At Architect Office Hours: how to hang pendants, choose great doors & focus any plans

18 min read Ready to Remodel students have the chance to get questions answered – live – every month during our Architect Office Hours.  

Psst … Did you want Pass Go and Collect $200 by skipping Architect Office Hours and just asking me a question directly? Submit a question for my upcoming Ask Me Anything episode, coming May 11th. 

Movies love to show architects creating away at a drafting table or sitting picturesquely at a cafe, sketchbook in hand. It’s romantic, this vision of a endlessly creative mind conjuring beautiful buildings from some eternal, internal well.  But *SPOILER ALERT* no one uses a drafting table anymore (except throwbacks and nostalgia lovers). In fact, I do all my sketching on a tablet.

There is another major element of architecture that is seldom shown in the movies…

An architect spends A LOT of time answering questions. I answer questions emailed in by my clients. I pick up a few queries from my instagram DMs every week. And once a month I hop into a zoom and hold …

Architect Office Hours

Ready to Remodel students have the chance every month to get questions answered during our Architect Office Hours.  

The Ready to Remodel program provides a number of opportunities for students to help me get to know their home – the Facebook group, periodic workshops, and monthly calls provide space to share information. And the better I get to know your home, the better equipped I am to answer your questions. This is a really deep benefit of group coaching. 

Folks bring all sorts of questions to these monthly sessions. From style questions (what kind of interior replacement doors will work in my home), to technical questions (should we relocate our furnace?), to larger planning questions (given our home and budget, how should we phase our renovation?). 

Everyone in the Ready to Remodel program has access to these resources and a monthly opportunity to touch base with an architect (that’s me!) about their project.

I dig deeper by asking follow up questions, pull up example projects, grab my tablet to do a little sketching and share favorite links and resources.

It’s one of the most fun days of every month!!

And today I’m sharing some of my favorite recent Architect Office Hours Questions with you!

In Today’s Architect Office Hours Episode You’ll Hear some of the questions I answer:

  • About the power of listening to other people’s remodeling questions. 
  • How high to hang your pendant lights above the floor AND from the ceiling.
  • Where to go for a great replacement mid-century exterior door.
  • Strategies for weighing future needs against current needs in a renovation plan.

Listen Now On 

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Resources for the episode

And you can always…

Read the Full Episode Transcript

People like to imagine that an architect spends all their time at a drafting table or sitting picturesquely at a cafe sketchbook in hand. Movies are responsible for this nonsense. But spoiler alert, no one uses a drafting table anymore unless they love nostalgia. And I do all my sketching on a tablet. It’s a blessing and a curse. But there is another way that architects do a lot of our work.

We put a lot of time in answering questions. In fact, sometimes the most efficient way to get an answer out of an architect is just ask them a question. And that’s why the next three episodes are going to focus on the questions I regularly answer for my clients, my ready to remodel students at architect office hours and you. Today I’m sharing some of the questions and answers that have come up at recent Architect Office Hours calls.

Hey there, welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann, architect and mid-century branch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1206. So today, I’m sharing some adapted Office Hours called answers more on that in a minute. And next week, I’m going to share some of the design support I’ve given past clients as they follow up on their master plan design packages.

I bet you’ve got some pressing design questions of your own. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could just ask a friendly architect about your remodeling puzzle? Whatever was on your mind. Well, you can get your questions answered right here on the podcast. Go to the link in the show notes and submit your design question. And we’ll toss it onto the pile for the episode two weeks from now. An architects asked me anything. Submit your question right now, so you don’t forget, or any time before Sunday, May 7. And I’ll answer it in the episode that goes live on May 11.

Go ahead and submit a question for the Ask Me Anything on the show notes page at midmod-midwest.com/1206 where you can also find a transcript of everything that happens today plus some links. I’m going to mention some linkable things in this episode, so go check it out.

Of course, if you have a lot of questions for me, you might just want to enroll in ready to remodel and get a chance to ask me whatever’s on your mind every single month, because that’s what we do at the Architect Office Hours call. I wanted to give you a little insight into what happens at our regular monthly Architect Office Hours call within the ready to remodel program today, because our next call is happening on Monday, May 1. So if you’ve been on the fence about joining ready to remodel, then you might want to act right now.

