How did the oldtimers design so many beautiful buildings? What did builders know 100 years ago that we have since forgotten? What rules were they following? What guidelines did they refer to?

Simple Rules is a collection of 25 of the basic concepts, design principles and rules of thumb that builders and architects used throughout history in the making of beautiful buildings.

simple rules



Simple Rules – an unconventional design guide for the modern builder.

Inspired by long forgotten resources, this beautifully illustrated guide blends timeless composition principles and elegant proportional systems to give builders and designer’s techniques and specific formulas for creating aesthetically pleasing and impeccably designed buildings that offer a reverent nod to time-honored design elements.

Incorporating salvaged pieces and architectural relics, the concepts detailed in this guide have been resurrected and abridged for practical use by the 21st century architect and homebuilder. Using the same classic principles of making the once familiar and meaningful into something sensible and beautiful is the concept behind the designs illustrated in this builder’s guide.

Each design concept in this guide is intended to serve as an archetype for a new modern architecture to free builders from the need to replicate old styles and to forge their own paths in today’s world.


Additional unformated rules will periodically be added and will hopefully be revised and formatted into additional editions.

Simple Rules No.2 is now available on Amazon and other ebook formats, including Itunes and Kobo.




See all 11 customer reviews

Simple Rules, a new kind of builder handbook/design guide can be purchased on Amazon, and other bookstores like Barnes and Noble:


Kindle versions of both are also available, and are on sale 40% off for the month of August.







all the grace of the window is in the outline of its light


photo: John Tower





I recently recieved this email with some very good questions. I was given permission to share it here:

Ms. Scarlett,

I recently downloaded your Simple Rules book (great stuff!).  I’m wondering if you could clarify something in it for me.  You mention Palladio’s rules for room proportions.  My question is: do you consciously try to use these (or other proportions) in your work?  Are there occasions where this isn’t practical or warranted?  Also, do construction requirements (manufactured material sizes, etc.) frequently get in the way of creating these proportions?


Matthew Johnson,

Syracuse, NY


Hi Matthew, 

Hey, thanks for reading Simple Rules, and I appreciate even more that you are asking some very important questions.

First, as I did my research for this book I did become much more aware of trying to incorporate things like room proportions in my own work. 

However, as you are asking, there are many instances where it is not particularly applicable, or is counterproductive to other key design determinants.

For example, in addition projects where other proportions already exist it may be preferable to coordinate new work to fit with what is existing, rather than enforcing an outside proportioning system.

In other instances, site and programatic constraints may be such that it is impractical to try to adjust plans to fit with ideal proportions. 

Palladio’s projects were almost all new construction on open sites in the countryside, and therefore the constraints he put on his own work helped to make what could be arbitrary relationships more orderly and harmonious. 

As with all of the rules applied by the great architects and builders of the past, there are exceptions and variations. They are really better thought of as rule-of-thumb concepts, or something to measure arbitrary decisions against.

Lastly, yes, manufacturing and construction methods do affect some of these rules, making them impractical. On the other hand, the standard 4x8 plywood dimension divides nicely into 1:2, 1:3 proportions which allowed builders to choose 12”, 16”, or 24” spacing of 2x4 or 2x6 studs (again 1:2 and 1:3 ratio), so in many cases it is possible to dimension things according to traditional proportions and still work within standard construction methods. More recent standardized systems (window dimensions…) often do not work so well. 

I have a question and request from you, as well. First, would you mind if I added your question and this response to my website/ blog page about Simple Rules? (I can leave your name off if you prefer to remain anonymous.)

I think other readers probably have similar questions, and this could be helpful.

Second, if you are willing to write a quick review on Amazon, literally two sentences is fine, it would be really helpful! Reviews help with the algorithms that bring the book up more often for readers like yourself to find.

I hope I answered your questions satisfactorily, and if not just ask another : )

Best wishes,




FREE KINDLE BOOK available Dec 16-17, 2016

Find on Amazon  also available in PAPERBACK, great 


Publisher’ Weekly Review

This thoughtful and thought-provoking little gem outlines 25 crucial design principles that the author believes have been jeopardized as domestic architecture has become dominated by developers. Scarlett, who runs an architecture firm in Wellesley, Mass., aims to “remind those in the building community that simple beauty and meaning… is still reproducible in new homes, and that many traditional building techniques are still applicable in today’s economy, and within current construction practices.” In this, she succeeds terrifically. Most of this attractively illustrated book consists of quotations taken from original sources published from the 16th to early 20th centuries. These sources are building manuals such as Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture (1570), which inspired many of America’s greatest public and private buildings, as well as lesser-known volumes such as T.F. Hamlin’s The Enjoyment of Architecture (1921). The rules are broken down by chapter and include “Genius of the Place,” ‘“Asymmetry,” and “Proportion.” Each includes quotations to explain the concept and several well-chosen illustrations to graphically demonstrate the idea. The annotated bibliography at the end is a bonus and provides direction for those who seek further elaboration. Anyone interested in architecture—professionals, students, home-improvers, renovators, home “flippers,” or anyone who regards suburbia with a critical eye—will enjoy this useful and well-written compilation. B&w illus. (BookLife)


regulating lines

19th century house: reguating lines used to align and coordinate location of rooflines, windows, shutters, door, and porch detail.