In spite of what some builders tell you, there is no right or wrong way to build an outdoor living space. All designers bring their own training and point of view, as do we. More importantly though, every homeowner generally brings things that are important to them – different tastes , wants, needs, etc, that makes each project so interesting. I believe that a good designer starts with the owner’s vision and works as a guide in developing a design.
When we design a project, the first thing we do is ask a lot of questions to get to know as much about the homeowner’s goals and expectations as we can. In all the designs we’ve done over the years, I’ve yet to deliver one that was exactly the same. Everyone has a slightly unique vision of what they want (or what they don’t want :) ). So it’s up to us (the designers) to draw out of them. This includes lots of questions, listening, and note-taking.
Once we believe we have a good understanding of what the homeowner’s vision is, we take plenty of pictures of the house and surrounding area. We also take measurements down on drafting paper, which helps us tremendously when I start drawing the project out.
There are universal guidelines involved. When we design a project, we design it on the house where I feel it will be used the most. The outdoor space needs to be convenient to get to, inviting, and connected to an area in the house where people will naturally congregate. Some designers will place the new space where it will look best. This is important too, but not at the expense of failing to extend the living area. As a general guideline, I believe this is good design and will follow this unless asked not to.
What I truly enjoy about the design phase is that homeowners often come up with new, unique architectural ideas. That always makes it interesting.