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Designing Your Dream Home: An Interview with Donald Bryan of BlueSky Studio

By Donald Bryan

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

I started Blue Sky Studio in 1994 as my independent design firm. My company exists to engage the homeowner in a design process where we develop the project based on their unique needs and goals. This is far superior to any pick-a-plan house out of a mass produced catalogue, or just an amalgam of stock solutions that a random builder might expediently push on them.

How would you suggest that people approach designing and building their dream home?

Realize that your home is more than shelter, more than a piece of property; your home is where you and your family will build your lives, make memories, chart your future and create a legacy. Great architecture should underscore and facilitate all of these. Then understand that the first word in "dream home" is dream. Let yourself dream! Don't be limited as you gather ideas for your new home - allow yourself to imagine in full.

What are some of the most popular features that people in Southern California want in a new home?

We have some of the greatest weather in the world, and your new home needs to embrace that. Many of my projects have taken a house that seems to regard the outdoors as something to be shielded against, and we've reimagined the spaces to take advantage of natural light and ventilation, as well as the views - whether natural or designed. All of these create a synergy of both energy and relaxation that the home was previously lacking. These improvements work to better the owners' lives, as well as raise their property value. Essential to the design of any home in Southern California is the site itself: What is the path of the sun across the site at key times of the year? What is the natural flow of air across the site? Is there natural shade to be incorporated; if not, how can it be added? What views can be taken advantage of or constructed? What parts of the site are best for the owner's activity, and what parts are best for vehicle access or for utilities? Depending on the site, some of the answers are obvious, otherwise site analysis will reveal them.

Essential to the design of any home in Southern California is the site itself: What is the path of the sun across the site at key times of the year? What is the natural flow of air across the site? Is there natural shade to be incorporated; if not, how can it be added? What views can be taken advantage of, or constructed? What parts of the site are best for the owner's activity, and what parts are best for vehicle access, or for utilities?

Depending on the site, some of the answers are obvious or dictated. In other instances, site analysis will reveal them.

When should the budget be set and how is that typically done?

A rough budget should be set immediately, only using real-world construction costs. I help my clients set a rough budget at the start. It's revisited at the conclusion of preliminary design, and again at the end of design development, prior to the start of construction documents. It's also a great value to have the general contractor on board from the start. A truly qualified and experienced builder can bring cost of construction knowledge like no one else. TV programs are not a source of accurate construction cost information - ever.

What options do people have if they're working with an existing home/layout?

There are many options, and they all begin with why the owner bought that particular property.

Love the city. Love the neighborhood. Wanted to be in that school district. Love the existing architecture. Love the existing floor plan.

Depending on the answers to these, we would determine if the existing house is to be preserved or modified then added onto, or if it's best cleared from the site to start from a clean slate.

Constraints need to be determined from the local planning and building departments. Site conditions may be a major factor (a sloping site can add anywhere from 20% - 50% or more to the cost of construction). Once this information is gathered, we can review the dream list and the budget, and determine the actual scope of the project.

What are the most common mistakes that homeowners make during the building process? Any tips on how can they be avoided?

Many homeowners are lured into the wrong assumption that they can save money by doing some of the design (and even construction) themselves before hiring an architect or designer to come in and make it look nice. But instead they've grossly limited the great benefit of a fully designed project - a project that expresses their own dreams and goals in every aspect, which is what a professional designer is able to do for them.

I've also encountered owners who've done significant landscape and hardscape work to their homes before doing the serious work of remodeling/adding on. Those existing elements can be the tail the wags the dog. The intention of doing some cosmetic improvements without spending money on an architect may have been noble, but the owners have cheated themselves out of the tremendous benefit of a project designed in total.

Your designer or architect, in listening to you, should produce a master plan for your property that will guide all parts of the work, whether its done all at once or in phases. This way, you'll not find you're working around or against part A when you're trying to build part B. Other owners make the mistake of hiding the budget or aspects of the project from their designer, thinking this will save them money. It's a common error, but counterproductive. They leave themselves open to having the project designed on-the-fly by the builder or one of the subcontractors, and then facing a flurry of change orders over the original contract, throwing the budget into total speculation - to say nothing of the outcome of the competed project. Honest and open communication with your designer will yield the best results.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

You can reach me directly at 626-584-6889, or by email at dcbsky@icloud.com. And visit my website

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