You can join not just the program but be there live on our next office hours call and get your most pressing questions answered. Face to face.

As you probably know, the core of the ready to remodel program is a step by step guide through the masterplan method so that you can apply it to the update of your own home. It has bite sized video lessons that all take less time to watch than this podcast takes to listen to. Or you can listen to the lesson since we have a lot of students who join us based on loving this podcast, you can treat the core content like more mid mod remodel and just listen along.

Each lesson takes you through one small step one bite sized piece of the master plan method. And it has a workbook and other resources to help you get all your design ducks in a row. Then there are a lot of other bonus resources, micro workshops on finding time to plan budgeting, managing your contractors, and more in depth design workshops that take you through the Master Plan method applied to specific parts of the house like the kitchen, the patio or decks, exterior updates in general.

We’re going to do one soon on owner suites this summer, and of course the style guide workshop that we just did. But one of my favorite ongoing resources to help keep my students on track, keep remodel plans moving forward and just keep tabs on how everyone’s going make sure they’ve got their questions answered is the regular monthly Architect Office Hours call.

Now in the early days, I would do these weekly for a set amount of time we would start a cohort. And I would do seven weeks of calls or 12 weeks of Architect Office Hours calls. But it ended up just feeling like it wasn’t enough. Most people don’t fast track their remodels quite that way. And they need an ongoing support.

I realized the best way to help people remodel right was to offer a monthly design support call the Architect Office Hours call every month forever. I really look forward to these calls. They are so valuable. They let me get to know the homeowners and the homes inside the program deeply. 

And it’s a great chance to really give yourself the gift that goes on giving because the more you participate in these calls, the more you show up for every call or submit a question even if you can’t show up live and then watch the recording of it. The more you share your updates in the Facebook group and ask your detailed questions, the more I get to know your home, and the more I can answer the underlying questions that you have. This is part of the really deep benefit of group coaching, which is the model for the Architect Office Hours calls.

And I’ve benefited from this enormously in my own business coaching. I’ve had years of professional training and how to design homes. I have a master’s degree in architecture, but I had a lot less education in how to run a business in the modern economy. So I’ve been lucky to be part of a wonderful program for small business service providers. That includes lessons workshops, and you guessed it regular group coaching calls. I can’t tell you the number of times the question I asked my business coach turned out to be supremely relevant to someone else on the call.

Or when I heard my own concerns, fears, worries, hopes and questions reflected in the question someone else brought to the call that I hadn’t even thought to ask. I bet you might feel some resonance the same way with one or two of the questions I’m about to share. So by the way, the following questions are a recap of what I’ve said in recent Architect Office Hours calls, not a replay of the recording. And that’s for a couple of reasons.

One, I didn’t ask my students for permission in advance to share their voices with you. And we do typically start with quite a bit of back and forth where I get more from them than the original submitted questions so I can get to the heart of the matter. Also, often, I grabbed my tablet and do a little illustrating while I answer that doesn’t play as well to a podcast audience. Plus, these generally take a little longer each one than one of our podcast episodes, and I wanted to share three stories, three topics with you today. So here is an abbreviated audio only version just for you.

Alright, here’s the first question. We’re getting ready to order new lights for our living space. Since our ceiling is sloped, we’re wondering if we need to order the rods of the same length, therefore making the lights hang at different heights from the floor, or order rods that would accommodate the slope, so they hang at the same height from the floor. They hang at different heights now, but we don’t think that was intentional.

This is such a great question specific and universal both. First, I’m going to share the follow up questions that I asked the homeowner and that was, where are the lights in your space over a stairway by the entrance. And I wanted to confirm that they were not over the stairs going up. We didn’t have to worry about headroom, they were actually over the stairs going down.

It was a split level stair that turns in the middle. They might be in the view line as you stood an upper level stair and looked out over the room with a large, elevated ceiling, the sloped ceiling, but they wouldn’t get into your headspace. And my second question to the homeowner was how do you feel about that great room space? This I actually already knew based on our previous conversations, and that’s that it was a beautiful, glorious, lofty space during the day, but not as cozy as it could be at night.

