My first years in a firm consisted of working on master plans for large scale institutions, commercial buildings, historic preservation and boutique retail. I loved working on these types of projects: I found them challenging and fulfilling. I started doing residential design after my first child was born, and, at that point, considered the shift something of a professional demotion. Houses could not possibly be as difficult as a nineteen-story building. This was going to be easy.
One of my first clients taught me differently. I was working for a young family and had designed a renovation for them which I thought satisfied all of their requirements. The large extended family with frequent get-togethers was served by a new larger dining room, replacing a much smaller space with a cramped table and sideboard. The original dining room was the perfect size for a library or study, replete with walls of built-in bookshelves and paneling. I delightfully presented the plans to my clients, awaiting their unfettered joy at my creativity and genius. What I got instead was “hmm.”
This was not at all the reaction I expected. The next week, I visited the house to confirm measurements and, as I walked through the rooms, noticed something I had not before. I didn’t see any books: kid’s books and cookbooks filled toy chests and kitchen shelves, but the paperbacks and reference books that lined my own bookshelves were not in sight. That library? Unnecessary. And that dining room? It was perfect for their dinners with extended family: they enjoyed being together as part of the experience. Humbled, I realized that I had missed the mark entirely.
Ultimately, the project did not get built, although the study didn’t have anything to do with that. I learned a very important lesson from that project; namely, that practicing residential architecture means that I am telling someone else’s story. My goal is to help families build and renovate homes that are truly and uniquely their own. And after more than ten years of working with extraordinary clients, I consider myself lucky that they allow me to be a part of that process.