McInturff Architects has won multiple Custom Home Design Awards for architectural details over the years. Firm founder and principal architect Mark McInturff talks about how his design philosophy leads to these special moments that frequently garner accolades from our awards juries. The accompanying slideshow highlights some of the clever and award-winning details that have appeared in Custom Home.

What inspires you to include these highly custom details in your projects?

Obviously detailing is very important to us. It’s sort of where the rubber hits the road design-wise. One reason is that it’s the part of the building that people touch. These details represent the place where the scale of the building gets down to the scale of the occupants.

I was in Kyoto, Japan, a long time ago and realized that all of the elements in the houses there were about half the size of elements here. It became apparent to me that at some point a building has to become elegant and refined. And refinement is very important to us. Whether a project is very expensive or not, the level of refinement as you put the building together is key to our end result.

Details like these are a great way of getting into the DNA of a building. We’re looking at all of the other elements we’ve already worked on for the house and trying to get the custom details to speak the same language as the rest of the design. From project to project they are all different, however. What we don’t want to have is a common language among all of our projects, but rather to create unique details that evolve from that particular client and that specific time in our architectural journey.

How do you decide where to include a detail?

First, it’s a place you experience frequently—on a day-to-day level—and ideally something you touch. We look for certain parts that can be called out and made special. For us, it’s a big part of what we do. You have to bring a project to close and that’s what details do.

There’s a Paul Rudolph quote about architecture that when modified slightly, I feel perfectly fits our philosophy: “Detailing is a precious liquid that you pour over a building and it sticks to the parts that count.”

How are the elements built?

We have fabricators we like to use again and again like AK Metal Fabricators who did the dining table/canopy in the Great Falls House (see project in accompanying slideshow). They do a lot of pieces for us. We also work directly with the builders after a piece is fabricated or if we’re doing a larger site-built element. The builders or fabricators who create these details for us have to take on a craftsman type of role because there’s a lot of back and forth. We usually have long dialogues about the best way to build and install each piece.

Do you have to convince the clients to add these custom touches to their house?

The process is evolutionary because once you’re down to the architectural details you’ve already decided on an overall design scheme. When I present the drawings I make it clear that the detail will mean paying a little more than they would for an off-the-shelf product, but it will add a spark to the project. We’ve done this often enough that the costs are controlled. It’s not that we want to take complex details and put them everywhere, but it’s about prioritizing architecturally by seeing what detail would be used frequently and will make this project a nice thing. We ask ourselves what will be worth the extra effort. You have to bring each project to close and that’s what details do.