Architects, at least the very good ones, are different than you and me. They visualize and organize spaces in unusual ways and they also have a knack for seeing products in ways that are not obvious to the rest of us. Builder wanted to get a behind-the-scenes look at how an architect chooses products, so we tagged along with Michael William Hall to see how he navigates The Home Depot in Northeast Washington, D.C.

Hall and his wife, architect Anne Crowley, who together run Studio: CrowleyHall, have a simple approach to architecture and products: Keep it straightforward.

“Simple designs that emphasize light and well–thought out circulation result in relaxed spaces that will not need changing in the future,” Hall says. “Don’t use more lines, gables, and trim to make up for an ill-proportioned design. … Less is better than more, especially in this market.”

Hall and Crowley avoid getting bogged down by conventional thinking—such as the current dictum that a house must have granite countertops or whirlpool tubs. Instead, the firm focuses on the important elements first: structure, building envelope, insulation, mechanical systems. In this firm’s eyes, energy is king.

“You don’t need to build a LEED Platinum project to provide clients good energy-efficient design,” says Hall. “Simple designs save money that can be spent on good insulation, high R-value windows, and energy-efficient equipment. … Steer clients to these options first, before solar panels and such. Clients will love you for years!”

Having said that, Hall still has some products that he likes, and he was kind enough to share them with us.

Jonathan Hanson

Hall’s Helpful Product Hints

  • Energy. Energy. Energy.
  • Never cheap out on insulation or water heaters.
  • Prioritize. It’s not about how many gewgaws you have; it’s the quality of the material.
  • Keep it simple. Look for simple designs and forms.
  • Pick all one color of an item.
  • Always choose three of one thing.
  • Use honest materials. Stay away from products that try to look like the real thing.
  • Specify low-voltage fixtures, and use more of them instead of high-voltage and fewer fixtures.
  • Use hardwood in main rooms and carpet in secondary rooms.
  • Sometimes a locally grown product is more sustainable than rapidly renewable products from overseas.