We hired Deforest Architects in Seattle for a reconstruction of our 1950’s Shoreline house. They are an incredible find for remodels, new houses, vacation homes and small commercial projects.
We went through a very thorough vetting process. We started with a list of about 10 of the most well-known architects in the area that MSFT folks recommended. What we found was rather disappointing. I would segment the market into three 'buckets':
**Snob appeal: The architects of the stars who cared more about your resume than your project. Questions such as “Will your remodel be $1 million or over?” were really offensive. It was also clear that they were really looking forward to taking our money and then creating their legacy to the world. I just had flash backs of Ann Rynd.
**One show pony: Despite promising to design "our" house, some architects really did just one thing. There was one architect whose work mysteriously all had Roman Columns or this pseudo Tuscan thing. Yikes.
** Let me do it for you since you don’t know any better: The last was kind of the Gr-animals approach. Let me do it since you don’t really know how to dress yourself or create a beautiful Met-Home kind of house. So, let me show you how to look the part.
What a breath of fresh air when we went to Deforest Architects! The first question was what matters to you? Where are you coming from and where do you want to go? How should the project work best for your family? This client-centered approach was surprisingly rare. So, that was what was most attractive initially. Luckily for us it just kept on getting better. We did a bunch of really interesting and fun exercises that helped connect images to the thoughts in our heads. Did we like warm/cool tones, comfy/modern? What did “home” mean to us based on out childhood? What were our normal flow patterns during a day? It was clear that whatever we built was going to fit with our personality, our lifestyle, and our sense of aesthetics (vs. someone else's).
After the architect team had a crystal clear sense of our needs, we started getting into the reality of the situation. One of our gifts in the house was a 180 degree view of the Puget sound. The downside was the roof slope which kind of felt like a baseball cap pulled too low over your eyes. I still remember the incredible creativity that went into addressing the issue. All of the suggestions were practical and reflected a cost-effective mentality. When we suggested tearing down the roof, we got back more practical and creative solutions such as changing the ceiling texture or bringing in light in creative ways. What a cool, innovative and outside-the-box approach!
After our creative brainstorming came what I consider the icky part. From my scads of friends I learned later that many architects are good at the creative stuff and not so hot on the project management, or vice-versa. What a relief to find that our architect was great at both. I’m a control freak and an obsessive note taker. After our first couple of meetings I’d have a pretty comprehensive check-list of to-do’s, owners, dates committed. Surprisingly, John would have a list that included things I missed and all the things I took notes on. Yeah! After that meeting I knew I was in safe hands and that the ball would not be dropped on anything and most importantly that I didn't’t have to manage the project manager.
All-in-all, working with DeForest Architects turned what could have been a scary experience into one that was incredibly rewarding. Nordstrom-like service. Abounding creativity. And just nice, good, honest people who approached architecture with personal integrity.
C.J. and Gideon Rosenblatt