Monday, October 10, 2011

How to find an Architect: choosing a good one will Increase your Return on Investment.

Today was a great day and not just because it is October 10, 2011, 85 degrees and sunny outside here in the Northeast, but because we received a note from a new client. They write:

“We initially consulted with an architect in 2004 with the thought of making a three story addition. In those days, you could almost be assured of making back any money that you invested in the house, but nowadays I think that the renovations need to be smarter and make better use of the space you have.” ….” We are in Maplewood in part because we love old houses, and would like to work with you (Clawson Architects) because your projects are sensitive to maintaining continuity with the style of the house, but provide improved use of space.”

Thank You!….we are thrilled that you see the value of using an Architect but even more, that you understand that Clawson Architects is different because we deliver so much more than a box on the back. The Star Ledger described the work by Clawson Architects as “smart and unique” and Period Homes wrote a profile about us and our worked titled “Tailoring Tradition,” both articles featured various projects -- all different styles and scales -- and made us very proud. But to have you, the consumer, recognize and tell us why using Clawson Architects for your project is a great way to protect the investment you make in your home is great feedback and confirmation that the word is out and that people can see a difference.

Clawson Architects, LLC prides itself on addressing our clients' project goals while building a sustainable relationship with them and the built environment. We value creativity in our approach to problem-solving; bigger is not always better. With over 60 years of combined experience between the partners, we are qualified to offer innovative architectural design solutions for your property. We utilize a cooperative team approach to designing your project with you. Clawson Architects' years of experience and our established network of professional, craftsmen and vendor contacts has a proven track record in the metropolitan area. Clawson Architects values the opportunity to work with you on your project by designing alterations, renovations, additions as well as new homes that complement your lifestyle, decorative tastes and the architectural character of your property while meeting your financial goals.

Businesses and Sales Coaches often ask, "What is the Value Proposition...what is it that you bring to the table and how is it different?" Clawson Architects has a portfolio of beautiful projects: new home, renovation, and addition success stories. However from a purely numbers point of view, when looking at the Return on Investment (ROI), Clawson Architects has witnessed their clients' homes receive both post-construction appraisals and post-construction sales that deliver an ROI of  22% -200%. Just one more reason to consider Clawson Architects as your Architect in a time when you need an investment you can count on.

Thanks again for choosing Clawson Architects, now lets get to work!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Architecture Profession is a committment to learning and teaching.

....It has been a big  SCHOOL week for the Clawson Clan. We took our oldest daughter off to college for her freshman year, saw our son walk out the door to start his freshman year at the High School and tried to keep up with our third as she sashayed down the block, rocking her own sense of style-- anxious only to collect her Safety Patrol Belt and take charge as a new Fifth Grader.

But it does not end there in our my husband and partner loves learning and teaching and works as an Adjunct Professor at The Fashion Institute of Technology and The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.  This fall within the Interior Design Department at FIT he will be teaching Materials and Methods--providing students with an understanding of the construction process as it relates to the building of interior spaces and Interior Architectural Detailing--a course addressing the basic elements of architectural wooodwork and related joinery methodologies and their application to the detailing of various custom components of interior spaces.  At the ICA this year there is a new program Beaux Arts Atelier --a one year intensive program in New York City in the study of architectural design folloiwng in the method of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  This year, the most exciting part for me, is that we will all join him when he travels to  California to Lecture in Los Angeles about "Literature and Theory of Classical Architecture."

As Chekov once said "knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.  Marvin has always been involved in lecturing or reviewing student work and prtfolios.  Besides his love of being an Architect, teaching and mentoring really compliments Marvin's spirit as he loves to share his passion of architecture and art. Have a question about how bikes go together, how scotch is made, why there are little circles embossed in the ring around the stick shift on a particular model car?-- give Marvin call he loves art and design and his attention to detail will amaze you.

I realized as I sat down on the couch last night, that on September 6, 2011 that I had actually attended 21 Elementary School "First Days". It is time for a new chapter in my life.  As you know from previous posts that being an Architect is a committment to Lifelong learning so, what do I want to learn about now?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Porches... why a porch is better than a deck.

When clients inquire about building a deck...I must admit I am partial to porches with screened porches topping my list.  Why? Let me count the ways:

Decks are:
1. Too Hot.
2. Too Buggy.
3. Too Exposed to the elements.

Porches, on the other hand:
1. Provide more protection from the elements.
2. Provide creature comforts like lights and ceiling fans. 
3. Feel more like an extention of the house and when screened in... they keep the bugs out.