Here’s my answer. As always, it does depend, there might be a reason to have angled lights. But in your case, I think that your goal is to use light to define a space not just to illuminate it. So you’ll want to hang your lights at the same height, and at the lowest possible height you can get away with and still have head clearance. So they create a lower an artificial ceiling effect at night. Why on the other hand, might you want them to go up?

Well, if you were trying to emphasize the height of the room to emphasize the angle ceiling. Well, in that case, you might use them in conjunction with a ceiling angle to draw your eye upward. Or if what we knew was that you were going to enter into a vestibule space and the space at the top of the stairs where the lights are, was where you ultimately want everyone to go.

If that was your main living hangout area, then you’d want the lights to angle up to guide you up to that space. But in fact, what’s at the top of those stairs is your sleeping areas, your bedrooms. And what’s at the bottom of the stairs is your cozy more dead like kitchen.

Now, you don’t need to set the lights up to lead yourself up to bed, you’ll go upstairs naturally when you need to brush your teeth to change your clothes to turn in for the night. So focus on using the light not to keep you from tripping over things in the dark to eliminate the space, but to create a sense of space that’s cozy and closed in and to make a different space in the same room in the day and night.

Okay, at the Architect Office Hours I had another follow up question for them. And that was, are there other lights in the house you’re going to be replacing either now or in the future that will be similar to these ones? And the answer was yes, one above our dining table and one similarly by the back door like this is by the front door. That is a great thing to know because it makes it all the more important to have a cohesive plan. You want these things to feel consistent through the house.

Even if there’s no one place you can stand and see all four of those lights at the same time. You want to make sure that you and your guests move through the house and you feel a consistency of design, that the pendants are all mounted a similar height from the floor, perhaps except in the case of the dining table dining table pendants can be mounted a little lower because you’re never going to walk through the dining table like a ghost and bang your head on a light.

But you want to think about each of the pendant lights in the space that has the same shape that has the same purpose, feeling connected to each other because of the category that they all fit into in your mind. In the end, the answer in this case was absolutely clear based on what the homeowner wanted to create a cozy defined hangout, resting space, a place where people come and stay.

If it was a place that people were likely to want to move through, they would choose the opposite answer lights that follow the angle of the ceiling. This is such a fun example because it really shows how one specific question can be made universal or it could go either way, depending on what you need the house to do. It always comes back to the masterplan method, the dream How do you want to live in your house that discover what’s going on? Why did the previous owner make a weird choice probably in the case of what we’ve learned about this house, just not having a good design eye.

And distill what is going on in the house already in terms of anything you want to pick up and keep going on. How are you going to respond to the existing conditions of the house?

Here’s the next question from our Architect Office Hours. We need to replace a hollow core exterior door with something better suited to Michigan weather. “There are so many cool designs out there. How do we choose?”, they followed up to ask.

Well, we don’t need the privacy. The light from the Windows is great on the stairs, but I’m not sure I want to look at the backdoor towards our concrete pad or furniture. What can we do to create a good view line through the backdoor window?

Okay, before we could answer this question, we had a few follow ups. Who would be doing the installation of the new door? What I already knew, actually was that they had a contractor doing a kitchen update for them right now. And I correctly suspected that he could be installing our new doors for them. So in this case, they have more freedom to choose a slightly more complicated installed than if they were planning to DIY the door.

Here’s my answer from Architect Office Hours. The possibilities are so many. First step though for just about anybody in this situation is go to search for retro renovation mid-century front doors. The retro renovation website is a go to for a lot of preservation questions, but it’s perfect for this topic because they keep the go to list of contemporary sources of mid-century appropriate front doors. This will tell you about all the suppliers in the country that have a stock of mid-century style front doors, and where you can go to find out more about them.

You can also go to your local lumberyard and ask them for a list of the catalogs they have of exterior front doors and look through the mid-century options. But there’s still a couple of things to consider. You’ve got options for it could be solid wood, my personal preference, or you’re going to be considering a fiberglass insulated door.

