NÖMI Spotlight Moment With
Sarah Harper

Sarah Harper, AIA, LEED AP is the founder of H design, a Dallas area design architect, specializing in BIM and modern residential and commercial design. 

Good morning Sarah, great to have you with us! Tell me about your ah-ha moment, the very first time that you knew that you will be an architect. 

My parents convinced me to declare Architecture as my degree track my freshman year of college, but, while I did well the first two years, it didn’t click for me until I spent a summer in Italy on a study abroad trip.  It was there that I developed my love for architecture and my drive for design as a career.

What do all your projects have in common? 

Naturally lit spaces are characteristic of all of my projects, mainly due to my love for the outdoors.  Wherever I can, I blur the indoor to outdoor transition.  Sometimes that is done with a continuation of materials through planes, but it can also be achieved by bringing in so much outdoor light that the structure itself has the feeling of more of an outdoor pavilion than an enclosed area.  Windows strategically placed can allow nature to cascade into spaces, strengthening the interior-exterior connection.

What’s the first thing homeowners should think about when working with an architect to design a new space?

How they want to live.  We spend several hours at the beginning of each project in programming, which is determining overall goals for the project based on how a person wants to live in the home.  There is an analysis of the existing home, thinking through how new spaces would ideally by utilized, and dreaming of priority features we need to include.  The more someone spends thinking through these concepts, the quicker we get a good direction, and we are less likely to need to change direction once we begin the design work.  Because of this, rushing design work and project schedules, in general, is not advised.  I get very anxious over projects where the homeowner has a schedule in mind that is quicker than we typically achieve.  The planning and programming phase is so critical to the final product, and rushing either that phase or the initial design phase is never a good idea. 

What is your definition of good design? How do you hope clients will live in the spaces you’ve designed for them?

Good design is efficient, functional, but also comfortable and beautiful.  A tiny house is both efficient and functional, but I don’t think many would call it comfortable.  The amount of space required for certain spaces is important to me, as I’ve seen in other homes or even learned early on in my career what is too tight, too expansive, and just right.  I hope the homes I design for my clients will accommodate the furnishings, flow, and overall feel they are anticipating.  For that reason, management of expectations is critical to me to ensure my clients understand what the end result will be.  As mentioned in the previous question regarding rushing a project, I need my clients to spend the time necessary and to engage in the design process enough to understand what we have designed.  A client who is hasty to move along in order to get started on construction likely has not spent enough time with the design.  And some clients are afraid to mention if they think a space is too small.  I have to read people well enough to know if they are concerned despite not voicing it, so I can make the adjustments needed.  That would be a disservice on my part, as the professional, to deliver a home that doesn’t provide the amount of space needed. 

NOMI - boutique custom home builder - Sarah Harper H design - photographer: Andy Luten
NOMI - boutique custom home builder - Sarah Harper H design - photographer: no assoc
NOMI - boutique custom home builder - Sarah Harper H design

What is your favorite part of working with clients, engaging in the creative process, and running a business?

I love getting to know the families and creating a place for them.  That is by far my favorite part of my work.  After that, the actual creation of something, bringing something into existence.  The problem-solving and strategery while creating something beautiful is a challenge every time.  As for running a business, this is not my strength.  I enjoy the other hands-on aspects of design so much more than management and tedious paperwork.  This is why I will always stay a small firm and will likely always be late with invoicing!

What do you find to be the biggest challenge for an architect?

Saying no to a project.  Because I enjoy solving problems, developing solutions, and helping people, I have a difficult time turning down work.  I get excited about each one as it is presented to me and the wheels start turning, coming up with ideas on the spot.  With the domino effect of too many projects at a time, it is difficult to stay on schedule at times, and I usually want a good bit of time to process between revisions.  When designing, there are days where things fall into place quickly, and those where I may grind on a project for several inefficient hours.  It’s unpredictable and reliant on my mood, energy level, the amount of time that has passed since I last finished a design, the pressure or stress I may be feeling.  Also, communicating that to clients is difficult. 

What type of projects do you typically take? 

We take on nearly all residential types of projects.  We have done likely everything, but, when we do have to pare down the projects we engage, we stick to those that we believe are our strengths: new single-family homes and extensive remodels with or without additions.  The more freedom I have to rework an existing home, the better.  A smaller project scope where we are only addressing a few rooms would be a project we would refer or pass if we are busy.

What’s your favorite hobby?

I’m not sure if you could call traveling a hobby, but, if so, that would be it.  I love to learn and see new things and places, experiencing other areas, and just exploring.  If that doesn’t count, I’m also a taekwondo black belt and wine enthusiast. 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Answering this question is difficult, because I can be a commitment-phobe, and I haven’t been everywhere in the world yet!  There are so many places I want to explore, and I think I could find that one of those would be a wonderful place to live.  On my list of places I have yet to go to are Nova Scotia, New Zealand, Scotland, and France. 

What would be the best advice for a homeowner that is going to remodel or build a new house? 

Take your time.  Tour homes.  Find out what you like, even if only a few things.  Be open-minded, but also speak your mind.  Ask questions, and always remember this will be your home, not the architect’s.  Your home is not a platform for an architect to make their own statement; it is for you to enjoy, so it should reflect you. 

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