I always design for the benefit of my clients, regardless of how photogenic the final result. Sometimes photographs don't tell the real story, the more important one, of the changes that occur in my clients upon living in their new space. Sometimes the changes are dramatic and show up immediately; and sometimes they are subtle and take time to manifest.
Case Study #1. Re-imagined home in Fredericton, NB, Canada - in the words of my client, David C.
The renovation that Carolyn designed was transformative. Our 2-story, high peak house was built in 1914 in a pretty standard style for an in-town house at the time, and was built on a long and narrow lot, and is 60' long. We had done a major renovation when we purchased it in 1984, but much had changed in the interim: a yoga studio needed to be replaced by an office and bath/laundry room; and the kitchen/dining room needed to be enlarged. We suffered in that area from a major bottleneck created by too little space exactly where everyone wanted to congregate.
That was just the start. When we began looking at our budget, we realized that it was going to cost a fair bit, and we had the resources to do it right this time, so we decided to hire a real professional who could make every dollar count and give us more sophisticated, intelligent design than either of us could dream of. We asked friends and relations if anyone knew of such a designer, and Carolyn's name came up with high praise, so we decided to go with her.
It gives me chills when I think of the day we settled on the final plan. It was so perfect, so elegant and so US, we were speechless. The addition of a veranda and sun room improved the outside dramatically, while the chef's dream kitchen, dining room and living room did the same for the inside. What is now my office is the perfect space for me to imagine the inventions I create that support us so well, and the new bathroom/laundry room on the first floor affords convenience we never enjoyed before. Our storage needs are finally met after years of piling things on top of each other wherever we could find space. The balance afforded by the transoms above the windows gives more light and a feeling of elegance, and the sun room, with its total glass surround and solar roof, were the final touch. All this beautiful wood trim, floors and cupboards! People still ooh and ahh when they enter.
It goes without saying that the quality of our lives has been immeasurably improved on every level since the renovation. On the spiritual side are the openness and the uplift we feel living amidst our beautiful backyard garden, viewed through the comfort of all this glass; the feeling of the changing seasons as the sun room warms our late fall and early spring days; the harmony of the 'perfect triangle' in the kitchen, making it easy for two or three people to work together preparing meals; the joy of dancing in the dining area with the beautiful cherry dining table set against the wall. The practical side is equally special. In the Fall and Spring months, the sunroom heats the entire downstairs on sunny days, despite our cold Canadian climate. In the dead of Winter, a wood stove in the kitchen supplements the solar warmth and keeps us totally comfortable.
All this was made possible by Carolyn's dedication and her intelligent, emotive design. In my book, she has no peer.
Case Study #2: Pro Bono Non-profit facility
Rebuilding Together is a national organization with chapters throughout the U.S. Their purpose is to provide upgrades and repairs to local homes and non-profit centers through volunteer work and donations at no cost to those who benefit from the support. Improvements include fixing roofs and plumbing leaks, adding wheelchair ramps, cleaning out heating ducts and other such things that would support the lives of low-income residents. Non-profit centers are nominated and are selected based on our ability to help them.
I was asked to coordinate the upgrades for a Senior Day Care Center in San Francisco. Putting together a team of students from the Academy of Art University, we created a plan and implemented it along with a team of local volunteers.
The problem we faced was that the participants were often disoriented due to dementia or Alzheimer's, and the executive director felt that the Center was not serving its clients optimally. She wanted to help them move from one activity to another, and to better organize the space they occupied. So, we put our heads together and researched everything we could find within our skill set that supports this population, including light, color, form, shape and all ADA requirements. We reorganized the space to accommodate better flow from one activity to another, resized them according to the needs designated by the E.D., and color coded these spaces to help clients remember which one was for what activity. Primarily we used a green/blue-green/blue color scheme, as these are calming and peaceful colors. We took the drab aluminum blinds off the expansive windows that looked out over the hills West of San Francisco and added colorful drapes that could be pulled back completely to allow the clients to enjoy the view.
The result was beyond anyone's expectations. The clients reported feeling more energy. They expressed greater happiness and more inclination to participate in activities. The bright and cheerful, yet calming colors made them feel more alive. They felt less disoriented and more independent. The increase in light helped them find their way around the spaces better and also helped them considerably with their visual acuity.
The Executive Director was amazed at their increased participation and reported that they were like little children when they arrived for their first day in the new space. The energy was, and continued to be, uplifting and joyful for both clients and caregivers.
Case Study #3. Helping a Child
Matt was the son of a couple I was helping with whole-house updates. At 10 years old, Matt was small, shy, ridden with various health and emotional issues and was easily overwhelmed by sensory input. His bedroom was on the East side of the house, next to his brother's room. The morning sun poured though his large windows, right onto his bed, requiring black-out shades; and his brother's showers taken in the next room woke him up each morning in an agitated state.
Before I began the project, he had been asking his parents to paint his room black to replicate outer space. Like many boys his age, he was obsessed with Star Wars, but his obsession had a different timbre. His desire seemed to go somewhere beyond fascination with the story to a longing of some kind. His parents were concerned about his request for black, due to their negative associations with it, and were unable to understand his desire for such darkness. So they did their best to appease him by putting a border at the top of his beige wall that had astronauts and planets running along it.
As we were reviewing the program for the project, my client told me about this, but only off-handedly. She wasn't intending to include his room in the renovation. I was a little surprised that there was no consideration being taken for his needs, but, not having a deep enough understanding of the family dynamic at the time, I didn't bring it up right away. Later on, when the project was well under way, my client and I had lunch together while shopping for the living room at the Boston Design Center. She brought up some concern she was dealing with about Matt; and I told her about an intuition about his attraction to black. She said she had long felt something like this for him, but could never put that feeling into words. She was deeply relieved to have found what seemed like a simple and loving way to help him, and we immediately set to creating that solution.
First, we moved him to an empty room on the North side of the house. It had its own bathroom, far from any others; had smaller windows (we added one to create a symmetrical rhythm across the North wall); and received no direct sunlight to shock him into wakefulness in the mornings. I then suggested we install wallpaper that was nearly black and scattered with planets, stars, nebulae, and other space phenomena. We covered the large, blank South wall with this and painted the rest of the room a soothing, light toned, full- spectrum gray. Color was minimized in his case, but the subtle infusion of all the colors of light in the full-spectrum paint allowed him to feel them without being overstimulate by them. We covered the floor with a neutral gray carpet and painted his storage cubbies and bookcases a darker gray.
Finally, I suggested we create a 'nest' for him by giving him a bunk bed around which we could hang a curtain he could draw. Inside, on the wall between the two bunks, we mounted a large pre-designed mural of a space ship console looking out into the vast blackness of space. We added a clip-on light for him to read by and a cozy comforter he could wrap himself up in.
He was so thrilled! He felt acknowledged and received for who he was and what he needed. (This is so important for children. I always encourage their input in the design of their rooms, and when applicable, their playrooms.) Also, he felt safe in his new room. His little space pod allowed him to retreat to his own world when he was overwhelmed with life.
As time went by, he was able to stop wearing glasses. His high level of intelligence began to blossom and his ability to handle more of what life presented to him increased. It's been several years now, and he's outgrown his space pod. He's a bright, charming boy; and although he's still working through some of his challenges, he seems to have found something within himself that has helped him release many of them, and to be in the physical world with more confidence.