Design Rock & Roll: Why I Play Guitar in My Office

good design doesn’t come from a book

What did a guitar teacher who looks and plays guitar like a rock star teach me about architecture?

The first song I ever learned on guitar was “This Old Man.” The problem was, at 14 years old, I didn’t like the song. It was not my kind of music, so I gave up on guitar.

Six months later, somebody said, “Go see Alan Gowa.” Alan looked like a rock & roll star – he even had long hair. But I still expected the same thing, that it would take six months to get through just the basics.

Instead, Alan asked, “What do you like?”

“Jimi Hendrix,” I said.

Alan said, “Okay, let’s start with Hendrix.”

My jaw dropped to the ground. Alan said, “‘Hey Joe’ has about every single chord in it, let’s learn that song and then move on as soon you get all the bar chords.”

Starting out with one of the most legendary guitar songs in retrospect seems daunting, but it was a brilliant approach by Alan. Tying together my passion for the genre of music was the key to instantly motivating me to put in the hard work to learn to play the guitar.

I was so motivated that I practiced and practiced that song until my fingers bled. Before long the callus formed and I had pulled together the song.

I sounded like Joan Baez playing Jimi Hendrix and that was not good enough for me, to sound like a folk singer trying to be a rock & roller… but Alan said, “No, you’re doing GREAT.”

He then handed his beautiful electric guitar to me. He twisted the knobs on the amp a little, and then had me play the song.

“It sounds unbelievable!” I said genuinely surprised. I had never sounded better. Not even close.

Alan was impressed, but wanted to show me ways to improve, so he played the same song on the same guitar and it was WAY better.

“How is that possible?” I thought. If you play the notes in the right order and at the right time, how could be anything other than perfect?

Alan played with feeling; he might linger on one note, blur others, play this one or that one louder. This was playing with emotion, and although he tried to teach it to me, some things can’t be taught.

Likewise is true with architecture. I have learned that good design doesn’t come from a book. It’s great to look at pictures and have an idea of the features you like, but when I’m with a client, I want to know what THEY want.

The first question I ask my clients is the same question Alan asked me, “what do you like? What makes you happy? Let’s try to achieve that.”

Extroverted or introverted, entertaining often or not; all of this affects the design.

Sometimes, clients ask, “Peter, what would you choose?”

Read more here:

About the author

Peter Twohy

Peter Twohy received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Notre Dame in 1988. In 1991 he moved to Germany, learned enough German to work as one of the lead designers of a German firm, Diniaware Architects in Königstein for more than 2 years. Peter then moved to Baltimore and worked for one of the premiere residential architects in the area. There he learned and honed the craft of designing beautiful client focused homes. He opened 2e Architects in 2005, which won “Best Of Design” and “Best Of Customer Service,” on Houzz®, the leading platform for home remodeling and design for the fifth consecutive year in 2018.

Leave a comment: