If you work in a creative business and are building a portfolio of work based on your talent
this may be of interest to you and your career.

There is an old proverb that says:
“A word to the wise: to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

My name is John Williams, I’ve been an architectural designer for 50 years. I started my career doing commercial design, then became a developer, builder and finally settled on a boutique firm specializing in residential custom homes and stock designs.

With a commitment to the professionalism of the industry, I hold a masters degree in classical architecture
and truly believe in life long learning. All of this is supported by a membership in the
Institute of Classical Architecture and Art in Manhattan, New York.

I’ve always considered myself a “Journeyman Architect” but I’ve become known as a maverick in the industry,
pushing the envelope and creating unique details developing a transitional style that is easily recognizable.
I truly enjoy working with my clients and the most rewarding complement is through their referrals and recommendations.

Being recognized by your peers is both humbling and exhilarating and I’ve been very fortunate to have my designs win
House of the Year in Ontario and Canada many times
and also as a finalist in the United States.

The most notable award would be the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Architecture in Historical Restoration.
My work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Canadian Architecture and Design, House and Home and other designer publications. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some amazing craftsmen and industry professionals who collaborate, sharing their expertise to bring my designs to life.


                                     Architectural Designer: John Williams       Landscape Design: John Williams
                                      Builder: Kadlick and Williams                      Interior Design: Kadlick and Williams
                                      Photography: Ted Chamberlain 


I LOVE WHAT I DO….and I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

Historically, all designers are influenced by those who preceded them as inspiration. They then adapt and reinterpret styles, details and technologies to suit the clients program. This is the starting point for any design and as long as it is not easily recognizable as someone else’s work or considered a direct replica or copy it would comply with copyright.

As part of my ongoing business strategy, I decided now is the time for legacy planning. With over 1,000 residential homes in my portfolio, a published plan book and a soon to be on-line store, I needed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

I suppose one may say that a designers legacy will be in the bricks and mortar found in clients’ homes in residential neighbourhoods, however, that would only be one part of the equation.

What I’ve had to learn over the years is that there is a business side to the business of creativity.

As part of the process, I decided to meet with a copyright lawyer to gather information and become familiar
with the law as it pertains to the “business” of architecture.

When starting my career, I created a notice that appears in the title block on each page of every design and is considered  creative copyright.

“These design plans are protected by copyright and all design rights are reserved by John Williams, Architectural Designer. You have purchased the rights to use this design plan for one individual residence. No part of this design plan may be produced, distributed, transmitted or sold in any form or by any means without the prior
written permission of the designer.”

What does all that mean?

I exclusively own the copyright on everything I’ve designed and no one has the right to monetize, gift, transfer, inherit, copy, reproduce, or transmit my creative design work without my permission.

It would be my pleasure to meet and discuss my portfolio with anyone interested in building a new home and this will of course include paying a royalty and/or design fee for my work. 

Part of the business of the business.

Now, in keeping with ongoing education, I’ve learned something new.
The lawyer and expert introduced me to moral copyright.

As we live in a digital or technology age, by definition, this includes receiving recognition on every photo, floor plan, elevation, drawing or likeness of my work.

As the designer, when you see a visual representation of your work published anywhere –
your name must be included giving you credit for your creativity.

Interesting, don’t you think?

As the designer, you have the legal right to ask for your name to be included or removed from the source. As the lawyer would say: failure to comply will mean you may request damages for non compliance within the parameters of the law.
One may best see this in action within the music and film industries. Just refer to the credits.

So, it is interesting to note, if you see any social media posts, pictures in magazines, smartphone pictures, marketing materials for suppliers or perhaps even a decal on a truck for one of the trades or builders who worked on one of your projects –
Your name should appear “Designed by…” ensuring that you are recognized through both creative and moral copyright.


