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Interiors Blog 2013 - Bob Borson

JOB SITE CONFLICT RESOLUTION
29 Aug 2012

Bob Borson

BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

I was once told by my father-in-law that I would make a great contractor. Considering that he is a construction manager himself and has run projects as large as $730,000,000 (yes – that’s closing in on a billion), if he’s talking construction, I should probably be listening. Did he give me this accolade because of my insight into the construction process? Or maybe it was because my knowledge of materials and methods is superlative? What exactly was it about me that warranted him telling me that I would make a great contractor?

…… He said it was because I’m good at yelling at people.

Bob Borson

Sadly, he has heard me on the phone before when tempers were elevated and frustrations running at maximum. In this particular case, I was talking to a credit agency about someone who had used my wife’s identity to get a credit card and I was having a difficult explaining the flawed logic I was hearing from the person on the other end of the line. But that was 10 years ago and is another story for a different day. The truth of the matter is that I don’t really like to yell at people anymore … for any reason. It just isn’t productive, doesn’t accomplish anything, and makes every step for the remainder of the project infinitely more difficult. Sometimes a contractor responds better to getting yelled at but it just isn’t for me.

So what happens when I get onto the job site and there’s a problem? I can tell you this … I don’t start yelling. Whenever there is a conflict – and I’ll define a conflict as something more than a disagreement, it’s a situation in which one or both parties perceives a threat (which means it is going to cost somebody some money.) There are some fairly straightforward measures you can take to resolve the situation.

Be calm.

Sometimes due to the culture of job sites and construction, the person who is upset simply wants to vent and pick a fight. This person cannot be reasoned with in this state of mind so don’t argue, just let event unfold before you respond.

Try to see things from the other persons perspective.

In an effort to build upon the positives, look for common ground and areas where both parties agree and start there. Putting yourself in the other person position will keep you from jumping to conclusions and entering into the situation with a closed mind.

Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Sometimes the language can get colorful and sometimes it gets personal. If things get to this point – take a break and excuse yourself. Never tell the angry party that they are wrong, irrational, belligerent, etc. and that you won’t talk to them until they calm down. It’s generally seen as insulting and diminishes the validity of their anger. You may not care if they have a right to be angry but in the attempt to get things moving forward, be the bigger person and remove yourself.

Let the other person do the talking (and let them finish).

On occasion, it’s simply a matter of giving that person a  forum to be heard and feel important. There isn’t always a problem to solve, just a complaint to hear. So listen … it can be that direct and straightforward.

Own up if you're wrong.

If you take responsibility for your actions, let the other person know that you accept responsibility but now you need their help to make things better. Even if you don’t think you’re wrong, tell them that it’s possible that you are mistaken. You can ask them to review the situation and possible solutions with you – because in the end, you both really have the same goal – to get out of that situation with the least amount of damage.

There are a few other techniques I have found to be very effective in resolving conflicts. Many fall into the category of ‘Things I learned in Kindergarten’ but once you hit your professional life, those rules seem to get ignored.

Try to get to Yes.

In my office we go to great lengths not to burn anyone. The only time I won’t try and find a work around to a problem is when it is blatant and looks like a mistake. This isn’t about proving who is wrong or right. Since we tend to work with the same 50+ contractors and our projects tend to be desirable to build (and I hope own) I find that I rarely have the problem of assigning fault to a situation unless things get really messy. Contractors don’t bring up the little issues, they know what we want or what we need and they get it dealt with without coming to me. Since I know that sort of problem solving goes on, if and when something does come my way, I find a way to work with the contractor and situation.

Recognize and Respond.

Try and listen and find out what is important to the other person. Is it timing? Is it financial? What? Figure that out first and move forward from there.

Forgive and Forget.

Everyone has a bad day, look for patterns of behavior and deal with the items that fester. You can’t ignore the one-off incidents but the manner at which you address them can make the difference between a positive conflict resolution and creating a bigger problem.

Compromise.

