5 Cozy, Comfy, and Relaxing Features to Steal from Architects’ Own Homes

updated Sep 11, 2020
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Credit: Chloe Berk

You might think of architects as being more concerned with the structure of their homes than the interior, but these pros often have some of the most thoughtfully designed homes out there. And because they make their livings drawing up plans for other peoples’ homes, they also plenty of clever ideas of what they want to bring into their own spaces.

Just take it from these architects and builders, who share their favorite custom cozy spaces they built into their own homes. The features they love the best offer simple comforts, and many of them aren’t inside the house at all. Read on for some charming insights into what makes them happy at home, and get inspired to cozy up your own digs just in time for fall.

An enclosed front porch

A screened in front porch is a little luxurious space where you can enjoy a breeze on a hot evening or get some light in the middle of winter. Jim Determan, lead architect at Gaulden Craig Davis in Baltimore, has been spending a lot of time on the porch that fronts his colorful historic home that was built in the early 1900s. “We put in beautiful hand-molded Conestoga ceramic tile in three to four colors in a random pattern,” he says. And when they moved in, they discovered a decrepit vintage park bench with a sculptured cast iron base in the backyard. They replaced the wood and now the restored bench is an ideal perch for enjoying the garden full of flowering bushes and trees.

If you can’t enclose a full porch, try adding a tall trellis or two to your balcony or patio. It’ll help give the feel of having an extra outdoor “room” while offering some privacy from your neighbors.

A super warm fireplace

“I have the most perfect fireplace I’ve ever had,” Alison Dorvillier, AIA, says. “It draws the air perfectly and it heats the room perfectly.” Hard to beat! All that “perfect” is thanks to the Rumford fireplace, which is a tall, shallow fireplace designed in the 1700s. Because of its layout, it limits smoke and maximizes radiant heat.

Building in a fireplace is, of course, a pretty big job—but electric fireplaces are better looking than ever. Surrounding them with a wood mantel makes them look even more realistic.

A room with soft, variable lighting

Yes, fireplaces are already worth having for their warmth, but there’s also nothing like the golden flickering light that comes off of the flames, says Determan. His compact fireplace room is one of his favorite places to relax in the historic home he and his wife own in Baltimore. “Dimmable lighting is one of the nicest things you can do,” says Determan. Dimmable task lighting makes the room perfect for reading a book or playing a board game. Up the ante with translucent window shades, Determan says: “Even when they’re closed you still get a soft daylight.”

Dimmable lights don’t even require installation if you don’t feel like breaking out your toolbox—plenty of smart bulbs on the market are dimmable from an app, so all you need to do is screw them into place. For extra cozy vibes, try string lights hung from the ceiling or on one of your walls.

Credit: Karl Kardel

A whimsical garden path

When you move and a bunch of your favorite china gets broken, your first instinct is probably to throw it away. But here’s proof that there’s still plenty of beauty left in those shards. Karl Kardel, an Oakland historic restoration expert, used the fragments of broken ceramics to create a winding mosaic pathway on the side of his family home in the Oakland hills.

Kardel’s Mediterranean-style house has a meandering garden filled with unexpected things like Buddha hand citrus tree, free range chickens and a koi pond. His daughter, Sissel, is a trained artist who graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; she planned the design with pieces of Italian plates and ceramic dog dishes interspersed with dark river stones. “Over the years we raised six kids here, so there were always broken dishes,” says Allyson Kardel, Karl’s wife. “My favorite things are the bowls belonging to previous dogs we’ve had.”

Even if you don’t have outdoor space, let this inspire you to put treasured belongings to use as decor—in a gallery wall, on bookshelves, or re-purposed as a mosaic like the Kardels did to decorate the top of a coffee table or console.

Credit: Allison Dorvillier

An outdoor pond

At her home in Brooklin, Maine, Dorvillier is enchanted with the pond just outside her living room. Four double-hung windows overlook the manmade pond that’s flanked by birch trees. “It’s quite the wildlife thoroughfare,” says Dorvillier, who owns Inplace Studio. “Families of ducks, geese, and deer come by; so do eagles, cormorants, osprey, and even the occasional black bear.”

Dorvillier and her husband needed the perfect chairs to enjoy the show, so they chose squared-off barrel chairs that swivel so they wouldn’t miss a thing. “My husband and I have our morning coffee there and cocktails in the afternoon,” she says.

For a little wildlife display at your own home, try hanging a stylish bird feeder. Or, if it’s the soothing water sounds you crave, pick up a small fountain to use inside. Instant bliss!