Does Search Engine Optimization have you baffled?​

I’ve been asking new potential clients how they found us.  Interestingly, many have found us on Google. Also, they have each complained about the process. As hard as it is for the professionals to decide on which key words to put into our websites, it is equally hard for our potential clients to decide what to type into the search bar. Here are some of the things that they reportedly typed into the search bar: An owner of a vintage auction house located in Brimfield, MA, typed: “Retail Designer near me” and got no results, so he typed “retail designer in Mass” and he got us.  The other results were not for designers with any retail design experience. Now, much as I would like being the only retail designer in Massachusetts, we know that is not true. A homeowner in Cambridge typed “architect near me” and although we were not the only architect listed, we are located the closest and we were the first to respond to his inquiry. A manager of a mobile home development that is part of a national chain, typed in “full service commercial designer” and “office interior designer” and she found us even though we are located pretty far from her site. Who knew that full-service was hard to find? Another homeowner typed in “Architect in Cambridge, MA” and was shocked and overwhelmed by how many names came up. I forgot to ask how/why he selected us. One of our clients referred us to another potential client, who promptly lost the piece of paper with our name on it. When they typed in “Office designer in Greater Boston,” they hoped that our name would pop off the search results. They said that they went through 10 pages of results before giving up. Luckily, our client had told me of his referral, so we were able to connect the old fashioned way, by phone. Yesterday, a new member of an institutional client’s facilities group called me. I had designed a major renovation and addition there 20 years ago. Someone had given him our name, but he wasn’t confident that he had the name right, so he went directly to our website: He searched our portfolio looking for their twenty year old project, which he did indeed find, so he called to confirm that I did the project. He asked if we were interested in another small facelift in the only room untouched twenty years ago. An interesting part of the story is that last week a consultant told me to remove all of the old projects and only show the new and more modern ones, so that the portfolio would be easier to navigate. Had I listened to this advice, our client would not have been able to find their project on our site. Our client reported that although he was not part of the original facilities group, he was proud of what we did then, because people still love the space! Have you ever been frustrated by your searches online? Have you found it hard to get the right search results? What would you type in if you were looking for one of the finest full-service architecture and interior design firms around your area?Please let us know if you need to optimize your online searches, and learn more about how we can optimize your project results. Just click on the “contact us” button on our website. We would be delighted to talk by phone or facetime almost any time!​

Color and incarceration

In 1979 and 1980, I was a few years out of architecture school and had started to focus on interiors, which I thought affected the lives of the people who work, play, age, live or learn in them more than the exteriors did. I was asked to select, specify and document the finishes for a prison. At that time, the latest research showed that if the holding cell was painted “bubble gum pink”, that color would help calm the arrested. This caught my interest. Although color research (the effects of color on people psychologically) was well documented, I had no idea that the color could have physical effects on people. For more on pink in prisons, see; Morton Walker, The Power of Color, (New York, Avery Publishing Group, 1991). One of the priorities of the design team was to make the areas used by the guards to be more pleasant, since staff retention was a challenge. Of course, what did I suggest that we add? Color! I believed that color could humanize spaces that otherwise would be quite stressful.It bothered me that the environment of the prisoners was so white and sterile, but the team insisted that they were being punished for wrong-doing. Note: To those of you who live in all white environments; do you find the all-white punishing? Spin forward to 2019, fifty years later. The Brown alumni magazine, March/April 2019 issue has an article entitled, “Our Incarceration Addiction; why are so many Americans in jail?” The article points out that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world! A different take on color in prisons follows: looking at data from 2016, Blacks were 33% of Americans incarcerated (vs. 12% of the population) and Hispanics 23% of the incarcerated (vs. 16% of the population) and whites, although 64% of the population, account for 30% of prisoners. The article is fascinating for its research into why. To read more here’s the link Color is only one factor in both race/social science and in design. Life is complex and there are no single solutions. The Brown Alumni Magazine points to a service of actions that could improve outcomes, reduce recidivism, and cost less than maintaining all of these prisons. Reducing sentence length, adding job training, increasing investments in poor neighborhoods, better funding of inner-city schools, and providing more affordable housing, might help prevent crime in the long run and improve lives. Change is needed – both in our current system of mass incarceration and perhaps in mass-produced design trends – like all white. Let’s humanize our buildings and improve the lives of those who use them. If you want to lean more about the power of design, call us or contact us through our website. We will answer every question.​

