I'm a builder myself, so don't take this the wrong way. But ask any three builders to describe the elements of a good house, and you'll probably hear something like the parable of three blind men describing an elephant. Our orientation tends more to plumb, level, and square, tight joinery, and durability -- a commendable but nonetheless narrow focus, tending to overlook the bigger picture. Yet part of our sometimes grudging cooperation with architects and designers comes from the fact that they introduce ideas of form and space that we'd probably never pull out of our toolboxes.

When it comes to the five senses, there's an inherent difficulty of description: What does water feel like? What does a fire look like? Words fall short; we're reduced to similes. Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design (Taunton Press, 2002; 800/283-7252, www.taunton.com; $35) is a book confined by those limitations, restricted...

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