It isn’t a dirty word. In my world, intent counts for something and mistakes, when they happen, are worked with and fixed, frequently at little to no additional costs.

Right here, right now.

Together and in that moment, work to come up with a list of solutions, good and bad. The basic premise of teamwork is easier to achieve when the team is actually working together.

Hopefully you don’t need any of these tips, or better yet, these tips are already built-in to the way you work with people. Either way, I’ve had a lot of success in my career by not yelling at people, even when I was right and in the position of power (when am I not in a position of power?). The only part I miss is all the zingers that I think of that have to stay put inside my head.

Cheers.

Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 


CHOOSING A CONTRACTOR
23 Jul 2012

Bob Borson

BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

There aren’t any real secrets to selecting a residential contractor but knowing what sort of indicators to look for can make a big difference between a good experience and a bad experience. Once you know the right sort of questions to ask your contractor, most people can take advantage of their common sense to get the rest of the way through the selection process. I am going to focus on some basic information and to get things started, I am going to explain how the process works in my office.

Choosing a contractor

I don’t work with the same four contractors on every project. There is a pool of approximately 50-60 contractors that are available to work on our projects at any one time. Why so many? It’s a matter of finding the right fit and skill set. We generally divide our contractors into the following groups:

New Construction

Renovation/ Addition

Modern style design

Traditional style design

A, B, or C level craftsmanship

Quality versus quantity

Contractors can exist across several of these categories with the exception of quality - that is something that rarely changes over time. Once a contractor does a project and we have internally determined the level quality (A, B or C), it takes something fairly miraculous to happen for that designation to change. This “grade” isn’t something that should get the contractor too worked up over, if the work was intolerably bad, they wouldn’t work on one of our projects again. Think of the grade more as an indicator of quantity and quality. There are clients who are willing to accept a lesser quality product  in an effort to get more product. Really, this is about the perception of value so as a result, we need those B and C level contractors – they are vital to aligning the client's budget against their program.

We also consider the temperament and personality of the homeowner and how it will match up with the possible contractor for this is actually one of the most important considerations. You can see how a list of 50 or 60 contractors, when considered against all the different variables can be reduced to just a handful very quickly.

Checking References

This may sound like an obvious step but most people don’t actually do it – and those that do take the time, rarely do it properly. Common sense moment: Why would a contractor ever supply you with a reference that they knew wasn’t going to give you a glowing review of their work? If they did, that would be an indicator that they aren’t very smart. You have to work through the information that they give you methodically. When you call the reference, have your questions prepared ahead of time and drill down and ask very specific questions. If you are asking questions that can be generally answered with either a “yes” or a “no”, you’re probably not asking the right kind of questions.

Choosing a contractor

Examples of “Not Good” Questions:

“Were you happy with the work of "The Contractor"?

“Did the project cost what the contractor said it would?”

These types of questions are too generic to be of much value – besides, since we can safely assume that this reference likes the contractor, you might actually be speaking to the contractor’s mother-in-law. You must ask specific questions that require specific and detailed answers.

Choosing a contractor

Examples of Good Questions:

“How was the project staffed? Did you feel that the contractor adequately staffed the project to complete the work when they promised?”

“In what format did the contractor submit their requests for payment?” Was the request coordinated against their original bid and did they match?

“How did the contractor address additional charges?” Did they provide a cost up front or did they provide a revised bill at the end? Was the charge broken down into individual expenses or was it a single line charge?

“Did the contractor do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it?”

“Was there adequate supervision on the project? How was it handled?”

“Who did they (the homeowner) talk with the most throughout the project?” (i.e. contractor, site superintendent, or the dry wall contractor)

“How often did they submit a pay application and how was the request broken out?” (i.e. percentage of work complete, material costs + labor cost, or period of time based on expected length of time to complete).

