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Designing the perfect home an interview with Lee Calisti of lee CALISTI architecture+design

By Lee Calisti

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

We are lee CALISTI architecture+design, a small architecture firm in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Our work is a mix of commercial and custom residential design. Besides being creative designers, we boast of analytical planning skills, branding and image identification, extensive knowledge of building codes and oversee almost every project through construction. It is during this final phase that clients most need their architect.

I started this firm in 2003 to focus on work that is relevant, contemporary and sensitively designed involving new construction, adaptive reuse and renovations. The firm is devoted to attentive service in tandem with thoughtful, quality and responsible design that addresses the broadest audience and social context.

What are some of the biggest decisions that someone needs to make when it comes to the design of their new home?

Long before one concludes on what they will build, they must consider where this will take place. Location is everything. Having an architect on board to consult with during the search for land can aid in knowing whether a particular lot will work for the set of goals. We have developed a long list of questions to ask oneself prior to purchasing a piece of property. It involves research as well as self-inquiry.

In order to put forth the energy both emotional and physical as well as financial to construct a new structure, one must also come to terms with the realities of the design process and what it means to have a structure that is tailored to them as opposed to tailoring their lifestyle to a structure that is already in place. This includes an understanding of the time, investment and engagement with the process.

It is also important to calibrate one's mind to current construction costs and options for finding balance between economy, quality and schedule.

Can you briefly explain a few features of a green home?

There are several mainstream programs aimed at measuring the performance of a house in order to give it a green moniker (LEED, Energy Star, Passive House). Those are great programs, but many find the cost either out of reach or not high on their priority list. It may be hard to measure, but I believe the answers are not necessarily found in current or future technology but in what was already known by our ancestors. Prior to injecting technology into the house with respect to active systems we believe it is more important to explore simple things like orientation, passive systems and methods of reducing energy usage instead of replacing that energy after it's been expended. A great website that addresses this well is, written by Steve Mouzon.

Beyond that, a home ought to be small conserve resources and only build what you need. Once the design is set, it needs to be durable so it can outlive the many generations that will live in it where they won't need to replace major portions of it. Design plays into this as well as timelessness a well-considered space will less likely need to be renovated because trendy elements won't need to be replaced. A house that is loved will be one that is well taken care of throughout the years. If a house does not engage the owners, it won't be liked let alone loved and they will tend to ignore maintenance and move on in a quicker time span than if they had a house they really connected with on many levels.

We do see room for technology to enter into the mix with systems that compliment smart, good design. Sustainability extends beyond just the materials, but the size of the house and the location of the house with respect to a family's work, school and community. We need green places as much as we need green houses. Smaller houses and less dependency on an automobile is always a green choice.

What are some of the misconceptions you've come across about designing a green home?

The most common misconception is the additional cost or expense. This can be corrected by retooling one's mind or redefining the term expensive. Investing in something that will last longer, require less maintenance and will outlive the original owners and/or have a longer useful life than the alternatives is good common sense. A lesser first cost is rarely the least cost over even a short period of time if a house requires more maintenance, items need to be replaced or if one moves prematurely resulting in unexpected costs of moving and selling a home. One must balance investing in the 'bones' of the house as much as the frills.

There are shades of green out there; a house doesn't need a badge to be good for the environment. Keep an eye on the big picture and make smart choices.

What are a few of the most in-demand green features for custom homes?

From my experience they would be a high performance envelope (windows, exterior cladding, insulation and moisture management), mechanical systems that include energy recovery ventilation systems and durable, low maintenance materials. Natural materials and other choices that improve indoor air quality (no VOC's) are very important.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with your company?

Our website is a good resource of seeing the type of work we have done and that we seek to do. There is a resource page that has a brochure on the residential design process and links to our blog where we have addressed issues in real estate such as affordability and items to consider before the purchase of property (both commercial and residential).

To get a real understanding of how we approach architecture, we welcome a telephone call and/or meeting where we can demonstrate our ability to communicate in a personal fashion.

Lee Calisti, AIA

lee CALISTI architecture+design

24 Cypress Avenue

Greensburg, PA 15601

t. 724.832.7030



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