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    Musings of a client – Thoughts about a designer’s work

    July 17, 2011

    Today I have the great pleasure to be lazy - a wonderful client wrote a blog for me! How  fantastic is that….

    Actually, Karen wrote the letter as a feedback to my very current previous entry about our work philosophy, and she graciously gave me permission to use it on the website.

    So without further a-do, here it is:

     I checked out your latest blog entries this evening & really enjoyed reading your thoughts.  There is a sensitivity for client “needs and wants” that comes through the writing and that is one of the many things I appreciate about both you & Kimberly.

     I can’t speak for other clients (and I ’m sure we are all entertainingly unique!) but from my perspective… I consider myself well experienced, educated and an expert in my professional field.  When I started the process of wanting to reconfigure a previously owned home to make it our home, it was very intimidating and sometimes I felt like I was back at my first day of Kindergarten, it was all so new and I had so much to learn!  In short, I felt dumb and uncomfortable.  The hundreds of books & magazines I had read did not prepare me for the reality of all the decisions involved in the process.  However, over the weeks my perspective slowly transformed and I appreciated the opportunity to exercise the creative side of my brain which is often overridden by the logical accounting side in my work world.  For example, this week I am selecting drapery for the master bedroom and I am excited rather than intimidated, keeping in mind that even small progress on the house (like curtains) is part of the realization of a personal dream.

     Even in the midst of my dumbness and hesitant decision-making, Kimberly went above and beyond and did a lot of handholding during our renovation and I will always be deeply grateful for the care and time you both gave on our project.  I think that the most important things I learned from you and Kimberly are as follows:

    1.       When you think you are losing it, be sure to hold onto your sense of humour and your professionalism.

    2.       Work with trades people who treat your home as if it were their own and anything less than excellent is not acceptable.

    3.       No matter how much you plan and prepare, renovations can be a Pandora’s box with many layers of wrapping around the box…stay calm and adjust your course as needed.

    4.       A creative designer is imperative to realize any vision you have for your home.  Most of us have the desire but the reality is that we do not have the creativity or skills.  I would encourage any of my friends to work a designer into their big or small redesign budgets.

     I sincerely appreciate not just your design skills but also your warm personalities, tactful and direct, technical and artistic, sensitive and strong, professional and patient…

     In your blog you mentioned a test as to what a client thinks “The Sky Is The Limit” means.  My initial interpretation from viewing your web site many months ago was that Ines must be very passionate as well as confident in her design work since she is offering her clients the sky.  And I think your on-line portfolio reflects your business name beautifully. 

    Sincerely,

    Karen

     P.S. – I really loved the “Royal View” floral design fireplace – it is gorgeous.

     

    I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful feedback, Karen!

     Both on Kim’s and my behalf, yours truly was a one-of-a-kind project, and we are very grateful that you entrusted us with helping you with your home.

    Karen’s long distance  project was a very unique challenge for us on various levels, and I am sure I have plenty of material to write about at a later point, when we also have some visuals for explanation…

    It’s also great feedback because it finally gives me a  spot to send my trusted and cherished collegue Kimberly Lewis Manning a huge and long overdue THANK YOU for all her hard and dedicated work, her great warm personality, her sense of humour, her patience, and her ability to keep me sane …

    We sure have a great team dynamic, and I am glad and honoured to have her in my life!

    A ‘Royal View’ of a revamped 40′s Home

    July 12, 2011

    A ROYAL VIEW – modernizing a 1940′s bungalow-style home

    When the homeowners approached me for ideas for their pending renovation, they presented me with what seemed to be a reasonable, albeit tight budget.

    After presenting the client with 3 different spatial options (of which I don’t have any visuals any more – my apologies), the financial and day-to-day reality (it’s a home for a couple with grown children) kicked in, and after careful consideration the clients adjusted the scope of the project to better reflect their reality.

    One of our previous scenarios allowed for opening up the Master Bedroom to the Living room, with a grand staircase connecting to the downstairs. However, we decided not to touch the current Master Bedroom, and left ourselves the possibility of connecting that bedroom with the downstairs oceanfacing large room, which was slated to become the Master Suite, for a later date.

    For the remainder of the space the clients asked for a slight modification of my ‘large impact’ version, in which I suggested to remove the hallway altogether, thereby enlarging the Great Room and the Media Room.

     Let’s analyze the existing space first.

    The small, set-back entrance does not make a strong enough statement as the houses first impression, plus, it has a rather dated feel with the glass block sidelites. As is typical for houses that vintage, textured stucco is on all walls, and the coves that are in some of the rooms,change the proportion of the space even further, and make the 8′ ceilings appear even lower. On a practical level, there is no coat closet for guests (as the homeowners come in through the back door at the garage), and of course only insufficient lighting.

