An interview with Charles Hilton of Charles Hilton Architects

You’ve done lots of work on vacation homes, what is a common request in Summer homes vs. Winter homes?  As you would imagine, summer homes are all about enjoying the outdoors and indoor/outdoor living.  Porches, pool terraces, screened porches, outdoor kitchens and bars, boating facilities and integration with the landscape are typically important elements.  Most finishes are light in color and often more casual or rustic than year-round houses.  Winter homes tend to focus around big indoor gatherings, cooking and meals.  Good views and some outdoor elements like ski-in/ski-out rooms, ski-mobile parking areas, and outdoor hot-tubs are common requests.  Natural wood and rustic finishes are common. 


Do clients typically stray from the style of their main home interior to their vacation home interior, or do they tend to be similar?  Yes, our clients always want their vacation home to be a departure stylistically from their full-time residence.  Vacation homes are typically less formal stylistically and have finishes that are more casual or rustic than full time residences.


In terms of architectural design trends, what request are you receiving less and less of and more and more of within the past five years to today? Architectural design is leaning more modern and less traditional these days, especially on the interiors.  Clients are asking for more Smart House features, energy efficient designs, and indoor/outdoor living and entertainment areas.  Garages that can accommodate or be retrofitted with lifts for more cars are popular.  Charging stations for electric cars is now a common request.  People these days seem to want to be more connected to their properties.  In recent years we have had many more requests for attached or detached facilities such as greenhouses, maintenance buildings, sheds, gardening rooms, vegetable gardens, animal shelters such as chicken coops, etc.  We are receiving less requests for heavily formal homes and rooms.


How do you strike the vibe the client wants their guests to pick up on when they first enter their home?  Our clients don’t usually discuss what they want their guest’s impressions to be but they typically want their clients to have comfortable accommodations and some privacy from what are typically the very busy public rooms in their homes. 


Do you prefer a renovation project on an older home with charm or one starting from scratch, building from ground up?  I really enjoy both.  Older homes with great character are a joy to work on.  Design on older homes is a process of artistic and historical discovery leading us down unique creative avenues.   New homes are also rewarding in that you are not constrained by existing conditions and typically have a lot more design freedom.  Ironically, too many choices can be more challenging for some clients than working with limited options.  We do our best to make the most of whichever of these situations our projects present. 

(a ‘before and after’ of one of their incredible renovations)


We seem to be heading in the direction of smarter homes, is that the case with you and your clients?  How do you keep up with all the products and designs? Are they more difficult to design with or more fun?  Yes, we have found that ‘smart home’ features are increasingly very popular with our clients.  Clients want homes that are easier to monitor and control remotely, that are more efficient to operate, and ones where many of the systems are automated.  The homes we are designing today are some of the most technologically advanced ever.  Products and control systems are constantly changing.  We work closely with a wide variety of consultants and product suppliers such as mechanical and electrical engineers, lighting designers, security specialists, AV and low voltage equipment suppliers, etc. that have their finger on the pulse of their respective industries.  They keep us well informed about new products and the associated technical design parameters when working with these.


How popular in this area are sustainable homes?   We do not get a lot of request for ‘sustainable homes’ per say.  That said, I’ve found that when we have conversations about sustainability, responsible sourcing of materials, energy efficiency, life-cycle cost, etc. with clients, we find them generally interested in making environmentally responsible choices as long as the decision does not compromise the primary design objectives or cost significantly more.  I think it is important that the design community continue to research sustainable products and building practices so that we can educate our clients on sustainability and present responsible options throughout the design process.

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