That sound you’re not hearing is the sound of “busy”.

We are entering into the stage of the project in Miami where the real challenges are making themselves known. I am used to this. To me, this is not stressful. No one’s money is being wasted, nothing has been ordered. No irrevocable changes have been made. Right now, it’s just pictures on paper (both actual and virtual) But again, I’m used to this.

This stage, which is really the stage two of the design process for me(in my own personal numbering system), is when you start designing the space and seeing potential issues. Most of them, I catch before the clients know they exist. Sometimes they catch them. That’s why we are a team, and if you don’t look at it like that, you run the risk of a continually bruised ego when your client asks a good question, highlighting something you haven’t yet considered. But if you’re a team, then it’s great- everyone is helping everyone else. It’s all in how you look at it. It’s better for your gastrointestinal system to look at it in the most stress-free way. When no one is losing any money, there’s no reason to freak out. I am the very picture of zen on this at the moment.

Every project is a learning experience. You always come away with more information than you had going in. For me, the first bit of learning experience has to do with how buildings in south Florida are constructed, vs. those in other places, since I’ve never worked in FL before. For those of you who think there can’t possibly be that much of a difference, I will mention that there are no basements in New Orleans, because the water table is so high. You have to consider seismic activity when you’re working in California. NYC has more regulations than most countries.

And in Florida? They’re allowed to build on grade. We’ll see how much of a nightmare this turns out to be. Jury is still out. I need to see the original plans for the house. Either way, the challenges are not impossible. It’s just a matter of how much money it takes to fix them, and whether or not that’s realistic.

ETA: I’ve been told by Jay Maynard (yes, *that* one) that I need to define my terms. He’s probably right, and this is an example of how buildings vary from place to place.  In this case we’re talking about houses, just so we’re clear.

In places where you have real winters, it is important that the foundation of the house go below the frost line. That is to say the depth at which the ground freezes.   How far below varies from place to place, but the point is that where you have frost, you have a frost line, and your foundation needs to go below that so it doesn’t crack like a cracking thing with the freeze/thaw cycle in the earth surrounding your house.

In some places, there are other problems. They don’t have frost, but they have other issues. In California, those issues are usually either related to earthquakes or mudslides.   In places like New Orleans, the water table is so high (since so much of the city is below sea level) that there is no such thing as “underground”.  Even in cemeteries, people are interred in mausoleums rather than being buried below ground because they just won’t stay buried. They’ll come floating by, and no one wants that.

In many locations, none of these issues is really a problem and builders are permitted to build “on grade”, that is to say, right on the ground.  No basement, no crawl space, no frost line, no nothing.  The ground is compacted and then a concrete slab is poured right on top of that in order to form the foundation of the house.   In recent years, with increased hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico, some locations have taken to going down 12 inches in order to anchor the house to the Earth just a bit more, but that’s not necessarily mandated by law.

The reason why a house on grade is kind of a pain in the ass, is if you have to reroute the plumbing, because there’s no way to access it without digging it out of the concrete slab, digging yet another trench where you want it to go, and burying the whole thing again after you’re done.  When you have a basement, you don’t have to care about this stuff- your plumbing is accessible.

In other news, I am presenting my thesis (yet again) **TWICE** tomorrow at Pratt in Brooklyn. There’s two sessions- one at 11am and one at 2pm. According to Jack, it’s open to the public, and I’ll put the information on a “When” page as soon as I’m done with this post. There is also another designer presenting her thesis project as well. My understanding is it’s some kind of anti-war museum. That’s all I know, honestly. I’ve never met the girl and am not familiar with her work.

I still need to get things straightened out with the ICFF, and I still need to work on some scale models of the Boingy chair.

Back to work.

ETA: Since the news has broken and I am sure I’ll see the news 100 times today, Jean Nouvel has just been awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize.

This one:

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Not this one(especially since he’s dead anyway.):

Pritzker Prize

Realistic expectations. Get some.

The service triangle is just one grouping of three clients need to be realistic about. The other one is how their budget breaks down.  That falls into three parts also:

Fees(design/architectural/permits)

Materials

Construction/labor.

With a limited amount of money (as opposed to unlimited- not necessarily low-budget), you have to understand the relationship between these things and know where you’re going to have to make adjustments.  People have asked me how to get the most for their money on their residential (though the principles are sound no matter what kind it is) project.  Here’s my advice on that, taken backwards:

Construction/Labor

You can competitively bid for contractors and of course that’s what commercial projects do.  You can do it on residential projects also, but I find that people are much more interested in finding someone they can trust with their house than they are about getting the lowest possible bid.