So, below are some of Clawson Architects favorite porches.  Enjoy.

With a covered balcony off the Master Suite, a porch off the kitchen dining area-- down to a patio,
this client has outdoor living spaces that allow them to enjoy their property from many levels. And for those who can't
decide you can have it all ...this house also has a deck off the kitchen on the other side.

From the first signs of spring until the end of fall, porches are great places to entertain day and night.

Porches act as an additional room. 

Nothing is more chaming than than the Period  Home with the wrap around front porch.

Wimsical wind chimes and a cool drink complete the mood on a hot summer day.
Wind chime by Krista McCaffery--Seaglassbeach Trinkets & Treasures



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Window Treatments...what you need to know. Curtain Call--Lessons from the best stage mom ever!

This Blog is dedicated to my Mother, Mary Steinkamp. She has taught me just about everything I know about window treatments and assisted me with all of mine.

Curtains and other window treatments are often the final touch that many of our clients struggle with. They often opt to go with the paper shades until they can wrap their heads around this detail.  So, today I am writing with a few considerations as well  tips and tricks that I think will help you with the process when you are ready. 

Things to Consider:

1.  The Architecture of the Room: 
Windows and their placement are typically designed to bring light into a room, frame a view, allow for cross ventilation and finally in the event of an emergency provide an escape.  When selecting the appropriate treatments, it should be noted that light comes in the top 1/3 of your window.  Other Architectural features to be considered would be the casings and sills around the window or lack of, radiators, window seats and surrounding mill work like flanking bookcases. How the window opens should also be the window a double hung, a slider, an awning or casement type.  Does it open in/out or is it fixed.

2.  The views to the outside: 
The use of window treatments could be used to block unpleasant views or block unwanted glaring light.  They can also frame views and harness the power and brightness of the sun.

3.  The views from the outside in:
(I know my Mother taught me this one.)  Take a walk around the neighborhood and look at the windows treatments selected by the neighbors from the outside.  To create a uniform look from the outside looking in will give your home a regal look from the street.   This can be achieved by starting with a base level in every window like a thin sheer or or white shade.  Building like the Seagram Building on Park Avenue, in New York City by Mies Van de Rohe have it in their lease agreement that  the window shades can only be in one of three positions, all the way up, half way down or all the way down and the window shades may not we altered or changed...not a bad rule for your own home.  Another reason for this walk is to see what the neighbors are seeing.  I was surprised to learn that the difference from the street level to my first floor windows was actually significant enough that the sight lines into the house only allowed a view of the heads and shoulders of those taller than about 5'-2".  That angle while giving me a full view of those on the street, did not allow anyone to see in.  In cases like this a sheer cafe rod may make you feel not as exposed psychologically. Landscaping can also aid in privacy while giving you an open feel in your home.

So, now that we have hit on the considerations, I have what I consider my top ten tips, tricks and rules of thumb...again many learned over the years from my Mother Mary.

Top 10 Tips and Tricks

1.  Sheers on spring rods are a good next step if you can't take the paper any more.

2. To achieve a fullness when gathered on the rod, curtains and sheers should measure 2.5 to 3 times the width of the window.  This creates those luxurious folds when they hang.   If you are using panels or allowing for the sheers to be split in the center and pulled back to each side, you will want to have each panel be 1.25 to 1.5 times the width.

3. If you want to enhance the size of window and call attention to it, select a rod that extends past the window 8-10  inches on each side so that the drapes when pushed to the sides are not covering any part of the glass view.

4. Mounting heights:  To achieve a grander space  making the ceiling seem taller place the Rod or Valence as high as possible . 

5. This leads us to length:  If your drapes or panels are purely decorative and do not move, they should touch the floor at a minimum or break 1/2" to 1 " on the floor.  If the curtains to not seem to be weighted enough on the bottom to hold the pleats or folds, sliding pennies or washers into the hem can be used to weight them down nicely.

6.  Another detail that adds richness to drapes and is often a tell tale sign between store bought and custom is the depth of the hem.  Curtains and Sheers should have at least a solid 4 inch hem. Mary would tell you to finish them by hand as well. If lined, the lining should be 1/2" shorter and have a 3-1/2" hem.  Now, for that professional look, the side hems should also be finished by hand if you want your drapes to look their this is at eye level and one would have to get down on their hands and knees to check out the bottom hem on the floor.

7.  Linings and inner linings also tend to have a more luxurious feel and look.   The use of a black out lining on the back of drapes are nice in bedrooms and again if done in a white or neutral will give that uniform appearance from the street when closed.

