Renderings: Learning How You See (Part I)

Like our projects, every homeowner is unique. Young families and empty nesters, big-picture thinkers and detail-oriented minds… each individual also differs in how they are able to envision their home.

At TBA, we produce a variety of visuals, or renderings, to help homeowners understand the design of their residence. From hand-drawn sketches to 3-D printed models, each type of rendering serves an important purpose in informing – and enchanting – our homeowners with a taste of their new home.

In this first installation of a two-part blog series, we explore 2-D elevations, hand-drawn sketches and watercolor renderings.

2-D Elevations

Our 2-D linework is drafted by hand or in a software program called AutoCAD. 2-D exterior elevations describe the shape of the home, the roof, windows and doors with details and dimensions, indicating materiality and details of the house’s exterior. Interior 2-D elevations show the interior architecture of a room to scale – including cabinetry and millwork, tile, hardware and more – allowing homeowners to see a space from many different viewpoints.

Two-dimensional drawings don’t always communicate a home’s volume and warmth. To better define a home’s livable qualities, our team often brings AutoCAD work into Photoshop, where dimension is added. “Shadow, color and texture help a client to understand the depth of a space. That makes it much easier for us to communicate our design ideas,” says Senior Project Manager Kelly Becker. “For example, the tub niche (see master bath elevation below) is in shadow to show that the exterior wall and the arched window is further away than the plane of the white arched wall,” she notes. “Like hand rendering, there is an artistry to digital rendering. Everyone does it a little differently. That’s what makes them so interesting.”

Renderings: Learning How You See (Part I)

For this home, 2-D elevations were utilized to show materiality. “In addition to the shadows, we also added textures such as glass and wood. Since tile, stone and paint haven’t been chosen yet, we use a gray tone to keep those choices fluid to be selected later on,” says Kelly.

Elevation Of A Ground Up Home By Tim Barber Architects

This exterior elevation of a ground-up home in Brentwood by Project Manager Katie Peterson was created in AutoCAD, with color and shadow added by hand. “We had various concept images, but this let the owner get a better idea of how the materials would look on their specific house. Because dimension often gets lost in a flattened 2-D drawing, the shadows allowed for us to show how the home steps back to define the various massings,” notes Katie.

Stair Hall Elevation By Tim Barber Architects

This early 2-D elevation of a stair hall shows multiple viewpoints, allowing the homeowners to imagine the stair from different spots within the home. Later, during our construction documents phase, interior elevations like this will be carefully detailed with exact specifications, measurements and materials.

Master Bedroom Elevation By Tim Barber Architects

In this elevation of a master bedroom, the lighting, accessories and materiality were added to the 2-D AutoCAD draft via hand sketching and Photoshop – bringing the drawing to life.

Hand-Drawn Perspectives

Despite the continuous move toward a digital world in many professions, hand-drawn pen or pencil perspectives remain one of our most prized ways to illustrate architecture, especially for Tim. “I use quick thumbnail sketches to understand the shapes of a house – or to clearly see a detail where materials intersect… worth a thousand words,” says Tim.

Hand-drawn plans and elevations are also an efficient way to design during preliminary phases and design charrettes. Many of our homeowners better understand the essence of the design when hand drawings are included. For a ground-up home Senior Project Manager Korey Kromm is completing, he echoes this sentiment. “We utilized hand drawn renderings of details during schematic design to visualize a few discreet places that had interesting combinations of materials or site-specific cabinetry. Although they may not reflect the final design, they were a critical tool to facilitate the conversation between TBL, the interior designer and the homeowner.”

Hand Sketch Outdoor Kitchen By Tim Barber Architects

This rendering of Korey’s ground-up project (mentioned above) illustrates materiality and provides a closer look at specific details of the residence’s outdoor kitchen.

Stair Foyer Perspective By Tim Barber Architects

“[For this project,] hand sketching was critical in understanding an elliptical double height foyer. 2-D drawings could not fully express or capture what this space would “feel” like,” says Senior Project Manager Ari Engelman.

Interior Sketch Tim Barber Architects

In this rendering, we used Sketch-Up software to define the walls and ceilings, and then rendered the details and materials with markers.

Craftsman Chalet Preliminary Hand Sketch

A pencil rendering of a proposed addition to a Craftsman home served as inspiration for the final design, eventually drafted and refined digitally


“While we don’t always have the opportunity to create a watercolor rendering, these are a joy to produce and convey a warmth that is much more difficult to achieve virtually,” says Project Manager and watercolorist Jim Coyle. Jim has hand-drafted, sketched and painted several of our projects – techniques that he learned as an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame. “Sketching teaches designers’ eyes to slow down and notice subtle details that help them better understand the structure, craftsmanship and beauty of any work of art,” he says.

We also sometimes produce digital watercolor renderings with the help of Interior Architecture Design Associate Julie Luu. Julie utilizes linework from Revit as the base, and then creates a series of colorful, textured layers to mimic watercolor work. “It’s a lot of collaboration… I transform the digital renderings into what Tim and the Project Manager are envisioning. Each one is different,” Julie remarks.

Craftsman Chalet Watercolor Rendering

Watercolor by Jim Coyle of a renovation and rear addition to a Craftsman residence in Santa Monica.

Digital Watercolor By Julie Luu Tim Barber Architects

Digital watercolor by Julie Luu of a ground-up home in Beverly Hills.

Colonial Residence Watercolor By Jim Coyle

Watercolor by Jim Coyle of an extensive addition and renovation in the Pacific Palisades.

Renderings serve as a creative tool for our team and are also an exciting visual tool for homeowners to make design decisions. Whether we share our ideas in time-honored traditions or through the latest software, we will learn how you are able to best envision your home. And this is only the beginning!

Check back in July for Part II, which will feature 3-D renderings: Revit and Enscape, VR and 3-D printing.