Can we capture enough CARBON in order to save the planet?​

Can we capture enough CARBON in order to save the planet? Here’s an update on capturing carbon in order to mitigate climate change consequences. Much of the following information is based on the fascinating article by Jeff Johnson for C&EN (Chemical and Engineering News) February 25th 2019 titled Capturing Carbon: Can it save us? “We have technologies to remove greenhouse gases from air, but its unclear that we can scale them fast enough to make a difference,” wrote Johnson. Most of us are familiar with the facts about the catastrophe that is about to unfold as the climate changes. Without intervention. We can expect a temperature rise of 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) by 2030 and 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) by 2050 and then temperature will continue to rise. [Sources: Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC), Fall 2018 and NY Times, October 7, 2018] According to the NY Times even a half degree Celsius (.9° Fahrenheit) would “expose tons of millions more people worldwide to life threatening heat waves, water shortage, and coastal flooding. Half a degree may mean the difference between a world with coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice, and a world without them.” The upcoming temperature increases will cause catastrophic effects: record breaking sea-level rise, flooding, wildlife, extreme weather events, famine, and wildlife habitat destruction, according to the IPCC. The world’s poor will be hit hard. For a related story check out the March 3rd Sixty Minutes story about a group of teens who are suing the Federal Government to stop using fossil fuels. ( Are there innovative ways to capture carbon and begin to reverse the effects of Climate Change? These are called “Negative Emission Technologies” or NETs. NETs extract Carbon dioxide or other gasses from the air, change land-use practices to plant more carbon sequestering trees and plants, and aggressively use natural systems to remove Carbon Dioxide from the environment. NETs do not release us from the obligation of reducing emissions, but they will help us reach net zero emissions by 2050, the timeline that the UN Environment program says is necessary to keep temperature rise below 2° (the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change). What are some of the cool NETs now in early testing phases? Extracting CO₂ from the airBurning New Fuels that release low to no CO₂Making Rocks that’s encapsulate CO₂Buying Carbon emissions UndergroundGrowing plants that take in more CO₂ and breathe out more Oxygen. To read the C&EN article in its entirety click here On a related topic, the Boston Society of Architects will be holding a full day conference on embodied Carbon in Buildings, May 31st 2019. 8am to 7pm, in Cambridge. For more details, click here Alert: If eleven years to 2030 does not scare us into action, what will? Don’t let the size of the problem overwhelm you. Every little bit helps. If you are interested in pursuing a project that reduces your personal emissions, call or email us, or you can click on the contact button on our website​

What’s the secret to wood Preservation?​

I’m reading a fascinating nonfiction book, “The Lost city of the Monkey God,” by Douglas Preston, a writer for both National Geographic and the New Yorker. The book chronicles the expedition of archeologists, photographers, film makers, technologists and adventures to search for the lost “White City” deep in the Honduran Rain Forest. When they find what they think may be a cluster of cities in an area untouched for hundreds of years, possibly since 500 AD, what they find is foundations of buildings, there are no fancy pyramids of the Mayans or Incans. What the team realizes is that due to the ancient communities’ access to stands of mahogany trees. Their buildings were probably made of wood, which had disintegrated over the centuries.   This made me think about all of our own wood frame and clad buildings in New England. We know that keeping water and mildew out of our buildings requires vigilance and regular maintenance. As usual, I wanted to know more about the science of wood preservation. Thanks to the “High Performance, Built In” article by James Mitchell Crow in the December 3, 2018 issue of Chemical and Engineering News (CAEN), I was introduced to the work of wood protection scientist Mojgan Nejad, researcher at Michigan State, I learned that “Wood is susceptible to mildew growth, [so] it is important to use biocides for wood protection.” She also noted in the article that the shift from solvent based formulations of paints and other coatings to water-based formulations that are more environmentally friendly, has meant that biocides are needed for the paint while it is in the cans. Untreated paint can spoil, resulting in a strong smell and lost viscosity, spread ability and adhesion. The latest biocides are encapsulated inside a water-soluble shell that slowly releases the active ingredient- better for the environment and better for longer lasting protection of the wood. Besides biologic attack, construction materials are susceptible to degradation from exposure to weather. Polyurethane coatings protect metal, wood and other structures from too much sun or rain. Mojgan Nejad has found in her research that “Most weathering deterioration that happens in wood is due to UV degradation of the lignin.” She explains that low-molecular-weight polymers in polyurethanes, can penetrate wood cell walls and stabilize the wood. Ms. Nejad’s work has shown me that the lost city in the rain forest of which the Hondurans had both the damp environment that generates mildew and the weather of strong rains, winds and sun, was a perfect environment for the demise of the wooden structures. But what happened to the people who inhabited these cities (estimated population of 700,000)? I guess you’ll have to read the book. Suffice it to say that wood structures have a fighting chance to survive now that chemists are on the case. As James Crow states, isn’t chemistry clever? If you want to design a project that can be built to last, give us a call. If you are as fascinated as we are by the intersection of art and science in architecture and interiors, please call. Let’s talk about how design can make life better. #lifebuiltin #gooddesignatwork​