We provide credit to someone who builds a legacy over time through their creativity. I’m sure you’ll agree anyone who invents, creates, builds or develops a product or service that is unique should receive recognition and financial compensation. This also applies for any of your designs where another industry professional such as a builder, interior or landscape designer may have won an award. They would not have won that award if they didn’t have access to your design talent.

It is part of the business of the creative business.

Here is a great example:
In architecture, we also have technologists who take our design drawings and transfer them into plans for permit and construction. Some designers have the computer skill to complete these drawings as part of their design work. Others, like myself, hand draw their designs to scale and contract the services of other industry professionals to complete these dimensioned drawings on my behalf. Most often these drawings are completed under my company name but there may be times where they are found on a technologists title block. In order to comply with moral and creative copyright, the original designer’s name must be included on each page of the design. This complies with the law and recognizes the ongoing creative talent of the architectural designer who retains all of the rights and privileges for their work.


As they say: “A word to the wise: to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is necessary to defend your creativity and uphold the law.
It is interesting to note, there are a number of court cases in recent years where the architectural designer has won damages
from those who have copied their work without receiving permission.

The awards have been substantial, up to seven figures.

Your creativity is your livelihood.

With a passion for my work, I have to remember, this too is part of the business of doing business.

As the lawyer politely said with a smile “pleading ignorance to the laws in your industry is not a defence.”
It simply means you’ve not done your homework and speaks to your integrity and professionalism.

Do you agree?

Now, this brings me to legacy and estate planning.

Each architectural designer in their last will and testament may gift their designs, transferring all of the same copyright protection for either one or their entire body of work to another individual or company at their discretion.

As an example, a spouse, colleague, school or foundation would then hold all of the exclusive rights. That person or business will be protected by the law for the duration of their lifetime or life of the business with all of the
same rights and privileges as the original designer.

It is a great way to ensure that your creativity will be protected in the future and that your legacy will live on under their care and guidance. We often choose someone we trust with our legacy.

A lot to think about isn’t it?

I know for certain, when I started my career none of these things were part of my business plan but as time moves at warp speed you may find that it won’t be long before you have built a business through your creative talent that is
noteworthy in your community, industry and market area.

My advice: “Do not be complacent, become familiar with your rights and ensure that you plan for the future.”

If I’ve learned anything in my 50 years in business it is that nothing is guaranteed and we all need to ensure that we make sound business decisions that are in the best interests of our clients, ourselves, family and friends.

I know for certain that I am passionate about design. I love what I do and architecture is a big part of my personal identity. What I’ve had to realize is that it is also a business.


As I reflect on my career, it is an honour and a privilege to be recognized by generations of clients
and their families who live in the homes I’ve designed.

It is my commitment to support the professionalism of the industry
and continue to catalogue a body of work that defines my professional legacy.

                                “Building your portfolio contributes to your legacy one design at a time”  JW




Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with 50 years of experience.
“Designing houses is not only what I do for a living…it is what I love to do”
Visit John williamsresidentialdesign.ca or  jwlipstickdesigns.com

My firm recently completed a large scale estate project for a wonderful Canadian client.  This led me to think about the design process and the role that hand sketches and imagination play in the work.

When the firm was engaged, I made numerous rough sketches, floor plans, elevations and thumbnail perspectives to illustrate my thoughts.

A few of the earlier quick sketches flowed into the final design.

What began in my imagination was transferred directly onto paper in an unconscious way through sketches.  The hand-eye communication is direct and captures the fundamental features and character of the home. That is not to say, it is unstudied or that years of training and experience do not go into its making.

One of these sketches was referred to more than any other, and became the touchstone for the project.  As the team moved towards the final design, we all referred to this preliminary sketch in discussions over the selection of building materials, design features and architectural character.

As the design was nearing completion, the client told me that what they found most satisfying about working with us was our ability to capture in sketch form not only what their new home would look like but feel like.  I remember them saying: It looks and feels like the home we imagined.

In reality, there were many points of difference between the presentation sketches and the details which were refined for the final product.  I think the client believed the success of our working collaboratively was that the sketch was their fantasy home and that it embodied not just the look of the house but personality.

