As with everything in life, things don’t always work out quite how you expected. Rather than a Bob Ross style “happy accident” sometimes things just don’t come together correctly. But other times, things work out beautifully. If you’ve never toured a building with an architect, we are easily distracted and will take photos of small details that caught our eye, usually things that the average user of the space would never notice.

That’s not correct. 

Even if designers have thought about a detail and drawn it out, occasionally things just don’t work, don’t fit, or don’t look right at the end. Sometimes it’s because there are changes as the project is built that have unexpected consequences. Sometimes the detail, however popular it is, just doesn’t age well. Sometimes multiple options could be correct. To make the choices harder, sometimes you don’t know that detail should have been done differently until you see the final installation in person.

collage of tile and flooring mistakes
Far Left: Should the accent tile continue around the corner? Or should the white tile corner continue up the wall? Middle Left: The 45° angle transition would be lovely if the two sides of the wall didn’t need different sized bands of accent tile, or if the tiles lined up at the corner. The stone on the wall, should it have turned the corner? Middle Right: The tile is at a good height for the ADA grab bars in this bathroom but not the light switch. 
Far Right: The fascinating Fonthill Castle (1912, Doylestown, PA) was built by Henry Mercer as a showpiece for his tile collection. But even in a house dedicated to tile, these vaults don’t come together quite right. 
collage of construction detail mistakes
Left: Even in the Walt Disney Concert Hall (2003, Los Angeles, CA) required access panels don’t look stellar. This is a widely used and popular standard detail, but it doesn’t seem to age well. 
Center: This door or frame was probably supposed to be taller to line up with the top of the trim piece. But some change in the field meant that the trim ended up being cut around the door frame. Right: Was the wall supposed to be smaller? Or was the wood trim supposed to be wider? 

But oh, when things are right. 

These are details that have been fought for by both the designers and the builders over the life span of the project, and when that happens things are beautiful in the end. There is a sense of rightness and calm about a well executed detail, it just works and feels like it was always supposed to be that way. 

collage of building details
Left: In Fonthill Castle, this door is cut so that it fits snuggly against the tile on the wall when it’s closed. Center: At the Disney Concert Hall the doner names are aluminum letters that are perfectly cut into the felt wall covering. Right: At Mäntylä (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1952, now in Acme, PA) the triangular detailing on the roof’s eave meets and turns the corner.  
collage of building details
Left: The tile perfectly meets the wood trim, and the tile pattern on the wall is undisturbed by the addition of the window. Center: The points of this mosaic insert perfectly meet the surrounding grout lines. Right: This column base and the surrounding floor tile are installed so that the pattern is uninterrupted and all grout lines are aligned.  

by Brianna Blackaby

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