Now I did recently encounter a very adamant handyman replacing a client’s door who said that even though he himself is a woodworker, he just prefers fiberglass for exterior doors. They’re better insulated, better have better dimensional stability. That means they don’t drink or swell in the weather, and they have better security. He honestly kind of persuaded me that this was a good way to go. Although I love the authenticity of a solid wood door.

Once you’ve thought about that, if you’re gonna go with solid wood, you might also think about just getting a simple solid slab door and then getting a DIY double kit from the delightful company make it mid-century and they will sell you trim kits to decorate a front door or even window kits. So you can cut in patterns of rectilinear or round or even fun jaunty triangular shaped windows into a perfectly boring or bland existing door.

Finally, you could go searching through restore or Facebook marketplace and try to find a vintage door. But that does require a higher degree of difficulty on install. Because you’re dealing with both. Whatever may be happening in your not new midcentury house, it may have settled to a slightly non square place. And then you’re putting in a perhaps slightly non square original door, maybe they’re not square in opposite directions, you could start to get into trouble.

When you’re thinking about though the look of the door, you need to return to your style guide – what is your mid-century style – to find the answer. So if you are looking for mid-century vintage, you’re probably going to choose a reproduction of a style of door that was exactly available in the 1940s 50s 60s when your house was built. There are several of these available and go to retro renovation to find them.

You might also be more mid-century fusion and just look for a mid-mod leaning style or modern mid-century and then you just need a contemporary door maybe with a single vertical slash window that just doesn’t look like it belongs on a Victorian house. Hi, everything that was put into the 1980s.

The other thing we needed to check in with this student was how many doors three different doors in three different locations. And they were the front door, the back door leading to the patio and a garage door.

Now the garage door it needs to be fire rated no glass in that. But the front door and patio door need to feel related to each other. They don’t need to match but they need to feel like they’re cousins. So they might need to have the same pattern of windows with the same proportion of Windows or maybe one of them has three small windows at the top and the other has five small windows going all the way down.

There’s finally the question of storm doors. Do you need one? And the answer is even in Michigan very probably not a well installed new door might not need the extra backup security air security of a storm door. But you might still want to have a screen door if you’d like to leave your door ajar when you’re home and let the air flow through the house. So that’s a good reason for a second door unit.

In that case, you just want to make sure that the script the storm door the screen door represents your front door and shape well that it has the narrowest most minimal frame or that the frame you choose works with the door. So for example, if you’ve got that classic mid-century door or four of three square windows stacked over each other, you don’t want to put a Dutch door style stormed over that that only has the top half with glass and the bottom half filled in it would totally defeat the purpose.

Oh, that is the case with many storm door updates on mid-century houses and it always kind of breaks my heart. In any case, this is a question we almost all contemplate at some point, do I need to replace my front door? And if so, how? If you have a hollow core exterior door, this is a question that’s more urgent for you than for other people like my poor student, but they’re about to fix the problem. So they’re about to make their house world’s better with one simple upgrade or with three simple door replacements.

Third question from Architect Office Hours. Do you have any strategies for weighing future needs against current needs and a renovation plan? We know our life and family will change in the coming years. And it’s paralyzing to try to make design decisions, when we aren’t sure what we’ll need in five to 10 years.

Oh, this, I had to share this question with you. Because it’s so universal. We all struggle with how to weigh what we need right now against what we think we might need in the future. And so the very first question I had was more detail. Tell me more about how you fit in your house right now. And what’s going on in this potential 5-10 year change plan.

Now, I wasn’t surprised based on what I already knew about this homeowner to find out. That they’ve just moved from Chicago back to Wisconsin to be closer to family, they needed more space around them. And they wanted to have room to start a family of their own. They both work from home. And they like to host family for midline stays. They’re also worried about if they might be responsible for caring for aging parents in the future, and maybe even hosting them in their house. Then they don’t know how many kids they’re gonna end up with.

Okay, so even though the person who asked this question is a designer, he’s a graphic designer, he’s getting overwhelmed by the scale, which is not surprising, because very few people would ask a graphic design professional to design something that would be equally good for all circumstances over the next 10 years. But we frequently ask ourselves these questions about our house, or we try to.

