Architects do not have editors to offer feedback on their designs (a service that many critics and owners might suggest is sorely needed). But there are architectural editors whose function is similar to that of an acquisition editor at a large publishing house - their job is to acquire talent and sell their work. Dan Gregory, editor in chief of Novato, Calif.-based Houseplans.com, the nation's largest online home-planning service, is one of them.
Gregory's unusual credentials and depth of knowledge in home design are unequaled in the home-planning business. He has a PhD in architectural history from the University of California at Berkeley, where his studies included two years of studio design with students training to become architects. In a recent interview, he called it "an invaluable experience for understanding how they think."
During the 27 years he was an editor at Sunset magazine, he sifted through the work of hundreds of architects to showcase the most unusual and well-crafted houses in the Western United States, the area of Sunset's editorial focus. In addition to his editing duties, Gregory was involved in the design and construction of real houses. He helped select the architect for Sunset's annual Idea Houses and then worked closely with the architect and builder as those houses were designed and built.
Spectrum of choices
In the three years since he joined Houseplans.com, Gregory has reinvigorated a massive archive of 30,000 plans and added some unusual offerings.
Like any good acquisition editor, Gregory has gone after residential architects whose work he regards as widely appealing. Some of them, he said, needed coaxing to make their work available to a wider public and to homeowners with whom they would not have a personal relationship, while others, including Sarah Susanka, the best-selling author of the "Not So Big" series of books on home design, were already doing this.
A quick perusal of the "Exclusive Plans" section on Houseplans.com indicates that Gregory is catholic in his choices. Tacitly acknowledging that some very gifted home designers are not registered architects, his roster currently includes five designers and 27 architects. Collectively, the styles of the 27 solo practitioners or partnerships run the gamut from traditional Craftsman and Colonial Revival to cutting-edge modern. Each listing posts four or five plans, enough to sense the designer's style and "idea of home." Cleverly, the personal graphic style of each designer is retained in the presentation, which makes it easier to keep them straight, if you view five or 10 in a sitting.
In addition to the work of living architects, Gregory has secured permission from the Environmental Design Archives at U.C. Berkeley to sell the work of three distinguished California architects and one developer. Looking through the photographs and drawings of the late William Turnbull's tiny Sea Ranch cottage (designed in 1980 as employee housing for the Sea Ranch Community on the Pacific Coast, about 100 miles north of San Francisco), Web site visitors will be captivated by the wonderfully playful exposed roof trusses in the interiors. They are the kind of universally appealing detail that most people could never imagine having in their own house. The seriously interested visitor will note that the house is very small (650 square feet) and probably would want to make changes, which can easily be done, Gregory said.