dear favorite client


You hired an interior designer for a reason. Your local building department said you needed one. The health department suggested that a designer could get your restaurant open more efficiently than you could. Maybe you wanted to streamline your office space. Or you’re one of those really wise people who knows your own limitations and architecture falls outside of your skill set.

You’re a left-brainer who thinks in spreadsheets and actuarial tables. What can you expect from a creative? What do they do exactly? And how?

there isn’t just one design process

Well dear left-brained client, we’re all different. We all do things differently. We approach projects differently and access solutions differently. We each have a creative process that is, at least in some way, unique to only us.


My process always begins with words. Lots of questions which always lead to more questions. Then I sit down and begin looking up definitions of the words that were answers to the questions. The dictionary is my first resource when I begin a project. And words guide my creative process until the project is complete.


Marcio Kogan, a Brazilian architect, sees his projects as movies. He walks through a scene in his head, creating his building as he does. Clearly he has a sense of humor…once the project is built he often creates a film starring the now real project.


David Darling and Joshua Aidlin camp out on the site of their future project. They feel living and sleeping at the site allows them to ‘extract a building’ from the location rather than adding a building.

playing with clay

Anna Heringer calls part of her process ‘claystorming’….conceiving her ideas by shaping hunks of clay. Like grown-up play doh.


Niroko Kusunoki of the Paris based architecture firm Moreau Kusunoki creates intricate pen and ink cartoon style drawings, complete with thought bubbles, to place buildings in their surroundings and refine how they work.

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

Some designers begin with sketches, some with 3D renderings, some with photos, some with movies or music or art. Many with a combination of inspiring sources. We use whatever creative avenue works for us, then almost magically –and often in the shower, or upon waking in the morning, or while walking the dog—we are able to peel back the layers of the problem and reveal the solution.

embrace the process…and your designer

So get to know your designer before you hire your designer. This is a personal relationship as much as it is a business relationship. You may not understand how your designer thinks, but you need to appreciate how he or she gets from where you are to where you want to be. And you must trust your designer to know and follow their own process.

The perfect client, from our perspective, is the one who not only respects our creative process but embraces it. With every project we begin it is our hope that you will be our new favorite client.

Keep in touch,

tap tap tap


The psychologists say that we learn more taking notes by hand than we do taking notes on a laptop. Writing by hand allows us to not only store information, but more importantly to internalize the information. I know that when I need to learn something I write it down. Typically I never need to look at that note again as the act of writing itself has imprinted the information somewhere accessible in my brain. So there is some sort of problem solving that occurs between the pen, the hand and the brain.

Same with any other type of journaling, whether with words or pictures or both. Taking pen to paper (or pencil if that’s your thing like it is my friend Jane’s) is a great way to clear cobwebs, to answer questions and to ask the questions, to doodle a new idea with no pressure, and sometimes to just daydream while some other part of your brain is solving a life changing problem. Sketchbooks and notebooks and journals take us places that computers can’t. And it’s not necessarily about being able to draw…it’s about being able to think without thinking.

Notebooks are a place to think without thinking. Click To Tweet

Here are a few places to check out other people’s notebooks and maybe inspire you to get back to your own.

Austin Kleon: This isn’t his actual journal, it’s a journal he created to be his favorite journal. It’s pretty cool…I bought one when I heard him speak a couple of months ago. Click here to see how people use this journal.

Co.Design: Here’s a great story with pictures of the sketchbooks of 16 current designers.

Lynda Barry: Ms Barry is a cartoonist, so her Syllabus is full of drawings. And a whole lot of words.

Brain Pickings: Maria Popova put together a compilation of sketchbooks of all kinds of creators from architects to street artists.

Now I’m off to my own journal….have a great weekend and keep in touch,

scheduling creativity

Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world’s greatest minds organized their days. Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

Is creativity schedulable? Is that a word? I’d say probably no to both. But the creatives of yore did keep schedules and Mason Currey wrote a whole book describing their schedules. Then various others riffed off the book to create infographics (here and here). Above is my favorite by Podio…if you click through to the original then hover over the various colored indicators, Currey exposes some of the peculiar activities that our creative greats enjoyed. Anyone for an ice bath on the roof (Victor Hugo)? How about a walk (pretty much everyone)? Or a few bennies to boost creativity (Wystan Hugh Auden)?

Although each genius clearly had his or her own unique schedule, what they have in common is the existence of a schedule. I would posit that this is the key to unleashing creativity…develop a schedule then stick to it. I sat down and created a schedule for myself. It’s going up above my desk right now.

my schedule

So go ahead….make a schedule. See if it helps you to unleash your inner Picasso or Kafka or Freud. But stay away from the bennies.

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,


memorial day: remembrance, gratitude and art

Memorial Day: the beginning of summer, the first day to wear white, the best day to buy a washing machine (sales, people!), bbq season has begun. I’m not at all sure how we got here, but here we are. A good friend is a therapist who works with returning soldiers and I thank goodness that not only is she a part of the soldiers’ lives, but also of mine. It reminds me that Memorial Day is not a national bbq holiday. And that ‘happy memorial day’ is not a thing.

