Interior vs. exterior.

Over the weekend, I’d gotten an IM from Jay (Maynard, not Reeder) linking me to a letter published in a Minneapolis paper following the announcement of this year’s Pritzker Prize award.

Although I’ve been to Minneapolis (at length, even. 9 weeks isn’t exactly an overnight stay), I’d never seen the original theater, designed by Ralph Rapson, who died just a week ago at the age of 93. The new one, if you haven’t connected the dots already was designed by this year’s PP recipient, Jean Nouvel.

I have no particular dog in this fight, as I find both designs, at least on the exterior, to be quite pleasant. They’re just very different.



And whichever one you like is whichever one you like. Believe it or not, that’s actually not the question I want to ask with this post.  What I personally found to be more interesting in the letter to the paper was this excerpt:

“the proscenium theatre is uninspired with rows so close together that there is hardly room for your feet and entire rows must stand to allow anyone to enter. Even the parking is a disappointment, forcing patrons to cross the street in winter when Nouvel had the opportunity to include a skyway. Apparently Nouvel had not visited Minneapolis in winter or noticed all the tall northern European stock here.”

I began to wonder if there was a connection between that and the strange disconnect in all the job ads that say they’re looking for designers, but then go on to say they want architects.  Last I checked, these words were not synonymous(also this particular thing pisses me off because it feels like a bait and switch.)  Over the weekend I had a talk with Jack (practicing architect, who teaches interior design at two different schools) about this and have come up with some questions that I want to throw out there to perhaps inspire dialogue.

1. Are interiors really within the scope of training and expertise of architects?  (From all accounts, the answer to this is no, but I’m more than happy to hear about other experiences.)

2. Why is this bait and switch thing going on when writing up job postings, especially if the answer to #1 is no?

3. Why aren’t the architectural and design communities coming together to make that clear?

4. Or (and this is my most cynical response, born of another thing that happened last week) are architects under the pervasive delusion that interior designers are decorators?

Don’t get me wrong. Some of my very favorite people on the whole planet are practicing architects.  I still have plans to go back under the academic rock and get my M*Arch myself, but I am not under the delusion that interior design and architecture have the same focus or do the same jobs equally.

I do know that any decent designer *I* know would have made sure the spacing between the rows in the theater were the appropriate distance apart, because we do that sort of research as part of a programmatic process.  I don’t fault (at all) any architect for not doing the same, because I just don’t think that’s their job.  I just want to know why they’re essentially being asked to do *my* job, and what can we do to change that.

Reader mailbag #1.

And for all I know, it’ll be the only time this title is ever used.

Jay (R, not M) asks:

“You have stated in the past that residential design is about the resident, not the designer. How do you approach learning the sensibilities and directions of your clients?”

At the risk of sounding like “Well, duh.”

You go and talk to them. (and in this case you actually have to GO and talk to them. This is one of those few things that even I can’t do online. And if *I* am saying that, you really do have to go over there.)

That’s really what it comes down to, but realistically you have three things to consider:

1. How do they function in the space they already have?

Basically, there’s something not working with what they have. If there weren’t, they wouldn’t be calling you. You have to find out what that is. Not just by what they’re telling you but by observation. It’s kind of like playing detective. A lot of the distress people feel about a space is not easily articulated by the client. They don’t know *what* the problem is all the time- they just know there’s a problem. Worse, they don’t know what they *want*, either most of the time. You have to be observant. Sit there and talk to them for a couple hours. Not just about their project but about anything. And mostly, you want to simply listen to them. Ask questions, and let them just ramble on with the answers. Take the occasional note, and sift through it all on the way home. I also take photos of the things people LIKE in their houses. I don’t have to like them. I just have to know what they are. There’s generally a common set of threads that links them all together even if it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Find out what it is, and you’re well on your way to knowing how they think aesthetically.

