Writings

Looking Forward to Monday Morning
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
by
Posted June 1st, 2018

When we started the firm in 1991, the unwritten business plan was simple and straightforward. Meet clients, design their homes, and celebrate our success. I recall innumerable struggles and difficult decisions, but they were mostly reactive to circumstances, not the product of our planning, or more aptly, our lack of planning. For many years, I would start the week, by writing – in longhand on a yellow pad – a to-do list of everything to be done. ... Continue

Most recent post:
by
Posted February 16th, 2021

I love playing games, which means what it should and is not simply a euphemism for being manipulative. I grew up playing board and card games, everything from checkers, chess and Mastermind, to gin (rummy) and pinochle, and even the Japanese game of Go. By far, my favorite games were word games like Jotto, Boggle and Scrabble. It is a fair observation that I gravitate to people who like to play games. ... Continue

by
Posted January 7th, 2021

Even if we have strongly advised clients to budget for annual maintenance, it gets overlooked.  There is never a good time to re-grout tile or refinish wood floors, nor are contractors easy to schedule. ... Continue

by
Posted December 14th, 2020

During the past nine months of this unprecedented pandemic, we’ve fared better than most. We design private homes, both in the city and the country, for clients who recognize that ‘home’ is now more important than ever. We are nimble and small, and still looking forward. Even so, our personal and professional lives have been ... Continue

by
Posted July 10th, 2020

The other day, I found myself leafing through a coffee table book on iconic toys and was overcome by nostalgia - precisely as the editors intended. ... Continue

by
Posted May 18th, 2020

On October 7, 2015, the Benjamin Moore Company announced Color no. OC-117 named “Simply White” as its 2016 Color-of-the-Year. Benjamin Moore offers over 150 individual white and off-white colors from which to choose, a staggering number for sure. ... Continue

by
Posted April 30th, 2020

Successful contractors always know whom to call to get something done, especially when a task demands expertise beyond the skills of the field team. Calling upon such resources is akin to a general practitioner recommending a patient to a specialist, and specialist referrals are no more than a doctor’s affirmation of “yeah, I know a guy.” ... Continue

by
Posted March 31st, 2020

Trust is the foundation of every relationship, whether on an intimate or societal scale. Be it a child’s excuse for unfinished homework or an oval office briefing, now more than ever, we need to rely on each other, and to most fundamentally, to respect one another by telling the truth. ... Continue

by
Posted March 22nd, 2020

I don’t recall how Coach Adam Streitel found his way from Germany to Grand Rapids, Michigan, but in the late seventies and early eighties, he brought his great passion and love for football (soccer) to a group of provincial and impressionable teenagers. ... Continue

by
Posted February 6th, 2020

Most high-functioning executive skills track back to children’s games, in this case, hot potato – the game where a ‘hot’ potato is passed back and forth until the music stops (exactly like musical chairs, but less aerobic). The object is not to be left holding the potato, a perfect analog to the process of collaboration at the heart of residential design. ... Continue

by
Posted February 3rd, 2020

Having one’s parents own a bookstore wasn’t always great fun but, reflecting on it now, I can’t think of a route to a better education than coming of age as a bookseller’s kid. One of the perks was hosting authors on book tours. Two particular authors you have probably never heard of made quite an impression on me, and are in fact the only two I can specifically recall. I still possess the original volumes some forty years later. ... Continue

by
Posted January 18th, 2020

I remember a number of times looking up the expression “hear hear….” It took me a long time to equate “hear, hear…” with “yes, and…,” and to recognize that while idioms change, groups of people have forever found ways to affirmatively communicate. ... Continue

by
Posted January 12th, 2020

Most major appliance manufacturers make appliances in every category, yet we rarely specify the same brand for more than a couple of appliances in a home. ... Continue

by
Posted January 11th, 2020

We get a lot right, and we also make a great number of mistakes. Others do as well. This means that much of our time is spent discovering an error, tracing its history, and finding solutions. This navigation of mistake assessment and mitigation follows a remarkably predictable path. ... Continue

