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Being the client

Every once in a while, it is probably good for me to be the client. I’ve had two very disappointing design experiences this summer.  I am filled with a buyers remorse so acute it makes my eyes burn.  This morning it occurred to me- maybe this is the way my clients feel sometimes.  I hope not, but it is important for me to be sensitive to the fact that they may be panicking and regretting their choice of designer (me).

This summer I am reworking my online presence and I needed a new logo.  I went through an on-line site where a designer is chosen by the client based on their portfolio.  I was desperate and wanted something fast.  At the same time I wanted to pay someone for their time, so I chose the highest cost logo design that I could.  I looked at the logos and chose one a designer whose I thought looked hand drawn but thoughtful.  I wrote to her, sent her my current logo and some favorite recent images of mine. She sent me a design questionnaire but before I had a chance to fill it out (less than an hour later, I would have filled it out but I was driving to the Cape) she sent me her first draft.

Ugh.  You only get a few revisions.  I tried not to worry.  I wrote to her again about what I wanted and made more concrete suggestions, didn’t hear back, wrote again, didn’t hear back, wrote again.  This was over a couple of days.  Sure, that isn’t much time but my original deal was for a 48 hour product!  I had asked for feminine and strong, architectural and handmade.  I wanted to be wowed with a great idea.

Oh well.

Later, during a different project,  I freaked out over color choices.  Someone had chosen dusty purple and dusty rose for me.  I told myself  that to the designers I am probably an impossibly old lady and all old ladies love dusty rose and dusty purple.  Of course I was over reacting and I’m over it now, I simply asked for something different and guess what- I got it!  But at first- having been presented with a draft of the product with no explanation or narrative- I felt misunderstood and unheard and as thought I had wasted so much money and time.

What did I learn from this?  Be responsive to clients, to be otherwise just frustrates anyone.  Set a schedule that I (as the designer) can live with, and let the client know what is going to happen when.  Give people options.  Draw up the option they said they wanted and a couple of versions of it.  Most people I work with want to be involved in the design process, and they already have an idea of what they want.  My job is to make their dreams come true, as I like to say.

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“Greater Boston’s most flexible architect”

My Houzz profile states that I’m Greater Boston’s most flexible architect.  I came up with that one.  I felt that it was a truer statement than what they originally had, which said “Boston’s Elite Architect and building designer” or something like that.  Let’s be honest, I am not an elite architect. Have I ever aspired to be one? What does elite actually mean? “1. A select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities”.  In a city of 3,000+ architects, who are the elite among us?  Instead of measuring myself against the thousands of my colleagues I came up with the likelihood that I am Greater Boston’s (although not all of Massachusetts, that may be overstating) most flexible.  What do I mean by that?  I’m willing to work on almost anything. Every person’s project is important to them and I try to help them as much as I can. Sometimes people have already designed their project and I try to help them realize the best version of that design.    I don’t get hung up on designing everything myself and controlling every little bit of the project.  The more that people want to be involved with the design and the process, the better.  Maybe I am flexible because I can throw out ideas and not be offended if someone doesn’t like them.  All ideas can lead to something else.  I also consider myself flexible in a practical sense because my schedule seems to be very fluid and last minute requests don’t bother me.  Would I rather be an elite architect or a flexible architect?  Could I be both?

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Kitchen designs

A potential client recently asked me to send her photos of kitchens that I have designed.   I could do that, but I don’t think the photos tell much of a story about me and my design process.  I generally leave all finishes and cabinetry choices up to my clients rather than choose those details for them.   I create the spaces in which their kitchens exist, and I definitely have advice about how I think the kitchen should be laid out, and what kind of cabinetry goes where.  I’ve been thinking about this recently.  Why don’t I choose everything?  I guess I attract a do-it-yourselfer kind of client who tends to know what they want better than I do- they know where they want their spices and how much recycling they would have and what kind of doors they like and how much they are willing to pay for custom features, etc.  To me it makes sense to cut out the middle woman (me) and save money on my fee by doing it themselves.  I help people decide how much of the wall their tile will cover, or what size tiles to place where,  but to me which tile they choose is completely up to their taste.  Sure, I could help them and sometimes do, but generally there is help at the tile store for people trying to coordinate the backsplash with the stove wall with the floor tile.  They may see something that they fall in love with when they are there at the store which they would miss if they left it up to me.  I don’t mind.  I have gone tile shopping on occasion and I enjoy that process, but to be honest that does add to their overall soft costs and I am happy enough to save them that money.

Then how do I communicate my kitchen designs to someone who is contemplating hiring me to design their kitchen space?  I decided to use before and after drawings to illustrate my points.

I work in Massachusetts, where somehow people lived for many years with these kitchens that are full of doors and circulation paths, with no room to the sides of the stove and even the refrigerator in another room.  My clients have gotten tired of living that way and call me for help.

Kitchen A is a great example of the very small kitchen that could barely function with one person it it, had very limited counter space and a bathroom that opened directly onto it.  If nothing else, that bathroom had to change. That is the one thing I just will not allow in my design, a kitchen with a bathroom opening directly into it.  We once rented a house with a toilet in the kitchen with a partition around it.  No.  I had that removed.