2. Are they realistic in terms of the service triangle?

I should probably give the service triangle its own post, because it deserves it, but the short version for right now is that you have three qualities: cheap, fast, and good. Pick two. You only *get* two at any one time. Anyone who tells you any different is lying to you. You can pick any of the two you want, but you don’t get the third one as an added bonus for blood or money. And speaking of money, part of your job as a designer is to be able to be honest right up front about what is, and isn’t possible.

Because I know she reads this, and would easily admit it, when I did SFW’s kitchen in Washington DC, the first day I went down there she and her husband asked me if I thought they could do the kitchen they wanted for 20k. My answer was simply “No.” No buts, no qualifiers, nothing after that “no.” There was just too much work that needed to be done to the space (as any look through the before/after photos can tell you.) You need to be able to be that direct and honest with people before they put pen to contract, even at the risk of them not doing the job. And for their part, they need to be *realistic* about their goals, budgets and how the service triangle works(also, they need to NOT back up their projects against a holiday, ffs.) If they aren’t realistic, you’re going to have a hard time working with them, because there will be a vicious cycle of wasted time, energy and money. They can call you back when they’ve gotten a handle on their own goals.

They also have to be honest with you and themselves about who they are and how they function. I beg people *not* to clean up before I arrive. I don’t want to see their house on its “best behavior”. I need to know what it looks like on an average Wednesday, because there are WAY more of those than “best behavior” days. People need to understand that changing a design doesn’t give you a personality transplant. Just because you make every surface white doesn’t mean you’re going to suddenly become a neat freak. You need to be realistic.

3. Can you get along with these people for 6+ months without wanting to kill yourself and/or them?

You laugh, but I mean this. In residential work in particular there’s a lot of psychological hand-holding that goes on because no one is really rational about their house. It’s a very emotionally charged place, no matter whose house it is. It’s one of the reasons residential work is not at the top of my all time favorite things to do list. You wind up being part designer, part psychologist. It can be draining. Some people are more suited to it than others. And there is no project, for any amount of money and any time duration that doesn’t have stressors that come with it. Vendors blow lead times. Your friendly neighborhood designer’s computer decides to melt a motherboard *whistles innocently*. Clients change their minds at the last minute, or decide once something is signed off on that no, they really want to change it. Maybe they have some kind of family emergency that puts their project on hold for a few weeks. The sink has a crack in it when it’s delivered. The cat jumps the barrier and leaves pawprints in the thinset. Your contractor almost cuts off a finger with a circular saw. (and in fact, ALL of these but one has actually happened. Mr. Kitty never walked on the thinset, but Mike did come very close to cutting off his left index finger with a circular saw.) Everyone reacts differently under stress. You need to determine whether the way YOU react and the way *they* react are compatible. (This is why I prefer not to do residential work for strangers btw, because if I already know you, I probably already know which way your lunacy tends to fall. I don’t have to get thrown into the pit of crazy to find out the hard way. Trust me, I am already an expert in my own crazy.)

If you can’t get on with them in that way, then for the sake of your own sanity, recommend them to another designer. You’ll still nab a 10% finder’s fee and you don’t have to want to shoot yourself rather than get out of bed in the morning.

Any more questions? Feel free to ask in comments.

I never did like rules much.

Though I do have a post full of actual, meaningful content that I mean to put together tonight, there’s no guarantee that I’ll get to it before it’s pretty late here. In the meantime, I will take the easy way out.

Apparently, because someone decided it is (and that someone wasn’t me.), March is “question month” over at LJ. Now usually this doesn’t matter to me at all, since I don’t do that meme in my personal journal. But it occurs to me that it might not be a bad idea to do it in another context.

So, in keeping with the letter (if not the spirit) of the ongoing meme- feel free to ask me questions. Questions about design, about being a designer, about what I think about (insert design thing here.). Whatever.

And I’ll answer whatever comes up (provided it’s not too personal) and then I’ll be talking about bubble diagrams and how furniture concepts are born later tonight.