How to minimize that cost:

Aside from going with the lowest bidder(which is not necessarily the best value), the biggest advice I have is to make sure that all your ducks are lined up on your project before the contractors ever get near your site.  Finalize everything you possibly can.  Have all your model numbers, construction documents, and materials either already there or on a timeline that will not waste any time for your contractors.

For a contracting crew time is literally money.  Don’t waste their time(or their gasoline), and they won’t waste your money. Corrections, changes and afterthoughts will cost you.  The smoother you can make things go for your contractors, the happier they are.  If you are the kind of person who tends to wibble, make sure all your wibbling is done before they come near your project.  You only have so much money. You don’t have room to dick around.

Materials:

Not only do some materials cost less than others(obvious) but be aware that some materials come with hidden costs that others don’t.  For example- Some refrigerators cost more than others. But once it arrives, a refrigerator is a refrigerator.   The worst thing that happens is you have to hook up an ice maker.  However,  getting a lot of elaborate ceiling lights means someone has to install them all. There’s *nothing* wrong with wanting a dynamic lighting plan.  But understand that overall, that’s going to cost you more than a pricy fridge.  Understand that a curved surface on a countertop is going to cost more than a plain rectangle.   You have to balance dramatic design with realistic expectations. Also, not *every* element has to be the most dramatic thing ever. If you try to do that, the space becomes too busy, as elements compete with one another for visual room.  Understand what is most important to you, and be willing to let the other stuff go.

Design/Architectural fees/permits.

Permits are permits. They cost what they cost.

Fees are something else.  This can be really confusing to people because every design professional has their own way of figuring this out.  There is no One True Way to figure this one out and you have to find a design professional who uses a system that works well for you.  Some residential projects are priced by the job. Some are priced as a percentage of total budget. Some people charge an hourly rate.  Still others use a system like 30% over net.  And to make it more confusing, some do a combination of all of these things.  I used to do residential stuff with a combination of a flat rate + hourly.  I don’t do that anymore, and instead do a percentage of total budget.  30% over net is *VERY*  common, but I don’t use it because I think it sets up an adversarial relationship with the client.

How to minimize the cost:

Ask how the design pro figures out the cost. A flat fee or a straight percentage is going to be more predictable on the front end than an hourly or a 30% over net arrangement.  It’s a gamble. You have to know how to play your odds.  The former two may sound like the cost more initially, but if the project is complex and subject to a lot of changes, it might be cheaper in the long run.  If what you really need is just a couple hours of consultation, an hourly rate might be your best bet.   Honestly, I’d give an example where I thought 30% over net was better but I just don’t have any. I know it’s a standard residential practice. I just think it’s dumb.

Unlike the service triangle, this is not a simple “pick two” situation.  This is a little more complex.  But if you play your cards right and balance the three elements, it will cost you less in the long run.

There’s always a food analogy to be made.

I took the weekend off from writing, largely figuring with the holidays and all, no one was really online anyway except me. But I didn’t take the weekend off from working. In fact I got a lot done on the Miami house project, which is starting to congeal.

Yes, I said congeal. I find that design is a lot like making either chocolate pudding or hollandaise sauce. Take your pick. The point is that there’s a while at the beginning where you’re stirring and nothing seems like it’s really happening though you’re certainly stirring a whole lot. And then, all of a sudden the whole thing comes together and becomes food in one shot. Boom. Pudding(or sauce. Your call.) .

Aside from the fact that I now want chocolate pudding (or maybe hollandaise sauce.), that’s the best analogy of how work went this weekend. Miami has started to congeal. How’s that for a visual?

This is looking like a super busy week as well since I have a lot of projects on my plate, all of which are demanding attention.

But aside from doing a lot of work on my own stuff over the weekend, I did get a boost of inspiration from this, which I saw over at momeld(they got it from Nat. Geo.) I have been fighting the urge to pull out my flexible shaft tool (I actually own three of these, and they’re far less obscene than their name would imply) and my box of micro drill bits to try to do this myself(I’m also thrilled I actually have everything I need to do this already in my house.) I do think that at some point I’m going to have to try this, though. It’s just so COOL. This work was done by Franc Grom, an artist from Slovenia.

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And now, back to stirring my congealing projects.

There’s TV, and then there’s reality.

There is no such thing as reality TV, despite what network executives would have you believe. We already have mediums for reality- they’re called documentary film making and journalism (assuming that the individuals involved are actually trying to closely portray events as they happen, not as they create them.)