    Archway to Living Room in Entrance Smallish picture window in Living Room Niche in Entrance 

    An archway (lacking a really nice, deliberate curve) leads into the living room, where a rectangular picture window shows only a glimpse of the serene ocean bay and the magical trees. A wood burning fireplace is surrounded by a 5′ mantel clad in high gloss black tiles. The Art Deco flair is barely noticible, visually insufficient amidst the other decorative items along this wall – in combination with the rectangular window everything is happening at the same level. 

    Before photo of the fireplace

    The dining room had been altered before, and despite already being quite small in size to begin with – especially for the rather large table – a bump-in from the kitchen side is taking a sizeable chunk out of the formerly symmetrical room, making getting around the table very awkward. A set of sliding French doors goes out to the patio, and a small door leads into a small kitchen.

                    Patio doors in Dining Room     Dining Room table impeded by kitchen/fridge bump-out 

    The kitchen sports a 50′s style black and white checkerboard vinyl floor and a typical U-shaped layout, with a small window looking out onto the cove.

                   Kitchen with 50's diner style checkerboard floor     The U-shaped cabinetry  

    The most awkward part of the house is what I dubbed the ‘endless hallway’ – out of proportion, too narrow for it’s length, without natural light, and due to it’s width not suitable as a useful art wall. A small bonus is a tiny broom closet, other than that the house is extremely storage-challenged.

     footprint after

    On a structural level, aside from removing the hallway, which was just a waste of useful square footage, we also took out the internal partitions between Living Room, Dining Room and Kitchen. We opened up the exterior wall facing the ocean with floor-to-ceiling windows in the Living Room, a triple set of doors in the Dining Room, and, once we established the layout of the cabinetry, maximized the window in the Kitchen.

    As we were removing a structural wall we had to keep some posts in place, which I inteded to make invisible by hiding them inside built-in cabinetry.

    The glass blocks at the entrance were removed, and replaced by a set of French doors, which allowed the visitor to see the ocean when still standing in front of the entrance. The fact that the entrance is set back from the front of the house, and that the house is set back and shielded from the street by a large front yard, still maintains a sufficient level of privacy and security.

    The former open niche was reconfigured into a coat closet, complete with a room door. The new storage cabinetry which replaced the hallway was divided into 3 parts – the ‘Beacon’ at the entrance, combining additional coat storage with a signal-red art niche as a focal point and additional broom storage, the Buffet-style center part in the Dining area, with space for a painting above, and the tall storage at the other end, serving as a pantry for the kitchen and a linen closet for the washroom. The mix of high gloss white lacquer and matte charcoal laminate on the doors keeps the finishes within the chosen neutral black and white colour scheme.

     Beacon with buffet and pantry storage

    The woodburning fireplace was reframed all the way to the ceiling, and adorned with threedimensional ModularArts drywall panels. The very classy floral design evokes a feminine 40′s chic, while the motif also recalls a stylized leaf of a Magnolia tree, which is growing outside.

    ModularArts Fireplace

    The new floor-to-ceiling glass panels, which replaced the horizontal picture window, in conjunction with the new upright shape of the fireplace, along with the elimination of the coved ceiling totally changed the proportion and the dynamic of the Living Space significantly. 

    Enlarging the Great Room finally gave the dining room table the breathing room it required – not only to allow a managable flow, but also to give the onlooker the chance to have enough distance from it to admire the root in its entirety.

    Dining table - glass top on driftwood root 

    The kitchen is a mix of reflective high gloss white foil on the tall units, and manmade Wenge veneer on the base cabinetry. Topped with a piece of granite, this area is sleek and contemporary in a classic way. A rather typical L-shape with tall units for the fridge and storage along the only ‘useful’ wall for this purpose, and low cabinets containing the clean-up area along the window wall, and an island with the stove. Bar-height endcabinets with glass doors to showcase decorative items sit at the end of those base cabinets, defining the Kitchen space, while hiding a bit of potential mess from view.

     

    I would like to add that the original large impact version included a change to the bathroom layout as well, which subsequently switched the use of the Guest Bedroom and the Media Room. This would have allowed me to push in tall units along the current bathroom wall from the kitchen side, resulting in a much larger kitchen. As it is, the personal life of the clients did not require a larger kitchen, and it would have meant a significant increase of the budget as well, which was not desireable.

     Kitchen Pantry and Linen Storage

    The clients opted for keeping the existing oak floor with its decorative Mahagony inlay in place, and refinished it as required. Not only did this keep the cost down, it also is a beautiful way of keeping a piece of the heritage intact and of course it was ecologically correct. However, money was spent on upgrading the electrical system, with new low voltage halogen pot lights throughout the space for good general illumination, and for clean lines.