by
Posted December 3rd, 2019

Manhattanites talk about plumbing the way New Englanders talk about the weather. Co-op boards and building superintendents bond over concerns about plumbing systems, when not obsessively discussing exterior waterproofing and City-mandated facade repairs. Most people understand that living in an apartment house represents a unique social lifestyle. Barking dogs, high heels, and bouncing balls all create noises that seem to amplify as they travel from apartment to apartment. Gossip travels even faster. And, nothing brings the social experiment into clearer focus than plumbing issues. ... Continue

by
Posted October 29th, 2019

By the time you read this dispatch, some of the referenced technical details will already be obsolete – they are as I type. Home automation is ubiquitous and the pursuit of the smart home is universal. As architects, we love home technology and incorporate current technology in every project. In the last few years we’ve been inspired by LED lighting and the Samsung Frame television, not to mention Lutron Caseta and J Geiger winder shades. We have cooled a bit on Nest, but Sonos continues to dominate the distributed audio space. The Japanese have re-invented mini-split HVAC systems based on variable speed compressor technology and take advantage of this new technology at every opportunity. And finally, Warmboard has revolutionized hydronic radiant heat flooring. ... Continue

by
Posted September 22nd, 2019

By number, this is the fiftieth installment of my writings, which seems appropriate given that it comes as close to a mission statement (or mission justification) as anything I have heretofore penned. One of the books on my shelf that I find most influential is “The Small Mart Revolution – How Local Businesses are Beating ... Continue

by
Posted August 27th, 2019

At its essence, architecture synthesizes and provides the framework for many linked disciplines, ranging from the objective to the subjective. Engineers use math and formulas to calculate structural, electrical and mechanical systems, but engineering decisions are largely unseen, working in support of a broader design vision. At the other end of the spectrum, interior design and decoration determine how people relate to a space through tactility, materiality and color – the most visible and accessible of all design components. ... Continue

by
Posted August 14th, 2019

The etymology of being en charrette dates to the 1880's at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. When assignments were due, the proctors would wheel a cart (charrette) through the studio collecting the students' drawings and models. According to lore, invariably, a student would hop on the cart (en charrette) as it was wheeled by, putting the finishing touches on their drawings or model. ... Continue

by
Posted July 30th, 2019

Everyone who knows me well, would have thought this segment would be titled “Moneyball” after Michael Lewis’ 2003 book titled the same.  I talk about Moneyball all the time and reference the importance of team victories ensured by position play. ... Continue

by
Posted July 3rd, 2019

In anticipation of hosting the annual Kent Hollow Land Trust benefit in the Fall of 2019, we wrote the following piece on our Connecticut home, Three Twelves Farm, outlining the approach, steps and priorities taken in restoring and rehabilitating the land and property. ... Continue

by
Posted June 26th, 2019

The title of this piece would probably make people search for it filed under ‘design.’ Triangles, after all, are integral to structural integrity; from tripods to geodesic domes; from trusses to the gable ends of houses. The triangles I reference, are not based in civil engineering, but rather describe the collaborative and mutually supportive relationships we enjoy while pursuing the business of design. ... Continue

by
Posted June 26th, 2019

A bit to our surprise, we have found that tastes and preferences are not universal, and that we do not design in a vacuum. Very often, we think we have presented something quite unique, only to run across a strikingly similar picture in a magazine. In some moments, we feel we are trend setting, and in others, we recognize we have succumbed to trend following. As designers, we are arbiters of style, and most of the time our team shares a common sensibility. Our clients, on the other hand, have tastes and preferences that are comparatively diverse. Navigating between the current themes and aesthetics preferred by our team and each client’s sensibilities and associations is a dynamic and even, thrilling process. Successful projects stem from this partnership, and the more carefully we listen to and incorporate a client’s wants and needs, the better the result. ... Continue