Design television is neither of these things. It’s entertainment (if you can call it that) that is there to push products for advertisers. It’s not much different than when you were a kid and a cartoon came out based on a toy. (not a toy based on a cartoon.) But once again I will say clearly that a lot of what happens in these shows is they claim they’re all about “giving people ideas.” Maybe, but apparently you have to specify *good* ideas, cause they’re sure not doing it. But beyond that, it gives people (potential clients, even) unrealistic expectations of what they’re going to get.

Let’s back this train up, and give some simple bullet points that will hopefully clear some of this up. I’m sure I could come up with more than five of these, but goodness knows I have a ton of work to do today as it is. All of these are really in the realm of residential design, because that’s what design television tends to be about, and that’s what their audience is concerned with. Please add this to the list of reasons I limit my residential design projects, if you can find room on the paper.

1. Designers are just like decorators.

No. Really, I wish that I could just leave it at “no.” but apparently I can’t because of how many times I’ve seen people confuse the two. The differences between designers and decorators could overflow the empty space at the Grand Canyon. Just because you can decorate your room doesn’t make you a designer. The list of things wrong with this misconception are so incredibly endless, I just assign them all random numbers, because there are just *that many* to list.

2. Design is a weekend project.

No. Constructing a shed from a kit is a weekend project. Replacing your doorknobs is a weekend project. Putting together some flat-packed furniture is a weekend project. And maybe, painting your room is a weekend project if you know what you’re doing and you plan it well. Designing a room and implementing that design is not a weekend project. (I blame DIY shows for this. I loved Hometime too, but even they admit that they liberally take advantage of the magic of video editing.)

When someone redoes a room in 48 hours it’s not design. It’s a game show. There’s a difference, people. Learn it.

3. Oh, I could do that for (insert so much less money and so much less time here).

This particular one is also the bane of anyone who makes anything by hand, too. My answer from when I was an artist full time was “Really? Do you think you can get me six of them by Friday? Because I’m low on stock.” When applied to design, it’s *usually* applied to decorating being confused for design. But when it isn’t, I like to start asking questions about building codes. People shut up pretty quickly after that. Like I said yesterday- this is a technical job.

4. But they did it for $2000 on TV!

Sure. They did it for 2k on tv. 2k in materials costs. The designer, in case you hadn’t noticed, isn’t being paid out of that fund(I know, shock- they need to be paid). Neither, I might add are the actual professionals that they have around in order to provide (much) needed expertise for things like carpentry and construction. And even *with* that, how much of it is a) simply decorating and b) travels into the realm of “design as handicraft project.”(and often so very, very badly.) If we use a simple formula for residential design based on a straight budgetary percentage (not 30% over net, which I know is standard in residential, but I don’t do it because I think it rooks the client) that 2k for materials is part of a $7000 design job. And when you look at the results, it’s often a LOUSY $7000 design job, too. That’s not to disparage the designers on TV, either. It’s just because it’s not reality, it’s a game show. It’s a tv show and not a real project.

5. Those design competition shows… (actually, it doesn’t really matter what comes after the fourth word.)

What design competition tv shows do show you, is who was willing to jump through the hoops of the producers to get on the show. That’s more or less it. All it tells *ME* is that they were willing to run the (almost sure) risk of being wildly manipulated on camera and in post-production. I was courted very heavily by one of these shows in 2006 and in the end, I made it very clear that I was *not* going to be herded into a role typecast for me- that I was a design professional, not an actor, and not a circus clown. I didn’t wind up on the show (almost certainly because I put my foot down really hard on that one), and let me tell you how grateful I am to have dodged that particular bullet, knowing what a trainwreck played out on screen when the series finally aired.

One thing that TV isn’t lying about though is that sleep deprivation becomes a way of life. That much is true, but that’s about it.

Tools of the trade.

This is one of those posts where it’s stuff that designers/architects/engineers already know all too well, but the general public doesn’t quite have a handle on it as well as (at least I) wish they would.

Though what we do is a creative job, at the heart of it, it is a technical job (see: differences between designers and decorators, part #5,781).

A lot of it comes down to margin of error. Though it is true that clients have been known to bitch mightily about a difference in color so slight as to require a spectrometer in order to detect it (I suggest smothering them with the offending throw pillow at that moment, thereby saving the rest of us from having to deal with these same people later), if the pillow is 1/4″ larger than you expected, it probably doesn’t matter.

For the rest of us, 1/4″ is an ocean.