    As the client was looking for a minimal restrained look, we stayed with a neutral colour scheme of grey, black and white, and layered textures and finishes instead. There is a hint of blue on the walls, which is enough to soften an otherwise stark black and white graphic. The natural materials with their intrinsice textures, used in some of the accessories and artwork, provide a beautiful and very sensual balance.

     

    View from Kitchen to Fireplace

    The shade of red in the art niche was pulled out of one of the paintings in the room, with a mindful eye on the niches size and proportion. 

    The end result is a calm, lightfilled space, well organised and with ample storage throughout. A perfect canvas for the owners ecclectic art collection, and the perfect visual partner for the magnificent landscape outside.

     

    Thoughts about a designers work – Part 1

    July 12, 2011

    I am preparing some blogs about current projects, which all have one thing in common – the finished interiors are very unique expressions of the clients. All of them are more on the contemporary side of design, but they all showcase distinctive different flavours. They are sensual, incorporating a mix of different finishes and textures, with clean, often bold lines and some surprise elements.

    My goal is to create spaces that are calm, balanced and organized, tactile, engaging and inspiring. The starting point for this process is typically a well thought-out space concept. This step might already include the creation of a theme, albeit a theme could also be something that develops at a later point in time, f.e. during the selection of finishes. At any given time I pay strong attention to proportion, sight lines and coherence to make sure the end result is a feast for the senses.

    In my books I am the medium with which the client is able to articulate how he/she wants to live, and my clients are typically strongly involved throughout the design process. This asks for clients with a proactive stance, who want to be in control over their life. There will be surprises along the way – there always are, and that’s fantastic!

     

    First I would like to share some general thoughts about the design process…

     

    Rather than getting overly stuck with budget numbers very early in the process, my typical thought process starts with the exploration of spatial possibilities. This is by no means a disregard for the client, but strictly a brain exercise. You never know which ideas – or bits and bites of ideas – might be dreamed up that are indeed suitable both for the client and the budget!

     

    The idea is to come up with space concepts for low, medium and high impact, both on a structural and financial level.

    An intense exploration of spatial options might be compared to doing crossword puzzles, or on a physical level, with stretching exercises like Yoga or Pilates – it keeps a designer’s brain flexible and on edge. And when I develop and work through a number of possibilities instead of settling on the first idea that comes to mind, it also shows a great deal of care and commitment to a client, their home and their investment.

    The clients get the opportunity to consider a variety of options that they themselves would have never been able to imagine, and it allows both the client and the designer to engage in a discussion about the implications and possibilities of those concepts, and how those changes would impact the clients’ life.

    I have found that this thought process often catapults a homeowner and the project into a more personal and inspiring direction, and that is where the truly exciting part of the design and planning starts.

     

    People who can only think in money might not understand the following remark…

    This initial thought process is very intense work, and monetary remuneration only pays for so much of my efforts. It means, that unless I am one of those TV designers who charge unreasonable fees for them showing their face in public, or unless I charge a lump some per idea, and not by the hour, I will not get paid adequately.

    A large portion of my work is actually a gift of brainpower and creativity from me to you, the client.

    That is, why designers will care about whom they are taking on as a client, as there has to be mutual respect and inspiration – at least I do, and that is why I take the liberty to refuse some people as clients.

     

    By the way: a great initial test is simply the interpretation of our company name THE SKY IS THE LIMIT. What did you think of first?

    If it was something like ‘ I bet their services are REALLY expensive’ you totally missed the point…

     

    A home should be the expression of who you are, a reflection of your values and your personality, and it should be a space for inspiration and your safe haven. This is not about what your friends would do, or what they think you should have and portray.

    Also keep in mind when you create contemporary spaces, even cutting edge ones, that you make sure to stay away from an overall ‘trendy’ look. The nature of a trend is that it’s in flux, which means a trendy thing doesn’t last all that long.

     

    Most of the time more than one person are involved in the process of creating a home, and all of them need to be heard. Designers are relationship mediators as well, just so you know! So don’t worry if you and your relevant other don’t seem to be looking eye to eye on a home improvement project – we are there to help, and if you find the right designer you will be amazed by yourself…

     

    A lot of our clients seem to be at a crossroads in their lives. Planning a renovation or a new home is the perfect time to do some soul searching, to explore where they are coming from and where they think they would like to go from here, who they are, and who they would like to become. It might be that their children are teenagers or even leaving the home, they might be relocating and/or retiring, or they are embarking on building their dream home. Along with the physical task of editing through possessions to see which ones will make it into the new space, they will also be editing notions, values and habits. Overall this can be an intense, sometimes scary, even life transforming time. Paired with the construction process this can result in a very stressful dynamic, and the designer should act as a coach along the way.

     

    I am not talking about the simple process of maintenance, like simply replacing your existing kitchen with a newer model, but without making further modifications.

