No One Said

I’ve been corresponding with an architecture student for the last few years following a chance meeting at the AIA conference in Orlando. He’s involved in a co-op program, so he’s been working off and on while pursuing his degree – well on his way to becoming an architect.

Except his most recent e-mail indicated his career trajectory was taking what most people would consider a turn for the worst.

At some point this past fall, during his study abroad semester in Germany, he reached the conclusion that he really didn’t want to be an architect. That despite his best efforts, architecture is not for him.

Did I mention he graduated in May?

I’m not sure how his parents are going to feel when he makes that announcement. However, I must give him props for not completely freaking out the moment he had the realization. Four plus years of school and work (or more) only to realize you should be doing something else? Most people would be devastated.

Except no one said he has to be an architect.

And that’s the hidden secret behind an architecture degree. So many opportunities are available that don’t follow a traditional architecture path. Off the top of my head I was able to mention three people I know that do anything but architecture with their degree.

Furniture design. Set design. Stained glass art. Videography. Business development. Computer animation. All are possible with an architecture degree.

And the list goes on and on.

If nothing else, he’s created a mindset that will see the world in different terms, no matter what he decides to do. He will appreciate the beauty of the environment he is in. And hopefully, his architecture background will have an influence in whatever he decides to do.

Besides, no one said he has to be an architect.

Although I’m sure his mom and dad would probably appreciate it.

Travel through a different lens

As much as architects photograph buildings, I think we tend to live our lives in more detail than most.

I am not what you would call a world-weary traveler. James and I tend to visit the same locations again and again, and I can count the times I’ve been out of the country on two hands – possibly one. And some of those have been on ships, so I don’t know that they really count. Can you immerse yourself in another country in a few hours of walking around?

However, looking back at the traveling I have done, I often wonder if I’m seeing the places I’m visiting as other travelers would see it. Or only as an architect would see it.

As much as architects photograph buildings, I think we tend to live our lives in more detail than most. And if you go back and look through our photos, architects will have a lot of detail shots most people wouldn’t take or wouldn’t notice.

When James was in London for work, his apartment could not have been better just short of being inside Buckingham Palace. Just off Fleet Street, you could walk out the door and go left to St. Paul’s and the Tower. Or turn right and head to Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, and Westminster Abbey.

Naturally I came in for a quick visit. And yes, I got all of the requisite shots. The Tower. St. Paul’s. Buckingham Palace. However, what really caught my eye wasn’t the bigger pictures.

Instead, it was the inside of an ATM lobby.

That’s right. An ATM lobby.

Double volume space. Ornate columns. Wood coffered ceiling. Oval windows with carved wood trim. And incredibly detailed hand-thrown tile everywhere. Everywhere. Walls. Naves. Ceilings. Even the columns had tile applied. Absolutely stunning. How could that not catch my eye?

I even did this while touring the Hemingway House in Key West. Not a single photo of the exterior of the house. What I kept snapping shots of were the details. Bathroom tile. Ceiling medallions. Fireplace surrounds.

Photos taken at the Hemingway House in Key West.

After 20 years of moments like this, James is completely unfazed. I think it started on our first trip to Vegas when I made him stand on a hot sidewalk while I snapped photos of the naked steel structure being erected for the new Aria hotel.

For everyone else – bank employees, other tourists, locals – I probably look pretty odd. Why is this guy so interested in the lobby? Or so close to the bathroom tile? Or in the case of one friend, laying in the middle of the sidewalk in NY?

But for the other architects around me, they’ll know exactly what I’m doing because they’ve been there themselves. Yes, I’m enjoying touring the city. Yes, it is fun being in a new place. And yes, the buildings are really cool.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about the details. Even if the regular traveler doesn’t see it.

Really Unreal

Wouldn’t it be nice though to open a copy of Architectural Record and see a home photographed the way the owners really use it?

Turn on HGTV’s Property Brothers with an architect in the room, and you’ll hear: “Seven weeks my ass.” (Just ask my husband.) Because we know full well that renovation isn’t taking seven weeks. Seventeen maybe, but not seven.

But that’s the fun for architects – rolling our eyes at these programs (while still watching) and complaining about how difficult they make our jobs. And then sharing stories about how unreality TV has really screwed up our clients’ expectations.

But have you picked up a copy of Architectural Record, Architect, or Architectural Digest? Because HGTV isn’t the only one painting pretty pictures or setting unrealistic expectations.

I love picking up an architecture magazine, looking at the photos, and being wowed at the imagery. And there isn’t a building that’s not beautifully shot. Whether a high rise or a house, architects make sure their work is presented in the best possible light.

My favorites, however, are the celebrity spreads in places like Architectural Digest. Take Ricky Martin’s house in the February 2018 issue for example. Nice spread on his family’s home. Everything is perfect. Pillows in their places. Coffee table books expertly arranged. Bouquets of flowers.

Incredibly beautiful.

Incredibly unreal.

