interior design is not about flowers

If you could see me now you’d see the droop in my shoulders. It wasn’t the first time someone demeaned what I have been doing with my professional life for the last 25 years. She’s a friend and she really didn’t mean to.

We were talking about credentials and continuing education required in various professions. When I told her the amount of continuing education I must take to maintain the 3 credentials I’ve attained, she smiled and wondered aloud why I’d need continuing education to decide what color the flowers should be and where they should go.

I smiled at her joke and I cried a little inside. It wasn’t a funny joke. But it does clarify an issue in my field….people don’t know what interior design is.

According to the California Council for Interior Design Certification:

An ‘Interior Designer’ is someone who can complete an interior design project from start to finish, including preparing construction documents for bidding and permitting, as well as supervising the construction and installation of the work. This person in essence becomes your agent to deal with local building codes and building departments, and licensed contractors. They have the expertise to handle all of these different players…

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. We sign drawings like architects do, however the scope of our projects is limited to work that does not involve the structural components of a building (the parts of the building that support the roof). If structural components are involved, then a structural engineer must be engaged. If the exterior of the building (known as the core and shell) are involved in the project, then typically an architect will be engaged. On residential remodel projects a skilled interior designer can usually handle the full scope of the project.

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. Click To Tweet

design and documentation

Prior to building any construction project, documents must be created. Prior to creating these documents a design must be completed. My job as your interior designer is to work with you to determine the needs of your project, create a design to satisfy those needs, then document that design and see it through construction. There are several steps involved:

programming:  You will answer questions about the use of your space; what works and what doesn’t; when the space is or will be used and how and by whom; what you want it to look, feel and sound like. We will talk about the function of your business and of other businesses like your business. I will take measurements and draw base plans.

schematic design-design development: I will layout the walls within your space, determine power and plumbing needs and locations, create designs for millwork and custom furnishings, design the overall look and feel of your space. I will coordinate the consultants we may need to engage for acoustics, lighting, art, architecture, graphics, etc. I will also engage fabricators to create specialty items. I will determine how the various codes will impact the space and begin a conversation with your local building and fire departments to affirm that we are designing to code. During these phases I will present the design to you as it develops and refine it to meet your aesthetic and functional needs. Depending on the use of space, particularly with commercial projects, functional needs and code compliance will drive much of the layout.

permit documents-bid documents-construction documents: To communicate your design I will create drawings and write specifications. The various consultants on the project will also create drawings for their specialties which either the architect (if there is one) or I will coordinate into a single unified set. Using these documents (which can number hundreds of pages) we will first apply for necessary permits. This process can take months to complete and will often include the submission of further documents to satisfy your local building/fire/health departments. Once permits are issued, and if this project will be bid, drawings and specifications may need further clarity and revision and will be issued to bidders to get final pricing for the project. Once bids are in and a contractor is chosen, documents will be issued for construction.

construction administration: During construction I will visit your site regularly, get to know your contractor’s superintendent well, answer questions as they arise, review items and finishes prior to installation, point out problems when something is not built to plan, keep you apprised of progress, approve your contractor’s billings so that you only pay for work that has been performed, and engage other members of the team as needed.


Part of the job of an interior designer is to understand and have the ability and knowledge to research codes that are applicable to your project. When creating the design for your project, all of these codes must be addressed and complied with. Prior to applying for necessary permits, the requirements of these codes must be met in your permit documents. Codes fall into several categories:

building codes: These are codes that keep you and your employees and customers healthy and safe. We call these codes ‘life-safety’ and they include things like the width and length of corridors, exiting, fire sprinklers, the size of windows, emergency lighting. There are plumbing codes that specify how many toilets and lavatories your space must include and what type of fixtures are required. There are energy codes that limit the amount of wattage that is allowed for lighting and specify where motion sensors are required. There are local codes that can include just about anything and which I will research and discuss with your local building department as early in the project as possible.

health codes: Health codes address kitchens and restrooms in your commercial project. They also have requirements that must be met for tattoo parlors, swimming pools, medical facilities, water systems and multi-unit housing.

accessibility codes: The federal ADA regulations include very specific requirements that allow space to be utilized by people with various disabilities. These requirements are far-reaching and include things from parking lot ramps to the height of wall sconces in hallways and the size of toilet stalls.

education, credentials and certifications

There are many people out there who call themselves interior designers. Some of them are decorators who choose colors, select furniture and drapery, or, like my friend said, locate your flower arrangements. An interior designer is credentialed in some way, has specific education and knowledge, and can do the work of a decorator and much more.

education: An interior designer receives education on everything discussed above. In addition we learn about color, lighting, acoustics, three dimensional space, art and architectural history, available and appropriate finishes and materials, and even furniture and millwork design.