Clever Color Chemistry​

More About Color. As my readers know, I am fascinated, entranced, delighted, and wowed by color. During the summer of 2018, we were lucky to be able to explore several national parks in Utah. Other than being a hellish over 100 degrees temperature during the day, it was a fantastic experience. When our friends and later our professional guide showed us around the awe-inspiring mountains, buttes, caves and deserts of the area, we were able to see many ancient petroglyphs and pictograms. I was fascinated by the color, and of course, by the stories these images conveyed. I wondered what they used for color that was so long-lasting that we can still see these images so clearly? I turned to my Dec. 3 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) where I learned, thanks to James Mitchell Crow’s article “High Performance, Built In,” that they used iron oxide. Iron oxide creates colors of reds, yellows, and black. That’s what we saw in Utah! It turns out that iron oxide is still being used to color building materials like concrete. With the right artisan, concrete can be colored to denote zones for parking, bus lanes, cross walks and bicycle paths. Unlike paint, there is no required maintenance, adding economic appeal to its aesthetic appeal. I can attest to the longevity of the iron oxides found in the pictograms of the Utah desert. For a timeless design that considers economic and aesthetic challenges, please call us!​

Who is Marion Mahony Griffin?​

Last week we honored George Mann Niedecken as one of the first interior architects. Today during women’s history month, we honor Marion Mahoney Griffin who was one of the first licensed female architects in the world (and first in Illinois).(Credit:  Hines, Thomas S. (March 1995). "Portrait: Marion Mahony Griffin Drafting a Role for Women in Architecture". Architectural Digest.) She and Niedecken were important contributors to the Prairie School, and both of them made Frank Lloyd Wright’s work better. In the case of Marion Mahony Griffin, her best-known contributions to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work were her renderings (also called delineations). Her amazing beautiful watercolors of buildings and landscapes were only part of her contribution to work of Frank Lloyd Wright. As his first employee (hired in 1895) she designed buildings, furniture, stained glass windows and decorative panels. Like Niedecken, she was never given credit by Frank Lloyd Wright.(for more on this read David T. Van Zanten, “The Early Work of Marion Mahony Griffin.” The Prairie School Review 3, no. 2 (1969) Although Wright understated his team’s contribution to his work, when he eloped with Mamah Borthuich Cheney in 1990, he offered his local work to Mahony, but she declined and Herman V, VanHolst took over Wright’s projects with the amazing stipulation that she would Mahony control the design. She ended up designing many projects that Wright had abandoned, but for which he still got the credit. In 1911 Mahoney married Walter Burley Griffin, a landscape architect, beginning a partnership that lasted 26years. Her beautiful renderings of a design for Canberra the new Australia capital helped them win the competition. They moved to Australia where they not only worked on Canberra, but also many private commissions. The most impressive part of the story is that they developed the Knitlock construction method/ which was emulated by Wright in the textile block houses in California the 1920’s. Marion Mahony Griffin credited Louis Sullivan for the inspiration of the prairie school. Apparently, she thought that Wright’s habit of taking all of the credit hastened his early death.(credit: The Magic of America: Electronic Edition online version of Marion Mahony Griffin's unpublished manuscript, made available through The Art Institute of Chicago) Its never too late to credit your inspirations, your mentors, your bosses, your employees, your consultants, even your challengers, who have made your work better. Happy Spring and Happy Women’s History Month. If you would like to work with a woman architect on your project, there are so many of us to choose from. Even if Leslie Saul & Associates Architecture and Interiors is not the right match for your project, I would be happy to guide you to one of our region’s outstanding architects, landscape architects or interior designers who will help you solve your design challenges with perhaps a great female perspective. ​

