Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Client Empathy Continues--Architects finally doing what they do for others.

“No news is good news,” the saying goes.
Construction continues with not a whole lot to report.

“Very fast” is still the schedule. 

When I last wrote, we were tasked with clearing part of the kitchen late into the night.
Other than a call from one of the kids that water was pouring into the kitchen via a light fixture, flooding the soon-to-be-demolished kitchen, the only event has been amazing progress!

As the client this time, what are we feeling?

Anxious.  Both Marvin and I find it hard to sleep at night.  There is quite a bit of pride involved, as you can imagine. 

Worried.   Like our clients, to get into the budget number we were willing to invest in this project, we had to make choices.  The framing is up, and as we survey the spaces it became clear that the dormer we removed in the attic on the back of the house for a future potential third floor bathroom was really not the thing to take out.  The contractor came to us..... “I have an idea!  What you really need back here is another dormer in the attic.  I think you will like it and you could even add a bathroom in the future as it is directly over the existing one.” 

Yup, we know!

Yup, the mantra!-- Follow the plans.  Don’t make changes. 

Weak we added the dormer back in.  And of course …like our clients who make similar changes to the scope of work, we are justifying it to ourselves. “It really is the right thing to do.” “We don’t want to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.”  “It will add to the resale value of the house in the future.” “We don’t have to put all the finest finishes in…”
Then we went to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and Kentuck Knob this weekend. Having put this visit off for years (just like the addition to our own house), our godchild's wedding celebration was in the area and we decided to make the pilgrimage to Falling Water as part of the weekend. We were so inspired.  The bathrooms had cork floors and walls.  You guessed it! The musing again about that third floor bathroom and how cool it would be to do it in all cork and extend that into the attic.  Phase II was quickly becoming a focus as the new space is so amazing.

EdgyWith things just a little out of place, our powder room and about 1/3 of our kitchen are gone. The contents of our attic crowd the bedrooms, we feel a little disorganized, and our surroundings are cluttered.  We repeatedly go to the old ironing-board-cabinet-turned-key-storage to get our keys only to remember that we emptied that a while ago.  And we run into the house to use the powder room and remember, as we try the powder room door, that it no longer exists and we have to run upstairs to the hall bath.

Guiltythere is so much going on in the world that is just devastating.  We feel pangs of guilt as we hear the news of the human suffering.
Fortunate --We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to improve our own home.

Empathetic We are in the business and we see how stressful this process can be on individuals. Even though it is often elective/self-imposed, having your normal routine and belongings out of place and living in a space that is tarped to keep out the elements takes a toll on even the hardiest. To think we still have clean running water, electricity and refrigeration and that we can go to work and school and get away from it for a while, our hearts go out to those that are in true need right now.
So, I am signing off now and heading to the store to purchase relief items for the hurricane victims. I'm remembering that while there is no real suffering going on at my house and that we are on a “Very Fast" schedule, there are many out there that do not know when help will arrive or if their lives will ever be normal again.

Monday, September 18, 2017

THE DREAM JOB-- On Time, Under Budget, Great Design

* Schedule  *  Budget * Design *  

...pick two, the industry has taught us....

Yet as two architects, specialized in high end residential renovations and additions, with over 60 years of combined experience between us and over 450 built projects, we believe we are in control!  And, like our clients, we are determined to beat the odds and  have it all! 

We are living in our house while construction is taking place, and our trusted and experienced contractor will not give us a schedule other than "Don't worry...I will go fast."  While we would never recommend this approach to our clients, and scoff at the idea of no schedule, because of our ten-year history of working with this contractor, we know he is very fast, as well as a man of his word. 

In an effort to keep our lives as normal as possible, the contractor has not had us pack up the kitchen yet. We offered to do a partial clearing of the back area right away, as there was a way to put up a temporary partition that would have given him more room to work and still leave us with a usable kitchen. He insisted it was not necessary and he would let us know when.

This contractor moves fast.  His experience, based on our collegial working relationship and our attentiveness to our clients' needs, is that we are responsive and that we move fast, too. 

Tuesday morning the contractor flagged us down as we were leaving for work in the morning. The day  ahead for Marvin and me was scheduled full of meetings and commitments. Then I heard the words " needs to be emptied out by tomorrow." 

Now, slightly overwhelmed with a task we had not scheduled for that day, Marvin and I told each other it would be fine. I offered to skip a board meeting but Marvin reminded me that a commitment is a commitment and we would divide and conquer --- a bottle of wine at the ready and the task before us beginning when I returned from the board meeting after 10 pm. 