When BR McDonald returned home after serving four tours in Afghanistan, his return to the arts was not the same as a non-vet. Veterans must re-create themselves in order to serve in a world so different from the world they leave at home. Their re-entry to this world is fraught with the pain and suffering they experienced and witnessed while serving, the stigma of being a vet, and the process of re-creating themselves yet again to participate in the world they left behind. Some of these vets were artists before their service and need help re-connecting with the art community. In 2009 BR McDonald created the Veteran Artist Program to aid in this reconnection. Like any other artist, veterans create their art to express themselves. What better way can we come to understand the world our vets experience than through their art? VAP focuses on art in 5 areas: visual arts, performing arts, writing/literature, film/video, and new/interactive media. 

So thank you veterans and welcome home. I’m looking forward to what you have to share. And I beg of the rest of the art community, let’s open our arms wide.

Keep in touch,

If you’d like to also offer a small gesture to those still serving, consider sending a cup of joe…..


thursday fun

In an effort to embrace Thursday as the new Friday, enjoy these two bits of fun. Yuma Kano is a young Tokyo designer who looks at the ordinary and makes it not so. He’s taken products as mundane as the picnic blanket, the common screw and screwdriver, the used incandescent bulb and recreated them in his own vision. Inspires me to start looking around at what could be instead of what is…..

Photos courtesy

So it’s a lovely Sunday afternoon and you have the option of going to the museum to see some really beautiful art or watching 360 people in duck suits and superman costumes slide down a huge soap covered hill on their bellies. English installation artist Luke Bellam thought that the soapy hill might prove more engaging for the Bristol community. Apparently he was right. Nearly 100,000 people signed up for the available sliding tickets. 65,000 people came to watch the sliders slide. When was the last time you saw that many people at a museum?

Luke will post instructions online for anyone to create their own urban slide…register interest on his website. Are you listening San Francisco? Sign me up to be part of the organizing committee!

Photos courtesy

See you tomorrow!

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!

image packer: awesome photo tool

Images courtesy,,,,,,,,, listdose,com,,

Images courtesy,,,,,,,,, listdose,com,,

The architecture and design worlds rely heavily on images to both inspire design and communicate design. When I began my design career we collected thousands of magazines that we would page through in search of images. At my last firm we spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours researching and testing software to allow us to collect and tag images for our in house image library. Since I began my own petite firm three years ago, Pinterest has been my image collection system of choice. It is an amazing resource for collecting and using images digitally, but is still a bit of work to create presentation materials from those images.

Reddit user thoriumoakenshield created a tool  called Image Packer that makes downloading multiple full size images a single click process (along with all source credits….copyright laws do apply). I created the compiled image above in about 3 minutes while drinking my not nearly as pretty cup of coffee. Awesome. Check it.

Enjoy your morning coffee and have a really productive week!

8-3-16 edit: Image Packer seems to be gone.

biomimicry…the beginning of the story




noun: the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.

Our planet and its organisms have been growing, creating and evolving efficient life systems for over 3.8 billion years. The science of biomimicry studies and models man-made processes after these biological systems. The term biomimicry seems to have been coined sometime in the 1970s (perhaps around the time of the first oil shortages when I remember sitting in long lines of cars with my dad on our designated day waiting for our turn to get gasoline) and has rapidly grown in usage since 1997 when Janine Benyus published her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In the last decade the study and use of biomimicry principles has grown exponentially and architects and designers are learning to look first to nature for solutions.

In the desert of Lima, Peru an engineering company, Utec, developed a billboard that pulls water from the atmosphere and purifies it for consumption by the locals. Kind of sounds like a beetle in the Sahara (you have to watch the video above to get the connection). Click on the photo for the story.


photo courtesy

Nature knows….we just need to pay attention. I’ll keep you posted on projects that I find inspired by nature. In the meantime, check out asknature. It’s an awesome creative resource and a lot of fun too.


8 beautiful questions…



A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.

~Warren Berger from his book A More Beautiful Question

Warren Berger also writes for Fast Company and created a list of 8 questions we can ask ourselves to help us to move our lives in the direction of our most authentic passions. Here are the questions…are you creating the life you are meant to live?

1.  What is your tennis ball? What pulls you and draws you (like a tennis ball chased by a dog)? Where do you gravitate most naturally?

2.  What are you doing when you feel most beautiful? Where and when do you feel most alive?

3.  What is something you believe that nearly everyone disagrees with? What is uniquely and originally your idea?

4.  What are your superpowers? Berger suggests determining your own unique strengths and suggests a brief film to help you figure it out. The Science of Character…8 minutes to your best future.

5.  What did you enjoy doing at age 10? Gretchen Rubin, who writes on happiness, says that the key may be in what you loved doing before people began telling you what you should do.

6.  What are you willing to try now? Get out of your head and act. Trial and error will show you your path.

7.  Looking back on your career 20 or 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished? Similar to a write-your-own-obit exercise, what do you want to be remembered for?

8.  What is your sentence? You should be able to synthesize yourself in one sentence….a whole paragraph represents a loss of focus. If your sentence contains a goal not yet achieved, then it’s time to figure out how to live up to your sentence.