Imagine how difficult it would be to purchase a painting, clothing or food without being able to see, feel for touch the product.  This is the challenge for any creative work; to be able to visually explain the features and personality of a home while using pencil and paper.

A new home lies in the future based on the design sketches that convey the finished product.

We were very fortunate to have such a wonderful client and their gift to us was their imagination and trust in the process.

The architects sketches try to find solutions and natural resolutions to every uncertainty.  The client, puts trust in the architect with a leap of faith that the sketches will become their new home.

Residential Design. A boutique firm with 48 years of experience.
Designing houses is not only what I do for a living it is what I love to do.
Visit John @williamsresidentialdesign.ca

I was recently invited to a party celebrating 25 years in business. It was wonderful to be able to meet with other folks in the industry in a relaxed environment and raise a glass or two to commemorate the dedication and commitment to a colleague and his success.

It got me thinking.

We never seem to take the time to enjoy our accomplishments big and small. I for one, seem to run from one project to the next with the thrill of a new design with happy clients.

Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have won many awards and been featured in both local and national magazines. It still surprises me to see my designs in print and I always feel it is an honour to be recognized by your peers. Every project is a collaboration between the family, designer and builder – you honestly can’t have one without the other for the project to be successful. Celebrating as a team is another form of thank you!

At our firm, when we complete a project, we thank the builder and their trades for a job well done. We take our team out for lunch for all the work that is done behind the scenes and usually organize a tour before the house is move in ready.

It is exhilarating and satisfying to see each design come to life!

What is the best part of any celebration? It always leaves me with a smile is when the family says I love my house and you know that it will be enjoyed for many years and generations.

This party, was to celebrate with Frank Bandiera, someone who I have known for many years. It was heartwarming to meet with his family, friends and colleagues and participate in this special commemorative occasion.

I would like to congratulate Frank on all of his accomplishments as both a designer, father and friend. He demonstrates the dedication and professionalism to the industry that paves the way for future generations of success. I’m sure he will celebrate many more projects with smiles, accolades and accomplishments.

It was an honour to be invited and it has left me with a new perspective on the art of celebrating.

Enjoy not only your accomplishments but those of your friends and colleagues! It is a great way to recognize success – celebrate!

Residential Design. A boutique firm with 48 years of experience.
Designing houses is not only what I do for a living it is what I love to do
Visit John @williamsresidentialdesign.ca

Finding the Magic! Who is Your Ideal Client?

There is something to be said for the profession of architecture.
I recently read a book entitled The Art of Classical Details II An Ideal Collaboration by Phillip James Dodd. There is an interesting chapter in the book called Fortune Favours the Friendly by Francis Terry and it has started a dialogue in our office about the magic that occurs when working with your ideal client.

Let me start by saying that throughout my 47 year career, I have been blessed to work with many amazing families, and I have received referrals from 3 generations of happy clients. Designing houses is not only what I do for a living; but it is what I love to do. However, there have been a few clients along the way that have left me sitting at the board wondering why we were engaged? We lost the magic!

Like you, I take a tremendous amount of pride in my work and there is always that little extra something in each and every house that makes the relationship unique. So when you find a project has lost the magic you wonder what went wrong?

I was encouraged to read the comment by Francis Terry that just seems to answer that question at other times a client will not listen and I end up designing something which I know, could be better, but the happiness of the client is the goal of every project. We ultimately compromise and in the process, loose the magic!

Now, I understand that we cannot be all things to all people and every designer has a unique style that becomes recognizable within the community. I have designed over 1,000 homes in my career and it is very heartwarming when someone says that they are interested in working with the firm because they just love my work.

It starts a conversation about the magic and leads us to the question:
How do we ensure that we are the right firm for that prospective client?

