Morton S James and the Inspiration Home

One of the best loved places in Olympia, WA, is the Olympia Farmers’ Market. Know who was the architect? Mort James of Morton Safford James III AIA Architects, Inc. That’s who.

Know who worked with the owners of the Inspiration Home to make it place a family can gather and visit and feed and celebrate and rest and live? Give you one guess …

I hadn’t spent much time with architects before this project. The only thing I knew about them is they have to do an intense amount of schooling and take a grueling test before they can even claim to be architects. You’d think there would be a big difference between designing a large community gathering space and designing a three bedroom bungalow. I was able to pry a half hour out of Mort’s schedule to ask him about this.

Mort says the kernel of every building’s design is knowing what the building is for. Who is using it? What needs to happen in it? “Ultimately, it all comes back to good design,”says Mort. “It all comes back to what works. Then we talk about how the space should look.

“A place like the Farmers’ Market is a great example. You need a place for vendors to get in and out. You need a place for them to interact with customers. Customers need room to move comfortably. They need a place to linger and socialize.”

People also need to be attracted to a space. They have to want to be there. In the case of the Market, its aesthetics were inspired by Mort’s childhood. “There were these beautiful old barns I played around in as a kid. I tried to emulate their space and proportion and their charm — all those structural bits up in the rafters, the openness.”

It’s the same process for a home design; you just get different answers to your questions.

Mort spent a lot of time with [the owners] talking about their needs in the Inspiration Home. He had to create a floor plan that would accommodate possible future needs of an in-law joining them, long-term family guests (kids and grandkids) and the owner’s plans for ageing-in-place. Scott Homes, of course, needed the home to look like a Craftsman bungalow so it would blend with the other homes we built on the same block.

The result was a well-thought-out design. The main floor is ADA accessible, meaning there’s no step anywhere and room enough for a wheelchair to get through the door if it comes to that. The upstairs is perfect for visitors. The garage is designed to be converted into a comfortable 470 sq ft mother-in-law apartment. Bingo! Just what the customers ordered. We like that.

If you would like to see the Inspiration Home and possibly meet Mort, come by and visit us. The home is open 10 -4, August 18/19 and 25/26. Check out the Inspiration Home site for more details on workshops and history.

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