There are many accredited educational programs, from 3 years (post-graduate) to 4 or 5 years, which provide some type of degree. The program I completed was a 5 year Bachelor of Science program. Different programs provide differing levels of education. If you are looking for an interior designer’s qualifications, start with education but also look for advanced certifications.

certifications: As in most professional fields, there are many advanced certifications available to interior designers. The three that I’ve attained are listed, but there are others as well, particularly in the realm of sustainability.

  • CID: In some states (as in California) the term ‘Certified Interior Designer’ is codified in the Business and Professions Code and can only be utilized by interior designers who have taken the certification exam. These interior designers have specific education and have proven their knowledge of process and codes and their competency in applying this knowledge.
  • NCIDQ Certified Interior Designers have distinguished themselves by demonstrating a specific set of core interior design competencies, supported by verified work experience and a college degree. They have proven their mastery of aesthetic considerations as well as of current standards established to protect public health, safety and welfare. They have earned the industry’s highest standard of proficiency in interior design principles by successfully passing the NCIDQ Examination. (definition from the NCIDQ website)
  • LEED AP ID+C: The USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation program to credential leaders of sustainability in the built environment. The accreditation that I studied, tested for and practice is in interior design and construction. There are other ‘green building’ programs as well as other accreditations within LEED. All indicate specific knowledge around sustainability.

So yes, an interior designer can help you choose flowers. And most designers, after years of study and practice, have a ‘good eye’. But we also have extensive knowledge and experience that qualifies us for much more than that. I hope this clear things up just a bit. And don’t worry, my feelings aren’t really hurt.

Keep in touch,


after the election: design


Do you want to talk politics? Me neither. But I do want to talk about what we, as designers and architects, can do as we move forward into this new and shifted world. How will we protect the environment that may not be top of the new administration’s list of priorities? What kinds of projects will we take on pro bono in support of the disenfranchised? How can we create a world that is inclusive when our country is so divided? Closer to home, how do we provide a workplace that is all-embracing, safe and productive?

help people go home

Build houses with Habitat for Humanity. This is one of my favorite organizations to volunteer with. I’ve learned to hang gyp, tape and mud, pull electrical, wire an outlet, paint a wall, wire a switch. Helping build a building has taught me much about what’s behind those lines I draw for a living. Better still this helps people stabilize their lives. Habitat for Humanity is nationwide. Find them here.

design for everyone

We don’t have much choice about ADA. We complain and moan about having to put a ramp in a facility that wouldn’t be used by someone in a wheelchair anyway. It’s time to turn that conversation around. Let’s look for opportunities to use the principles of universal design: design that accommodates the widest range of individuals. We are a diverse population of cultures, abilities, economic levels. Designers and architects can lead the way to design that works for our aging population, the deaf, those without sight, varied cultures as well as varied abilities. When clients complain about spending money on accessibility, show them there’s another way to have that conversation.

fight for good design

There are clients out there (we won’t mention any names) whose taste is…..questionable. When working with those clients you need to stand up for good design. Don’t give in without a fight when they want to build something that offends the sensibility of the neighborhood. Do take the time to work to educate your clients about what design really is: a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints (Wikipedia). Make sure your client’s goals are acceptable to you before accepting a commission. Consider walking away from a project that forces you to short change good taste or appropriate design parameters.

bridge the divide

“After seeing the legibility of the election’s results—and the connected spatial and divided geographies of urban versus rural, the coasts versus middle America, and of white versus black versus latino, and many others, I appreciate the charge to the ‘revolutionary act of knowing others.’ This is a conversation that is needed, and it cannot only happen in the space of the media and social media and politics. It needs to also happen in spaces and places where we all live, work, play, and connect. Our shared nation is as tangible as Main Street and as real as our many different types of homes, workplaces, and public infrastructures and facilities.”—Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission.

Published by fastcodesign.

  • Create a workplace that allows for differing opinions and will support differing points of view.
  • Encourage conversations that lead to understanding that begins in the workplace and extends to the world outside.
  • Organize volunteer opportunities for your employees or give them time to volunteer during work hours.

consider pro bono work where it’s really needed

The new U.S. administration may not support many of the social and environmental organizations historically funded by our government. If there is room in your budget for pro bono work, see if any of these organizations are in need of a new space, a re-organization of existing space, perhaps new furnishings, etc. Do some research and work for the organizations that you believe in.

work locally

“As we consider what the U.S. presidential election means for our nation as a whole, we must not lose sight of the positive influence we as architects and designers can have on our local communities. In fact, it is on the local level where politics and policies tend to have the most direct impact on everyday citizens. So while I recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of the election, I take comfort and pride in knowing that we, as a community of design professionals, will continue to focus on improving our local communities.”—Phil Freelon, architect and design director, Perkins + Will.