Because you can’t help noticing his two sons included in the family photos. And if you can’t remember how you were at 6 or 7, ask mom or dad. I don’t know if I can recall a time when our house was that put together. Or if it was, not for long. I can’t count the times my mother cussed because she had stepped on an errant Lego. By all accounts, Ricky’s house should have had toys scattered across the living room. Maybe an odd pair of underwear on the floor. Even the boys’ room in this shoot was flawless.

But as architects, we set that expectation and that unrealistic image. I can recall looking at proofs for a high-rise apartment project and being amazed at the awesome sunset outside the client’s 6th floor living room. Especially given that there’s really a multi-rise office building next door – close enough to wave at whoever’s working that day.

Wouldn’t it be nice though to open a copy of Architectural Record and see a home photographed the way the owners really use it? Dishes in the sink from the night before. Shoes taken off and left in the front hall. Maybe a muddy dog sprawled across the couch pillows.

Or better yet, open Architectural Digest and see a real celebrity spread? Maybe Mariah Carey’s bedroom with an unmade bed, pillows scattered, a TV remote next to a half-empty cocktail glass on the side table, and the remnants of some late-night Cheetos?

We had a client whose home would have been a perfect fit for Architectural Record. And the first time I walked through was just jaw-dropping. Incredible design. Uber-contemporary. The multi-floor plan that took complete advantage of the sloping site.

And not a thing out of place. As if someone came in to shoot the house for a magazine and just left the rooms that way. Absolutely unreal.

Until we went up to the wife’s private office. Then you realized just where all the clutter was in the house. But no one was ever going to see that room.

Perhaps that’s the reality at the Martins’. Beautifully shot, except you’ll never see the day before when everything was shoved into closets and under beds.

Except that’s what clients need to see – the reality behind the glam.

The really unreal.

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The Road to Renovation Redux

Ho, Ho, Oh No!

One of our biggest achievements in the time spent working on our renovation is utilizing the space we have to meet our needs.  That meant we were able to get both the kitchen and the bathroom that we had been wanting for a long time without going overboard and adding a lot of square footage.  We simply had to look at how we could turn existing space into usable space.

Turning existing space into usable space

A great example of that is the front room of the house.  From the time we moved in, the front room always had minimal furniture.  A couple of chairs.  A small electric piano.  A rug.  However, following the renovation, that room now functions as our dining room.  And as we unpacked and rearranged furniture, we were able to make the space still fit what we had and adapt that room for dining.

Except we forgot one thing:

But where does the Christmas tree go?

Where does the Christmas tree go?

For 12 years, the front room of the house was the designated spot for the Christmas tree.  And since the ceiling was sloped, and we didn’t have a lot of furniture to shift around, we had the option of getting any size tree we wanted.  Consequently, three years ago we allowed my 5 foot tall sister to talk us into getting a 9 foot tree to match hers.  (We have to get a step ladder to get to the top.  I’m picturing my brother-in-law having to hoist my sister to the top of theirs with a crane!)

As we started talking as we pulled out the boxes and bins this year, though, we realized we hadn’t thought through where exactly this monstrosity was to go.  We felt we had prepared pretty well overall.  Moving back in we knew where the office furniture was going.  Who got which side of the master closet?  Which wall the guest bed was going on?  But we hadn’t given much thought about how to handle holidays and the extras that invariably go along with them.

So we stood there over the weekend, looking at the combined living and dining rooms – looking at the sofa, loveseat, chair, ottoman, dining room table, side table, leather bench, side chair, and an electric piano – and wondering where exactly Christmas was going to happen.

Working it out

Do we forego the big tree for the little tree purchased last year?  Do we move the dining table and just eat dinner at the kitchen island for the month of December?  Do we skip decorating altogether this year and continue to let ourselves settle into the space?

IMG_1989Surprisingly, we were able to move only two pieces and find a location for the tree.  Of course, we may change that next year.  After all, we really are adapting to new spaces.  We may find ourselves bumping into the tree as we walk past and decide we need a place more out of the way.  Or discover that the dogs really love curling up under it at night.

All’s well that ends well

But for now, and for not having planned, our first Christmas and our tree in the “new” home are working out well, as and where they are!

The Road to Renovation Redux

And We’re Done…Sort Of

We’ve reached the end of the road.

No, we haven’t lost our minds.  Or run out of money.  Or decided we want to spend the rest of our days drunk in a bar in New Orleans.  (Although that’s a thought!)

I mean we’ve finished construction.

Sort of.

Final punch list made

James and I were able to move back into the house on November 10th.  (And 11th.  And 12th.)  However, before we got too settled, we (me) walked through with our contractor, Stephan Sardone, and made our final punch list – the final little tweaks to six months of construction that will mean construction is officially done.

Anyone who has done a renovation knows that moving back in doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done.  You just happen to be living in your house again.  As you find yourself using each space, you invariably come across minor items that need to be repaired or replaced.  A faulty plug.  A missing caulk joint.  A loose baseboard. All common items that are easy to manage.