by
Posted May 12th, 2019

Come visit us on Fifty-Sixth Street and you will find hanging behind my desk a full size color rubbing of a NYC sewer manhole cover. Produced by an artist-friend in the early nineties, the piece of art is one of my favorites. Not only do I admire the image, and the story of its creation, it has also become a mute accomplice when interviewing potential employees. Many have heard the urban legends surrounding Microsoft and Google interviews featuring math riddles designed to decide which of the Mensa candidates should be hired. ... Continue

by
Posted May 12th, 2019

 It is fair to say I love books, and books of many genres. ... Continue

by
Posted May 6th, 2019

A re-run of Jerry Maguire came on the other evening, and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise’s refrain “Show me the money,” made me think that I am overdue to remind everyone that life really shouldn’t just be all about the money. ... Continue

by
Posted May 3rd, 2019

While driving back to New York from Connecticut a couple of years ago, our young kids Buddy and Nelle, asked the following question from their booster seats, “Daddy, why do we always have the party at our house?” My answer, delivered with a wide smile, was simple; we built a party house. ... Continue

by
Posted May 2nd, 2019

The year was 1991, we had just launched our company and our very first project was a gut renovation of an Upper East Side co-op studio apartment. As we do today, we sent our proposed plans (hand-drawn and hand-lettered, then) to the building's architect for review, a distinguished professional named Elliot Glass. I didn't realize that I had just started a professional relationship that would last my entire career. ... Continue

by
Posted April 30th, 2019

We study data, connecting dots and making plans (blueprints) as we go. When researching and recommending contractors and especially when overseeing a competitive bid, we find it essential to carefully match contractors to the expectations of the client and to the demands of the particular project. ... Continue

by
Posted March 24th, 2019

Every once in a while, an acquaintance will share a bon mote of wisdom with me, that they “don’t do business with friends.” Sometimes this insight will come after just letting me know that they have undertaken a project, but due to our ‘friendship’ they had hired another firm with whom to work. ... Continue

by
Posted March 23rd, 2019

During the spring of 2019, I saw a Facebook post from a summer acquaintance, self-admittedly ranting about her City apartment renovation, and the extended schedule that was occasioning her to skip travel plans for her son’s spring break.  She had to stay home to manage the conclusion of the project. What surprised me was that the subject of her animus was not her (Park Avenue) building’s work hours, mercurial board, or even her general contractor.  The post placed the blame squarely upon her architect.  Intrigued, I read the seventeen comments that had been posted. ... Continue

by
Posted March 23rd, 2019

I was fortunate to travel with fellow UVA students to study in Vicenza, Italy during the summer of 1986. Our professors introduced us to the works of Renaissance maestro Andrea Palladio, and also to those of the modernist virtuoso Carlo Scarpa. Reconciling the two was the genius of our teacher Mario di Valmarana. To paraphrase Mario, who I came to know well over subsequent decades, the greatest responsibility of the architect is to “steadfastly preserve that which deserves preservation, but when intervention is appropriate, to design and build in a manner that enhances that which came before.” ... Continue

by
Posted March 20th, 2019

This is my first post that can fairly be called a dispatch – as I am writing on my laptop from the library of the Gastof Rotewand, in Lech, Austria. I am enjoying spring break with my family, as well as with Jamie and Zoe, who you know from DFA. Between ski runs, meals and pool time, Zoe, Jamie, and I are able to talk quietly, considering DFA from a distance, and we share insights and thoughts without the distractions of the day-to-day. The trip is made even more special as Jamie’s family (on his father’s side) is Austrian, and he has three generations of family here in Lech. ... Continue

by
Posted March 5th, 2019

I make an effort to go out to lunch as often as possible. Even to me, my penchant for working lunches seems out of another era; part “Mad Men,” part 21 Club, and part Irish bar. Reading that last line, the lunches I describe might come across as both pretentious and limited to middle aged white men with drinking problems. As it turns out, my dining companions rarely fit these stereotypes. ... Continue