At our last meeting, I decided to pose this question to my team. We analyzed the projects that we have enjoyed in recent years and began to see a pattern, which lead to a great suggestion: if the project excites everyone in the office, then we will move to the second stage in the process, interviewing the client with a specific list of questions to ensure that we have a similar vision. Laying the foundation for the magic!

If not, we are happy to refer families to another firm. We are not, by any means, being arrogant, but, we feel we have a professional responsibility to ensure that we are the right firm for the right client.

We developed a questionnaire that starts a conversation taking a look at all the design elements and throughout that discussion we are able to identify some of the characteristics for our ideal client.

They are: open to suggestions, excited about the design process, interested in collaboration, respectful of our expertise and honest about not only their budget but how they see themselves living in the house!
The foundation of trust, honesty and collaboration.

This simple process gives us the opportunity to interview families and begin to establish that special connection.

Our objective remains the same: the happiness of the client is still our primary goal, and now when I think about who is our ideal client. When we are able to find the magic!

Designing houses is not only what I do for a living, but it is what I love to do.

Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with 47 years of experience.
Designing houses is not only what I do for a living it is what I love to do

Visit John @williamsresidentialdesign.ca

Have you ever had one of those perfect clients? You know, the one’s that give you the creative freedom to design their dream house!

Throughout my career, I have had many what would fit that description and with some, I have designed a number of houses throughout their lifetime.

I recently met a husband and wife team that were not only a pleasure to work with, but, design for. What has been different about this experience is that it took me outside my comfort zone and into something I would describe as a passion project.

Let me first explain, I am a classicist, with a Masters in Architecture. I’ve been in a creative business my entire career, 47 years to be exact. If you visit my web site you will notice a very distinct design style – one that I have not only become known for but truly enjoy.

This project, has opened a door that I didn’t think I’d revisit with a style that combines both Arts and Crafts with Modern. It is my interpretation of a new way of living to meet the needs of today’s families. The key components are light, proportion and scale – not uncommon in all of the houses I design, but for this project when you combine it with a new set of materials you end up with something new. The feeling is organic, the site is unique and we have been able to connect this house to the ground with many unique outdoor features.

As with all projects, it was a collaborative effort, not only with a builder (Andy Jonkman Construction) but Landscape Architect (Virginia Burt Designs) and I thank them both for the expertise they brought to the project and what I think is now a whole new design style for my firm. To everyone who worked on the project thank you for building a home that has this comment from not only the homeowners but the neighbours:


I’m looking forward to the next passion project.

Designing houses is not only what I do for a living,

but it is what I love to do.


John Williams is the principle architectural designer for Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with over 47 years of experience.
Visit John @williamsresidentialdesign.ca

After 47 years in business you establish a work ethic that attracts other like-minded individuals. This house begins a new design style for our firm, one that stared with a client who was interested in something unique and different for this rebuild. Along the journey, we’ve had the pleasure of recommending Virginia Burt of Virginia Burt Designs and Andy Jonkman from Andy Jonkman Construction as part of the design team.

Not only do we share the same commitment to collaboration, innovation and design but we have a mutual respect and admiration for each others talent.

We recently completed a house tour, inviting our teams to the site so that we may learn from each other and share stories about the experience.

I discussed my inspiration, Andy the importance of his trades and Virginia the unique site that contributed to this amazing new design. We all thanked everyone who contributed to the project because we understand that collaboration is not always as easy as it looks!

How would I describe this new design style? A combination of arts and crafts and modern that has blended together to create a house that will become a home for a wonderful family.

It is when the house becomes move-in ready that we may truly appreciate the scribbles on the paper that leads to the bricks and motor with a house that blends with the landscape in a neighbourhood that have given us the thumbs up throughout the entire process.

I’d like to thank everyone who worked on the project for creating the energy that leaves us all with a smile and I look forward to working with this team again in the future!


John Williams is the principle architectural designer for Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with over 47 years of experience.
Visit John @williamsresidentialdesign.ca

There is a trend that has been around for a few years that is currently in the news and it involves the gentrification of neighbourhoods that were built in the 50’s and 60’s. They have large lots, mature trees, updated services and most often amenities that are convenient for families.