8.  Trims like fringe and tassels not only add cost but style and drama.  So, if you are going to park a couch in front of it, consider trimming  just the Valance or the edge of a pull down shade.  Remember to consider the formality of the room.  It may be a little much.

9.  Touching on price again...If you can not afford custom drapes, stock curtains equal a single width of your window.  To achieve a more luxurious custom look, you may need to buy an extra panel to get the desired fullness and then enhance them with some trim or a custom Valence or nicer rod.

10.  There is a difference between stock curtains and custom...and it is usually the same as a suit.  Custom tailored and lined always look and feel better...but is not necessary in every situation.  If you buy stock curtain just do yourself a favor and at least iron them.

and the for a bonus
11. If you have Radiators under the window, book cases and or window seats you may want to considered  the use of interior shutters or shades and a Valence.

And in closing.... You may be saying I am not so crafty and neither is my Mother...or I wish I could sew...consider the fact that most drapes require you to be able to cut and sew in a straight line. Some friends have taken a class at the South Orange Maplewood Adult School on How to Sew Curtains and have created some amazing window treatments.  There are also quite a few DIY websites and books with no sew curtains ideas that are quite clever as well.

So, break a leg. If you use a few of these tips and tricks you are sure to get a standing ovation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

NOT-FOR-PROFIT-- Quality of Space Matters.

Hiring an architect to design a space and pull quality elements together into a cohesive look should not be seen as extravagant.  Good Design is always in fashion.... and choosing beautiful, quality, sustainable materials and finishes is a responsible use of the missions money. It enhances the morale of those serving the mission as well as giving those who are served dignity.

There is a disconnect in our world that if it looks good that it costs too much, or is only for those of wealth.  It has been my experience that it can cost more to purchase a thin designer tee shirt with well placed rips and tears and designer jeans than a classic well designed little black dress. The tee shirt and jeans will be seen by some as cool and others as rags and will never get you into an establishment with a dress code and will be out of style next season, while a little black dress of quality fabric can be dressed up or down and worn for years along with the investment I made in a pair of classic Ferragamo pumps  20 years ago. 

The same goes for architecture and  furnishings.  You can spend thousands buying the newest cool thing for your space in increments of 15-100 dollars yet an investment in a piece of furniture or art is often seen as extravagant.  Yet the furniture and art work will hold its value, last longer and can often be sold for a profit.

Left is the working conditions of a Not for Profit Reception Area before the project renovations.  Right is the expression of the Receptionist when given a preview of her new Receptions Desk.  Completely overwhelmed, she is speechless.

In this area of the renovation, the terrazzo floors were cleaned and polished.  The glass partitions allow natural light to flow into the space and views out.  The walls were painted a cheerful yellow recalling the colors of the vivid colors of the containers in the Port of Newark where the building is located.  The Statue of Liberty Photograph like the receptionist is always there greeting the visitors to this Not For Profit Outreach Mission.  A well designed reception desk offers organization and privacy.  The wood veneer finish adds warmth.  The Black granite counters are durable while being responsible as one of the most affordable colors and comparable in price to other solid counter top materials.

Not-for-Profit means that the members or owners are not to make a profit.  There is a misunderstanding that they do not need to generate money.  The do, donors can only do so much.  They are giving seed money and that must be used to make more money to advance their stated mission and reinvest to sustain the mission.  Advancing the mission includes having a motivated and engaged staff.  And the quality of the space provided for their staff may make a difference in who they are able to attract and the retention of that key staff. 

Don't let the For Profit/Not For Profit 'Status' trick you.  Really in the end it is not that different than a fancy for profit law firm. Why do the partners have great offices?  Because the partners work hard for the firm and their clients and they need to be comfortable so they can continue to produce quality work.  They need to attract quality talent and retain them as well as attracting potential clients. How do they do that?  By looking good!
My blog is dedicated to residential work and being and practice is diversified and includes Not-For-Profit clients like the Seamen's Church Institute, public and private schools, The Maplewood Jewish Center.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

National Architects Week

"National Architecture Week, April 10-16, is a time to showcase the positive role architects play in our communities and highlight the power of design." — AIA
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) released a schedule of events for the Week.

