Sense of Place: Lighter + Brighter Homes

Sense of Place: Lighter + Brighter Homes

Your home is a special place. It should be your sanctuary, where you feel content & safe.

Creating that happy space requires careful planning. It takes an understanding of how a home’s design affects our emotional state and how to maximize the positive effects. Neuroscientists + psychologists have joined forces with architects + interior designers in concluding that certain aesthetic qualities increase a sense of emotional well being.

What is one of the most influential qualities in creating this space?

The incorporation of natural light!

Let the Sunshine In

Natural light exposure can influence how we feel at home, both consciously and subconsciously. It’s an easy way to create a brighter, happier home. You can increase natural light in your home by:

  • Adding windows facing east to let in the sunshine without letting in too much heat. Strategically positioning west-facing windows under eaves or with trees partially shading them can also provide a nice sunset view without sending the temperature inside your home skyrocketing.
  • Looking at your window treatments and removing any heavy drapery. Shutters or blinds can help control the natural light without blocking it.
  • Using the natural tone of wood or light colors to help light reflect into darker spaces. Mirrors or metallic surfaces are also great at bouncing light around.
  • Removing or rearranging furniture that blocks windows. Smaller pieces can be positioned near windows.
  • When remodeling, add pocket or double doors between rooms to allow for privacy and an acoustic barrier when necessary but facilitate unfettered airflow and light.
  • Replacing internal walls with windows to allow borrowing of light. Today’s glazing practices create sturdy, translucent surfaces that open up a home.

Sleep Better = Feel Better

The advantages of building designs that maximize natural light are well known. Sunlight from the east has been proven to positively impact your body’s internal clock, also known as circadian rhythm. Natural light exposure offers many physiological benefits, including helping you sleep longer and enjoy better quality sleep.

Letting the outside into your home through natural light + exposure to the outdoors creates a brighter home and a happier you!

5 Important Things to Consider When Planning for a Home Addition

5 Important Things to Consider When Planning for a Home Addition

Maybe your family is welcoming a new member or an aging parent. Maybe you’ve grown tired of the small home you’re living in and want more room to breathe. Whatever reason it is, you have concluded that you need more space. But where do you start?

From getting design ideas to figuring out a budget, we have broken down the basic planning process for a home addition into five easy steps. It’s not as stressful if you take it one step at a time, so take a deep breath and let’s start.

Step 1: Property Lines

Before developing a plot plan, you need to locate your property lines. This is an important process because local codes have certain legal restrictions regarding the distance between your home and your neighbor’s property. These are called setbacks.

You’ll need to make sure the new addition is not built outside the jurisdictional setbacks under local zoning laws.  Skipping this step puts you at risk of having difficulty selling your home or even of having to tear down the addition

Step 2: Cost

Before design can begin, a budget must be developed. Unless you have unlimited resources, design must be directed by the budget. There is no upper end to what you can spend. Many people make the mistake of believing that they can add on to their home for the same square foot cost that new homes are built. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. Here are three things to keep in mind about remodeling.

  1. New home construction does not deal with demolition, building old to new or people living in the job site.
  2. New home construction has a huge advantage in economies of scale.
  3. One of the things that most people want to overcome when they are remodeling is cheap builder-grade materials.

Step 3: Prioritize

To manage a budget, you must know your priorities. What are the needs and what the wants. Among the wants, which are most important. Most families looking at an addition have to make difficult compromises to meet their budget needs.

Step 4: Design

Steve Jobs said, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” Your home should work well for you and it should be beautiful. Most homes come from generic patterns that do not work for the specific needs of their inhabitants. Take note of what you have and plan to have, what needs storage, what needs wall space. Take note of what evokes emotion for you. Design a space that fits and reflects who you are. When done well, designing your home, or even just an addition to it should be joyful and cathartic.

Step 5: Your Team

Whether you hire a designer and then a contractor, you hire a design/build firm, or you do it yourself, you must have a team.  Home additions are complex projects that require a high level of expertise. We have seen a few DIY projects that turned out well. We have seen far more that did not, even to the point of diminishing the value of the home. In our very biased opinion hiring a design/build firm is the way to go.

4 Reasons Why Home Addition Increases Home Value

Stearns Design Build Opens Custom Cabinet Shop

Stearns Design Build Opens Custom Cabinet Shop


College Station, TX, Stearns Design Build, a local residential remodeling company, has announced that they are now offering furniture grade cabinets to the general public. For some time, Stearns Design Build has built high-quality custom cabinet for their remodeling clients.