I started my career, 46 years ago doing exactly that! Updating, renovating and building homes that revitalized communities, increasing property values and attracting a whole new demographic.

In today’s market, it is not always cost effective to renovate. In some cases, building a new home on an existing lot just makes good sense for the marketplace.

What is creating a ruckus are the changes to not only the building codes but zoning by-laws in various cities. These revisions are restricting the size, scope and proportion of homes in an attempt to control Monster Homes. The very description is daunting and sends a very negative image of what these neighbourhoods will look like in the future.

For some reason, planners feel that when changing building heights, set backs, and coverage along with the overall building permit process it will be a deterrent to the demolition and building of homes that fit this description.

What is interesting, is that many years ago the rules and regulations were introduced to encouraged commerce, creating communities that welcomed redevelopment.

I fear, that the new rules will in fact do just the opposite. Instead of revising the existing rules and regulations, why don’t we create incentives for homeowners to work with industry professionals to design homes that appeal not only to our new lifestyle choices but encourage what I call good architectural manners in our communities.

A punitive system discourages collaboration and creates tension.

Gentrification is a good thing! It means that we have healthy communities that are attracting people interested in raising families or retiring in areas of a city that support and encourage their unique lifestyle.

If we continue to make things difficult and antagonistic what will be accomplished?

The building industry is the backbone of our economy. It creates jobs, supports entrepreneurship and develops strong communities.

Changing the current rules and regulations will not guarantee better communities but rather discourage the development and revitalization of neighbourhoods that most often need an architectural facelift.

Let’s try to incentify the industry to create new and beautiful communities that encourage growth and prosperity. This will meet the needs of families who live in neighbourhoods that will be enjoyed by many future generations.

How about we strive for architectural good manners and try to avoid terms like Monster Homes. 

John Williams is the principle architectural designer for Williams Residential Design. A boutique firm with 46 years experience.

Visit John @timk39.sg-host.com

When you’ve been in business for 45 years you’ve seen a lot of changes in your industry. I remember the days when we had to hand draw both design and permit drawings for submission. I’ve had a lot of white shirts that needed the cuffs replaced!

Today, of course, everything is on computer! Is it more convenient – Yes! Is it more efficient – Perhaps but one thing it is not is personal.

When I design a custom home I still present the design concept with a hand drawing because I feel it creates a sense of personality and connection with the family who will live in the home. Classically trained, I still see the value of hand drawn details that incorporate the art of design.

Families LOVE it!

I am told that they appreciate the fact that I’ve taken the extra time to actually draw their house. Now, after all these years, I am able to draw to scale and sometimes faster than my technologist is able to redraw it on the computer!

There is a school of thought, that faster is better but I feel in the early stages of the process it becomes too clinical and impersonal.

When we have a final design, it is at that time my team takes over to finish the drawings for permit. What people often don’t realize is that a technologist has a skill that takes my hand drawing at scale and redraws it into a program called AutoCAD. This is when technology becomes convenient, efficient and precise.

I often think back to when Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes. He had an army of draftsmen that took his hand sketches and multiplied the drawings not only for the client but for permit. Drawing control was in a safe of sorts and under lock and key. In todays business climate, in my firm, we include a watermark to protect copyright and guarantee originality because today for convenience we transmit files electronically to our strategic partners. They are then able to add their area of expertise to the process such as engineered trusses, HVAC and plotting on the survey for the final package which is submitted to the various cities and municipalities for permit.

I still include an embossed corporate seal and my personal signature on every set of permit drawings because they are not only a representation of my work but ensures the authenticity of the design. As the designer, I hold the copyright on all of my designs and very much like Frank Lloyd Wright keep the plans under lock and key.

A hand drawn coloured rendering is presented to each family of the front elevation and that completes my design process. It is very gratifying and humbling to see the rendering framed and hanging in the families home. It compliments my personal commitment to the art of design.