Published by fastcodesign.

build with the environment in mind

Encourage your clients to build sustainably: use local products, reduce power needs, use products that are produced sustainably, install low water landscapes, build near transportation, keep building health in mind. Build to LEED standards or Green Globe Standards even if the project won’t be certified. Pay attention and suggest building methods that protect our fragile earth and those of us that plan to live here for a while.

speak up

The AIA came out with a statement after the election that didn’t reflect the feelings and attitudes of its members. The backlash was fast and it was huge, leading to the AIA walking back their original statement. Pay attention to what the professional organizations that you belong to are saying. Do you agree? Use the power of your peers to make a statement, start a trend, open a dialogue, support your beliefs.

any other ideas?

This has been a divisive election and has left many feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, dis-enfranchised. What else can we do to mend?

Keep in touch,


ps….if you haven’t seen the book in the photo, here’s a link. There are multiple sites online where you can also download a pdf, but I recommend buying the book and keeping it somewhere accessible. I keep my copy on my coffee table. And no, those aren’t my fingernails.

is it right?

all photos/video courtesy donate to their kickstarter here.

all photos/video courtesy Donate to their kickstarter here.

Do we, each of us, have a right to shelter and food?

A friend of mine uses a Martin Luther King quote as part of his email signature. It seems especially poignant right now as we weather a social climate that is exceedingly animus.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to social ills that include race relations, economic challenges and religious non-understanding, there are those among us that need help with the basic human needs of shelter and food. As a society are we obligated to provide these basic human needs?

Marcin Jakubowski thinks that making home and hearth more affordable, and less resource intense, is not only do-able but right. He is working on an open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible. Along with a host of consultants on everything from energy to compliance to architecture, he calls his endeavor the Open Building Institute. He knows it can work because he has done it. And he believes that you can do it too.

kickstarter link
The idea is that each one of us, either with friends or hired help, can build a home. The Open Building Institute will provide the knowledge: a library of modules and instructions, building materials production facility, training, even a certified builder if you so desire. You begin with what you can afford…could be a tiny starter module with a kitchen, bathroom and loft. As you can afford you add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing food and fish, maybe a separate bedroom, perhaps another bathroom and a library or office. The home is made from CEB (compressed earth blocks) from on site soil, uses solar panels for energy, hydronic in-floor heating. The home operates off the grid and grows as finances and needs change. No mortgage (unless you mortgage the land), no power bills, lower grocery bills.

I’m 100% in favor. Yes, I do believe that we all have a right to shelter and food. And we also have a responsibility to work toward that end. If you want to support the Open Building Institutes Kickstarter you can be part of this solution. Donate $20 and get a book laying out the OBI method. Donate $500 and you can participate in a 5 day build and learn all the nuts and bolts of this system.

In case you were wondering, I have no connection to Marcin Jakubowski or Open Building Institute. This project was forwarded to me by a mutual friend, Nat Turner, who you may remember hearing about in Parti* Notes.

Keep in touch,

who wants tacos?


once upon a time taco bell and i were born…

Have you noticed all the Taco Bell chatter lately? Makes me a bit nostalgic. There was a Taco Bell next to my dorm at San Diego State all those years ago. In the light of day you’d never catch me there, but after midnight all bets were off. Sometime around 1am, when I was done (ahem) studying, those greasy little tacos called my name.

tacos in college

It seems the same is true of today’s college students. My daughter, who avoids dairy and gluten due to digestive issues, succumbed to a Taco Bell burrito late one night recently. I’m sure it was after a long bout of (ahem) studying. Not a good move for her, but she was swept up in the college taco tide along with a group of friends.

And this seems to be the tide that Taco Bell continues to rely on for some pretty sustained recent growth. After graduation I lost track of Taco Bell, aside from noticing they teamed up with KFC in a few locations (an odd match I thought). And that was probably fine with them. Somehow, even with all of the cultural moves toward healthy eating, SLOW food and the like, Taco Bell has managed to maintain the interest of the ever hungry 18-22 year old set.

old taco style: al fresco

When Taco Bell popped up in my feed 3 times in the last month I sat up and took notice. While they have made some effort to offer some healthier options (um, Dorito taco anyone?), what Taco Bell seems to really be focusing on is image. Taco Bell’s original style (if you’re a child of the 70s you’ll recognize that photo at the top of the page) was unique. The brick facade, arches, tile roof and the ever present bell didn’t veer off theme for a couple of decades. If you wanted to sit you did so outside, usually next to a fire pit. Sometime in the 80s the iconic style changed to suburban strip mall and lost most of its charm.

new taco style: beer and wifi

Then last year there was the shipping container store introduced at SXSW. And now Taco Bell is introducing 4 new store styles with an end game, it seems, of getting customers to stay rather than go (slow food rather than SLOW food I presume). Their new concepts include wifi, lounge seating, some have fireplaces, there is natural wood, gray (the color du jour it seems), modern art, mid-century seating, Victorian light fixtures and they’re even testing alcohol in a few locations. According to FastCo, it’s a mashup of every current design trend.