So you’re done.  You’re just not – done.  Because you also have to deal with unpacking.

There is always something more!

I always equate moving to having a U-Haul truck explode inside the house.  Of course, one would think after having moved three times in the last year, I’d be used to the chaos.  What I’ve discovered, though, each time there is still the same…..IMG_1938

James has done a much better job of handling this end of the experience.  By the time we went to bed Monday night, the kitchen had been unpacked, dishes had been washed and almost everything put away.  The scary part – there’s something in every cabinet, and I can’t figure out where each item came from.  I know it was in the old kitchen.  But where?

What is in the POD?

And even scarier (at least for me), – we still have a POD container to unpack.  Couldn’t we just leave that in storage somewhere?  I mean, we’ve done without those things all this time.  Do we really need them? I’m not even sure what is in that POD container anymore!

IMG_1939
Can you believe this was full? Where did it all go?

(Cue eye roll from James.)

Of course, everything will eventually get unpacked (and by eventually, I mean before James’ parents arrive for Thanksgiving).  All of the little tweaks on the punch list will be completed and we can then sit back on the sofa with a glass of wine to enjoy our new space.

At least, until the fence is torn down and the landscaping gets started.

Oh crap! We’re not done, are we?!

Thanks to everyone!

And now, a note: – To everyone who has been following along with my neuroses a very special thanks!  I hope you have derived a “take-away” from our experience.  I know I’ve learned a lot – both as a homeowner/client and as an architect.

A very heartfelt thanks to Stephan Sardone and the crew at Sardone Construction for coming along for the ride and being willing to try some new things.

And finally to my husband James, a huge kiss and hug for not knocking me over the head and stuffing me under the house somewhere!

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The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 9

Still Married

As we’ve been getting closer to the end of our project, James and I have been reviewing everything that’s transpired since last November. We congratulate ourselves for making our way through without ending up in a psych ward or at the Betty Ford Clinic, forced to participate in primal scream therapy with Lindsay Lohan!

I have shared some of those events in previous blogs (James’ temporary assignment to London.  Our hectic travel schedules during construction.)  However, one item has been omitted until now.

In mid-October 2013, we decided after nearly 18 years, to fly off to New York and get married at our friend Will’s on our anniversary date – November 3rdWedding RingsWe certainly didn’t know at the time that we’d be kicking off a year of stress.  A year of moving residences three times, moving offices once, saying farewell to not one but both of our basset hounds, and traveling what felt like the globe.

However, we’ve managed to accomplish one feat above everything else (and no, it’s not staying out of Betty Ford!).  We’ve managed to stay married.

Multiple articles in the LA Times, Huffington Post, and the New York Observer have been written about home remodeling ending in divorce.  And most of us have probably seen The Money Pit (or for the older readers, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).  However, James and I went into our renovation with what felt like two advantages: 1) 18 years of being together; and 2) Having experienced this before where we actually did some of the work.

Not that the first time was all hugs and kisses.  Anyone who has been through a renovation can tell you how personal the experience and outcome are.  But when you’re swinging the hammer that’s hanging up drywall, you get really invested in the process.  Yet, as much as we both at times wanted to accidentally have a hammer slip, we made our way through and ended up with a Kitchen and Living Room we enjoyed for nearly 10 years.

And we expect to enjoy this renovation just as long if not longer.  We’ll move in the 10th and start settling into the more normal marital stresses – like having James’ parents in from Colorado for Thanksgiving.

Luckily this year we’ll have a proper guest bedroom and bath, and a kitchen big enough for more than two!

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The Road to Renovation Redux

So Close

We are coming “down to the wire,” moving in on November 10th, and I keep thinking to myself: “We’re so close I can taste it.”

Or maybe that’s just the acid reflux from being so stressed.

Having a “client experience”

I have definitely been going through what I would categorize as a client experience with this part of the renovation.  Along with the excitement of finishing our house and being home again has come a surprising amount of stress.  In the last post, I talked about the little things that keep cropping up, and here we are with completion just around the corner and our list seems to be getting longer.

We did have a productive (if not somewhat expensive) couple of weekends crossing some of the things off of our list.  So we’re making progress. Granted, some of what we’re thinking of doesn’t have to be complete for us to move back in.  However, that does not mean they can be left undone.

Stress as a client now colors my perspective 

As an architect, I can’t say I’ve ever been through this with a client.  Certainly not from the client’s side.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to do as the project wraps up, primarily making sure the final construction issues are addressed.  But I’m beginning to think the stress of that as the architect pales in comparison to what the client is going through.  No doubt this will color my perspective moving forward.

Popping in to see the contractor

And I’m pretty certain my contractor Stephan is having this experience too.  Especially when I pop in after having been at the house with items that could be addressed during the final walk through.  Yet why not get them taken care of now?

So if you see me on the street or at the office looking a little frazzled and distant, please don’t be offended.  I’m just a little preoccupied.

And one more day closer to finishing up.

Oh, I can taste it alright.

Does anyone have some Tums?