Total boxes filled that night including Utility closet in Powder room...21
Together we took turns stepping up on the chair and handing down each finding. From the kids' elementary school pottery projects, to Grandma's cream and sugar set, to the wedding gifts created by artist friends. The bulletin board with the stacked certificates, graduation tassels and tickets as  memorabilia, friends' well-crafted party invitations and baby announcements we couldn't bear to part has all been taken down.

The memories from 20 years of living in our first house have been sweet.  Sharing wine, memories and laughter as we patted each other on the back for what we have built together and what we are building now, we paused... and joked.... and reminded each other that our life has never been...
 on our schedule, 
our budget 
or completely by our design!

And we reflected on how it's all worked out beautifully.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Clawson Architects awarded Gold medal for design excellence by peers at 22nd annual architectural awards

Clawson Architects awarded Gold medal  
for design excellence by peers 
at 22nd annual architectural awards 
September 15, 2017
Michael Graves School of Public Architecture, Kean University, Elizabeth, NJ – Clawson Architects, LLC, of Maplewood, New Jersey, received a Gold medal for design achievements from the American Institute of Architects regional chapter. The Newark Suburban Chapter awarded the Maplewood-based firm the award this year for outstanding residential architectural design element.
In this regional competition, firms submitted multiple entries in five specific categories. The jury awarded medals in five design categories and unlike many competitions, the jury reserved the right to not present any awards if the entries to did not meet strict criteria. The Gold medal project from Clawson Architects was awarded in the “Residential Interior or Feature Element” category.

The AIA chapters presented the Gold medal award for the Clawson firm’s design of the “Hill Top Barn in Summit, NJ” The jury noted that Clawson Architects, “consistently turns out beautiful work.”

Marvin Clawson, AIA, NCARB, ASID, CID together with Michael DiGeronimo, AIA, AICP, PP, were the designers on the award-winning project. While the Clawson Team points out that the entire estate was a pleasure to design, they made the conscious decision to submit only the barn, noting the unique design challenge of having to address this necessary and utilitarian structure that was not only visible from the stately main house but very close in proximity as well. The solution was to make it an element within the landscape that anchors the property with a subtle presence.
Marvin E. Clawson
Michael DiGeronimo

“So often, it is the over the top, remote houses set into a majestic landscape that take the prize and while they are certainly something to behold, it is rewarding to have peer recognition that recognizes the skill to create something that is humble and blends into the surroundings.” Said Clawson Firm Principal Architect and co-founder M. Rene Clawson, AIA, LEED AP, CID.
M. Rene Clawson
The Newark Suburban chapter of the AIA presented the awards on September 14, 2017 at a special evening awards dinner at the Michael Graves School of Architecture at Kean University. It was the organization’s 22nd annual awards event. AIA members, sponsors and guests were able to view project boards from the competition, while enjoying refreshments and camaraderie. Sponsors of the event included: Trukmann’s Reprographics, Pella Windows, Structural Workshop, LLC, Andersen Windows and Doors, Benjamin Moore Paints, Clawson Cabinets and KSI Engineers.

The jurors for the event included:
David Mohney FAIA, Dean of the Michael Graves College School of Public Architecture; 
Dean P. Marchetto FAIA, PP, Founding Principal of Marchetto Higgins Stieve
Pamela Lucas Rew, FAIA, Partner KSS Architects

Clawson Architects is known for taking on challenging residential design projects and developing creative, smart solutions that delight clients.  Elegant, period-specific details and contemporary amenities meld in a space that transcends far beyond “a box on the back of your house” to become architecture for the ages. The enthusiastic Clawson Architects team collaborates with you in a design process you’ll never forget.  Clawson Architects, LLC is a full-service architecture and interior design firm. Principals at the firm are Marvin Clawson, AIA, NCARB, ASID, CID and Mary Rene´ Clawson, AIA, LEED, AP, CID.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Old Habits, Muscle Memory, Solid Foundations and Strong Relationships

The back porch came off.  You can see it is gone, and the sun shines directly into the living room now with no porch roof to shield the direct southern light.  That, however, has not stopped me from walking to the back door with dinner for the grill.  Old habits die hard—lucky for me, there is a neon board and yellow CAUTION tape to remind me.   

The demo was quick and was followed by the digger breaking ground. 