So this is a struggle, we all face how to prioritize. I started to answer them with a counter example from the opposite end of the age spectrum. I often have clients who are empty nesters who come to me wanting to plan an update for their house that will both perfectly suited to be the little haven for the two of them. And also could hold any number of potential adult children and grandchildren that might come back all at once for some hypothetical magical mythical holiday. But then they tell me their kids aren’t even married yet. And so I always come back to simmer down, it’s fine.

You can put grandkids on the floor in the corner, they like bunk beds, it’s going to be all right. We don’t need to get this kind of analysis paralysis of projecting ourselves into a hypothetical. Now, you can’t quite do that. When you’re thinking of, you know, you want to have a family and a house and you know, your parents are gonna get older and might need help.

What you want to do is think about a couple of really important things, you only need to plan for a certain amount of flex within the house. A quick follow up question I asked them was what’s going on in their basement, and they answered that it was largely unfinished and had some finished areas that didn’t flow very nicely.

This was the perfect answer. For me, this is the Get Out of Jail Free card, because the secret weapon of a Midwestern house is its basement. And this always gives you room to expand pretty easily in another phase of your life if you need to, it could become an in-law suite and overflow space for teens, or just the place that the two homeowners right now retreat to for their work from home space. We’re even for an owner suite as the upper area fills up with kids or other family members. It’s a great pressure relief valve.

So my recommendation on the Architect Office Hours call is stick to a five year planning horizon for your right now plans keep the other variables on ice. So that probably means prioritize preserving space for the two of you to work from home. That’s obvious. You wouldn’t give up an office right now to keep an empty bedroom for potential future kids. And a new baby can sleep in your room two young kids can bunk together while you make plans to convert another space. You might yes want to convert or designate a good guest space family right now could come to stay even for an extended period of time in the near future.

And as for the elder care of aging parents, keep in the back of your mind. If you update a bathroom, maybe choose a zero step or a roll in shower. But you don’t need to go to plan a full mother in law suite right now when you don’t have a specific parent in mind who needs it. It’s actually always easier to remodel your main floor first and then come down and finish the basement than it is to finish a basement first and then put in a nice drywall ceiling. Everything is beautiful. And then you have to come back and tear that out to make room for new bathroom plumbing project above.

So my recommendation in this case is designed with a vision for what you might do for the whole house. But keep the basement on the backburner and if bigger changes come for you down the line you can update the house again. Or maybe you’ll even find it isn’t the right house for those needs.

So there’s no value in getting too far out ahead of your current headlights. Also, if it helps remember that this kind of mid-century house has been adapted for all kinds of family situations over the years. They’re very expandable. They can hold a family with five kids or an empty nester couple or multiple generations all with just a little thinking.

So long story short, focus on tuning the house to your life right now, and then maybe set up your next goal, which sounds like starting a family.

Alright, that gives you a little taste of what it feels like to get a question answered on an Architect Office Hours called. Every month we get homeowners asking questions from every stage of the remodeling process, some just starting out. Some are making discoveries right alongside their contractor or on their own as they DIY as they get down to making realities out of their plans. It is so fun to help me unstick these tricky moments and get a remodel process back on track.

So this is a great time to remind you that there are two ways you can work with mid Midwest. And as a reminder, you don’t need to be in the Midwest to work with us.

You might want to join the ready to remodel program where I walk homeowners through the process of planning their own master plan. And I answered questions on an Architect Office Hours call every month.

If you’d like to learn more about that or just get some in depth information about the Master Plan method. Check out my free masterclass how to plan an MCM remodel to fit your life and budget at the link in the show notes page.

Or let me do the design thinking for you right from the jump. If you’d rather have a mid-century master plan created for your house mid mod Midwest can do that for you. And if you’re anything like me, listening to the questions of other people and hearing the answers has brought up questions of your own.

So head over to the show notes page and submit your question for the Ask Me Anything episode that’s going live in two weeks. Tune in next week to hear some of the follow up questions we get from past masterplan clients and some of the answers too. See you next week, mid mod remodelers.