Custom Homes: Address Design Challenges & Constraints

Whether the goal is to preserve the past or to innovate for the future, these projects demonstrate unique and interesting approaches to custom home design.
Webinar On-Demand
Sponsored by Marvin
Presented by Alexander Jermyn AIA, LEED AP and Ted Porter, AIA

Learning Objectives:

  1. Describe the range of materials and the reasons behind design decisions for these projects.
  2. Identify practices and strategies for addressing historic property renovation constraints.
  3. List two design constraints of the Sag Harbor house and how they were addressed.
  4. Discuss approaches to determining a client’s needs and wants in a custom home design.


1 AIA LU/Elective
AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia
This test is no longer available for credit

This webinar is part of the Custom Home Academy

This webinar will profile three custom home renovation projects and the challenges and opportunities faced by designers. Presenters will talk about the constraints on each project, whether due to site challenges or historic preservation requirements, and their approach to not only meeting the challenges but also forging new opportunities. In all cases, the projects highlight how designers can meet client wants and needs while creating unique and innovative spaces that will stand the test of time.

Alexander Jermyn, AIA, LEED AP, principal, Alexander Jermyn Architecture, will present the KT Residence project in San Francisco. The project is a restoration and addition to a residence in Diamond Heights. The front facade suffered fire damage and was restored to the original design from 1911. The new rear addition hovers above the rear yard, providing intimate views of the hills beyond. The design is intended to minimize energy load as much as possible and ideally eliminate dependency on the grid through the use of solar shingles and energy backup.

Ted Porter, AIA, principal, Ted Porter Architecture, will present the Sag Harbor House, a 1920s colonial revival house in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York. The original house was constrained by small rooms and low ceilings, and local codes and guidelines restricted how much could be made of the two-story, 1,900-square-foot cottage. As a “contributing structure” to a National Historic District, this meant the town’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review declined to allow significant changes to the street facade. Additionally, zoning prevented a house on such a small site—0.22 of an acre—from expanding beyond its footprint or height. Ted discusses the project, its numerous design constraints, and the opportunities his firm found to demonstrate that innovation is born of necessity. 

The presentations will be followed by a moderated discussion focused on how these innovative custom home projects address several key issues, including:

  • Cost: What tradeoffs, if any, are required to achieve contemporary design excellence, particularly in terms of using energy-efficient, sustainable materials, products, and practices for the optimization of custom home designs? In the featured projects, what was the ultimate value in the specific design decisions?
  • Aesthetics: What role did the desire for a particular aesthetic play in determining the scope and main features in the custom home designs? What were the results of those decisions? What were the obstacles?
  • Drivers: Did the owners request certain features, or did you, as the architects, propose them? If the latter, what led you to suggest using specific materials or make specific design decisions to support the end goal? How did occupant satisfaction goals inform design decisions?
  • Design constraints and opportunities: What were some of the unique constraints of the projects, and what opportunities did they create for innovative design?
Sag Harbor House

Photo courtesy of Ted Porter Architecture

Alex Jermyn

Alexander Jermyn,, AIA, LEED AP, principal at Alexander Jermyn Architecture, received his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and a Master of Architecture from Yale University. For more than 15 years, Alexander has worked on residential, commercial, and retail projects at all scales for a variety of clients, including Knoll, New York University, WeWork, and Marc Jacobs. In 2007, he received a fellowship from the Vastu Shilpa Foundation in Ahmedabad, India, to study the effects of economic development on a local village in Tamil Nadu, which culminated in a documentary film.

Ted Porter

Ted Trussell Porter, AIA, principal at Ted Porter Architecture, received his Master of Architecture from Yale University in 1984 after graduating from Mississippi State University. He was employed by I.M. Pei and Partners, where he worked on a range of international projects, before forming Ryall Porter Architects in 1994. Ted has served on both educational and professional architectural juries, and he sits on the publications committee of the Institute of Communications Agencies (ICA) Canada. Ted is a member of Van Alen Institute‘s Program Leadership Council.


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Originally published in May 2019