SARASOTA LIES ON THE SOUTHWESTERN COAST OF FLORIDA and is renowned for its cultural and environmental amenities, beaches, resorts and the Sarasota School of Architecture. I recently caught up with three design build colleagues to talk about how they work to discover their clients’ dreams, the unique attributes of waterfront living, and the latest uses of technologies that enhance design.
Note: This is a reprint of an interview at Technology Designer.
DOUG: Let’s start by talking about your individual firms and how you go about your discovery process with clients.
DANIEL S. SHAFFER, AIA: Our founder. Cliff, always tells prospective clients that we are our client’s architects and what he means by that is every house we design is custom tailored to our clients. We don’t have a set style we design to, we talk with the client and find out what they like, what they don’t like. Once we know the general styling they are looking for, we will walk them through some houses and get to see how they feel about certain designs and spaces. Since we specialize in waterfront properties, there is obviously a lot of indoor/outdoor interplay. During our interview process we start with the very basics to open the conversation and start programming – what style do you like, how many bedrooms/baths, do you want a pool/spa and what role they see technology playing.
We love when people come to us and want to do something new and creative. We ask our clients to do research and show us images of what they are aspiring to accomplish. For remodels, we of course meet them on the job site so we can really get a first-hand impression of what they are envisioning.
TRACEE MURPHY, NCIDQ AND FLORIA REGISTERED INTERIOR DESIGNER: Our process is similar in nature to Daniel’s. We start with a discovery phone call to figure out if the project work is within the scope of what we do. Having our clients being a good fit for us is as important as us being a good fit for them. Is there a budget to warrant our involvement and does the timeline work for us? We have the client log in on our website and they fill out an extensive lifestyle questionnaire. What are their color preferences, entertaining options they’d like to explore, etc. We ask them to do some homework and find inspirational images on-line of what they like and don’t like.
After we submit a SOW, we provide a four-page design-style guide. We incorporate words that we all agree will keep us focused on our goals. And this is really at a high level as far as the fit and finish; like medium-color wood floors, white and blue cabinets, patterned floors for traffic areas, etc. This is our roadmap, our general direction.
We meet at the TMI studio and extensively review the proposed design-style to see how these things all work together. Love this, don’t love that. The feedback we get is great and helps to keep us on track over the course of the project. So down the road if the client gets off-track we can pull them back and say, “remember, this is what we agreed on?” Then we dive into the full design programming starting with space planning.
MARK VAN DEN BROEK, CEO OF SMARTHOUSE INTEGRATION: Before I meet with a client, I send them our discussion syllabus. This document covers all of the design and technologies we cover. Things like how many kids they have and how old they are, what each family member wants from today’s technology. How important audio is, how important video is, how comfortable they are using phones and tablets. What we’ve found is that homeowners just want things to happen, they want the technology working for them and not the other way around. Less is more.
Then we meet and we talk about future-proofing the house from an infrastructure point of view. Pre-wire is critical, as we are talking about a house that won’t even be completed for a year or two. And along with pre-wiring we want to understand and explain lighting scenarios and what window treatments will need to be automated. So once we’ve had our discussion about properly getting the basics of pre-wire and other technology fundamentals, we tell them not to worry about us for a while. We will come back and keep you up to date on the latest technologies you are interested in, and as we get closer to the project being completed, we can hone in on specific TV sizes, and exact lighting fixtures, etc.
Finally, when we do talk about specific products, we invite them to our design center. We have a really cool, fun building – built in the 1920s with 15-foot open ceilings that has a warehouse feel to it with exposed plaster walls.
So if they are interested in 2-channel hi-fidelity they can come and hang out and listen to music. It’s really more of an experience center with lots of user interfaces so people can get their first hands-on experience with how they will move through the space. Keypads, touch screens, and remotes.
We let them take the controls and open shades and lower lights and turn on music.
DOUG: Talk about the design phase of any given project and how you work with other trades.
DANIEL: We are the lead on the project most of the time. Building energy efficient homes is very important to us and it’s standard practice in our office to design the building to a minimum of LEED’s Silver level of certification, though few of our clients actually pursue the certification. The projects we design are intended to be passed down through the generations, with 100+ year lifespans.