When I tell folks that "I am an Architect." The response is typically, "I always wanted to be an Architect." It is often romanticized. As children we love to create little worlds whether it is a tent with blankets in the living room or a tree house in the back yard. When we get to college, the Architects have cool 'studios' instead of labs and classrooms and they build these crazy cool models and presentations. To build is to create and leave a legacy. But you don't have to BE an Architect to influence or create a legacy. Everyone has an opportunity to make a difference. However, when it comes to the built environment, a Professional Architect will be the key to its success. The Architect's role in all of this will be to interpret and coordinate the needs and information and then develop ideas and into thoughtful and sustainable solutions. Good design matters and the skill of a trained Professional Archtiect will make the difference in creating a legacy to be proud of. It does take a Village to build something special and that Village should have an Architect involved from the beginning.

Being an Architect has it's "cool moments" but working together with people to create something unique and beautiful that enriches the lives of the end user is powerful.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Understanding the Client - Architect - Contractor Relationship

A successful, efficient project considers the client's needs, well-being, and budget. The Client, The Architect, and the Contractor have very specific and necessary roles:
  • The Client/Owner– has specific goals, expectations and a budget that is in alignment with these goals and expectations.
  • The Architect – must guide the Client, propose reasonable, sustainable design solutions, and provide accurate, detailed drawings. These must meet the Client's requirements as well as applicable building codes and zoning criteria. The finalized construction documents will become the Client’s contract with the Contractor.
  • The Contractor – must be a responsible craftsman with expertise and the experience necessary to manage the trades and to build the project as designed and documented.
As with a three-legged stool, each of the three parties must work together in concert. They must maintain open dialogue and be able to troubleshoot as a team in order to respond to unforeseen issues or client-initiated changes. Limiting or eliminating any of these components will leave the client with a compromised solution.
Ultimately, the Client, or Owner, has two contracts: one is between the Owner and the Architect and the other is between the Owner and the Contractor. The Architect works for the Owner during the Construction Phase to observe that the Construction Documents are  interpreted correctly.  The Architect advocates for the Owner. Beware of the Contractor that does not want an Architect involved. Remember, the Architect works for the Owner to see that the investment in the Contract Documents--also known as Drawings and Specifications--is realized. This "three-legged stool" model also creates checks and balances that have been the successful precedence for many of the projects Clawson Architects has completed.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ten things a GREAT Contractor will Say/Do.

  1. "Joe"  here will be the Superintendent on your job.  He will be here every day at 8am.  Here is my phone number and his phone number should you have any questions or concerns.
  2. Here are the copies of  licenses and insurance certificates for all the people that will be working on your house.
  3. I have prepared a detailed schedule to mitigate delays and manage the team's expectations.
  4. I would like to have weekly Team Meetings to review progress we have made, next steps, and any changes to the scope, budgets, shop drawings created for custom work, and schedules.
  5. Let's refer to the Construction Documents.
  6. Let's ask the Architect what the design intent is before we go changing things.
  7. While it may appear that the Structural Engineer has over-designed this, I am sure they have researched the code and done the calculations to ensure the integrity of your house. I will call the Architect and Engineer to review alternatives that achieve the same goals but may result in a cost savings to you. 
  8. I have prepared an analysis that outlines the associated costs/savings you will incur for the changes discussed. Additionally, I have prepared the Change Orders with the associated costs/savings for the approved scope changes (resulting from unforeseen conditions or client requests) for the Team's review and approval.
  9. I have protected the areas that we are not going to be working in.
  10. I look forward to working together with this Team.
Engaging the Contractor can occur at different times.  The interactions discussed above take part during the Construction Administration/Observation Phase. To learn more about how to work with an Architect and the different phases of a project, visit Clawson Architects web site.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

House Calls--A New Bi-Monthly Column in The Alternative Press by René Clawson

I am very excited to be writing a new colunm for a hyperlocal daily online news source in our area called The Alternative Press.

My Column while appearing at this time as a Guest Column will be published on or about the 15th and 30th of every month in the Home and Garden Section and is called House Calls. My first titled article is: Finding Mr. Right an opinion about how to find the right General Contractor for your project.

Thank you for your support. 

Any ideas for future articles please let me know.