    What I am talking about requires self reflection, and I would always encourage clients to take their time with this. Sometimes we start on a project, clients disappear for one or two years, often just because ‘life happens’ and more important and pressing things have to be dealt with, then they come back and we continue with the process. Quite often their values have shifted during that time, and all of us are glad we didn’t go to far on the project the first time.

    This is not your typical ‘Honey, lets fix up the house’ type of approach. It’s more like shedding your skin and showing your true colours.

     

    I obviously deviated again into the psychological aspects of my job… later, later

     

    I have heard comments from fellow designers, who take the approach that they are the specialists, and that their clients should not even dare to question the designer’s concept, as they are questioning the designer’s authority by doing so. After all, they (the designers) are being paid for knowing best, and for telling the client what to do with their space…

     

    I could suggest that those designers might either be too lazy to come up with some alternative ideas, because there are always other options, and/or that they don’t feel secure enough in their own position to be able to discuss with their clients why they, the designer, make certain suggestions.

    In that case the root of the problem is often based in too little experience or education on the designers part. Young designers, or people who got into the field from the sidelines without professional education seem to be often prone to that type of behaviour.

    They have no training to analyze their own ideas, and present them to the client in a logical manner.

    Alternatively it could also be simply arrogance…

    In all of the above mentioned cases you, the client, might want to rethink why you are working with this person to begin with.

     

    If I think back at my time at university – we were 30 students in our semester, and there were 9 grade levels overall at any given time in the interior architecture segment, with just the same amount of students in each level, and this was just one of many universities in one little country… So at the end of each semester the professor would be discussing 30 very interesting and – believe me- VERY different ideas regarding the semester project, and we all had to be able to explain our projects. This was not about judging a wrong or right design approach – the individual solutions were simply expressions of different personalities and mindsets.

    As a homeowner you have the very same liberties – you should be allowed to share your ideas and thoughts with the designer, and the designer will try to make all those ideas come together i a coherent plan, and there is no wrong or right as long as the outcome works for you.

    It is – after all – YOUR home.

     

    Yes, clients are normally laymen in the field of design (I am talking about space planning and developing a room program here, I am not talking about decorating – a lot of clients are indeed very knowledgeable about staging, soft furnishings and have a great deal of style and taste as well as a good sense for colour), but they are the specialists when it comes to their own life. The design process is a collaboration of equal partners. In an ideal world this process will continue to be teamwork all along the many steps of the project.

    Construction is teamwork, starting with the clients and the designer, and continuing with the various trades, suppliers and skilled labourers who come in to make an idea on paper become reality. The true challenge is to gather all those members for your team – but that is where a designer should be able to assist you as well.

     

    My clients are very much encouraged to question my designs – the way I develop my concepts is both intuitive as well as very analytical, and I will be able to explain and justify any decision or idea that I present. If I am not, I haven’t done my homework.

    When I dig deep enough I find that even behind the most outrageous and intuitive idea hides in fact a very logical explanation – it might just take me some time to figure myself out…

     

    I have often surprised myself with the very different spatial treatments one can take within a given space, while still maintaining the essential necessities like functionality and practicality, a good flow between areas, and a pleasant dynamic.

    The very best part of the process – and often the most annoying and challenging one as well – is when we start picking those options of mine apart to create the final version.

    Oh, this is where I totally agree with the before mentioned ‘other’ designers – it can be SO unnerving when clients start wanting to get their own 5 cents of wisdom in, thus start to be ‘difficult’.

    Why can’t they just see it my way, and simply agree to one of my designs? Life would be so much easier, and I know I gave them the right concept to begin with…

     

    Yeah, right!

     

    In such a situation it can go 2 ways – either the client comes around and starts getting my point. Or they don’t, and I am the one doing the mental work to figure ‘them’ out….. This is where it often becomes very interesting, because no matter what, changes will happen at this point!

     

    In any event, it takes about one week to ‘get’ a new idea, and I am very conscientious about this one week process. It is a timespan that ALWAYS comes up, in every project, and often several times throughout a project.

    The human brain is sort of lazy, if you want to call it that – it needs time to digest and process. If you want to rephrase this in a more positive way, you would say that an idea, once planted in the brain, can not be ‘un-made’, and that it takes about one week for this idea to germinate and for the brain to do something creative with that seedling.

    In my professional life this means that I do encourage clients to be mindful of this ‘lazy-factor’ and to take their own sweet time. It can be sometimes tricky, as clients are eager to get going, but a lot of money a well as their future life is impacted by those planning decisions, and I for one can not see why someone would want to make rush decisions without exploring all the options.

     

    In the blogs that will follow I will look a little bit deeper into the development of space concepts. This will have to happen on real life examples, rather than theoretically…

     

     

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