It is this personal touch that is not available in our technology craze, and, in this industry, faster is not always better!

I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Williams
Architectural Designer

Creative inspiration is one of the elements of good design. I have been fortunate to have found inspiration when travelling, networking and attending various seminars and tours of other great architectural projects.

In today’s business climate, one of the first resources is the internet. It is here where you may find many different types of inspiration – pictures, articles, videos and commentary from many artists who use various types of medium. Just take a moment or two to research The Louvre in Paris, The Vatican in Rome, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. These are places that house centuries of completed work that was inspired by the life and time of each artist.

In architecture, inspiration, is part of the creative process which marks the beginning of each design. It is where the energy for the project starts, changes and flows into what will become a unique custom home.

I am often asked where I find my inspiration?

Here is an honest answer; My clients!

The relationship that you begin with each client sets the foundation for inspiration. The many conversations where we discuss and share how they will actually live in their home contributes to the creative process.

I’d like to have lots of windows to enjoy the light
We’d like to watch the sun rise and set from the living room
In the summer, I’d like to enjoy my morning coffee from a cozy balcony
I love to entertain, so I need a big kitchen with an island
I’d really like to have a big covered porch

These conversations create visual images that soon become a floor plan where a design style emerges and a foundation is built on what will become their new home.

So the next time you’re about to begin a new project, don’t forget to ask: What will be your inspiration? A conversation may spark a great idea!

John Williams
Architectural Designer

The design process usually starts with a few complex questions:

How long will this take?

When will I receive a permit?

Questions that speak to a complicated process that includes both time and patience. We begin the process with a dialogue that involves inspiration, collaboration and arithmetic.

Inspiration creates good design. Every project is different based on the connection to the lifestyle choices of the client. A vision for how they live in their house combined with a wish list that will contribute to their comfort and enjoyment in the years to come. The personality of the family, that will live in the house I’ve designed.

We begin with a detailed questionnaire discussing how they live.
What is important and how they envision life in their new home, it is a very personal and invigorating experience. I usually start formulating thoughts and ideas before we finish the discussion. Our conversation creates inspiration.

My travels over the years contribute to the process by combining my personal experience with the wish list for each client. I’ve incorporated many design features from around the world that just seem to connect with the family. During the conceptual design presentation, I know I’m on the right track when I see their faces light up and smile.

Collaboration is important because every good designer knows that a great home is never created in isolation. There are so many talented individuals who bring the design to life. Framers, plumbers, electricians, stone carvers, brick layers, joiners, trim carpenters, and cabinet makers to name a few. Of course, interior designers and landscape architects complete the story and as a team we contribute to the magic of every good design.

Arithmetic is the sacred geometry found behind the design process. Geometry, trigonometry, algebra, calculus and simple mathematics are all foundational elements found within the design. These disciplines have been handed down throughout the centuries and are as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago.

The mathematical calculations that must be exact to the fraction of an inch. These create the proportions, rhythm and beauty that we enjoy in our neighbourhoods and communities. It is how the design comes to life not only on the drafting board but in the ground. Architectural good manners completes the process and is paramount to the streetscape and what connects each family to their neighbourhood.

When we change just one element in the design it creates a domino affect that forces a number of dimensions to change, dimensions that are dependant on each other.

Just think of a rubik’s cube – it may sometimes take hours to get it just right. We often refer the rubik cube to the collaboration within the design. It looks deceptively easy, but it takes a skill that combines experience, talent and expertise.

I have had the honour of winning many awards in both Canada and the United States amongst a very talented group of peers and I’m always amazed that my design talent is recognized on both sides of the boarder.

To answer the question: How long will this take? It depends on the number of times we have to go back to the rubik’s cube and solve the puzzle for good design.

What I am able to answer when we first meet?

Great clients, inspire great houses and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many wonderful families.

John Williams
Architectural Designer
Williams Residential Design