show

Interiors by MSB Architects participated in the Washington County Home Builders Association Home Show in early March. This extremely worthwhile event allowed us to be in front of a live audience of folks looking to update, renovate or build a new home. They visited our booth eager for ideas and inspiration. And free chocolate.

Our goal in being there was not just to “sell our wares” but to inform and create awareness about the use of a professional decorator. We highlighted ways decorators help solve problems and along the way, dispelled some misconceptions about working with a decorator.

Here are the top three takeaways from our experiences at the show:

Most people confuse the difference between a design professional and a contractor.

The question most asked after, “What do you do?” was “Do you build what you design?” To be fair, we were at a home builders’ show. We explained that we design home interiors and exteriors based on the look, feel and function clients want, then work with contractors to ensure the finished product reflects the unique intent of that design.

There is still an ongoing debate about hardwood flooring v. carpeting.

Surprisingly, even newer homes have finished hardwood floors that have been covered with wall-to wall-carpet. Homeowners then grapple over whether to pull up the carpet when they will eventually end up covering it with another carpet. As a general rule, if you like the look of wood and still yearn for softness and warmth underfoot, use area rugs to create zones. Don’t forget to leave wood floor “borders” and “pathways” to highlight the beauty of the wood.

Interior decorating services are seen as fluff. Expensive fluff.

Happily, we had the chance to dispel this one quickly. We reiterated that interior decorators do not just add pretty things to your space. We make your space livable, using furniture and finishing touches that you find beautiful. Plus, we prevent costly mistakes by making sure the perfect, non-returnable sofa you love will fit through your front door!  And, we’re happy to spread your costs out over time, working with you room-by-room or as an hourly design consultant.

Time and chocolate well spent.

When all was said and done, Interiors by MSB left the Home Show feeling our efforts were well spent. Homeowners left our booth reminded that interior decorators not only help navigate an ocean of design decisions, but also make sure you get the room you always imagined!


A Space of Our Own

Four years ago, MSB Architects signed a lease for our current space, moving us from Myersville to Hagerstown. It was exciting to design our own space and it’s been a great home for the past 4 years. Now its time to embark on a similar journey, but this time we will own the space we inhabit.

As some of you know, we are in the process of buying the Pioneer Hook and Ladder fire station from the City of Hagerstown. It is approx 5,500 square feet, which is much larger than our current 1,200 square foot office. Like last time, we will take our audience along for the ride and give a full view of what its like to experience the design and construction process.

The first step in any design project is the program and ours is no different. What does MSB Architects really need? Our program list is:

  • Managers Office
  • Secondary Office (We are an open plan design studio, but occasionally you need some time in solitude.)
  • Coat closet (I ignored this request in the last design and have been paying for it for 4 years now.)
  • Conference Room
  • Secondary Conference Room
  • Open studio space (10-15 desks)
  • Printing Room
  • 3D printing room
  • Interiors office and material library
  • Bigger fish tank (A bigger office means we need a bigger fish tank.)
  • Exercise room (Its hard to find time to workout. Hopefully, this helps us.)
  • Bathroom with shower
  • Kitchenette with eating area
  • Collaboration space (lots of unique areas to work away from desk area)

Making sure your program needs are well defined is the first step in the design process. As our needs have increased, we have a better understanding of what additional spaces we need moving forward so creating our needs list was easy. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this is our profession. Do you think we missed any spaces for our new office?

The Sun and Architecture

Sunlight feels like an odd thing to have to study.  Realistically, everyone automatically deals with it every day without thinking about it. We know how, when, and why it works, the path it travels, and we can even predict changes to it.  Yet, every architect and architectural student is obsessed with studying the sun because it affects everything from the usability of a space (standard glare and shadow issues), to the sizing of mechanical systems, to the site layout, to the architectural form itself. 

A building’s reaction to the sun is, of course, dependent on its global position (think back to lessons on longitude and latitude). Depending on location, the solution to harsh summer sun is as simple as shading. We shade buildings just you do when you put on a baseball cap to shield your eyes. However, the closer to the equator a building is the more critical shielding from the sun becomes. In these cases, the goal is to maximize the amount of the building which is in shadow and minimize the number of windows facing the equator.  The further away from the equator, a building is, the more we have to dance the delicate line between providing the shading in the summer months while allowing winter sun to naturally warm the building in the winter months.  

A depiction of the paths of the sun throughout the year. MSB Architects

A depiction of the position of the sun on March 8, 2018, and the resulting shadows. MSB Architects

Traditionally, a sun study was done by building a physical model to scale and placing it in a heliodon and moving the light source to simulate time, day, and month of a year.  With the advent of computer technologies, this process has become relatively quicker and more accurate.  With computer-aided modeling, we can see not only how the sun affects the exterior architecture, but also the interior spaces.  While real-world conditions often change how the sun affects a building, producing a sun study gives an architect the ability to shape the building to respond to some of those conditions.

Heliodon method of analyzing the sun’s impact on a building.


There are several ways to respond to the sun. It can be highly technical like the Al Bahar Towers, which utilize a curtain wall with screens that open and close automatically in relation to the sun’s position.  Or fairly traditional, as with the Cesar Chavez Regional Library’s deep roof overhangs.  There are also buildings like Solstice on the Park in Chicago who’s windows angle to provide optimal shading in the summer months. Architecture can also be situated to respond to certain solar events, like the Salk Institute’s “River of Life” that perfectly aligns with the rising and setting of the sun on the autumnal and vernal equinox. But no matter the response, architects are thinking about the sun.

Screens respond to the position of the sun on the facade of the Al Bahar Towers designed by Aedas UK with Diar Consult located in Abu Dhabi.

Using deep overhanging roofs, the Cesar Chavez Library in Phoenix Arizona, designed by Line and Space, shields both the users and the books from the harsh sun.

Carved by the sun, the Solstice on the Park, designed by Studio Gang in Chicago, responds by angling the windows such that the floors below are always shaded in the summer months.

The travertine plaza in the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego California features a water fountain “River of Life” which aligns perfectly with the setting of the sun on the spring and fall equinox.