It really is hard to fathom just how much dirt gets excavated.  There were two dumpsters in the driveway: one for building materials and the other for dirt.  They hauled off two dumpsters of dirt and then the part came where we needed to save some for the backfill.  There was a well thought out plan to fill yet another dumpster and work to preserve as much of the lawn as possible.  The Contractor is very aware that he is working in “Marvin’s Garden” and yet he was forced to choose.  In an effort to preserve a weeping redbud tree –a unique specimen -- the contractor had to pile the dirt on the lawn.  He was unable to maneuver between the hole he was digging and the tree we are saving.   I am not certain any tears were shed, however, I am certain that Marvin the gardener was working hard to stay composed.

Discovery:  Our 90-something-year-old home has no footings....but great muscle is still standing…and really never showed any signs of forgetting how to stand.  For all the homes we have worked on, you can typically observe some cracking or sagging that would indicate that the area was not supported correctly, and we anticipate the need for some additional structure.  Not here.  It came as a bit of a surprise.

Our experience and solid relationships with our consultants had us verifying the condition with our structural engineer as soon as it was exposed.  He dropped by and created a sketch for the contractor for underpinning the existing structure, and we have moved forward with corrective measures. 

End of first week –   footing inspection called for and the beginning of one of the many hurry up and wait scenarios was upon us.  The inspection times are typically within 72 hours of the call, and the inspectors will come between 10 am and 1:30 pm.

Success: They came (at 10:30 am), they observed, we passed! Now the big wait. It was Friday. Not knowing if we would be closer to the 10 am inspection slot or the 1:30 pm inspection slot and if there would be something the inspector observed that also needed to be addressed and with the holiday weekend approaching, there was no time to order cement and the workers were gone.

Forecast for the weekend…you guessed it rain….

So, like most of our clients….this first week we are getting to see what it would be like if our dream had been a swimming pool in our back yard.

While the workers were digging and underpinning and tying re-bar this past week, we signed off on the window order and door order and a big comfy couch for the family room. I had a moment ….second guessing all the finishes I have selected for the bathrooms and then there was all the middle of the night tossing and turning as I worried if the foundation would really remain standing.

Gratitude: So from Pete at KSI who ran out and did the foundation underpinning sketch, to Frank at DirectMillwork, LLC who went line by line confirming the order -- painted or stained, color of the hardware, screens, drip edges and jamb liners -- on something like 30 new windows, to Ali Como from Alexandria Como Designs for specifying and ordering the perfect couch in the perfect fabric and giving me encouragement and her nod of approval on the kitchen tile and colors I was leaning toward, to Adrienne at Short Hills Marble and Tile for her patience and professional guidance in helping me find the perfect tiles, colors and patterns for my bathrooms and kitchen back splash....THANK YOU.  

It really does not matter how many times you hold someone else’s hand in this process....when it’s your house, it’s personal….and while I have known that, being exposed to so many beautiful ideas and finishes, it is really difficult to choose. We are truly even more empathetic now.

The strong, trusted relationships we have cultivated over the years with contractors, engineers, designers, subcontractors, craftsmen, suppliers -- each with their expertise -- make all the difference …be it our house or yours.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

When Empathy Hits Home

Time to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...

While Marvin and I have been creating drawings for renovations to private homes and visiting the sites under construction for ... lets just go with years....assuring clients throughout the process that "it's going to be great!"...

We are finally embarking on major renovations to our own 1923 home.

When we purchased the house in 1997, my father's face went pale as he mustered up "its a great starter home." My mother, who is better at conceptualizing, said "you are going to love that porch!"  Having just given birth to our second child, my mother stayed with us and helped us move in with a four-year-old and a new baby as Marvin started a new position as an Associate at a firm in NYC...and good friends pitched in to help us make it safe and livable.  The next time my father visited...he was like wow....and yet all we had really done was clean, re-roof, refinish the floors, and paint inside and out.

We have lived in this house and dreamed of the possibilities for 20 years now.

Over the years we fixed what needed fixing and mused about the possibilities. We considered moving when our third child was born and made the choice to stay put. The kids were growing and their interests had us on the go.  We had started Clawson Architects and, as they say, "the shoemaker's kids...." Other than the typical home maintenance, we did not do much.

So it is time.  Time to renovate, and the lessons in empathy are hitting us they are:

The answer is three.  It has taken us quite a few years to get the plans together and we drew three different schemes before making the decision to go with the plans we filed with the building department. Like our clients "we just put it on the drawings" we were giving to the contractor for pricing to see if somehow, even though we knew it was going to cost more, that it would magically be within the budget we had set.  We too had to "pull back."

Stake holders....Marvin and Rene....we had to take responsibility for our dream and our budget.  As you can imagine...both being architects and interior designers we came to an agreement and set some ground rules:  we needed to keep our goals and needs in front of us and not stray. We heard each other out; I yielded to Marvin and gave him the last say on the outside decisions and he yielded to me giving me the final say on the inside decisions. I don't recall having to claim "my decision"...after 20 years of talking about it, we are on the same page.