Taco Bell seems to be holding on to just a tiny bit of their own visual history. There’s the occasional pop of fireclay orange. Some of the themes use the textured brick of decades past. But overall, this is a complete overthrow. It will be interesting to see how this generation of Taco Bell fares with the current generation of technology toting college student.

Keep in touch,

libraries are more than houses for books


the homeless problem

In downtown San Rafael we have a couple of problems. Seemingly un-related problems. Depending on how you look at it, the first problem is homelessness (with a side of NIMBYism). You might not think that poverty and homelessness would be an issue in Marin County. You’d be wrong. Unfortunately for those that do fall into the economic cracks, there are few services that offer help. One of the organizations that exists to support the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless, Ritter Center, lives in a swirl of controversy. Those that fall into the NIMBY court want to see it closed down or at the very least moved from downtown San Rafael (where it is conveniently located near transit, shops, etc). The rest of us wonder exactly how poverty and homelessness will be resolved by eliminating services or making them impossible to access.

the library problem

Meanwhile, a mile or so away, our public library is sadly outdated, under-sized and not representative of today’s needs. There is conversation underway to build a new larger library that will reflect the needs of the community. At one point there was conversation about building the new library near our existing community center. But our existing community center has an ongoing problem with the homeless spending their days nearby.

a twofer solution

So, what to do? There is talk about building a big new library that is ‘green’, beautiful, an architectural marvel, full of technological wonders, classrooms and the like. All goals that should be incorporated into our new public library. But I’d like to suggest that we think bigger and include services and accommodations that will benefit the entire public, not just part of the public. This could be a win-win for the homeless as well as the homed.

pub·lic /ˈpəblik/
of or concerning the people as a whole. “public concern”
ordinary people in general; the community. ‘the library is open to the public’

San Francisco has done just this by hiring a social worker to work with the homeless who use the library for shelter. The SF program includes hiring and training the homeless to be part of the solution by working at the library. And San Francisco is not alone. Denver, Dallas, DC, Tucson, San Jose, Portland and Philadelphia all have programs in place to work with their homeless populations.

San Rafael has an ideal opportunity to join the ranks of these forward thinkers. Remember my old rant….design is about solving problems, it is not just about being pretty. Let’s not try to just be pretty here.

Keep in touch,



color: art or science?


color wheel courtesy Goethe/Wikipedia

Once upon a time in design school I took a class devoted entirely to the study of color. And yet, when a friend who just bought a home asked me what color she should paint her walls, I was helpless for an answer. Color may have science behind it, but color is an art and a passion and a deeply personal thing. Choosing color requires attention to many details and begs much more than a 5 minute phone conversation.

Before we can even think about color, there is the issue of culture. And then of course there is perception…remember this perception test? I’ve had long discussions (some might call them arguments) about the color of a particular piece of clothing. No honey, that shirt is not blue it’s purple and it doesn’t go with that tie. At all. And on top of that there is light which, if you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you understand changes color entirely. I might call color an art. And yet…

in branding

Derrick Daye over at Branding Strategy Insider provides a list of colors and what they mean when used in branding (if you come from American mainstream culture, whatever that is):

  • Red: excitement, strength, sex, passion, speed, danger
  • Blue: trust, reliability, belonging, coolness
  • Yellow: warmth, sunshine, cheer, happiness
  • Orange: playfulness, warmth, vibrant
  • Green: nature, fresh, cool, growth, abundance
  • Purple: royal, spirituality, dignity
  • Pink: soft, sweet, nurture, security
  • White: pure, virginal, clean, youthful, mild
  • Black: sophistication, elegant, seductive, mystery
  • Gold: prestige, expensive
  • Silver: prestige, cold, scientific

if you happen to be a poet

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (h/t BrainPickings), a German poet, artist and politician published a book in 1810 about the psychology of color. It is very poetically written, but doesn’t seem to be based on hard science (if there really was such a thing at the time, or now for that matter). He describes all color as a degree of darkness.