In a desire to better control quality in cabinetry Stearns Design Build started building their own cabinets rather than subcontracting this work as is done by most general contractors. Owner, Hugh Stearns said, “This was a significant commitment in staffing and equipment investment, but it was worth it in the level of quality that we can provide.”

custom cabinet

Stearns Design Build recently hired David Oddo to manage their cabinet shop. Oddo is a third-generation woodworker and journeyman carpenter. He previously owned his own woodworking shop in Houston.  In addition to managing the cabinet shop, Oddo also assists in the design of custom cabinet. “I look at each project as an opportunity to build a relationship through creativity,” said Oddo.

>>Learn Nine Ways to Save Money on a Kitchen Remodel

In addition to custom cabinet, Stearns Design Build also provides custom entertainment centers and built-in furniture as well as a full line of residential remodeling including kitchens, bathrooms, and additions. “Often clients want a custom entertainment center or built-in without doing a full remodel. Now we offer that as an option. We will work with the client to design a piece that fits exactly what they need,” said Stearns.

Stearns Design Build has served the Brazos Valley for 25 years. Twice the recipient of the Newman Ten award, last year the company achieved national acclaim by being named to the Remodeling Big50, an award for remodeling excellence that goes to fifty of the top companies in America and Canada every year.  Stearns Design Build also received the GuildQuality Service Excellence Award, which goes to the five companies of the Big50 class that had the highest customer satisfaction ratings. For more information Stearns Design Build can be found on the web at www.stearnsdesignbuild.com or reached at 979.696.0524.

Why I Eat Meat And How that Relates to Design and Green Building

There are many people who, for various reasons, do not eat meat. Being a vegetarian in our culture is a very deliberate and often thoughtful act. I applaud those who do this and encourage all to be as deliberate and thoughtful in life-decisions. And certainly, what we eat is a life-decision, not just for ourselves but for the whole planet. I hope that I have been as equally deliberate in the decision to eat meat. This has to do with looking to nature with a sense of how we fit in.  This is a holistic approach; not just a systems, but a bio-systems, approach.  All too often green building gets caught in the reductionist approach of building science.  This is not to disparage building science which provides many powerful and important insights.  The goal here is to provide an example of stepping back and looking at how we fit into natural processes without returning to the cave. How and what we eat has, at times, been revolutionary. It was not just tea that was cast overboard by our marry pranking revolutionary founders. They sought food independence as a path to freedom. They knew that their subsistence could not be dependent on markets controlled by the British; so they sought a local diet. Jefferson said, “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”

Today the revolution through diet is stronger than ever, as common people are responding to the toxic practices, not of the British, but of agribusiness. Eating organic and locally is revolutionary. Rather than buying food drenched in hormones, drugs, pesticides and herbicides, many are choosing to shop at their local farmers market and with local merchants.

How, you may be wondering, in the face of huge polluting, water wasting factory farms, can you support eating meat? I do not, in any way, support eating that meat. I support eating locally raised, organic, grass fed and finished herbivores. though I am not opposed to a bit of pork or chicken, which are omnivores. But it is the herbivores that are key.

This has to do with carbon cycles and, some would say, biomimicry. Traditionally, before the European invasion and even before any human inhabitants, our country was inhabited by large herds of herbivores. These large animals, first mastodon and mammoth then elk and buffalo, consumed huge quantities of grass which they quickly delivered back to the soil and helped plow it into the ground with their large bodies. This kept the soil rich and the inhabitants well fed.

During this time the Post Oak Savannah was much more savanna than oak forest. Not only did the herbivores help keep things mowed, also huge periodic fires started by lightning would clear the land. Few trees could withstand these fires, leaving plenty of space for deep rooted grasses that could come back after the fires and withstand grazing from large bodied animals.

Native Americans also changed the bio-dynamics of where they lived but, for the most part, they lived within the rhythms of natural systems. Their populations fluctuated with the availability of food and water which connected them to natural cycles.

All of that changed dramatically with the European invasion. Gone were the large herds of herbivores that tilled carbon back into the soil. The fires that maintained the grasslands and forests began to be controlled. But the most dramatic change has come in the last 75 years. We have altered the slowly crafted symbiotic processes of nature with farming methods that do not put bio-matter back into the ground and instead pump intense quantities of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into the ground, thus altering the structure of the soil that is now blowing and washing away.

We now fatten cattle on grains that are alien to them and cause them to become sick. To keep them alive we pump them full of antibiotics and other drugs. These drugs are ingested by humans causing increasingly virulent strains of harmful and disease causing bacteria. And the hormones that we are pumping into farm animals to increase their rate of gain are also causing deleterious health issues.

Most meat today is raise in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO.) In addition to creating cruel conditions for the animals, feeding them food that makes them sick and keeping them alive on massive quantities of antibiotics – 80% of all US antibiotics go to agriculture – They also collect waste in massive manure lagoons. This stockpiling of animal waste allows carbon, in the form of methane, which should go back into the earth, to escape into the air and contribute to atmospheric destruction. This practice is also fouling aquifers and waterways, carrying with it toxic amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, antibiotics as well as hormones, pesticides and herbicides.