Find out how long the contractor has been in business and how long at their current location. Verify that they plan on using licensed subcontractors and that they will be pulling proper permits. Yes, I know that this will add cost to your project but if you think I am going to recommend that you cut corners in an effort to save 1% of your project costs you are mistaken. While permitting your project will add permit costs and possibly some days to the overall length of your project, it is generally the law and the permit process ensures that someone who knows what they are looking at is coming by and verifying that the contractors work is being done correctly. In addition to verifying that the  contractor plans on using licensed sub-contractors, verifying that they plan on pulling required permits sets an expectation level from the beginning on what is and what isn’t acceptable. You should expect to ask these question to ensure that you are able to get an apples-to-apples price comparison if you are going to have several contractors bid your project.

** A friendly consideration to homeowners going through the bidding process **

It costs contractors money to bid your project. I don’t think it is unreasonable for you to expect them to absorb that cost as an expense they have running their business but don’t abuse it; I don’t ask any more contractors than is necessary to bid a project. We also provide the contractors several copies of all the drawings to work from at no charge. Also, we also do not ask contractors to bid a project simply to vet out and verify another contractors bid. Abiding by these simple considerations should be common courtesy, not to mention that it is a respectful way to start off your project with you newest best friend – your contractor.

Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

 

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR ICE?
11 Jun 2012

Bob Borson

BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

One of the rituals when you go to college to get a degree in architecture or interior design is to stand in front of a bunch of people (typically made up of your classmates and other professors) and orally present your design and justify your decision-making process. As soon as you finish presenting, your project – and how you presented your project – would be critiqued by the professors that have sat in and listened to the entire thing. This process is very important in the education of an designer – this is when you learn how to articulate your reasons for making esoteric decisions. Depending on the style of the professors, these juries could be brutal and emotionally damaging. I can still recall from my sophomore year design studio watching “Mable McTerriblepants” (not her real name) present her design for a community bathhouse. The first words out of the mouth of the professor (he had earned a reputation for being rather blunt) were:

“Let me show you where you  f**ked this up”

Oooooohh ZING!!! I can’t say if Mable McTerriblepants ever recovered from such an unpleasant review of her work because I don’t remember hearing from her...

…ever

…again.

Architecture Students

(Photo: Architect in Person)

There were all sorts of lessons and skills that evolved from these critiques but one of the things I learned to look for was the type of comment, if not necessarily the way it was delivered. Since the professors that were critiquing your project were generally not that familiar with the intricacies of the project, they didn’t stray too often from talking about the big ideas – the concept. It didn’t take long to learn that following the rules and playing it safe didn’t get you very far and that in the end, a successful design was all about the concept and not about the detailed finer points. After presenting your project, if nobody is talking about your big idea but rather focusing on your bathroom layout… well, let’s just say that your project probably wasn't very well received or at least, your big idea was not highly regarded as a design concept.

This lesson comes in handy almost every day in the course of doing design when working with a client who is also the end user. Paying attention to the type of questions being asked is really useful because you can tell pretty quickly if they understand what they are looking at based on the specificity of the comments they make. If a homeowner is paying too much attention to one specific item, you know that they have latched onto something they do understand and are strenuously vocalizing their opinion on the matter in an effort to participate.

Ice

For some inexplicable reason, one of the most common examples of this I have experienced is a conversation I have with a homeowner on the specifics of ice cubes.

That's right ... ice cubes.

I have spent an exorbitant amount of time dedicated to ice cubes and the equipment that make them. Square, crescent or nugget shape? Clear or cloudy? Production capacity, noise level, internal or external drain? Under counter ice maker or freezer? This is a serious subject for some people and we take solving it seriously – but I know that no matter how much they love their cloudy nugget ice, if we just presented the plans and they are asking me about ice cubes, they don’t understand what we have just showed them and that means they aren’t able to participate the way we want them to during the design process.

Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT ROOM IN THE HOUSE
14 May 2012

BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

bob borson

 

Everybody knows it … and when you are a residential architect and design a lot of houses you really, really know it:

The kitchen is the most important room in the house.
 

