Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Charge For What You Change

The New York Times featured a fascinating story recently about an architect and the minimalist house he designed. At its heart, One Shed Fits All is about believing completely in what you make, regardless of what others think.

The architect, Stephen Atkinson, designed his perfect house. Thousands of people admired his design and many sought the plans to build it themselves. He knew, though, that as much as they said they loved the design, they would want a few small changes.

What people failed to understand was that the perfection of his design came from the totality of the design. No change was minor or without consequence. Attempts at improving the design were, in effect, ruining it.

Public critique has become our national pastime. Everyone has an opinion on everything and knows exactly what it wrong with it and how it can be improved; the tyranny of “It’s perfect, but …”.

We need to trust creators and believe in their talent and vision. We need to separate our experience of it from the thing itself, which they poured so much time and talent into.

I remember the first time a friend of mine said a cover version of a song was better than original. I argued endlessly that it couldn’t be the case, if the original was truly what the artist intended it to be. Of course, I might like the cover version more, but my preference didn’t make it better.

My favorite part of the article is the solution that the architect came up with. He would give the plans for free to the eager couple who wanted them if they would pay for every change, every deviation from his vision.

Put another way, the more closely the house hewed to his vision, the less it would cost them. Mr. Atkinson, for whom this house has become something of an obsession, was making sure that the third incarnation of the structure he called the Zachary House would be close to perfect.

It’s beautiful and simple. It shows complete commitment to what he created.

Creators of all sorts are asked constantly to give their time to a project, to lend a hand for a friend or a cause. I know most will gladly help if they can, but deep down, they dread how it will turn out. They know that passion projects often begin with freedom and trust, but soon that unfiltered creativity is buried beneath revisions and second-guessing.

This is an elegant, clarifying way out of that trap. “I’ll be glad to help you. I believe in you and this project, so I will donate my time to help bring it to life. However, I will charge you for any changes to what I’ve created.”

Stand up for what you create. Let helpful feedback inform your next project. This thing you’ve created, though, it is finished and it is everything it was meant to be.