Biomimicry is the study of natural processes as a means of perfecting human endeavors. I prefer bioassimilation, which is an effort to return, as much as possible, to the cycles of nature. In a very real sense this is a return to the garden. For me eating responsibly raised meat is a part of that.

Like our diet, the design of our dwellings and how we organize our communities provides ample opportunity to step back, look at our bio-system and make health choices. The key is being thoughtful and deliberate.  What ideas do you have for your home that will bring you into closer alignment with your natural surroundings?

Kitchen Cabinets 101

Three types of Cabinets

Manufactured Cabinets

In many parts of the country, this is the most common type of cabinet.  It provides the widest spectrum of quality (from cheap cabinets that can be purchased at any home supply big box store to very high end cabinets with piano grade finishes).  Manufactured cabinets have less flexibility when it comes to customization — If it is not in the catalog it is not available.

Site Built Cabinets

This is the most common type of cabinet from volume builders in our area.  These cabinets are custom built on site.  They take advantage of existing walls to provide the backs and sides of the cabinets.  Often the face frames are made of plywood rather than solid stock wood. This helps reduce the cost of the cabinet but also tends to make them weaker.  These cabinets cannot be as easily modified or changed later.  They also do not endure as well because they are assembled with weaker joinery.

Custom Shop Built Cabinets

This is our preference for quality cabinets.  Like site built cabinets, they are completely customizable.  And like manufactured cabinets, they allow for complete boxes and tightly assembled face frames.  Building cabinets in our shop allows us to control the quality of materials that go into their construction.  Many cabinet makers will use Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF.) This material does not react well to water and it usually has high levels of unhealthy VOCs.  Another common practice is for cabinet manufactures to save money by using thinner plywood or less durable hardware.   By building cabinets in our shop, we can guaranty quality construction and materials.  For example, we use no or low formaldehyde plywood.  Formaldehyde is one of the more common and carcinogenic VOCs found in building materials. While this material choice slightly increases the cost of cabinets, it insures a healthy home.

Cabinets Doors and Drawers

The most visible parts of a cabinet are the doors and drawers.  It is largely this element that defines the style of the cabinets.  For example, ornate raised panel doors can provide a lot of detail but they are also more difficult to keep clean.  Glass doors, on the other hand, show off nice dishes or pottery, but unless you are a fastidious cleaner and organizer, you may want to keep these to a few featured locations highlighted with their own lighting.  With a wide range of options, you should have no problem finding doors and drawers that make your cabinetry fit your kitchen’s needs and your style.



As mentioned above, there is a wide array of plywood that can be used to build cabinets. Choosing the right plywood will make a great deal of difference in how healthy your home is over time and how well your cabinets will endure.  Most of the time this is not a choice offered to the consumer.

Drawer Slides

There is nothing more frustrating than a drawer that sticks and will not close properly.  A well made drawer slide will add to the initial cost, but greatly increases the drawer’s durability.


There are three basic doors styles: partial overlay, full overlay and inset doors.  The hinges for each are slightly different. These days the most popular hinges are concealed or euro style hinges.  These hinges are often better made and provide a greater amount of adjustment so that they can be tuned as the cabinets age and the house moves.  There are also hinges and slides that are self closing.  It is wise to pay attention to the quality of hardware that is offered with the cabinets that you buy.

Knobs and Pulls

This visible hardware helps define the cabinet’s style.  There is no limit to what is available, unless you are buying manufactured cabinets that only offer a limited selection.  One option is no knobs or pulls at all.  Many people like to go this way because it is easier to clean and it provides a sleek look.  This is done by easing the edges of the doors and drawers to provide a lip that allows for easy opening from the edge.

Paints and Finishes

One of the biggest differences in the way the cabinets will look is made when choosing a finish.  Will they be painted or stained?  Stained cabinets tend to show fewer blemishes as the cabinets age.  Site built cabinets are often finished with lacquer because it dries faster, but it also yellows over time.  Many people are choosing to use a combination of painted and stain cabinets.  This is most common for kitchens designed in a French country style.

Layout and Design

A well designed kitchen with smart cabinet layout can be one of the most beloved features of a house.  Having the right amount of cabinets and counter top space is key.  While some kitchen designers will tell you that you can never have enough of either, our approach is a little different.  We often encourage our clients to reduce the number of upper cabinets, which are often difficult to access, in order to provide room for more windows.  We also encourage a reduction of cabinets as a means of helping the budget.  Pantry space is less expensive to create and it is usually easier to work with. Like most everything else, the quantity of cabinets is less of an issue than the quality of the design of the kitchen.