What’s Your Design Style?

What a difference a crazy quilt makes

What’s your design aesthetic? We spend a lot of time at PAD talking about why to build a house and how to build a house, but don’t talk as much about all the little aesthetic choices you make along the way to make a house feel like home.

This has been on my mind lately as my partner and I build out our campervan – pictured above with some wild quilts and tapestries which are suddenly very visible. In a small space, every element speaks: every piece of trim, every curtain fabric, and every type of storage become a featured design element. It’s worth some consideration: what do you want all of these voices to sound like when they come together? What kind of song will this design sing?

So I’m going to share some of my design inspirations, both new and old… and then I’ll challenge Dee to do the same!


@SomeDrifters on Instagram

I don’t typically pay much attention to school bus conversions because they’re just…too big. I love the space constraints of small spaces, and schoolies tend to have a little too much elbow room for me to get invested. Except this mindblowing bus, that is, because the detail and craftsmanship that went into every dang element is so impressive. It’s a school bus straight from the handmade houses movement from the 60’s, one of the most inventive American styles of architecture, known for reusing materials and making every detail count. I have been changed. I have learned to love a converted school bus.

See tons more on Instragram.

@the_ugly_truckling on Instagram 

In a similar vein to the SomeDrifters school bus, this housetruck is probably my single favorite build I’m following right now. It takes an incredible amount of passion, skill, patience, and effort to put something like this together. It’s everything I wish my aesthetic was, but tends not to be – I rush, I grab what’s available because I’m short on time, I do what’s practical instead of what’s dreamy. This thing is dreamy x1000 and I can’t stop looking at it, and I’m so excited to see what becomes of the interior.

Follow this one of a kind build on Instagram.

Nature on View by Peggy Landers Rao and Jean Mahoney

Nature on View book Japanese architecture
One of my favorite spreads from Nature on View

I’ve read, skimmed and flipped through many of the classic books on Japanese architecture, but this is the one I come back to the most because the pictures are gorgeous. You know all those Instagram photos of vans on the beach with every window and door thrown open to the ocean? Japanese design was all about that way before it was cool, with shoji screens sliding open to interior and exterior courtyards and gardens. It seems like they were the first design culture to really nail indoor/outdoor living, combining the perks and privileges of the indoors with our natural affinity for the outside world.

Check out page after page of drool-worthy Japanese-inspired architecture in Nature on View. 


Hot Dirt, Cool Straw by James Grayson Trulove, Norah Richter Greer and Dennis Wedlick

Hot Dirt Cool Straw desert architecture book
Hot Dirt, Cool Straw: Desert Architecture

I became obsessed with desert architects in college, when I had only ever lived on the east coast. Tucson, Arizona felt about as familiar and accessible to me as the moon. But their use of natural materials (hello, rammed earth and earthships!) created a totally different relationship to natural settings, and the ingenuity required when working with extreme desert climates still impresses me. This book features all sorts of styles of Southwestern desert architecture, and the colors, textures and views still take me by surprise when I flip through it for the 300th time.

Learn more about Hot Dirt, Cool Straw’s unique Southwestern homes.

Terence Conran’s House Book, Kitchen Book, and Bed and Bath Book

Terence Conran 70's Style

Someone gave me this set of three large, hardback books as a gift years ago after finding it at a thrift store. Despite that auspicious beginning in my life, these books have turned out to be full of amazing information and photos of great 70’s style that I don’t know where I’d find anywhere else. The bright colors, crazy textures (shag carpeting wasn’t just for floors…), and automatic disregard for anything that’s trendy right now are a refreshing reminder that your space can look like anything you want, trends be damned. I mean, why not have a yellow faucet and big yellow stripes running over your 90% wood kitchen? Who’s going to stop you?

Learn more about Terence Conran’s oddly classic architectural series House Book, Kitchen Book, and Bed and Bath Book.


Dwelling: On Building Your Own by River

Dwelling on making your own by River
Dwelling: On Making Your Own by River (Illustration by Leona Walden)

This classic of the handmade houses movement is one part diary-style musings on how one should build a home, and one part interview series with the enterprising folks who were felling trees and splitting them into shingles in Northern California in the 60’s. Author River (yes, just River) identifies sticky issues and potential good-hearted solutions like, “How many trees is my living space worth? My tipi took the lives of fifteen young trees. If I’d let those trees grow, theoretically they would have provided enough plywood to build several plydomes… On the other hand, I plan periodically to plant trees on our land. I can replace the resources I use, simply by exerting a small but consistent amount of energy.” There are photos of the houses themselves, but the incredible illustrations by Leona Walden are what really make it for me.

It’s been out of print for ages, but reasonably priced used copies of Dwelling: On Making Your Own are still very available.


View from the Solar Lookout by Glenda Kaser Alm

Solar Lookout Tower

View from the Solar Lookout by Glenda Kaser Alm is the story of the construction of this amazing home, which is rentable on Airbnb and worth every penny. The book doesn’t appear to be available online, but you can purchase a copy when you stay at the rental, which I’m so glad I did. The book chronicles the emotional and technical challenges of building what was essentially a permitted, off-grid home in an era when that was pretty shocking to people. The author’s gung ho attitude and incredible results speak for themselves.

Solar Lookout Tower Interior

Not everyone is going to be able to get ahold of this book or stay in this home, but boy howdy, you owe it to yourself to check out the photos on Airbnb

The Relative Importance of Style

Not everyone has to or wants to dig deep into these choices. Sometimes your budget and timeline make a lot of the decisions for you, and you just get the best deal on the thing you need when you need it. Sometimes your ethics or health considerations dictate your course, and you stick to what’s most environmentally friendly or least likely to cause you an allergy attack. Style is definitely a “nice to have” and not a “need to have” in the pantheon of building considerations, but it’s nice to do nice things for yourself when you can! And everyone deserves a little eye-candy – looking is free.

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