Design Dialogue

By Clea Simon | Boston Home |

How would you create home around a piece of pottery? That’s the question interior designer Christina Oliver faced when a homeowner brought her a little Italian olive bowl with a simple red, white and blue pattern on it. After talking to her client, Oliver, who has her own design business of the same name in Newton, realized that the homeowner was drawn to the bowl’s simple design and colors. Oliver, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), translated the same simplicity into a floor plan designed around open-air, country style, with a coordinating color scheme of blue and cranberry on the walls.


How would you create home around a piece of pottery? That’s the question interior designer Christina Oliver faced when a homeowner brought her a little Italian olive bowl with a simple red, white and blue pattern on it. After talking to her client, Oliver, who has her own design business of the same name in Newton, realized that the homeowner was drawn to the bowl’s simple design and colors. Oliver, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), translated the same simplicity into a floor plan designed around open-air, country style, with a coordinating color scheme of blue and cranberry on the walls.

As a designer who often works with architects and is frequently called upon to translate ideas for homeowners and home builders, she knows that inspiration can come from just about anywhere. If someone spends summers on the Cape, for instance, using natural color schemes can bring the best of a vacation home to the city. Or if someone else collects modern art, sleek monochromatic arrangements may help balance bright colors and large canvases. The homeowners’ responsibility, says Oliver, is to help the professional find out what works for them, so that she can translate that feeling into an architectural or design statement.

“A good designer is a good listener,” says Corky Binggeli, president of ASID New England. While it’s up to a client to be honest and throw out ideas, like photographs or color swatches, designers are expected to listen. Even if the image you like doesn’t relate directly to your project, don’t be afraid to share.

“Think of it as a conversation,” says Richard Fitzgerald, director of the Boston Society of Architects, the largest chapter of the American Institute of Architecture. He suggests making a checklist that will help an architect understand your basic motivations: Why are you building this home or this addition? How will you use it? What are the important spaces for your family? A family who spends most time in the kitchen may want to think about light and space around the kitchen table, rather than focusing on building a state-of-the-art dining room.

VISUAL AIDS
Visuals are always helpful for any home project, and until technology came along, the best tool homeowners had was what you’re holding in your hands. Ripping out pages from magazines of buildings or rooms you like is still a common way to find inspiration and communicate what you want to your architect. “Showing illustrations from magazines or books can help the designer see a general look,” says Binggeli. “But it is also helpful to try to express what you like about an image.”

In this wired age you don’t have to rely on paper alone. Most architects have websites with portfolios to show past projects. Many sites also point you to additional resources, such as the Boston Society of Architects, which offers a free handbook on how to work with an architect, available as a download from the group’s website at www.architects.org. This booklet guides you through the process, advising what questions you should be asking of designers, about everything from budgets to timetables, to help you feel less like a novice.

The Web also is a great resource for browsing past projects. Think of the Internet as one huge magazine where clipping favorite interiors or houses is a matter of saving a low-resolution image to your hard drive, says Kevin Matthews, whose Eugene, Oregon-based company Artifice makes three-dimensional modeling software called Design Workshop. His company’s www.greatbuildings.com provides digital images that homeowners can download to show their architects. There are also programs that let clients dabble with design themselves.

BEYOND THE WEB
To help homeowners visualize design ideas better, most architects now use some form of CAD (computer-aided design) software that helps flesh out a sketch electronically. While most of these programs are designed for professional use only, still others, including Artifice’s Design Workshop, are relatively simple to use at home on a PC.

Basic programs with guided instructions allow homeowners to rough out their own ideas to share with architects. Whether the design originates with the client or the architect, software lets a client see mock-ups of a proposed new home in a virtual three-dimensional reality that may even allow a client to “walk” through the imagined space. “It’s almost like modeling with clay,” says Matthews.

To make sharing such plans feasible, a basic version of Design Workshop is available as a free download from www.artifice.com. With this software, clients can try out ideas at home before responding to their architects, and e-mail revisions back and forth to encourage conversation.

But even in the digital age, says Fitzgerald, setting aside face time together may be best. If you sit down with your architect, the two of you can discuss what works and what doesn’t, while software can help even the most nervous homeowner visualize what the architect has in mind using more realistic images on a desktop rather than traditional blueprints.

“It’s important to communicate,” says Fitzgerald. “The more preparation and input a client can do in advance, the less expensive the project will be. Architects have a saying, ‘It’s cheaper to erase a line than to tear down a wall.’”