It was one of those rainy weekends when even the soccer games that structure our Saturdays were called off. With a living room ankle-deep in drippy children, we turned our curiosity toward another kind of structure -- architecture. We started by letting each child duplicate the first-floor plan of our home, to give them an idea of what a house looks like on paper. The task proved overwhelming to our three- year-old -- whose scribbling overcame his draftsmanship -- and difficult to the six- and seven-year-olds. So they became our scouts, describing details of the house while the older one sketched. As each room, closet and set of stairs was transcribed, we discussed the architect's reasons for making this arrangement. Sherry brought her field-trip experience with Colonial Virginia homes to our discussion of kitchens: "In modern houses, the kitchen is right next to the dining room," she said, marking it on her plan. "But in old-fashioned homes, the kitchen was outside so it didn't heat up the whole house." Once the whole floor was mapped out in varying degrees of accuracy, the children invented new uses for each room. Our dining and kitchen area became an all-purpose "eating room," complete with a push-button food dispenser that doles out ice cream, candy and "high-energy food with no sugar." Seven-year-old Ricky also included an automatic toothbrush as an admirable afterthought to this push-button buffet. Automation also figured into the child- designated library, with a mechanical retrieval system to solve the problem of lost books. Magazines, however, are on their own in this house, in a special rack next to the toy bin by the seven-foot tub in the bathroom. The choice of toys for a playroom was carefully weighed by three-year-old Bryce, who wanted a gun that shoots marbles, a shelf of Teddy bears and a few cars. Thirteen-year-old Lori, Bryce's frequent baby sitter, organized the toys onto a series of shelves and drew in the children's other requests: a gym set, a trampoline, a nature center and a TV. The house now included a place to eat, a place to read, a place to play and a place to bathe, but there was no room left for sleeping. A decision was made to split the former living room and create a sleeping area stocked with water beds, round beds, canopy beds and bunk beds. We pronounced our house complete and turned to the question of style. Our home has the flair of a 1950s get-em-up-quick development, so we turned elsewhere for a lesson in design. The nearby Smithsonian Institution advises would-be architects to study the Victorian style, built between 1870 and 1900, since nearly every town has an example. We have a splendid specimen in our neighborhood -- dubbed "the fancy house" by the kids. The children slickered up and poured out into the rain with some sketches from the Smithsonian to survey the house for "fanlights," "gables" and eyebrow-shaped "lintels." They scouted out several such exuberant decorations and waded back home to discuss why the Victorian style differs so radically from our own. We pretty much ruled out six-year-old Emma's idea that "In the olden days, people had to buy old things, but now they have more money and can buy new things," as well as Ricky's theory that "People got smarter so they can build things better." Sherry's conclusion that "It would be boring if everyone built the same kind of house year after year" seemed to make sense to the children. Before I could get them to write a real-estate ad, as the Smithsonian suggests, the children decided they would rather play house than discuss it.