I hope this gets your juices flowing. It does mine….this definitely gets its own notebook.

Have a great week!



painting in bars

images courtesy

images courtesy

paint nite2

If facebook is any indication, then everyone is painting in bars these days. Have you noticed? So many renditions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Hawaiian sunsets and flowers a la Georgia O’Keefe posted on my wall in the last few weeks. Even the AP has noticed. I’m starting to feel a bit left out and think maybe I need to get on this. Wonder if the new bar in my ‘hood would be agreeable?

Based on my extensive research, if you do this with Paint Nite, the largest organization I’ve found, it’s about $45 plus the cost of whatever reduces your inhibitions. Check their website and choose by date, location or the piece of art you want to (try to) recreate. They provide all supplies and an artist to teach. You can also contact Social Artworking to purchase supplies and organize your own event, which means you need to teach the painting techniques from written instructions.  Eek.

Sounds like fun….anyone want to try it with me?

Keep in touch,

motivation: more than money

apparently cute is motivating...go figure!

apparently cute is motivating…go figure!

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist (now that is a new one for me), studied what motivates people at work.  What he found is that in our ‘knowledge economy’, vs the economy born of the industrial revolution, workers are more productive and willing to work harder if they are able to see a project all the way through, rather than just screwing the same nut onto the same bolt over and over again on an assembly line. No longer is a paycheck enough to satisfy most workers.  Meaning, creativity and ownership are also part of the mix that motivates ‘knowledge’ workers. This takes me back to when I graduated from college.  I spent the first 10 years of my career in small architectural offices for the explicit reason that I would have the opportunity to work all phases of my projects just because teams, and often projects, were smaller. And each of the team member’s contributions were larger. Whereas I had a friend who went straight to one of the very large architectural firms and spent a year developing bathroom fixture schedules for a very large building project.  She only lasted that first year before moving to a smaller firm.

If you are hiring employees, or are seeking a job, here are some things to keep in mind. A workplace where you can be happy and productive requires a cultural shift away from the motivation=money paradigm.  There is more than just money required to create a positive work environment and therefore happy employees.

  1. Seeing the fruits of our labor can make us more productive.
  2. The less appreciated we feel, the more money we want.
  3. The more difficult a project is to create, the prouder we feel of it.
  4. Knowing that our work helps others contributes to our unconscious motivation.
  5. The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules.
  6. Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance.
  7. Images that trigger positive emotions may help us focus.

So, apparently the ‘blame and shame’ management style that seems awfully prevalent out there isn’t very productive. Take a note, bosses! And watch the video. Your employees may stay around longer.

Happy nearly Friday,

friday nights at the deYoung


all photos courtesy

Friday nights get more interesting beginning March 28 with the opening of the tenth season of the deYoung Museum’s ‘Friday Nights’ series. Art, music, food and special events beginning about 5 (see the website for specific times each week) and ending about 8:45.

Here’s the line up for the first Friday (3/28)

  • Create a mixed-media landscape inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s summertime work from her visits to Lake George in upstate New York
  • Get to know Georgia O’Keefe a little better at a talk by Dr. Cody Hartley (the Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum)
  • Learn to swing dance and listen to the sounds of big band
  • Hear from four cut paper artists about their inspiration and process
  • Have a photo taken with the good people from Smilebooth

You’ll find me in the lobby making art. Come over and introduce yourself (but no judging my work…)!  Or let me know ahead of time and we can go together.

Keep in touch,


18 habits of messy minded people

creativity takes courage

‘Imaginative people have messier minds,’ Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at NYU told Huff Post.  I believe this might be my favorite quote of all time.  And if you know me well, you can expect to be bored with variations on this theme for the next several days.  But it is an apt description.  Creative people can be very interesting and fun to be around, but also moody and judgmental.  And according to Kaufman they also share some common habits.  I’m definitely messy minded.

18 habits of creative people

  1. They daydream:  daydreaming and creativity involve the same mind processes.
  2. They observe everything.
  3. They work the hours that work for them:  work when creativity peaks.
  4. They take time for solitude:  the inner creative voice speaks when the world is quiet.
  5. They turn life’s obstacles around:  sad stories make good songs, tragic lives make good books
  6. They seek out new experiences.
  7. They fail up:  fail well and fail often.  Resilience is key to creativity.
  8. They ask big questions:  live the examined life, maintain curiosity.
  9. They people watch.
  10. They take risks:  don’t be afraid to express an idea that may later fail.
  11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self expression:  don’t follow the dress code.
  12. They follow their true passions:  motivation follows internal desires.
  13. They get out of their own heads:  seek the view from another perspective.
  14. They lose track of time:  they achieve ‘flow’.
  15. They surround themselves with beauty.
  16. They connect the dots:  they are problem solvers.
  17. They constantly shake things up:  diversify experiences.
  18. They make time for mindfulness:  meditate.

And do you know what’s really interesting?…..there are quite a few correlations to the habits of happy people.  But I already knew that creativity makes me happy.  Have a messy Tuesday!

Keep in touch,