We will be living in the house while all this goes on, like many of our clients choose to do during their construction. So of course, like our clients, we want to stay ahead of schedule and under budget. It worries us.  We know the truth.  It is disruptive.  It is noisy.  It is dusty.  People are going to be in our space. There will be challenges. We are anxious...about the choices we have made and of course the budget ...reminding ourselves, "If you want to stay on budget what is on the plans. DON'T MAKE CHANGES!"

So to my dad, who has passed away, was a great starter house and I regret that I will not get to walk you around to show you the new and improved forever house. And to my mom...your were right ...the porch has been awesome! We have made so many memories....we have shared many drinks and laughter with friends, family and neighbors.  It is a porch where we have snuggled as a family to watch the thunderstorms and sipped coffee as we watched the hummingbirds in "Marvin's Garden."  School projects, crafting 4th of July bike decorations, and creating watercolor paintings of the garden. First steps, first Popsicle, college applications and graduate school papers have happened here. It has been the favorite family meal spot April through October and where all the world problems are solved. Tomorrow it is going to be dismantled to make way for something new.

The new plans do not include a screened porch. While we are all excited about the changes ....and all we will gain, we have all had our doubting moment. We are left to assure each other that it will all be fine. That the new space we are creating will be the place where we create new memories.

This journey of our own has been a real life lesson in client empathy as we have watched many clients over the years stress as they pack and clear their belongings to make way for new's our turn.  We have spent the last few weekends clearing the attic and basement...playing trash or treasure...the memories are overwhelming and yet WE CANNOT WAIT to host a holiday party in our newly renovated home with kitchen and family room addition!

Stay tuned as the lessons in client empathy continue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Choosing the Right Architect for your Home

The Clawson Difference - 

Business and sales coaches often ask:
"What is the Value Proposition?"
"What do you bring to the table?"
"What do you do that is different?"

While Clawson Architects has a portfolio of beautiful projects -- new home, renovation, and addition success stories -- it can be difficult for the homeowner searching for an architect to discern why Clawson Architects may be the best choice for them.

So what is the difference?  Below is our

Value Proposition

Feature: Clawson Architects has evidence that in post-construction appraisals as well as post-construction sales, our clients' homes deliver a Return on Investment (ROI) ranging from 22% - 200%.
Advantage:  Your investment in proper drawings and a thoughtful design by Clawson Architects will reap you financial rewards.
Benefit: You will love how the light shines on the faces of your family and friends when they enter the room. You will feel comfortable and joyful as you take in the views created by our thoughtful placement of windows into the landscape.  Your daily life will be easier as we will have addressed your lifestyle.  And, in the end, if you decide to sell the family home, you will realize the financial benefits of having built something that was thoughtful and enduring.

Marvin during an initial sketching session "adding curb appeal"

Feature: Marvin has an extraordinary ability to draw...on-demand, to scale, and often upside down (to make it easier for the clients to follow his thought process and ideas).
Advantage: This allows Marvin to explore multiple concepts with the owners during a sketch session, quickly moving towards a solution that resonates with them.
Benefits: Owners see the design possibilities in real time. They see their ideas incorporated as Marvin listens, responds, and draws with them. No time is wasted with the architect going back to the office, getting on their computer, and dreaming up schemes devoid of feedback of the end user. There is no sitting around and waiting to see if the architect understood what you wanted. Clawson Architects clients see perspectives and details  explained with three dimensional freehand drawings -- on the spot!

This same process is used in the field if unforeseen conditions arise:  a meeting is held and Marvin whips out his magic pencil, problem-solving and communicating/sharing the possible solutions as the owner, contractor and architect work together to resolve the issues.

Feature: We have extensive experience and knowledge of period-home construction, renovations, and additions.
Advantage: With over 450 built projects and counting, we are not learning on your job. When you work with Clawson Architects, you benefit from their tried and true process, harnessing the power of 60+ years of the partners' combined experience in high-end residential design experience and their connections in the industry.  Each project has the attention of the partners and their very qualified supporting team.
Benefit:  You will not have to worry.  We have the experience necessary to deliver a successful project, creating a home with you that tells the story of your life with details that matter, are enduring, authentically represent your life and your needs, and bring you joy.

A favorable ROI is just one of many reasons to consider Clawson Architects as your architect in a time when you need an investment you can count on.

So, thanks again for considering Clawson Architects -- now let's get to work creating something of beauty and value for you!  Give us a call 973-313-2724