People moving to the area choose us as their architect first and we are like the quarterback for the team. Once we have the design underway, we interview a few contractors with the clients, and let the clients choose which they feel the most comfortable with. Some clients have a contractor selected and then bring us into the project. Either way, we enjoy the collaboration. While we anticipate the contractor builds to our plans, if they think there is a better way to do it, we will have that conversation.
Virtually all of our projects have an interior designer. We work with many and we want them involved very early in the process. Once we get a schematic laid out, that’s when we want them involved. They can then fully understand the layout and our vision of the design and then begin to coordinate furnishing selections. It is a very collaborative team effort, with full discussions room-by-room.
As far as technology, a lot of that depends on the client. Tech-savvy clients want a specific type of system, so we are bringing those consultants on about the same time as the interior designer. When we bring them onboard we have those discussions of what goals we are trying to accomplish. Especially with regards to interior and exterior lighting, automated window treatments, thermostat control, fireplace controls, hurricane shutters and insect screens.
TRACEE: Listening to Daniel, it’s apparent to me that architects and designers have similar strengths. But also separate responsibilities. So we like to be in all of the design meetings so we can share our ideas and listen to theirs to merge them together. And I’m a big proponent of regular touchpoints, with everyone getting together on a regular basis. Sometimes behind the scenes without the client so we can do problem solving and discover the best ways to achieve the client’s goals. Collaboration is key to a successful project.
As far as the technology designer, I think it’s crucial that they are in early. I’m not that tech savvy. I rely on Mark to educate me and educate our clients. You really need to go over all the ins-and-outs of the house and understand how impactful technology is today. I can talk on some of the key points, but then I always recommend we bring in the technology expert to hear what they have to say.
MARK: I believe technology should be invisible to the homeowner. It is there to serve the design. So I like getting in early to understand what the architect is trying to accomplish and how we can get our cabling to some locations and how we can control certain scenes they are creating. I was an outreach instructor for CEDIA for many years so I know that our role is part educator and part facilitator.
When I went to college I studied engineering for over two years, then switched fields and got an art degree and a marketing degree. So I have the ability to understand the mechanical aspects of a design, but I have a design eye that complements our ability to design systems from an interior designer’s visual perspective. I just enjoy the collaborative process and try to always remain focused on supporting the design.
DOUG: Okay, so what technologies are impacting your design goals?
DANIEL: There are many technologies to consider in today’s performance homes. Let me start off with acoustics, as we think acoustics play a big role in almost every room. We deploy different systems to control sound, including sound attenuation between studs, spray foam insulation, and Acoustic-Mat® underlayment. Lighting has a huge effect on all of our spaces. We utilize different types of fixtures depending on the room and the goals. In most of the rooms the majority of the fixtures are wall washers and sculpture beaming since most of our clients have very impressive art collections. Clean air and purified water strategies are also high on our list – whether it’s a filtration system or UV lighting in the HVAC system, clean air and water are critical to an overall wellness platform. Finally, many of our properties incorporate energy management systems including solar capture.
TRACEE: My own aesthetic is classic, traditional, with a hint of modern. Maybe that is from my Pittsburgh roots. I love to evoke that. I love when clients are well-traveled and they have pieces from around the world where we can integrate them into the space. So lighting is very high on my list of technologies that can really impact design.
Today’s LED lighting can fine-tune texture and colors. And once it’s shown, it’s easily understood. Mood lighting and setting scenes for entertaining is huge for us, as these waterfront properties are designed as big entertainment spaces. And I’ll second Daniel when it comes to acoustics. Especially for specialty rooms like home theaters, or when you have a bedroom next to an office.
And whole-house control. Having the house learn your preferences and anticipate your needs is the holy grail as far as I’m concerned.
MARK: I think of ourselves as a curator of technologies, so I really focus on the use of technology and how it impacts a space. Since the pandemic hit, air purification has become extremely important. Being able to have quality readings available for our clients is becoming more critical. And today’s smart paint that can reduce indoor air pollution is becoming a talking point for our team members.
Ketra lighting is super-hot. As both Daniel and Tracee pointed out, lighting really is such a demonstrative add-on and enhancer to any design.
At the end of the day, we really have to involve ourselves with every technology in the modern smart home. From the HVAC to the pool guys, irrigation and outdoor landscaping, we are responsible for integrating everything into a cohesive plan. So we’re here to educate the other trades and unify everyone’s specific design goals.