  • Yellow: ‘in its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, softly exciting character’
  • Red/Yellow: ‘the red-yellow gives an impression of warmth and gladness, since it represents the hue of the intenser glow of fire’
  • Yellow/Red: ‘a yellow-red cloth disturbs and enrages animals. I have known men of education to whom its effect was intolerable if they chanced to see a person dressed in a scarlet cloak on a grey, cloudy day’
  • Blue: ‘as a hue it is powerful — but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose’
  • Red/Blue: ‘blue deepens very mildly into red, and thus acquires a somewhat active character, although it is on the passive side. Its exciting power is, however, of a different kind from that of the red-yellow. It may be said to disturb, rather than enliven’
  • Blue/Red: ‘a carpet of a perfectly pure deep blue-red would be intolerable. On this account, when it is used for dress, ribbons, or other ornaments, it is employed in a very attenuated and light state, and thus displays its character as above defined, in a peculiarly attractive manner’
  • Red: ‘the effect of this colour is as peculiar as its nature. It conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness’
  • Green: ‘the eye experiences a distinctly grateful impression from this colour…the beholder has neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it. Hence for rooms to live in constantly, the green colour is most generally selected’

in architecture

Frank Mahnke wrote a very interesting article for Archinect about color and its effect on the psyche. In addition to the effects of individual colors, the combination of colors and their intensities must be well balanced so that a space does not over or under stimulate. Also the light reflectance of colors must be addressed to safeguard visual comfort and efficiency. He provides a few examples of emotional responses to specific colors, and I imagine he completes this list in his book ‘Color: Communication in Architectural Space’.

  • Pastel yellow: sunny, friendly, soft with a message of stimulation, brightness, coziness
  • Red: arousing, passionate, provocative, fiery, aggressive with a message of dominance and advancing
  • Green: balancing, natural, calm with the message of simplicity and security
  • White: open, vast, neutral, sterile with a message of purity, emptiness and indecisiveness

So you tell me, is color a science or an art? I believe it is both, and much more complicated than 837 words can unravel. I guess that’s why I keep buying books, attending seminars, and absorbing whatever I can find on color. So no, there is no ‘right’ color to paint your walls. It’s a bigger question than you imagined…

If you’re interested, one book I really love is ‘Colour Source Book’ by Rosalind Ormiston and Michael Robinson. They include definitions, technical info, history/culture and examples of hundreds of colors in addition to lots of background information.

Keep in touch,


toddlers and architects


So right off the bat I need to say that many of my friends are architects, I’ve worked with many amazing architects who are much smarter than I am, and I have absolute respect for the profession and most of the people that put AIA behind their name. As an interior designer, collaboration is my middle name. It is the rare project that I work without the involvement of an architect. Like many professions where different specialties work closely together (front of house and back of house comes to mind), some casual ribbing is de rigeur. And after working with a starchitect (or at least a wannabe starchitect) on a project early in my career, this little ditty rang true for me. It was pinned to my wall for many years as a reminder to me to take it all very lightly.

Of course most architects are not starchitects. But there is a historic difference between how an architect approaches a project and how an interior designer approaches a project. Aside from basic knowledge, architects have tended to approach the building from the outside while interior designers always approach the building from the user perspective. That is at the core of our training: how will the person using the building interact with the building? So when I read an article on FastCo today about the future of architecture, I smiled a little smile and there might have been a face palm involved. According to the architects interviewed, one of the emerging attitudes in architecture looks less at the physical building and places greater emphasis on the opportunity represented when people gather…..hmmm. Focusing on the user isn’t really all that new now, is it? Are architects finally realizing that what goes on inside the building is the reason for the building? And are they now taking credit for what interior designers have always known and often had to fight for? In all honesty this is great for the profession because it is right for the user. And if architects want to take credit then so be it. At least we finally agree.

If you’ve seen the latest renderings and write-ups for a new Google campus, you are seeing this idea in action. The buildings (and it’s hard to call them that) are designed around needs of the employees and the community and are created to be changeable as those needs change. It’s a brilliant concept and exciting to see architects looking at their buildings from the inside out.

I know….sounding a little snarky.  And yes, I do expect a lot of flak for this so let me have it!

Keep in touch,

so you want to build a restaurant…..

photo courtesy ed schipul, creative commons license in place

photo courtesy ed schipul, creative commons license in place

My father in law, a retired engineer, is very involved with his community’s activities and so was asking me questions about the process of building a new clubhouse and restaurant on their golf course. He’s truly one of the brightest people I know, and answering his questions about the process of building, especially where food service is involved, tells me that if he knows this little a lot of people could benefit from a bit more understanding. So I put together a list, then I added to it and expanded a bit, and probably told him way more than he and his cohorts in this project wanted to know.

If you’re embarking on a building project, especially if it involves food service, you may be interested. Here’s what I told Bob….