Kitchen

It’s just one of those things. Despite my predilections for spouting my opinion like fact (instead of just what I believe), I can’t tell you why this is true. If you have a party – everyone ends up in the kitchen. This is an area of the house where there is family activity,  it is a space that has specific purpose – similar to your bathroom - but if you’re having a party and everyone ends up in the bathroom, I’d say it was either a bad party or 1974.

The kitchen is also the most expensive room in the house. Once you add up all the expenses associated with cabinetry, counter tops, appliances, and lighting (task, accent, and under-counter) , it’s easy to see why this room is special. It’s also the one room where we almost always have to rein in the client on what they want to do and how much of their budget they want to dedicate to the kitchen as a percentage of the whole.

Have you also noticed that there are certified kitchen designers out there? These are people who are dedicated and knowledgeable about the specific intricacies of putting together a well functioning and beautiful kitchen. Have you ever seen a certified living room designer? They don’t exist … at least I don't think they exist unless you count interior designers.

Kitchen

I suppose because I am in the design trade and as an architect I need to know a few things about construction, I get sent a lot of magazines without ever having asked for the magazine (I'm talking about 50+ a month). At best, and on a good day, I skim through a handful of them at an alarmingly fast rate but one day, one of the magazines that crossed my desk recently ran an article that caught my eye. It was Professional Builder and the article was written by David Barista and titled 'Survey: Majority of builders believe that kitchen is key to selling new homes'.  While I don't generally believe that the road to happiness is necessarily through following the thought process of the majority, I really thought this was an interesting article.

Did you ever wonder which features in your kitchen had the most value or importance? If you were looking for some sort of justification that the ideas you had about expanding or improving your kitchen were good ones – you can check the chart below and see what the people who were surveyed thought.

Kitchen survey

The bottom line is that the survey confirms what we already know - that the kitchen really is the important room in the house. 

Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

 

 

THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
16 Apr 2012

 

Bob BorsonBOB BORSON, ARCHITECT 

The Seven Deadly Sins are wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony and pride.

Pride. Should it really be one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

‘Pride’ as define by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:
a) the quality or state of being proud: as a : inordinate self-esteem : conceit
b) a reasonable or justifiable self-respect
c) delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship

.

One of the modern day seven deadly sins – pride, or hubris, is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and is considered the source from which all the others arise. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self.

It is also what separates a good contractor from a great contractor.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - the Seven Deadly Sins

('Anger', The Seven Deadly Sins by Pieter Bruegel the Elder )

I chooseth not to beleiveth that the pride from whicheth I speaketh is the same as the one identified by the Catholic Church, King Solomon, or Evagrius Ponticus. This is more about craftsmanship, and ownership of that craftsmanship. When a contractor shows attention to detail and wants to be part of the design process, it is an indication that they have ownership in the work they produce. When people have ownership in the work they produce, that generally translates into a superior end result.

Okay, so maybe it is the same thing, but Seven Deadly Sins or not, I want it on my projects – particularly the modern style projects which are far more demanding – so they are executed properly.

The downside to this level of craftsmanship, if you're looking, is that it is always expensive and slow. We have all heard the expression – better, faster and cheaper. When it comes to construction, you can only get two of the three and that is only when you are willing to pay for them. To the craftsman who build millwork or fabricate and forge steel components, or any other artisans, their craft is art and they generally believe that anything worth doing is worth doing for the sake of creating something beautiful. It is expensive because they self-police their work and deem things to be acceptable or unacceptable as part of the process, and the cost to re-do the work is built into the cost. Rarely is it one and done. Sometimes these artisans can be difficult to work with but you know (unfortunately just as they do) that it is worth it in the end.

Tiled Niche

The picture above is a tiny example of craft – and this is an important level of craft when building modern residences. This is a shower niche in my own house - the important thing to recognize here is that the niche is perfectly sized to the tile and grout joints – both left to right, top to bottom, front to rear, all while being perfectly centered on the shower head from the opposite wall. I didn’t even have to tell this particular contractor that this would be important – he knew it was important.

