The Glass Slipper… (by design)

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“If the shoe fits, wear it!”… one of the most challenging tasks we face in design can be equated to Cinderella’s Glass slipper… chair selection.

We are supposed to be designing universally.  Creating functional spaces that are adaptable and suitable for any user regardless of height, silhouette or disability.But the truth is users themselves (as created) are not universal.  The beauty of the human race is variety (in fact, I hear variety may even be deemed the spice of life – wink).

With that said, variety doesn’t conform to a single profile, shoe size or sit.  Chair selection and specificity whether custom or classic is deeply underestimated… and deeply personal.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All!

too hot
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OS… right!  Maybe if you are a handbag… even then it’s disputable.  End users are particular and rightly so.  They hand us (designers) their money, trust and reigns to their brand identity creation for the duration of a project from conception to completion.

They are entitled to play Goldilocks.  To push us to specify or to design a chair that is “just right”.  They want to stand out (just like we all do).  They want something different.  They want something specific and they want to be universal.

The patron’s comfort is of highest value to them.  They want to tell them their story while they sit.  Their story may be rated for 20 minutes, six courses of five-star dining or ten- hour study sessions, but it is theirs.  And the intent is to provide the patron, the visitor, the tourist, the student with the level of comfort (in a chair) necessary to achieve purpose.

Fit for Glass?

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Designing venues in Las Vegas, was all about the chair.  We received sample after sample at the design center for the resorts for every project, for every property and it was nearly laughable.  As I continue to design, now for higher education, my desk space remains congested with ‘samples’.

Not only are chairs personal, but they are also palpable.  Seating is something (in the design process) that is tangible.

Unlike what is hard to envision coming together for those nonvisionary (by design), chairs can be touched, turned over, experienced and criticized prior to approval and we don’t have to wait for them to install (unlike interior environments) before it happens.


The Proverbial Butt…?

Prototypes and sampling for seating are absolutely necessary.  It’s really all about the “butt” test.  Seating can’t be evaluated by a CAD drawing or a spec sheet.  It must be sat in.  It must be understood as it was intended to be used.  Adjustments to custom designs must be made and retested.  Samples that don’t make the cut must be reselected.  It is a process.  Butt, it is really all about the ass.

So designers… continue to keep your ass and the asses you may be accommodating and designing for in line.  And, (in the interim), please, (Goldilocks)… have a seat.

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The (design) Rabbit Hole.

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“It’s just the basement”.  That’s nice.  Is someone occupying “just the basement”?  Does function happen in “just the basement”?  One of my biggest frustrations as a designer is the mentality of those who believe there are areas of a project unworthy of design.  “Just the basement” is bullshit.  “Just the basement” is a copout.  “Just the basement” doesn’t just look like you ran out of money, it looks like you ran out of ideas.  It looks… like you are ignorant (by design).

The basement is important… to someone… to some function… to me.  Design doesn’t stop because of deemed ‘unvalue’ or seemingly aesthetic badness.  The experience continues… in the basement.  The basement may be a space where ideas are formed.  Inventions are made.  Illnesses are cured.  Operations are happening. The basement may be the most valuable space in a building yet it isn’t ‘good’ enough (for the naive) to have intentional light shed on it?


The “hole” Titanic sank.

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If you can recall from the history of the Titanic, the “hole” ship sank.  Not just the steerage deck.  Bourgeoisie finishes and pretentious mentalities when right down with steerage to the ocean floor… Design is ‘hole’istic.  Not compartmentalized.

All parts of space whether being built new or undergoing renovation can make an impact.  And though front of house finishes may differ in price point from back of house finishes, no less thought should be applied to their (eventual) application.  ‘Stark’ can still be impactful.  Void too, when intention is given.


From (T)HERE

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The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Correct, but the line shouldn’t be ‘forgotten’ (by design).

Circulation is an architectural struggle… especially for the end users.  Though necessary for egress, circulation frustrates because it eats up square footage… square footage that is deemed ‘useless’ and ‘invaluable’ (except for circulating).

As designers, we need to see circulation as opportunity.  One of the (forgotten) tricks in our diverse toolbox is the compression/expansion tool and it shouldn’t still be so shiny… We need to use the travel space between space as design opportunity to WOW.  To surprise and to add value to the journey.  As our users circulate, they experience.

Corridors (staircases? elevators?…) are a perfect opportunity for this experience.  Often, as designers, we use tricks to quiet the traveler.  We darken the run (with intentional finish selection), dim the lighting, space the emphasis.  We use asymmetry to guide.  See – design so complicated, it is ‘seemingly’ simple.  This compression is a moment.  A moment that will lead to another moment of expansion into OPEN.  And each of these moments should be designed to be experienced.