To put this in terms the average person can easily understand, the margin for error when designing something like your kitchen is 1/16″.  Any more than that and you’re going to notice. Any more than that, and you have problems filling the gap. Any more than that, and you’re pretty much screwed.

No pressure, right?

But the other part of this being a technical job is having to keep up with all the technology that comes along with it. Yes, I still think the folks at AutoDesk are sadists, but I still am using AutoCAD 2008(thank goodness for the classic interface.)   There’s a whole bunch of people who still prefer to draw things by hand, because  that works for them.  They’re comfortable with hand drawing and they have something that resembles a natural ability to draw with something that approaches a reasonable degree of accurate perspective.

I am not one of those people. Faulty brain wiring has made that >< shy of impossible.

For the rest of us, thank goodness, there’s computers.  The downside is the endless array of complex software packages you’re expected to learn and master in order to keep up with the industry.  AutoCAD is industry standard, though not every office uses it. Some use other things like Microstation.  AutoCAD is like chess- there’s always some trick you never knew was there that you can learn, but the basics come with only a few commands.  It’s an incredibly complex program- but you really can learn how to slap it into submission pretty quickly and be able to put out perfectly usable documents.  It’s complicated enough that some people specialize in doing nothing more than creating CAD documents. I am not one of those people, but I am glad they exist.

But in the past ten years a whole boatload of very powerful graphics programs have become part of the designers tool kit.  Of course none of them work with the same set of commands,  look the same or are even very intuitive.  The struggle is always “how many of these tools can you learn to wield”, because you never know who is going to require you know how to use which one.  And if I said that learning all this stuff wasn’t tiring, I’d be lying.  Even a program that’s designed to be simple isn’t quite *that* simple when you’re first learning to use it.  I’ve known people to completely boggle at my abilities using photoshop, but how to do it didn’t just leap into my brain-cause learning that shit was a pain in the ass.

Today’s pain in the ass has been Sketchup, which I find so far to not be as simple as FormZ, but simpler than Photoshop.  I am sure that in two months time I will be very comfortable with it.  Today is not two months from now though, and I feel like my brain has been put through a blender after 12 hours of hacking away at it.

The good news, having nothing to do with the little model I have been trying to build all day, is that I finally have a workable design(you will note I said design, not sketchup model) for the island in that kitchen in Miami.   Which I will build in AutoCAD tomorrow just so I have something to send to the clients (in plan and elevation, of course) and then go back to learning to build it in Sketchup, trying frantically not to cave in to the desire to just build the damned thing in FormZ and be done with it.

Or 3ds Max.

Or any other of the five or six other programs I have kicking around here.

My brain is full.

It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a guest blogger.

I was just interrupted by an IM window in the middle of getting some key dimensions into AutoCAD. Lousy timing usually, but today, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It beats the hell out of mine, anyway.

I am up to my armpits in design work today, hopefully getting the bulk of the bones in for that residential project in Miami (build an island. All things follow…), so I didn’t know if I was going to get a post in today. Turns out, I’ve been saved by a writer(and believe me, I am not a writer.) on a mission.

My good friend Adam P. Knave is doing a blog tour right now. He’s got a new book out(because he’s a real writer, unlike me), and like every author with a new book, he can’t pass up a good promotional opportunity(which when I think about it is also unlike me.). So he sent out word he’d be willing to babble about any topic in exchange for a place to plug his book. “Just give me a topic, and I’ll write about it!”. So I told him hey- “I write(if you can call it that) about design. You write about *writing* about design. Or about how to write about space. Or something. Just make sure it goes along with the rest of the damned blog. Whatever. You figure it out.”

As usual he laughed at me and told me he’d get back to me. Apparently, getting back to me was five minutes ago. So this morning’s post is written by APK (which you can tell isn’t me because the middle initial isn’t the same.)

Awesome. I can go back to work now.

Damned grues.

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You are in a room.

Back in the days of text based adventures that was often all you had
to go on. Sure you could use a look command and see that the room had
a chair. You could even dig deeper and see that the chair was a
wooden rocking chair. But that was as deep as you could ever go.
That was your sense of place.

When I’m writing you might think I would draw on the traditions of
literature: the grand gothic descriptions of room sets, the Victorian
place settings and china patterns, the careful and unique work that
was done in the Tale of Genji to describe every last ounce of
space.

You might think I do that. And sometimes I do, sure. But mostly? I think:

You are in a room.

Every setting you have in a story contributes to the tone and feel
that you, as a writer, create. If you have a room with a plant, how
does it make the space different based on what type of plant? The
owner of a fichus is different than the owner of a spider plant. Even
if you never define that difference, the reader will.