Dear Bob… For a $5.5 mil/12,000sf project I’m sure you want this done right. That’s not a very fat budget (although it sure sounds like a lot of money!), so you’ll need a team that can work efficiently together. They should all be involved at the very beginning in order to fold the various disciplines’ work product in without having to make major changes due to surprises. Surprises always add to the budget (ie: the lighting designer didn’t realize a duct would be required RIGHT THERE, the mechanical engineer didn’t know you were using THAT very hot piece of equipment, you want to remote the motors WHERE?). The architect can coordinate most of the disciplines. You should have an owner’s representative as well who works with the architect to manage the project (not a committee if it can be avoided….that will add time to every decision which ends up messing up your schedule and usually even affects budget). Also, who will run the facility? Ideally a representative for the food service operator will be involved from the beginning of the project as well. They will be able to shed light on operational needs that the owner may not have in mind.

Here’s a list of the people you will need involved in your project

  • Owner’s representative
  • Operator/operator’s representative
  • Architect who has done food service projects
  • Interior Designer who has done food service projects (may be employed by the architect or work as a consultant to the architect)
  • Lighting Designer (can  be coordinated by Interior Designer)
  • Kitchen Designer
  • Acoustical Engineer if necessary (work with architect and interior designer to determine if this is needed based on your program)
  • AV Designer (this is becoming more and more a specialty)
  • Engineers: electrical, mechanical, plumbing (great if they are LEED accredited as this is where you’ll need super efficiency) and they must be versed in food service projects
  • Structural engineer will be needed and should also be involved early. You don’t want to find out down the road that a structural column is required in a terribly inconvenient location
  • Since this is a ground up project, you may need additional engineering. Your architect can help you to determine additional needs

Your architect/design team can bring consultants. We’ve all worked with many consultants and will have opinions on who is easy to work with, efficient, knows their stuff, can creatively solve complex problems. Food service projects are always complex since there are so many moving parts and so many regulatory agencies to deal with: building department, planning department, health department, sanitation, etc.


Your architect/design team can also help you to create a budget. There are essentially 5 pieces to a food service project budget: FFE (furnishings, decorative light fixtures, etc), KE (kitchen and bar equipment), fees (architect/designer, consultants, permitting, etc), owner (POS system, art, signage, accessories, landscaping, table top, etc), GC. In order to stay on budget everything needs to be taken into account from the beginning.

Hiring a GC

Something that always comes up is how to select a general contractor. There are basically 2 methods: bid or relationship. Many people choose to bid  (in my opinion mistakenly) which means that a very complete set of drawings needs to be put together at the beginning of the process, several contractors bid the project, and one is selected. This leads to contractors trying to outbid one another by guessing and can lead to much higher costs (change orders) and difficult relationships. My recommendation is always to interview several contractors (your architect/design team can make recommendations based on the type of project and will even aid you in interviewing) then choose the contractor that you feel most aligns with your needs and communicates with you well. Then you can use your contractor to price the project at various intervals allowing the clubhouse to be designed and built within budget and hopefully avoiding change orders.

I hope this helps. I know it’s a bit more than you asked for, but figured you’d rather have too much info than too little. Let me know if you have questions or want any more info.

Same to you out there in the blogosphere…if you have questions, send them. Your project may be smaller than Bob’s (most are), and may not require the same list of consultants. But you will require someone to corral the project, not just make it pretty. That can and should be your design/architect team.

And if you have anything you’d like to add I’d like to hear that too. This business has a never ending learning curve.

Keep in touch,

small is the new big

small is big

Small living has been getting bigger and bigger the last few years. Between slim wallets and the growing interest…and let’s be honest, dire need…to build more sustainably, the mcmansions of the last century seem to be falling out of favor. Can we all say hallelujah? (Any excuse for a little Leonard). When designers and architects are faced with constraints, it allows opportunity for some pretty impressive creativity. Four of this year’s AIA award winners for small projects are featured in FineHomebuilding and include the Fall House, designed by Fougeron Architects, along my very favorite stretch of California coastline. The three bedroom vacation home sits on the land quietly, following the natural curves of the site, and is wrapped in glass to honor the beauty outside. And to add my own bit of love to the story, it is near enough to Esalen to run on over for a quick tub in their natural spring fed hot tubs (that is if you tire of that awesome built-in glass tub).

And for the rest of us, small is growing as well. There are ‘tiny house’ blogs and websites, and it seems that every couple of months there’s another news story about a family downsizing and simplifying. Karen Baumann and her two large dogs live in 460 square feet in Marin County, one of the country’s most expensive areas. She says that living small allows her to spend less time cleaning and organizing and affords her more time and money for the things she loves like entertaining and traveling. Micro-apartments are also becoming quite the rage, especially in the most expensive cities around the globe. Curbed has a column dedicated to micro-dwellings which seem to get smaller and smaller. The smallest they’ve listed so far in San Francisco is a mere 200 square feet (that rents for a whopping $1275 per month). And in Paris these micro-apartments get even smaller. Architect Julie Nabucet’s 129 square foot apartment includes an elevated kitchen above a bed/couch in a drawer, linens that tuck away and a tiny bathroom.