Mosaic Tile by Anna Fietta

(Mosaic tile by Anna Fietta)

This is an image of a mosaic tile piece going into one of our projects - one of three such pieces in total. The top image is the overall installation at almost 5' tall and 11' wide and took Anna three months to make. I don't believe that you could build a piece like this and not have pride in the finished product given the dedication it would take to see something this detailed through to completion.

Wood ceiling alignment

This is a another example of pride showing up on the job site. What you are looking at is the wood ceiling of a covered outdoor terrace. Notice how the light and the inline ceiling heater are perfectly in alignment with the joints of the wooden board. I didn't tell them that they had to do it and while I am confident that my design documentation is very thorough, this is a difficult level of coordination to achieve. It happened to be built this way because the person who built it took pride in their work and wanted it to be apparent ... definitely the work of an evil sinner. 

A sometimes unexpected by-product of having something beautifully made by people who take great pride and ownership in the work is that if anything ever goes wrong, even well beyond your standard warranty period, they will come and fix it for you.

Pride as a deadly sin? Not on a job site.

Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

 


QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
21 Mar 2012
Bob Borson BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

There is an expression that I use probably more than I should:

They've got a big bag of nothing...

It’s not much different than saying someone is “full of hot air” or “all talk and no action”. The meaning behind this phrase is a person who will talk at length about a subject they don’t know anything about. Lately, I have been using this phrase while trying to describe different types of clients and the way they approach their construction budgets – and yes, it involves bags – (but in this case, the bag is an metaphor for the clients project budget).


Euros
 

Quantity over Quality

Client #1 views their bag as empty but sized to accommodate the budget – i.e. – they can put 500,000 worth of stuff in that bag. The way they perceive things, they select a project item and put it into the bag. After a while, the bag is full but they still have items left that they want inside that 500,000 capacity bag … so what do they do? They cram it on top, jam it into the side – whatever it takes as long as it gets - in - the - bag. Don’t worry about the fact that some of the items already in there are getting smashed, broken, deformed … it doesn’t matter. If everything has to get a little worse so that there is more "stuff" in there, than they are happy.

Quality over Quantity

Client #2 has their bag but the way they see things, their 500,000 budget money is already in the bag. As they select items from their list, they take some money out of the bag to cover the expense. When the bag is empty, they stop pulling items off their list. They may not get as much "stuff" but what they do get is going to be exactly what they wanted.

This type of "get more for less" type thinking is fairly unique when working with clients who don’t have experience dealing with project costs. Most people go though their daily routines selecting items based on a balance of want vs. need vs. cost. It’s a skill that most people master out of necessity.

I try to help my clients understand the importance of identifying a budget and sticking to it – but I also put a lot of importance on setting priorities and understanding the cost of the things they want in their projects. Get what you need and then start adding items from your wish list. All too often I hear horror stories of very intelligent and successful people that make terrible decisions based on what makes sense to them – despite any evidence to the contrary. If they don’t get everything they want for what they think it should cost, then they simply move from contractor to contractor until they find someone who tells them what they want to hear. Do I really need to tell you that the end of that story is never a happy one?

Sure, I can build your dream house for €80 a foot … you didn’t think that you were going to get straight walls for that price right?”

“What do you mean you can’t get it to cool below 80 degrees? Was that important ’cause at €80 a foot, I didn’t price it with air conditioning.”

“You bought our ‘Atrium’ style plan' …  at €80 a foot, it doesn’t come with a roof. Roofs cost extra.”

 While it might seem like I’m poking fun at contractors – I’m not. If you are getting the same basic pricing from everyone who looks at your project, you can’t expect to find one who can still give you what you want without there being consequences. If three bids come in and they are all around €100k over your project budget, the solution isn’t to find cheaper contractors. The solution is to re-evaluate the scope of work to be done and the appropriateness of the level of quality.