What color are the walls? Wallpaper? What type of furniture and how
is the space arranged? Etc, endlessly.

Of course you also say things by not describing things. That’s a fine
line to walk, what to mention and what to leave alone. The reader
will fill in details based on the characters and their own choices and
feelings about these things. So you can have a bunch of fun letting
them choose their own furniture adventures as well.

But then you get the bigger questions.

If I need a house, what does it look like? The inside, who planned
it? Do you just steal from a place you know (sometimes, yes) or do
you try to think about what a space should look like for your needs?

That last one is tempting but risky. Most spaces are not designed
toward plot. They’re designed for their own purpose and the plot has
to organically move within it. So if you have a bar, make sure it is
a functioning bar first and a useable plot space second.

Which means, also, that as a writer you might want to know a bit about
design. Not a degree’s worth, certainly, but something more than
nothing. How do doors open, inside a building, or outside? Which way
to they swing? There are rules about this stuff. It helps to know
some of them so you don’t look foolish. Light switches are generally
placed within arms reach of the entrance to a space, though not
always. they also tend to follow a height range. So you can’t play
too drastically with them unless you mean to specifically and have a
reason.

And so on.

Spaces are designed, not slapped up. And as writers we need to
respect that and play by the rules of the world instead of just
nodding at people and telling them:

You are in a room.

cltscover-small.jpg
Love. Death. Zombies. Demons. Teddy bears.
Figments of your imagination.

Those are just a few of the things waiting for you inside Adam P.
Knave’s CRAZY LITTLE THINGS. Horror collides with just about every
other genre within reach to help bring his twisted worlds to life.
These twelve tales of strangeness include three new stories exclusive
to this volume: “Pretty Little Dead Girls,” “Dead Side Story” and
“Causing Effect.” Also included are both legendary Mister Binkles
tales, as well as the critically acclaimed novella, Crazy Little
Thing.

“Adam P. Knave’s collection of short fiction is a grandiose romp
through a universe of vast scope and huge imagination – which was
startling, because I thought the operative word was ‘short'” – Dustin
Grovemiller, Managing Editor, the footnote

“This book could be my best friend when I’m in the bathroom. And I’m
not just saying that because I’m out of toilet paper, or a friend to
wipe for me.” – Shannon Wheeler, Too Much Coffee Man

“The stories in Crazy Little Things find author Adam P. Knave at his
best, offering readers a taste of literary cyanide served with a grin,
much in keeping with the spirit of the late, great Robert Bloch.” –
Daniel R. Robichaud, HorrorReader.com

I hate to say this, but..

I don’t often take an instant dislike to a restaurant interior. Usually if I don’t like it, is because I’m just not impressed. I think “meh.” and I move on. It’s rare that something makes me uncomfortable just looking at it, like a big old dose of “Do not want.” I always feel vaguely guilty, because from a photo I am not experiencing the space in 3 dimensions. Also the food and the service could be just great, despite an interior that is lacking. I am also far too aware that *someone* worked very hard on it, even if I don’t like it.

Every so often though I see something I just plain don’t like. Today is one of those days.

I am trying to catch up on a huge to-do list today, after losing a lot of time yesterday due to a lost but now found cell phone (I am very glad I don’t lose phones very often. This wasn’t fun at all.) and in my reading this morning, I saw this entry from Gothamist about a new bar/ restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

And I got that “oh, dear.” feeling. Because I have no idea if it’s going to be a good bar, and serve good food, or have awesome service and even better music. I have no idea. What I *do* know is that from looking at these photos, I am really turned off by the design.

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First of all, it looks like the set for Jolly Farm Revue. It’s not kitschy enough to be whimsical, and it’s not realistic looking enough to look sturdy. Somehow it just looks like you’re eating/drinking in a corral on a movie set. In Brooklyn? Really? Though I like the reclaimed pine/ concrete combo on the bar, there’s something about that green that seems off. Perhaps it’s the photo. It looks too blue. Too close to a teal rather than either a weathered green or a good strong green like you’d see on a farm.

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The flooring choice concerns me. It’s a loud, reflective surface. I’d say it was easy to clean except that anyone with a tile floor can tell you grout gets really nasty after a while, particularly if it’s high contrast with the floor tile. And if they’re planning on music on that platform, that place is going to be so loud that your ears will bleed.

The food sounds fine, and I of course wish the owners success. But it’s rare that a decor choice will rub me the wrong way *quite* this much.

Someone will love it, I’m sure. I just know that someone isn’t me.