This is a bit too small for anyone with, say, clothes, but somewhere between the 129 square foot apartment and the 2600 square foot average home size, is the right house for most of us who are trying to simplify and live within the means of our limited ecosystem.

I’m off to the Contemporary Jewish Museum for their quarterly night out….have a great night and keep in touch,

my disruptive life

l design disrupted

You know that I’m an interior designer specializing in restaurant design. You’ve read my bio. But you read my posts daily and wonder how does all of this writing fit with your understanding of what I actually do for a living? The answer is I’m practicing my own version of disruption.

Disruptive thinking is the term of 2014. And it follows close on the heels of design thinking. According to Fast Company, design thinking is a ‘proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results’. Disruptive thinking takes this idea a step further and in a slightly different direction. To think disruptively you must look where you haven’t looked before to find first the problem that no one has yet discovered, then solve it creatively. Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business, published in 2010, was written by Luke Williams, fellow at frog design’s New York office and an Executive Director at the NYU Stern School of Business. (frog design, if you will recall, was instrumental in helping Apple Computer create its design edge.) Luke Williams contends that finding the problem, disrupting the status quo, is the first creative step in the process. Much like scrum has transformed the way problems are viewed and solved, disruptive thinking transforms the way processes are viewed then re-defined and executed. According to Williams, there are 5 steps to disruptive thinking:

  1. Craft a disruptive hypothesis: be wrong at the start to be right at the end
  2. Discover a disruptive opportunity: explore the least obvious
  3. Generate a disruptive idea: unexpected ideas have fewer competitors
  4. Shape a disruptive solution: novelty for novelty’s sake is a resource killer
  5. Make a disruptive pitch: under prepare the obvious, over prepare the unusual

In my case, I’m at number two: discovering my opportunity. I’ve designed space for over twenty years and loved it, except the part where design separated me from the research and writing that feeds me. So on weekends and during my scarce evening hours (I am raising two kids remember), I’ve taken classes and written fiction and essays. Fun, yes, and a nice distraction, but not fulfilling. So I’ve battled with how to be both a designer and a writer for years and finally had that ah ha moment a few months ago….just do both and see where it leads! That is my Disruptive Hypothesis. I’m doing this by reading and writing every day about things that are connected with design, architecture and food. The only three things that I know for sure are that I am a designer, I am a writer and one feeds the other. By researching and writing from the perspective of a designer I am finding ways to meld the two, making me better at both.

As I continue to research and write, I learn daily about all of the possibilities out there and I get closer to disrupting the current system and finding a place we haven’t been before, a place where design and writing can work together that allows me to contribute meaningfully.

That is my very long winded answer to the many who have asked me….what do you do?

Have a great week,


if I wanted to work in London

all photos courtesy

This is where I’d start my search. dRMM. Their buzzwords are innovation, collaboration, environment, uniqueness. And, among many other remarkable and award winning projects, their talented team created a house that slides. Tell me you don’t want to work with this amazing group as well. I wonder, would they let me bring my dog to work?

The house is a close collaboration between client/builder and dRMM. Due to it’s rural location and stringent planning requirements, the team created a building that fits the ‘farm’ vernacular in both color and shape,but has a surprising modern twist: the main building is a glass house with a wooden exo-skeleton that slides over it to provide privacy and weather protection. The house is all electric, and the owner has installed a wind turbine to provide needed electricity.

Have an inspired week….keep in touch,

can scrum help interior design?

image courtesy

I’ve been hearing and reading the word ‘scrum’ a lot lately, and not in reference to rugby. The word itself still makes me giggle and blush a little (my twisted mind takes it to a dark place). Scrum, it turns out, is more than just a group of very dirty people locking arms and huddling together across a grass field to get a ball from here to there. When applied to business, it is a fascinating management concept well worth study. Scrum, a type of  ‘agile design’, may be the fix that the worlds of interior design and architecture have needed for a long time.


Scrum is a term and an idea that was developed in the mid-eighties to move the software industry in a more productive direction. We have Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland to thank for setting the industry off on this path. The basic idea was born as a result of the repeated failures of the waterfall method of management. Edicts and pronouncements from top management that trickle down through the ranks to the worker bees (programmers in their world), are not efficient and lead to projects that are delivered both late and over budget. Using the scrum method, small, autonomous, multi-disciplined teams are formed. These teams work very closely, meeting frequently and with extensive input from all players, in short bursts on smaller pieces of a larger project. As input changes, dynamics change and each piece changes until eventually a working whole is formed. The teams are facilitated by managers whose purpose is to remove obstacles, not dictate what to do nor how to do it. A very different paradigm from the waterfall method of management with nary a Gantt chart to be found (sorry MS Project).

design process

Historically the design process has followed a singular linear path from inception through construction.