Don’t Follow the White Rabbit… Lead Her

So, designers… next time you are designing the path to the rabbit hole (or to the basement)… think about how to better design the experience for your user getting (t)here…

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“Load” Bearing…(by design).

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“We can open this up… it isn’t ‘load’ bearing”.  Thanks to HGTeaV this saying has become nearly slang (in the design world).  Hearing it gives me a “header”ache.

Open concept is a design trend of today.  We see it in residential applications as well as commercial spaces.

This new idea of flexible environments, whether they be private homes, educational environments or even corporate workspaces speaks to the collaboration trends in our social world today and design must follow suit. What was once compartmentalized (by design) is now OPEN, it is now social, multifunctional and unpretentious.

If you are beginning with a clean slate, OPEN is “easy”.  What was built intentionally to be OPEN (concept) would never have been exposed to segmentation… so these environments are flexible, casual and adaptable from conception.  The challenge is refurbishing an interior that was intended for separation and making it “OPEN”able.

A Force to be Reckoned With

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Starting from the top of a structure, weight presses downward as well as outward.  The purpose of a “load” bearing wall is to support these weights and transfer it safely from the top (of a structure) to the foundation.  Calculations for “load” take space, materiality, height, content and connections into account.  It is not necessary to make all walls “load” bearing when few can handle the “job”.

The shell of a structure (the exterior walls) are obviously “load” bearing since we have already discussed that weight presses down as well as out, but in reality, there are few interior walls that need to carry the burden of the distribution… and the ones that do are strategically placed and conformed to (if you had the right consultants there at project kick off).

If (Interior) Walls Could Talk?

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As designers, much of our careers are spent refurbishing.  Revamping spaces is challenging.  There are times we have the capacity in the project to demo to the structure, but we don’t always get that luxury.  So, what if the (design) build isn’t ‘new’ and we have constraints, within (existing) structure that we know will remain… but the interior still aches to be OPEN?

How do we manage it?  To accomplish it, must our only option be demolishing interior walls?  One problem.  Aren’t walls kinda important?  Walls have two kinds of purpose.  The first type is space segregation.  These walls are nothing more that partitions.  They are objects of function, of hierarchy, of ‘real'(e)state.  They could be replaced by curtains or FFE or… void.  The second type of wall is intense.  It is what we have refered to above as “load” bearing.  Like the shell, this type of wall supports the weight of a structure on the inside.  These are the walls you may want to remove, but cannot be torn down without jeopardizing structural integrity.

Let what has to remain, re-exist and build ‘new’ around it

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Converting compartmentalized spaces into OPEN spaces can be dramatic… by design.  It isn’t just demoing walls, repositioning HVAC, and integrating electrical.

As designers, we must be sensitive to the fact that demolition of non-structure may also be removal of sentiment… breaking down what once was… transformation of original intent.

For our end users, who sometimes have to be led to OPEN, they aren’t able to truly visualize transformation until it is a pile of demolished material on the floor.  And sometimes, as much as we understand, we (as designers) have to see it there too… no longer in the shape of its original intent.  But in the end, designing OPEN will bear new light, new meaning, and new form.

So (designers), keep the structure of what can’t be changed and challenge yourselves to create new and beautiful and epic around it.







‘Uncommon’… (by design)

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“It’s just furniture”.  Oh, is it?  This phrase could not frustrate me more.  I came from a hospitality background where there was a great understanding of the complexity of FFE (furniture, fixtures and equipment – for Suzie’s clarification).

In the hotel business, everything is custom.  Every venue operator wanted something no one else had.  Something that hadn’t been seen before.  Something ‘uncommon’.

You don’t find ‘uncommon’ in a vignette on the showroom floor at RC Willey.  ‘Uncommon’ has to be created.  ‘Uncommon’ has to be designed.  Interior design isn’t about filling a box with ‘furniture’ and lamps and carpet.  The environment is reactionary because the elements are custom, not common.  They are designed along with the environment… simultaneously… they too are part of the vision.

Sorry, it’s Proprietary

cfeb62fc23be63e0acaecf8adde56bf5At the resort design department, we would often receive requests from tourists asking where they could get the chair they sat in in venue ‘x’ or the nightstand from their hotel room.  The response, was… you can’t.  These items are custom.  The design is proprietary.  It’s one of a kind.

Design isn’t about collecting and arranging.  Design is about vision and creation.  In all elements.

These elements began on trace paper just as our space allocations did.  They developed into CAD paste-ups for CD issuance.  They were approved via shop drawing and often traveled by boat through customs to their final design destination so your ‘tourist’ (end user) could slam their vacation cocktail on top of them before closing their black out shades (which were also proprietary) for the evening.

Scroll and Order?

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“I saw that on Pinterest”, “I saw that on HGTeaV“… That’s nice.

