A Story About a Client, an Architect and a Designer

I’m in the midst of an experience with a fire rebuild. A friend of mine, Ellen, lost her home in the Glass fire in Santa Rosa, CA a few years ago and is finally able to begin the rebuilding process. She enlisted the help of an architect – a very experienced, thoughtful man who truly has her best interests at heart.

Stacey Lapuk, ASID

Ellen was very excited to show me the initial plans. It was a beautiful design. The problem was that it didn’t reflect anything my friend had told me she wanted for her home.

It turned out that, though the architect reviewed the plans with her and she nodded her agreement throughout the discussion, she really had no idea what she was looking at. We assume people know how to read plans and understand what the space will look and feel like in three dimensions. But we’re wrong. As well, clients are many times hesitant to speak up. There’s a lot of information to process, and overwhelm can quickly drown one’s ability to think straight.

As I took Ellen through the plans in a way that was understandable to her, we noted some elements that could use a bit of adjustment. I asked her if it would be alright if I gave her architect a call, to act as her interpreter, and convey what she truly wanted.

I also wanted to understand why he chose to do certain things. There may have been a design intent, a structural issue or even something to do with the site that would necessitate certain decisions.

Unlike architects, I tend to look at plans from the inside out rather than the outside in. Though architects address such things as how the space will be used, what the views are like and how the sunlight affects the space as it changes throughout the year, as an interior designer I see those elements through a different lens.

I have additional questions as well. What furnishings do we want in the space, that we can build the spaces around them? Are there collectibles to be used or displayed? Will we need to accommodate automation for window treatments? The list is exhaustive.

I once had a client show me her plans with joy and anticipation. They were beautifully detailed with coffered ceilings and wonderful flow. Looking from a different perspective, however, we saw a bit of a challenge. The only space to install the kitchen dining table was off to the side of that area. The other side needed to be used as a walkway to the kitchen proper. But looking up from the center of where the dining table needed to be, the pendant fixture would not be centered within a coffer.

Another project was for a client with an amazing collection of area carpets. Looking at her plans however, it was clear that her favorite rugs wouldn’t fit in the rooms.

For Ellen’s fire rebuild project, we noticed that the beautiful windows off the great room stared straight into the wall of an outbuilding about 15’0” away. On another side of her home, gorgeous views of the hills would be hidden behind an entertainment and fireplace wall.

Another room that would hardly be used, was taking up valuable square footage that would be better served by shifting the walls back a bit, making this adjunct room a bit smaller and opening up a nice size entry space on the other side.

Rather than designing a kitchen island where Ellen could sit, eat and pull out her laptop while looking through another set of windows, the architect had her facing the wall of cabinets. Rather than aligning the cooktop with the apex of the vaulted ceiling, it was sitting on its own, untethered from the design of the kitchen, and from the overall space.

Even the design of the upper cabinets and position of the refrigerator created asymmetry around the window over the sink. This would not feel comfortable, nor be very beautiful.

The architect was fantastic. Open-minded, patient and understanding, not only did he take our suggestions to heart, he went a step further and provided us even more of what we really wanted.

The value of having another, experienced set of eyes on your plans prior to permitting, is unmeasurable. It is so much simpler, and more cost-effective to catch misunderstandings on paper as opposed to in the midst of construction. Whether a new build or a renovation, understanding the architect’s vision is key. If you’re unable to visualize your new space from a set of plans, ask for help. A quick consultation can set you on your way to an amazing new home!

If your budget allows, 3D renderings and even virtual walk-throughs are available to you.

Following are specific services that have been found to be most helpful and valuable to our clients.

  1. Review the architects and/or builders’ intent and plans with you, the client.
  2. Interpret the plans for you to limit surprises and misunderstandings.
  3. Looking at the project from the inside out, usually with the knowledge of your collections, use and functional requirements.
  4. Providing an alternative perspective, that the project can be fully expressed and aligned with the architects and/or builders design and budget parameters, and therefore perfectly aligned with your hopes for your new home.
  5. Offer design services the architect and/or builder is not interested in providing and as requested, such as:
      • Kitchen and bath designs, interior architectural elements such as fireplace surrounds, staircases, molding details etc.
      • Ceiling and floor design, materials and specifications.
      • Lighting design (or collaborate with lighting designer with furniture space planning in mind).
      • Stone, tile, wood design, research, specifications and procurement.
      • Fixtures and finishes.

Pretty much anything from studs to pillows that your architect and/or builder, are not interested in addressing.

  1. Obtaining timely client approvals on elements needed for construction, such as plumbing fixtures, stone, tile, wood etc; lighting design (because we have a furnishings and color plan!) saving you unnecessary costs.
  2. Flagging special needs for customizing elements for installing such things as window shades, A/V equipment etc.
  3. Resources for product, artisans, craftspeople and more.

I can’t wait to see Ellen settle into her new home. We still have to tighten our design and make adjustments as necessary when we have her contractor’s numbers – always a reality-check. But knowing and understanding what’s to come makes the process that much less stressful, allowing your excitement at the prospect of your new home to shine through.

Stacey Lapuk, ASID

Stacey Lapuk, ASID is celebrating her 30th year with her firm. Named “One of America’s Ten Designers To Watch” by Design Times Magazine, one of the “Top 100 Interior Designer in North America” by Blink Art Resources, and the winner of multiple national design awards.  Her goal is simple: To co-create with her clients the home of their dreams with responsive and comprehensive solutions, and timeless, beautiful results. 

Her full service firm attracts clients desiring the finest workmanship, materials and custom design. Facets of work include partnering with architects on new construction, remodels, kitchen design and bath design, color consultation, custom furniture, flooring, area carpets, wall and window treatments, lighting design, art procurement and antique acquisition.  Service areas include but are not limited to Marin County, San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, Ross, Kentfield, Belvedere, Tiburon, San Rafael, and Pacific Heights.