EAST PEORIA — Heidi Blackford was always interested in drawing and design growing up. Three majors later, she received her bachelor's degree in architectural studies from the University of Illinois.

“I started with interior design and I just wasn't a fan of that at all,” Blackford said.

EAST PEORIA — Heidi Blackford was always interested in drawing and design growing up. Three majors later, she received her bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from the University of Illinois.

“I started with interior design and I just wasn’t a fan of that at all,” Blackford said.

Blackford, 29, of Peoria started working at LS Building Products in East Peoria as an architectural designer in May 2008.

While still in college, Blackford kept her eyes and ears open for any job openings, most of which were in Chicago. After studying abroad for a year in Europe, Blackford wanted a job closer to home.

“My family’s really close so I just wanted to stay in the area,” Blackford said. “It just so happened (a job) popped up in East Peoria.”

Still, Blackford relished her time in Europe.

“We studied architectural history, then we’d go on field trips and see the buildings,” Blackford said. “So, it’s like you went from looking at it in a book to actually looking at it and sketching it in real life.

“Our school was the old stables of the Versailles Palace, so the back end of the school viewed the palace, the chateau there. 

We’d go and do homework in the gardens,” she said, referring to the French palace.

Today, Blackford has her hands full working with contractors and homeowners to design spec and custom homes via a computer program. Spec homes are the “cookie cutter” homes, Blackford said. 

“It’s nice to have a homeowner come in and say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this, I need help. I can kind of listen to what they say and make it work and make it happen for them.”

Many contractors have accounts with LS Building Supplies, so Blackford works closely with them.

“Most of the people I draw for have an account with us, get all their material from us,” Blackford said. 

The process of getting a home designed often begins with the customer looking online before calling a designer.

“With everything that there is now online they’re looking at plans online, house.com, Pinterest, so basically, I ask them if they have a floor plan in mind or they found one online,” Blackford said. “They bring that all in to me and we sit down and go over everything.”

Blackford takes notes from these meetings and puts a plan together. She has even put plans together simply from a client telling her what they have in mind. Using a 3D program, Blackford makes her client’s vision take shape.

“We go from changes from there to get it exactly what they want,” she said.

After the tornado Nov. 17, 2013, that left many homeless in Washington, Blackford kept busy working about 60 hours a week.

“It was about a week after the tornado. ... I started getting calls and some of my guys giving me heads up,” Blackford said. “My in-laws live in Washington and one of them lost their house and we tried to help them. I tried to get everything done on my desk for when the flow was going to start, and when it started, I had to start making sure I only put in appointments three or four a day because I was getting calls, calls and calls.”

Blackford said she did about 65 designs for homes lost in the tornado.

“I had to actually change to a different filing system because I was getting so many stacked up on my desk,” Blackford said. “It just got overwhelming.”

After the tornado, the contractors focused mainly on Washington, Blackford said.

“A lot of the guys that I draw for were getting Washington jobs, so all those spec houses or other custom houses that we do pretty much just kind of stopped and it was all Washington coming in,” Blackford said. 

Many victims of the tornado took advantage of the opportunity to change things in their home.

“A lot of people were incorporating the storm shelters, usually underneath the front porch area,” Blackford said.

Customers also added mudrooms and moved laundry rooms to the main floor.

Blackford said some of these designs were challenging because homeowners used the same foundation but wanted a different floor plan.

“We were going from a ranch to a two-story, so we had to find a new layout to get everything that they wanted in the foundation restrictions,” she said.

Another challenging aspect of her job is dealing with permit criteria in different counties.

“Really any more with any of the counties where you build, they require a plan in order to give you your permit. If you’re more in the country, a lot of the old-school builders draw their plans, so they’ll draw up the plans and the builder will say, ‘Yeah, OK that looks good, but a lot of the counties require something to look at so they know what you’re building,” Blackford said. “So basically, I draw from the foundation up.”

Blackford said Peoria County is much more strict than Tazewell County.

“Peoria County requires a lot more to get permits,” she said.

The demand from the tornado has slowed now, Blackford said, and things are getting back to normal.

“I think a lot of people were waiting until the craziness from there settled down because they said, ‘Well, now that Washington has settled down, we’re going to be ready to build,’” Blackford said. “A lot of (the builders) every year were at the Home Show at the Civic Center. They were all telling people this year it’s going to be 2015 before I can even think about building your house.”

Prior to the tornado, Blackford said she got two to three homes to design a week. Each home takes about a month to draw a plan for. Currently, Blackford said the trend is about efficiency with space.

“People want to fit everything they can in one house, but in their budget. They want to be able to utilize their space,” Blackford said. 

Being involved in drawing plans for new homes, Blackford knows where growth is occurring.

“A lot of the ones I do happen up in RiverSound, which is toward Chillicothe, and Cypress Ridge up the road here in East Peoria. Macey Lake is kind of growing a little bit. They’re out in Germantown Hills, Metamora, and still the Dunlap area is, too,” she said.

Although she deals with many different styles of architectural design, Blackford said craftsman prairie is her favorite currently.

“A lot of people are doing (this style) with the big stone porch columns. I am a big fan of that look with the prairie grids in the windows. I could also say I like country rustic, too. My dream house would be big open-beam ceilings, an open wood structure look.”

Eventually, Blackford said she would like to design her own house. 

“I feel like that plan process would be forever,” Blackford said.

Every spring, LS Building Products, 3404 N. Main St., has an open house. Blackford has an book of different home styles people can come and look at. For more information, call 694-4356.