The fight we, design professionals, continue to face is in this day and age, is that everyone (including these ‘tourists’) is a designer.  They’re not.  They’re naive.  They didn’t study brick and mortar and they certainly never “erected” it.

They study scroll and order.  They can’t envision design until they see it… and then all they do is purchase and replicate (and maybe change the wall color).

They are clueless and they should be provided stickers as ‘freebies’ with their Wayfair orders so they can continue to decorate… or at least a hand signal (from design professionals) at check out.

(Design) Energy is measured in Kelvin

IMG_2989It is exhausting to constantly defend our worth as designers.  Bur, the reality is, the Suzie’s of the world won’t ever be in our shoes nor do we want to invite her to wear them.  Our design shoes actually have to meet OSHA requirements.  Hers do not.

We need to save our energy and frustrations (for those who erect nothing but middle fingers in this industry)… for our projects.  For this energy is far more useful implemented there, with intent.


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Discontinued… (by design).

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I had a landscape architecture professor in my undergraduate study who used to say, “If an idiot can do it, design it out!”?  As a student, it was difficult to understand the magnitude of this statement.  At this stage of learning, we executed intent without necessarily ensuring safety or function.  Those projects were about pushing the mind more and the functionality less.  Those projects (I made them too) were design naivety.

As professionals, we don’t have this luxury.  We cashed in our naivety cards in exchange for our design credentials… and we should have.


Architecture without people is sculpture.

img_2673.jpgWe have taken oaths to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public.  We have a responsibility to know… better.  As designers, we must tap into our mama bear premonitions.  We must invoke design foresight – just as mothers foresee their children falling just before they do… and extend a hand quickly (or at least a wipe in the event we weren’t fast enough).

We must envision our vision occupied.  We must think about the interactions of our users with our spaces.  We must intentionally sculpt environments that eliminate safety risks (and keep the sunscreen out of arm’s reach).  We must design out risk while we simultaneously develop function.  And then we must wrap it all up in aesthetic value.


(design) Risk isn’t an emoji


Design risks take on many forms.  They look like many things.  They morph  based on a space being deemed public versus one that is private.  One that is residential versus commercial.  One that is interior versus exterior.  These risks may be ‘shiny’ – a crystal chandelier for example that extends into human reach or a stunning polished floor finish that doesn’t meet coefficients for slip resistance in wet areas.  It may even be a discontinued product that will only be available for install, but not for change out or maintenance.

Redesigning for risk can crush a designer’s heart.  And it has… crushed me…  It is frustrating.  It is necessary.  Solving these issues both functionally and aesthetically is (unfortunately) our problem.  Designing out risk will change the look of the original vision, but it shouldn’t jeopardize the intent.

Omit the Catastrophy

Solution seeking is part of the design process.  We have all learned from failure.  Each time we have installed something that did not work (created risk), we have added to our (design) archive collection of “I may love you, but you are off limits… don’t worry, you will always be pretty, but you will have to remain a ‘sample’ for you are a ticking time bomb”.

Some risk is unavoidable, it is why we carry contingency, but as our experience deepens, we do get better at omitting it… from conception.

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So, designers, don’t forget the risks you were too naive to understand (until you installed them), for they make you (us) better.  Instead, turn them into (design) ‘Lessons Learned‘ and actually learn from them… for they will resonate with you longer than (design) accomplishments… and they will propel you from here to there… because there is more beautiful than you ever imagined.

(design) Butterflies.

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Butterflies.  This delicate creature’s meaning is anything but delicate.  The symbol of the butterfly is one of transcendence.  Many associate this insect with change or transformation.  Perhaps to you, it is a symbol of the soul?  A symbol of promise?  A symbol of hope?  A symbol of reincarnation?  A sign of change?  … Or, perhaps to me.

The cliche statement “she gives me butterflies” has deep connotations and it is because of the fact that we can’t really ‘understand’.  We can “feel” the butterflies (to some degree), but we can’t always define the reason for them.  They are not palpable.  They are about Energy.  Excitement.  Newness.  Evocation.  Unexplored value.  This feeling is poignant and infrequent… and that is what makes it memorable.

The Very Hungry Designer (#caterpillar)

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This Easter, I “erected” butterflies with my children.  We began the process by building a habitat and we watched these caterpillars stuff themselves with nutrients, and embark on a journey of consecutive molting until they grew plumper and longer and finally stopped eating (it was disgusting).  We watched as they attached themselves upside down to the underside of their habitat, morph into shiny cocoons (known as the chrysalis) and “harden”.  Though they ostensibly seemed dormant, the transformation that was happening inside the chrysalis was radical.

At ages one and four, it was a challenge to explain to them (my children) what was still going on while we waited.  It was hard for them to believe that so much was still happening while the construction ‘walls’ were up.  For a child, 7-10 days is an eternity to wait – especially when they don’t really understand what will be unveiled or why it would take so long to get there.  They had to have hope.  They had to trust me.