Back to kitchen A- the solution there was to expand the kitchen into the adjoining transitional space and push the kitchen out a few feet into the back yard.  We were trying to open up the kitchen to the back yard and to a deck while allowing some space for lounging in the kitchen, an island with stools, and a connection to the eating area in the dining room.  The half bath moved to the other side of the kitchen but with the door in what felt like a small hallway or transition space, rather than opening directly onto the kitchen.  To the right of the refrigerator (“R”) would be a large pull out pantry area for food.  There were upper cabinets to the right of the stove for dishes, easily accessible to the dishwasher.

In no particular order, here is a list of kitchen considerations that are illustrated in kitchen A’s before/proposed drawings.  I answer all of these questions with each of my kitchen designs:

  1. Consider the connection to the exterior from the kitchen.  What should that relationship be?  Is it a main entry to the house?  Casual entry? How much of a visual connection is desired? Will the entry be used frequently in the winter?  How important is an air block?
  2. Where can the first floor half bath go that will not open up onto the kitchen?
  3. Where will the dishes be stored, and where is that in relation to the dishwasher?
  4. If the dishwasher or oven doors are open, can people still circulate in the space?  The oven door isn’t likely to be left wide open, so the dishwasher door is more important to me.
  5. Where will the dry goods be stored?
  6. Where will the not used very often items be stored?
  7. Are there at least 14’ of working space on the countertops and island?

(more to follow in subsequent examples)

Kitchen B

The owners of kitchen B were looking for a large eat in kitchen with a family room combined.  Their existing kitchen was mostly circulation and difficult to work in with more than two people.  When an addition is built for a new kitchen, what happens to the old kitchen? In this case we filled the area with a relocated half bath and a larger mudroom.  The kitchen had limited upper cabinets and a pull out floor to ceiling pantry in two locations.  Additional kitchen storage (for seasonal and infrequently used items like the deep fryer or apple corer, etc) was at the bottom of the basement stairs.

The dashed line between the kitchen and the family room indicated a beam in the ceiling which is anchored on either side by half walls with built in shelves.  The two spaces are open to each other with a fireplace and bookcases built into the wall opposite the kitchen.  The kitchen has a wall of windows facing the garden, and the booth at the end of the family room is also surrounded by windows.

The dots indicate circulation patterns.  The original kitchen was hampered by a door to the dining room, to the mudroom, and to the basement stairs. The proposed kitchen would keep people passing through out of the production area.  The living room was opened up with pocket doors to the family room allowing for circulation around the core of the house or the possibility of closing of the living room for separate functions.

8.  How will the new kitchen improve circulation in the house?  How can circulation be directed away from the working areas in the kitchen?

Kitchen C

The owners of kitchen C decided to expand the rear of their house 5’ across the entire width.  They did not want to eat up too much of their backyard with their addition.  While some of the decision for this move was to benefit the second floor, the main concern was the expansion of the kitchen. The extra space allows for an increased mudroom and a direct path into the kitchen from the side door to the driveway.  The stove and the sink are separated out and each has a working area on either side.

9.  Allow for at least 9” on either side of the stove (absolute minimum).

10.  Where will hand washed dishes dry?

Kitchen D

In designing kitchen D I had to stay within the footprint of the existing house while enlarging the kitchen and making the exiting space in the family room area more functional.  The solution was to steal some room from the bathrooms on the left to gain an additional 2’ and to add a booth to the family room area to allow for casual dining for a family of 5.

11.  What is the relationship between the kitchen table and the dining room table?  Are they too similar and therefore redundant?

We solved this problem by choosing a booth which is the opposite of a formal dining table. There is some seating at the island as well for keeping the cooks company.

Kitchen E

Kitchen E is similar to kitchen B in that they wanted an addition of a kitchen and family room area.  Their kitchen was also replaced with a mudroom with a short hall between the dining room and new kitchen with countertop and cabinets along the hall, almost like a butler’s pantry. The addition was also an attempt to improve the circulation of the house.

12. Is there a possibility to open up one wall with windows while filling another wall with upper cabinets?

Kitchen F

The owners of kitchen F were closed off from the outdoors in their small circulation filled kitchen located in the center of the house.  They, too, wanted a kitchen/dining room/family room that focused on the rear yard.  They opted for no upper cabinets in the main space, a beautiful blue stove and a large pantry with countertops and upper cabinets.  While people would need to cut through the kitchen space to get to get back, their impact on the people working in the kitchen would be minimal.

Those are a few examples of recent kitchens that I have worked with clients to improve in small or completely new ways.  Most kitchens deal with the same group of issues, as described above: Sharing the space with other cooks and guests, view to the outside, access to the outside and to the dining room, counter space, circulation, eating area, combination of living spaces and gracious living.  Kitchens are no longer hidden away spaces where one person toils alone, they are now the hub of the home where family and friends come together.