by
Posted March 4th, 2019

I read something in an article recently. I can’t remember where I read it, and I apologize to the author for the lack bibliographic inclusion. The premise of this non-cited article is that extroverts draw energy from engaging with others, whereas introverts find interactions with others draining. ... Continue

by
Posted March 3rd, 2019

Since the time we founded the practice, I've recognized the need to make connections with people, and I've found no better way to make friendships than through sports. ... Continue

by
Posted March 2nd, 2019

We have created an in-house glossary of “trigger words.” When we hear them, we smile as if hearing an inside joke. For your enjoyment, here’s our running list. ... Continue

by
Posted February 25th, 2019

2018 was an odd year, something of a black swan for our small (mid-size) firm. We were busy all year, and our team worked well, exceptionally so in many regards. But when all of the numbers were in, it was the first year in many that the firm revenue did not grow. For me, as the firm’s lone principal, the year-end analysis of the numbers warranted examination and explanation. ... Continue

by
Posted February 21st, 2019

We enthusiastically practice and teach “Yes,… And,” as well as to be guided by a “customer is always right” style of service. While these affirmative strategies form the bedrock of a successful professional practice, they do not apply to every situation or define every relationship. Sometimes, affirmative strategies can lead to over- accommodation and send projects careening down blind alleys. ... Continue

by
Posted January 28th, 2019

The Case for Continuing Education. Residential architecture has an extraordinary history, and for me its history is very personal. I grew up in a mid-century modern house that featured a flat roof - in Michigan, of all places - smokestack style chimneys, a split-level entry, and a forty-five degree orientation on its meager lot. ... Continue

by
Posted January 28th, 2019

We take our work very seriously, and often find ourselves solving problems and settling matters with meaningful consequences. Notwithstanding, we can all take things a bit too seriously, and fall into the trap of elevating minor issues to calamity status. To this end, we recently established a ‘priority list’ process in our office. ... Continue

by
Posted January 28th, 2019

A successful project outcome is based on the success of our very first steps - the nuanced understanding of the project program coupled with the creativity and quality of schematic designs. Creating a robust project program demands a deep dive; assessing, challenging, and refining the initial criteria of a client's wish list. Working with a client to understand and define their program is, perhaps, the most significant (and unfortunately much overlooked) role a residential architect can perform. ... Continue

by
Posted January 10th, 2019

Performed in Public, Un-Plugged in Private ... Continue

by
Posted January 10th, 2019

Excelling as a residential architect demands an ego so superior that the pressure to win small battles or to be always right drops away.  To collaborate, to work in the service of others, and to rigorously solve problems requires the self-confidence to listen, to assess complex and often conflicting criteria, and to divine insightful answers without arrogance and self-interest.  ... Continue

by
Posted January 10th, 2019

Having failed to manage expectations is very different than having met expectations. ... Continue

by
Posted December 14th, 2018

The effect of 'scope creep' on budget. At DFA, the successful navigation of budgets and schedules is a cornerstone of successful relationships.  ... Continue

by
Posted December 6th, 2018

A particularly wise client was interviewing a potential contractor, and midway through the conversation asked, “What qualities would make us good clients?” One trait could singularly describe the best clients, “attitude”. ... Continue

by
Posted November 27th, 2018

Regardless of the size or price of an apartment, I’ve rarely walked a space with a potential buyer that was not one room too small, and for which necessary renovations would not exceed the desired budget. ... Continue

by
Posted November 14th, 2018

“Wite-Out” remains an indispensable tool in our creative process.  While patiently waiting for a composition to dry, my mind sees the problem before me more clearly, and fixing a smudged drawing usually results in meaningful refinement. ... Continue

by
Posted November 14th, 2018

I often use sports metaphors like ‘playing extra holes’ to demonstrate a particular idea such as scope creep. In explaining our STUDIO Program, DFA uses the terms “a la carte” and "prix fixe," two clear descriptors lifted straight from restaurant menus. Most often, I use movies – favorite blockbusters, usually – when calling upon cultural references to illustrate a theme. Below are some of my most frequently quoted movies. ... Continue