Monday, February 21, 2011

House Calls--a Professional Opinion

"Clawson Architects, how may we help you?"
"Yes, I live here in town and I need to blow out some walls add on to my house.  I had a guy that does work for me look at this and he says we can do it, I just need to get some blueprints from you."
I listen as the potential clients diagnose all the issues and explain how they propose to remedy the situation.  
While there is no doubt that there is a plethora of information available on line and in magazines, there is also the advisory team of neighbors, friends and family that have done this type of project before...rendering them relative experts.  So, I listen to learn more; it usually comes down to the fact that I really need to SEE what they are talking about.  Typically, I recommend that the potential clients go with our Initial Consult Service.
Like the medical arts, architecture is a visual, problem-solving field of study.  It requires years of study, an internship, and successful completion of board exams before it can be practiced legally.  An Initial Consult allows the patient/homeowner to procure a "Professional Opinion."  The architect will visit the site, examine the existing conditions, listen to the symptoms, observe the restrictions, constraints, opportunities and potential, and then render a professional opinion. It may confirm what the client was thinking and give them the confidence to move forward, either together with the architect or on their own. Most likely, the architect will also convey other potentials the client may not have considered or realized. 
In procuring a professional opinion, there is no reason for the architect to hold back on ideas or observations.  The client is in no way obligated to move forward with that architect, nor are they barred from seeking additional opinions. This Initial Consult has given you one-on-one time with a qualified expert who observes the situation first hand. The client receives very valuable information.  
When the caller said they wanted "blueprints" it really meant NOT my opinion. Blueprints are the result of a technology used to copy large drawings; they are produced on clear vellum or mylar and rarely used in the architectural world any more. The term blueprints has come to represent "detailed plans."  So, what they really asked for are accurate drawings depicting the existing conditions, details for the areas of work (demolition plans, dimensioned floor plans, electrical, structural and mechanical drawings and material specifications and details for their project), and a professional seal and liability insurance from an architect or engineer (certifying and insuring that the drawings and calculations are correct and that they meet state and local building codes). The drawings will serve as construction documents and the formal contract between the client and the contractor; if followed, the drawings will protect the integrity of the client's investment in their home.
I also heard the request to "add on." However, I have found on many Initial Consults that the house is really big enough already. The issues are of alignment:  the home lacks organization, storage and flow that is consistent with the client's living style, and in most cases they have 'given up'.  I am often shown a stack of images of what the client would like and 9 out of 10 times, it is a clean, bright, organized home.  While there are many people that will give you generic "blueprints" for a box on the back of your house, skilled architects will offer creative solutions to more complex problems and a holistic approach that addresses the whole home and lifestyle.  We have found that many times the solution is in the box or can be achieved by "pushing the envelope." The professional fees in these types of renovations are often returned quickly in the form of cost-savings:  reduced construction material costs and avoiding property tax and utility increases that would've resulted from a home with a larger footprint.  
So, three things before you add on:
  1. Consider your lifestyle and what is working and what is not working for you...the symptoms, not the diagnosis.
  2. "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."  William Morris
  3. Call on a true professional for an opinion.
Hire a professional to assist you in documenting the project you would like to construct and live in and remember: this architect still makes house calls before, during and after construction.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gutter Talk--Gutter and Downspout Maintenance

So, yesterday we had a taste of Spring here in the Northeast...and today, it is not as cold as they forecasted. This is allowing for a slow melt... a good thing. The ground and drainage systems have time to absorb the water. It gives us, the home owners a chance to run outside and check out the damage from this Winter Assault we have endured. This is your big chance before the next Winter Blast....or the Spring Rain to...

Check your gutters.

As I drive around town, I see lots of hanging gutters. The icicles were beautiful but they wreak havoc on gutters and downspouts. Many forgot to clear their gutters this fall. A task that should really take place quarterly. So go for it, make sure they are still attached to the house and that the downspouts are still connected and clear, and that they are directed away from the house. If there is some damage call the "Gutter Guys" in town and get some help. This little bit of maintenance could prevent a more drastic spring flood in your basement.

And as we dream about Spring....
Think about scheduling your Air Conditioning Maintenance...

Friday, January 21, 2011


One only has to walk through the streets of New York City to see the homeless trying to stay warm. Sometimes its a small structure made from boxes or found objects. On Fifth Avenue you can see many on the steps of St. Thomas. This past December, I had the opportunity to attend Picture the Family, a breakfast hosted by the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Essex County (IHN). The objective was to put a face to the Homeless Families here in Essex County and to showcase how through a network of volunteers and donations different faith based organizations were making a difference in the lives of many.

Here at Clawson Architects we have the privilege of assisting our clients build their dream houses. We are blessed to have a successful practice with successful clients. This year as we begin to set our goals for giving back to the community we have selected to become a Dream Team Member...pledging to support the effort of the Interfaith Hospitality Network with a quarterly donation.

This support allows IHN to make important strides by helping to direct more families to their own dwellings along with family, job and financial counseling. To learn more and even add your support through monetary contributions or volunteering contact IHN