Quality Vs Quantity

If you are one of the people out there reading this, shaking your head in agreement, then you should pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for grasping what seems like an easy concept – when you have been educated or are experienced in this process ... you clearly have a bag with something in it. Too bad everyone doesn’t think like you do because there are a lot of people walking around out there with a big bag of junk.

 

Bob Borson is an architect practicing in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 


My opinion is better than yours
14 Feb 2012

bob happyBOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

Last month I spoke a little bit about how important it is to take advantage of your personality when you are a design professional. In my efforts to be brief, I left out some important things in the post that I now regret and it has been bothering me ever since. It should have read:

"Personality goes a long way in this business, so take advantage of yours (unless you are a tool)  and become friends with your clients".

Based on the emails I received, I should have added "unless you are a tool" in the original because nobody (except perhaps their mothers?) likes working with those sorts of designers.

One other thing that I left out that goes hand in hand with the idea of using your personality to your advantage, is that you need to have an opinion and you have to be able to support and articulate why you have the opinions that you do. That is what makes you "the professional".

It may sound arrogant, but my opinion is better than yours. It’s true and I can tell you why. That’s why my opinion's better – it's because I can tell you why it's better.

Most formally educated designers have been trained to understand why they like something and to then be able to communicate those reasons. While you might like a certain shade of orange because it’s pretty, I might say I like that shade of orange because the way the light hits it causes the surrounding areas to change and that modifies the perception of the size of the room.

It frequently happens that a client will bring in a photo of a space and tell me that this is what they want - that they like "this". When I ask them what is it about "this" particular image that they like, the response is a generic: "I just do, it feels right". Continuing my line of questioning about specifics, we discover that they don't really like the colours... or the furniture... or the fixtures. What they are responding to is the mood based on room size, ceiling height, amount of window compared to wall, etc.

magazines bob borson

Not being able to understand why you like a certain thing doesn’t mean you're wrong for liking it or that there’s no value in your opinion, it’s just that I can evaluate the motivations for why I perceive things a particular way. Being able to express the reasons for evaluating a thing makes that judgment more valid. It also allows you to recreate the successes you have without having to literally recreate the space.

It isn’t a gift, but it is a skill that takes a long time to develop and understand, and I work at it constantly. One unfortunate side effect is that I drive my wife crazy explaining to her my (unsolicited) thoughts why some coffee shop or restaurant is laid out poorly, has silly lighting and inappropriate furniture.

The ability of any designer to be any good at what they do is their ability to listen to a client who can’t describe why they like something other than they like it, and explain to them what they are looking at and describe it for them. Hopefully, the process will get you both to the essence of what makes a thing great and apply those qualities to something new without resorting to copying.

tool

Bob Borson is an architect practicing in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, Catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 


Make the work personal
16 Jan 2012

Bob BorsonBOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

There is a secret that all attentive interior designers and residential architects know: Don’t give your client what they ask for, give them what they need.

In order to create personal and successful designs, you need to develop a relationship with your client that goes beyond providing functionality solely based on their requests. Unless you are designing for troglodytes (!) there will probably be bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, some living areas, and sometimes the odd side room etc - but it’s important to understand how each client will want to use these spaces in order to give them what they want. The aim is to create a home that is uniquely theirs, reflects their personality, and has been designed according to how they will live and occupy each space. Unfortunately, what a client needs is not necessarily what they ask for.