  1. Programming: gathering all necessary information from the client
  2. Concept development: determining how the design will meet both functional and aesthetic requirments
  3. Schematic design: creating a preliminary visual presentation for customer approval
  4. Design development: developing the details of the design to verify appropriateness in terms of function, cost and availability
  5. Construction documentation: documenting the design for permitting and construction
  6. Construction administration: aiding the construction team and verifying construction follows design intention

In my experience, many interior design and architecture projects go over budget and often struggle to meet a timely schedule. And the methodology for attempting to keep these two bad boys from continuing to occur is typically loud vocalizing from above. Not a very effective management style. And this doesn’t serve the bottom line or the customer. Based on the linear list above, there are a number of places where problems occur. To begin with, stages one through three are typically handled by a design team, then stages four through six are moved to a technical team with minimal overlap. In addition to switching teams mid-stream, there are a number of weak points at various stages. Weak points create problems that will cost unanticipated time and money.

  • Programming: clients change their minds, and often information either changes or is missed early in the process and must be amended or gathered later leading to changes in the final design.
  • Concept development: depending on the effectiveness of the designers involved, function can be subjugated to aesthetics or vice versa leading to a less than ideal solution.
  • Schematic design: because the client is only minimally involved in the process, the schematic design becomes a critical point at which communication becomes the most important factor. If the design is not well communicated, even a good design will send the designers back to the drawing board.
  • Design development: since this is where the project typically moves from the design group to the technical group, many issues that might have been averted early on by someone who understands detailing (no, you can’t really float a ceiling), now become problems to solve.
  • Construction administration: the project is now in the field being built by people who had nothing to do with how it got here. Even though a good design team will have worked with their contractors and fabricators during design, things always come up. The tile specified doesn’t have a bullnose available, the hvac requirements changed and now the lights don’t fit, someone forgot to measure the elevator and the countertop has to be craned into an upstairs window, etc.

a better path

Certainly not all firms manage projects the same way or fail in the same places. Some are better and some are not. But I wonder if this idea of Scrum might be worth a look. Bruce Feiler applied ‘agile programming‘ to his family with profound results. He describes the basics succinctly and his video is worth watching. If something developed for software works for children, then I posit that it would work quite well in the world of design and architecture. No offense intended.

Tell me what you think. This is an exciting area and well worth some investigation,

napkin sketches

It’s award season, I know. So all the Fabulous’ are entering their super fabulous projects in super fabulous contests and winning great acclaim and more clients. For the rest of us (and the Fabulous’ as well), there is my absolute favorite reachable contest of the year: the napkin sketch contest put on by Architectural Record. Go get a pack of 5×5 white napkins, set one in front of you with a pen and a second adjacent with your cocktail of choice, and sketch baby! All napkins must be submitted by June 30, so now’s the time. Here are a few sketches for inspiration from the 2013 contest. And even you don’t win, you could always make your sketch into a nice little notebook and start practicing for next year.

Happy drawing….


good houses

I don’t read the online magazines that feature opulent houses with overdone window treatments and too many pillows on the sofa. I read the online magazines that talk about the future of design and architecture. That includes building small, building sustainably, and building smart. Check out these three homes.

Origami House

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TSC Architects designed this home in what looks like a Japanese suburb. The website is in Japanese, which unfortunately I don’t speak, so I have no background on the house. But what strikes me is the opportunity that a design like this provides for using passive solar techniques to minimize power needs. Siting the home so that the main exposure is to the south, (if you live in California…check your location for best practice ;)) and protecting the windows with extended eaves accomplishes several things:

  • it minimizes summer cooling needs because the hot summer sun is high in the sky and does not reach the protected windows,
  • it increases winter heating when the sun is low in the sky and shines through the wide expanses of glass, therefore decreasing the need for artificial heating,
  • it allows light to penetrate into the house through the many protected windows reducing the need for artificial light.

All images courtesy TSC Architects.

A Recipe to Live

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Another project in Japan, Materia found this one which is built at Waseda University. The home is self heating as a  result of walls that continually compost, keeping the home at an even temperature year round. And the house is continually making black gold for the garden!

All images courtesy

Tower House

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Built on a small, steep, tree covered lot in Portland, Benjamin Waechter designed this home to go up rather than out to minimize environmental impact. The home is also wrapped in corrugated steel with rounded corners to minimize the additional need for trim at square corners. A beautiful light filled home on a difficult lot…proof that constraints can encourage greater creativity.

All images courtesy Architectural Record/Benjamin Waechter/Lara Swimmer

Happy May Day!