Richard Landon Design THE ROOM COMPASS TM

The following article appeared in Kitchen and Bath Business.
By Richard P. Landon, CKD

I came into this profession, in 1978, motivated by compassion for a recently widowed young mother.  As a result, I was free of any preconceptions about “how to design a kitchen.”  It was several years before I even discovered  the NKBA-precursive AIKD and the concept of being certified by a governing body.  From the start, therefore, I developed “rules” based upon my own observations, using skills honed in lab classes while earning a chemistry degree.  I shape these observations into “frameworks.”


Frameworks are visual or linguistic devices that enable the user to tackle complex issues without feeling overwhelmed.  I use The Room Compass TM framework to constrain the design process—and to eliminate “cookie cutter” solutions.  With it, I have more assurance that my spatial solutions will “look great, work well, but most importantly, feel right.”  And truly, this is what our clients want.

Just as the four points of a compass orient us directionally, the four points of The Room Compass TM orient us rationally and intuitively toward this “looks great, works well, feels right” objective. There is an outside and inside component to every space.  There is an inside and outside component to the inhabitants of that space. These four relationships constrain and condition the design.  All must be delved into and understood.  This process greatly facilitates success while it mitigates or completely prevents the possibility of regrets.  The four points of The Room Compass TM spell out LIFE and are:

1. The client’s outside component—their Lifestyle Factors, represented by the letter "L."
2. The home’s inside world—how the home’s circulation patterns affect the room and how it relates visually and functionally to the spaces about it, Interior Flow, as it were, represented by the letter "I."
3. The client’s inside component—their aesthetic preferences, as expressed in their “visual language,” in other words, the Feelings Created for them, represented by the letter "F."
4. The home’s outside world—how the room is affected by its Exterior surroundings, the Exterior Connection, represented by the letter "E."

The Client’s Outside Component: Their Lifestyle Factors

This is how the client manifests in the world.  It is who they want the world to see.   In the kitchen, we must both identify and re-shape their approach to the activities of the kitchen.  I use ten distinct “Activity Zones” which I sort into three groups: Collective, Distributive, and Circulative. When these zones are arranged to support the client’s lifestyle, the kitchen always feels right.  (This will be covered in a separate article.)

About ten years ago, a client of Italian heritage insisted on having a sink immediately adjacent to his then nascent residential-model professional stove.  My training as a CKD compelled me to resist the idea, since the rules require a minimum landing space on either side of the stove.  As the client, he prevailed, and I became his pupil.  I later watched him as he filled a pot with water, washed a spoon after stirring a sauce, used a colander in the sink to drain the water from his pasta by simply tipping his large pot, and easily rinsed the pot before the starches stuck to it.  I now ask all my clients to consider a “chef’s sink.”  (I would note that a 14” x 16” usable bowl is a good minimum size and that the cook can easily reach over it to land a pot on the counter beyond.)  Incorporating this concept in my design “armamentarium” has resulted in kitchen concepts that would never before have occurred to me.

The Home’s Inside Component: Interior Flow

After a design exercise at a Jim Krengel seminar, we attendees toured the room, looking at each other’s ideas.  I noticed that some designers and I had drawn sweeping curves on the floor plan representing the circulation patterns in the home and were looking at the best ways to both shape them and the spaces in a functional pas de deux.  Our ideas were being shaped in response to the movement of people through the home.

Respecting the home’s inside component means we consider “traffic flow.”   We look at how the room presents itself to people as they enter, what functions occur within its confines, and whether it is a destination or a hub within the body of the home.  For many people, the kitchen starts at the front door!  How do their groceries enter the home?  What do people see when they first enter the kitchen?  Do they see the refrigerator, the least attractive appliance, in most cases (and generally ill-proportioned and bulky), or the cooktop under a beautiful custom hood, the design element that is most easily made into an artistic expression of the owner’s aesthetic sense?

I have been in many homes with sufficient square footage and yet the client wants to add more space!  By re-purposing the surrounding rooms instead, creating spatial layering within them (a technique explored well in the “Not So Big” books by Sarah Susanka), the home will become more interesting.  It will also certainly avoid the “recently remodeled” look, described by British design magazines as “the re-muddled home.”

The Client’s Inside Component: Feelings Created

A client’s aesthetic sense of “what feels right” is represented by what I call their “Visual Language.”  When our clients talk about how they want the kitchen to “look,” they are indirectly telling us how they want it to “feel.”  The challenge is this: Though we all have a sense of what the word “cozy” means, we each have a distinctly individualistic image attached to that word.  “Cozy” may conjure up the image of a cottage for one person; for another, it may take them to a mountain cabin.  As a designer, I must identify my client’s visual language.  Then, I must use and respect it as the design is developed.

Toward that end, I separate the husband and wife and have them complete a survey that identifies the words they use to describe spaces that “feel right” to them.  Afterwards, we browse through my portfolio or their picture collection, clarifying and refining our vision for the room.  Throughout the design process, I describe ideas to one party as “Your word, ‘cozy,’” and to the other party as “Your word, ‘comfortable.’”  By whatever means chosen, consensus about the visual language for the room in question must be created.

This process is, for me, most critical.  While interviewing clients, I have had moments that I would not hesitate to call “sacred” in which a memory surfaces of a special place that “felt right.”   Recently, a client became teary-eyed, as she recalled a kitchen from her childhood.  For me, her dream kitchen had to have a “cranny” that would evoke the same “all is well” feeling that this childhood space evoked for her.  Needless to say, that kitchen truly is one of a kind.

Time and time again, I have seen people willing to spend significantly more money when their project feels right to them (their unstated agenda) than they would have ever considered spending for simply a “new kitchen” (their stated agenda).

The Home’s Outside Component: Exterior Connections

The “eyes” of the room (windows and doorways) shape our connection to and our perception of the outside world.  As designers, we must cultivate an awareness of the site’s amenities and each room’s connection to it.  Many times the kitchen, in particular, is asking for a different orientation to it.  Adding a window might be all that is needed.  Other times, the kitchen may be entirely disconnected from its site.  When that happens, I explore re-purposing annd re-shaping the spaces of the home.

A few years ago, I was retained for a kitchen project.  The kitchen looked out into a small backyard, surrounded by a cement retaining wall.  I toured the home and found that the upstairs had a dramatic view down the length of Lake Washington.  The client slept with a view and cooked in a cement-bounded hole!   Believing they had the financial means to do so, I suggested that they “flip” their home and put the living areas upstairs.  This meant the dining room became the entry, the kitchen—the guest bedroom, and the living room—part of the master suite, et cetera.  Ultimately, the upstairs was completely reworked. The end result was magnificent and a far more satisfying use of the client’s money than putting a new face on an old feeling.

Residential Therapy

The Room Compass TM framework quantifies the intuitive elements of design in an understandable way for our clients.  It clarifies the design process while inviting all parties who are vested in the outcome to participate with mutuality.  For many couples, it prompts the husband to reveal things of which the wife was totally unaware.  After all, he is talking about “feelings!”  (At times, my clients have humorously referred to me as their “residential therapist.”)

The Room Compass TM is my chosen framework.  It provokes possibilities that I believe would otherwise never come forth while, simultaneously, it precludes a Richard Landon signature style from settling in.  As a result, I have had a rare “grand slam”—four projects featured in the same issue of a national shelter magazine.  Because each was so owner-distinctive, the editors selected the projects without realizing one designer had done them all!

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