Part of my role as architect is to be an interpreter and translator – to listen to what the client is saying and then to digest, interpret, prioritise and re-issue that information back to them. The goal is to ultimately protect the client from themselves, scrape away all the nasty bits of conflicting thoughts and imagery they have been assembling, and present back to them a clearer and more representative picture of what they are after. I truly believe that design professionals are better at the job when they are able to develop a personal relationship with the client along the way; It makes it easier to help them create a house that suits the the way they really live, instead of how they think or hope to live.

house bob borson

These personal relationships are what allow you to know the difference between how a person actually is vs. how they see themselves vs. how they would like others to see them. Just because a client thinks they would like to entertain doesn’t mean that they actually will. They might even think that they would entertain more often if only they had a proper entertaining space – that this one thing is what has kept them from having fabulous parties.

drinks

To know the difference between what a client wants and what they are asking for only really starts to happen after you have peeled back what is initially presented on the surface. You need to start learning about all the personal things in their lives that don’t intrinsically have anything to do with designing architecture or interiors at all. You find out about their families, the crazy closeted uncle, that the Mr snores, the Mrs likes her eggs with ketchup – and more. Often, I’ll go out to dinner with clients and have them over for drinks; I’ll call them on the phone and ask about some event in their life – things that are inherently personal.  This provides me with a level of knowledge I can’t get when we are sitting at a conference room table.

An interesting result of this process is that the line defining “client” and “architect” (a.k.a. “service provider”) typically becomes blurred or removed altogether. I become very close to my clients and, in most cases, develop lasting friendships. When this does happen, the client starts to see me as a social equal. Now it might be because they genuinely like me, or, possibly out of necessity because I know all the things about them that stay hidden from all but their closest confidants (or their attorney) and so they have to keep me close so they can keep an eye on me…!

bob borson robot

Personality goes a long way in this business, so take advantage of yours and become friends with your clients. Your projects will be a lot better and you’ll probably have a lot more fun along the way.

Bob Borson is an architect practicing in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, Catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 


MODERN DESIGN 101
19 Dec 2011

Blogger Bob BorsonBOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

Modern design, including modern architecture, is everywhere these days; More and more of our clients are coming in and asking for modern designs without actually knowing what it means to have a residence in the “modern” style … they just know they want it. You only have to look at the programmes on TV to see how mainstream and accepted modern design has become to today’s consumers.

That’s great news for architects like me because I've whole-heartedly embraced modern design and have a firm grasp of the concepts behind modernism. The bad news? A massive disconnect exists between what it costs to build a modern property and what people think it costs… and it’s up to the architect to explain the reality. The clarity of modern homes is often mistaken for simplicity - but in reality, they are extremely expensive.

In the decade after World War I, modern architects were interested in the “rational” use of modern materials (steel and glass most notably), the principles of functionalist planning, and the rejection of historical precedent and ornament. There was a widespread belief that building forms must be determined by their functions and materials if they were to achieve intrinsic significance or beauty in contemporary terms.

BOB BORSON MODERN DESIGN POST

Richard Neutra's Edgar Kauffman House - photo by Julius Shulman

I am going to give you the starter kit of classic rules for modern design (feel free to impress your friends with your encyclopedic knowledge at the next cocktail party):

• adoption of the machine aesthetic
• materials and functional requirements determine the final product
• emphasis of horizontal lines
• express the structure of the building
• rejection of ornamentation – the simplification of form + elimination of “unnecessary detail”


and the most enduring, and most quoted rule of all:

form follows function

bob borson blog post

Photo: Joseph Eichler Home

What does this all mean to the 30 and 40-something’s that come in to our office wanting a modern design?

Nothing - yet. I don’t need them to understand the maxims of modern architecture, because my job as their architect and designer is a lot more fun when I get to go through this educational process with them. This is a period when everybody loves one other – we meet over tea, I loan them my books on Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohn -  things are going well and I'm their hero – leading them from the dark ages and the soul-consuming blackness that is The Traditional Home and into the light of modernism!

MODERN ARCHITECTURE POST

Exposed Structure and Hipster - photo by Daniel Hennessy for Dwell

Uh-oh, wait a minute...when the time comes to introduce the word “cost” into the conversation, things start to turn. Like a pork sandwich left out in the sun.