The (design) Chrysalis


As designers, we are so fortunate to be part of transformation, everyday in every project.  We transform our minds, our environments, our users’ (thoughts), our user’s trust.  We work SO “hard” to explain and to execute our visions for those who may be visionless.

Sure, our owners and clients (reluctantly) approve layouts, finishes and budget increases, but they may not be fully aware of how the ‘approved’ elements will result in wholeness.  They may still have difficulty envisioning the vision.  So, to compensate for what is occurring during gestation (that can’t be understood) they (our clients, our children) have to have some degree of trust.  Trust in us, the design professionals to take the (deemed disgusting) caterpillars they hand us and transform them into butterflies.

Why, if not for Butterflies?

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How many times in your life can you remember “having butterflies”?  Can you think about it without smiling?  OK, if it isn’t your ex-wife can you?  I bet you can count the occurrences on one hand.  What gave them to you?  Anticipation?  Vulnerability?Surrender?

The symbolic meaning of butterflies, though intangible, can provide for each of us (designers) relative insight.  We can relate these stages of metamorphosis to our projects and even to our own lives.  As designers, we (and our projects) have experienced times of vulnerability, the need to develop (professional) thick skin, moments of weakness and ravenous hunger… and even… YES… moments of miraculous expansion.

As designers, we are the instructors of this metamorphosis.  We are creators of the Oh My!, instigators of the transcendence, and challengers of the embracement of change… and… we are so casual about it… in our practice.

So, designers, continue to be casual, (for this is where we find our humility in our work), but not just in your work (the easy part)…  go bigger… BE casual in your lives… and BELIEVE, believe in…  in (each stage of) the process.

(design) Precision.

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Perfection = 1/4″?


Designers are perfectionists.  The challenge is that we rely on consultants and trades to execute the precision we envision.  So we have to establish tolerance for intolerance.  And in (design), tolerances usually come in 1/4”! Yes, this means, as designers, we need to surrender our desire for the unobtainable 1/16″ and have tolerance.

As we create, the important thing to remember is that ambiguity cannot be executed.  Our DIY formulas (if we entertain Suzie here and discredit ourselves for a moment) are ‘specific’ and they come in the form of Construction Documentation (and specifications – novel!).

Even Tolerance has Intent

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I may have left Las Vegas, but as I continue to design, I don’t ignore the odds.  I intentionally avoid (design) risk.  Design assumptions are costly.  There is a reason that the relationship between architects and engineers and contractors is not (truly) symbiotic.  You, the design professional, (remember you – the one who gets hired to think differently?) Hi there – yes you… you have an obligation to establish tolerance.

It’s important to understand what tolerance is (bear with me).  ASME Y14.5M defines tolerance as “the total amount a specific dimension is permitted to vary.  the tolerance is the difference between the maximum and minimum limits.”  So what is allowable to you?  The designer?  This is the fun part (if documents were considered fun).  This is where you get to implement your tolerance band.

Establishing (design) Limits.  (of course)

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A tolerance band is a range of (considered) allowable dimensions.  The larger the difference between upper and lower limits, the larger the band.  This is “loose” tolerance.  Ever heard of bandwidth? – how‘s yours?  The opposite of this or the smaller the tolerance band, the “tighter” the tolerance.  Did I spark interest?  Finally…

Deviating from ‘nominal’

Establishing dimensional tolerances are key in (design) constructability.  By providing them in documentation, you (the designer) can clarify your intent and give the contractor the leeway for appropriate means and methods… and he can get “back” to you… and then you can redline the hell out of his first pass at a shop drawing!  #architecturaljoy.  A.Void redundancy in documentation and this first round will go much “smoother”.  Speaking of “smooth”

Level 5 Finish – LOL!


This really is laughable, yet we continue to specify it (Level 5, that is).  But, here is the kicker… someone else is responsible for erecting it.  Not you, you little perfectionist you.

Who is responsible?… ‘that’ guy is (the one to the left)… and, ‘that’ guy doesn’t give a shit about your (documented) “finish” schedule.  He has his own agenda.  He may even be union?

Your carefully arranged, industry appropriated, architectural ‘prep and prepare walls’ ‘level 5 finish’ to “receive” ‘owner provided wallcover’ is a joke to him.  So as you indicate, remind yourself of intended tolerance and then blue tape the hell out of the wall at architectural punch!

Square Peg, Round Hole.

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I wish I could tell you that the world was perfect.  That this personality perfectionism that permeates our industry could be built that way.  It can’t.  Parts must interact with each other.  Trades must interact with each other.  Materials (even) acclimate.  So as a designer, you better follow suit…

Follow suit, then lead, and then, create!  Create AND document so the round “hole” you have imagined that those square pegs can’t fit into (without redundancy) can be built!