by
Posted November 1st, 2018

“Critical Romance” has been a guiding principal throughout my career. Architects and designers are often driven into polarized camps. Either we believe all decisions relate to function, OR, we believe an academic or aesthetic priority should dictate design. I am certain that for design to succeed, the simultaneous satisfaction of both criteria is essential. ... Continue

by
Posted November 1st, 2018

A good friend and former client asked a probing question. “Why had DFA felt such confidence as to double its size, and why were we experiencing such growth?” I answered in a flip manner, but have reflected on this question a great deal. Those who have been a part of our endeavor over the last twenty-five-plus years would probably answer the question citing our accomplishments, yet I feel a more accurate explanation would attribute our success to perseverance. ... Continue

by
Posted November 1st, 2018

Project costs can vary greatly based on locale. Zip-coding, however, goes one step further, inflating pricing solely based on the perception of what a client can afford and the specific cost of a particular residence. ... Continue

by
Posted October 24th, 2018

Working hard to satisfy complex and competing needs results in a depth and refinement that might be missed if we were given unlimited resources (space, time, and funds). Demanding a space satisfy more than one programmatic function presents opportunities. In our experience, project success rarely, if ever, stems from what someone can afford to build, but rather, from what someone chooses to build. Successful design solutions are the product of the resolution of complicated, challenging, and often conflicting considerations. ... Continue

by
Posted October 23rd, 2018

In 2003, Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled the Paradox of Choice, and one Monday morning, we watched him deliver a Ted Talk on the subject. Mr. Schwartz addresses the depression that often develops from the first-world abundance of choices in everyday life, in everything from salad dressing to blue jeans. We’ve discovered the same dilemma presents itself in residential design. ... Continue

by
Posted July 25th, 2018

As our practice has grown, we’ve come up with a few of our own guiding principles.  One of these is “We keep our own report cards.” As designers and project managers, we receive near constant and wide-ranging feedback from our clients. ... Continue

by
Posted June 6th, 2018

During the past twenty-five years, DFA has built a business, brick-by-brick, or more precisely in our case, bubble-by-bubble. ... Continue

by
Posted June 5th, 2018

Residential design and construction is an industry founded on urgency.  We have not met the owner who has commissioned a new home and said, “no rush; whenever the house is finished is fine with me.”  When someone decides to invest in and build their dream home, yesterday is not soon enough. ... Continue

by
Posted June 4th, 2018

Politicians, business owners, and anyone working in hospitality or retail understand success stems directly from ‘connecting’ with their audience.   Children are taught to say please and thank you, to look people in the eye, and to smile.  Most of us at DFA are effective communicators, having honed our social skills before working here. In addition to these natural skills, we have worked hard to capitalize on technology-aided communication, especially email. ... Continue

by
Posted June 3rd, 2018

Sometimes (oftentimes), our most important ideas are borrowed wholesale.  A number of years ago, I heard Tina Fey speaking about a comedic improvisation concept titled “Yes, And…”.  To paraphrase the insanely smart crew from Second City in Chicago, an improv sketch dies as soon as someone says ‘no’. ... Continue

by
Posted June 2nd, 2018

I sometimes lay awake at night, worrying about the day’s schedule, or more productively, imagining a solution to a particularly vexing architectural or project management problem. Recently, I found myself trying to form a great first sentence, just one. ... Continue

by
Posted June 1st, 2018

When we started the firm in 1991, the unwritten business plan was simple and straightforward. Meet clients, design their homes, and celebrate our success. I recall innumerable struggles and difficult decisions, but they were mostly reactive to circumstances, not the product of our planning, or more aptly, our lack of planning. For many years, I would start the week, by writing – in longhand on a yellow pad – a to-do list of everything to be done. ... Continue