These are the critical moments with the client that separate the wheat from the chaff (or my head from my body). It would be so much easier to take the client to a modern style house that was poorly built with every single flaw or issue exposed. The skill level needed from the contractor to plan ahead and adjust for dimensional “nuances” - so that the joint pattern of the tile aligns with the window layout and there aren't any remnant pieces of leftover tile just before you get to the corner - is significant. Ever noticed how window openings in brick walls are exactly the correct size for the windows with no cut bricks? That meant the placement of every window in that wall was perfectly located months before any bricks even arrived on site. These things take skill to execute and - just like everything else - skill = ability, and ability costs money.

bob borson light glass home

Photo: Modern Cabana by Bernbaum Magadini Architects

I’m not trying to say that contractors who build traditional style houses don’t have skill. What I am saying is that the skill level needed to build a house without ornamentation is higher than traditional houses because there aren’t as many ways to hide errors or “nuances”. How many traditional houses have exposed concrete floors? If you are going to be covering them up with wood parquet floor, why pay extra to get the concrete floor perfectly smooth and level? If you are going to be slathering texture on the walls, why bother floating out the entire surface with gypsum to make it flat? Ever wondered why homes from the 70′s had popcorn texture on the ceilings? Aaahhhh – it’s all becoming clearer isn’t it?

The best rule of modern design is probably one you’ve heard before, but you might have thought it meant something else:

'LESS IS MORE'.

Bob Borson is an architect practicing in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

 

 


SO, HERE WE ARE...
21 Nov 2011

BOB BORSONBOB BORSON, ARCHITECT

So here we are ... the INTERIORS UK blog launch. I'm pretty excited. Are you excited? We're going to get to spend quite a bit of time together over the next few months...

It seemed appropriate that I should use my inaugural entry here to tell you a few things about myself so that we can speed a few things up, establish some parameters, and set the tone for what you might expect from me - think of it like the beginning minutes of a first date where I get all the background stuff out of the way and you learn that I am not someone who still lives with his parents and attends science fiction conventions dressed as a Klingon.

american bob borson

I am the only member on this expert panel of bloggers that does not live in the UK (although my wife was born in Lakenheath Brandon, Suffolk, UK so that should count for something.) I currently live in Dallas, Texas, USA, and despite the perception of most people, Dallas isn't a country town and the people who live here are not cowboys. Dallas is the 9th largest city in the US and our largest industries are oil, gas, banking and telecom. You can probably guess that these are global industries which means there is a lot of money and jet setters that live here. I've seen more Hermes handbags than cattle (although I have designed some closets large enough to accommodate livestock). I have travelled to the UK on three occasions and spent a grand total of 49 days there - enough to know that I would consider living there if I won the lottery. I don't have a country accent, I wear a lot of black clothing, and I like to drink beer so I think I could fit in well enough to enjoy myself.

hermes

My name is technically Robert but I go by Bob. When your name is "Bob" people take all manner of liberties because Bob is such a casual name ... that's okay, I like casual. As a result, I have many nicknames over the years -"El Presidente", "Captain Bob" and "The Senator" to name a few - but feel free to address me however you like. I typically respond to all comments left on my own site so I will continue that trend here at INTERIORS UK If you've got something to say than say it, I don't make fun of anyone except myself... and possibly balding men who still think the "comb-over" is working for them and maybe women who wear high heels but can't properly walk in them.

badges

Most of the work I do is focused on higher end single family client-based residential projects (try saying that 3 times fast). As a result, I am pretty familiar with most of the latest trends in materials, products, and finishes - although whether or not I use them is another matter. I have been a practicing architect for 20 years and as I have matured, I am starting to recognize the patterns in my work and I am comfortable with my own design aesthetic. I like things that appear orderly and purposeful, and my design styles trend towards modernism but I'm not against the "asp in the bouquet" approach to design, it gives people something to talk about in my opinion.

I am looking forward to the start of an exciting relationship with INTERIORS UK and I am very honoured to be here and included with such other talented and creative individuals. I expect that all of us are going to learn a few things along the way...

signature bob

Bob Borson is an architect practicing in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson 

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