Who was George Mann Niedecken?

If you don’t know his name, it’s almost impossible to find him on the internet, especially if you look for “interior designer who helped Frank Lloyd Wright” since Wright gets 100% of the credit.

The Perfect Mismatch

Want to be on trend? The perfect mismatch.If you have been reading my blog, you probably know that I reject the trendy nature of design for offices and homes. Trends encourage people to match other companies or their friends or magazine images, so that the whole beauty of custom design is lost: making spaces that reflect who the company/non-profit, or family really is. I put offices and homes together not only because we live at the office and work at home, but also because the magazine images of each type look so alike i.e., more susceptible to wanting to be on trend. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to worry about what other people think? Upon reflection, I think that trendiness does have value (beyond its ability to generate economic growth). I got asked by a journalist to comment on repurposed furniture. My answer is confidential until the article comes out, but it made me think about how I love spaces that reflect the span of time.Timelessness comes not from ignoring all the trends, but from adding elements that reflect time and place and culture and point of view. The perfect mismatch can happen when we introduce a “trendy” element into an existing space. For example, if we put sleek, modern wall sconces above an arts and crafts fireplace, the juxtaposition of the two eras creates interest and excitement. The “friction” of the mismatch encourages us to see every detail. When every detail is of the same era, whether contemporary/modern or traditional/vintage, the effect is an overall effect, and it is less about the details. Think about cooking, adding spice or heat to a traditional dish brings it from historic tastes to modern tastes. Let’s not back-slide design into a purist theoretical concept, but keep it lively by adapting some elements to modern tastes. Mies van der Rohe famously said, “Less is more.” Robert Venturi infamously said “Less is a bore.” If you’re planning an update to your office or home, please call us. We can help you figure out how to design a new space that reflects who you really are, that incorporates elements of the past and the present, and that will accept future introductions as how you work or live may change over time.​

2019 Trends

Everywhere I look, I see an article about trends, either past tense; “what we saw as trends in 2018;” or future tense: “What will we see as trends in 2019.” Here are some that I actually clicked on (aargh, this is embarrassing);   Trends for bathrooms (wall to wall mirrors) Trends for meditation (just do it!) Trends for sports uniforms (retro & modern styles) Trends for TV’s and other technology; (flat, really flat, that are glued to really flat walls) Trends for restaurants (botanical wallpaper) Trends for furniture (blue banquettes! Oh, and hand stitching!) Now that I saved you the time required to read that nonsense, here’s what I really think of trends; don’t think about them! We are in a service business so when our clients want something that is “on trend” –​ they are watching/reading too many design magazines/tv shows. I think they are really asking for change. Change is good, especially when it brings us new clients, but sometimes being “off trend” has a timeless quality that is more resistant to change.  We build our design work with the tools of the trade: color, light, texture, form, pattern, line, and sound. We activate or quiet a space using these tools. We can manipulate how a space feels using these tools. Do you want to feel happy- you have to find the happiness inside you, but we also know that happiness is as infectious as a yawn (thank you Shawn Achor, speaker at the Women’s Conference Boston 2018 and author of the “Happiness Advantage”).  If a coral orange is the color of the year, that doesn’t mean you have to use it. How does that color help you build the environment you are trying to create? For startups, there is often no history upon which to stand, or that can get in the way of creating a new identity. For older, long-standing companies- adding a trendy element can help give an organization a boost away from an outdated design. If a company has a ten-year lease, the team probably allowed more money to be spent on the initial build-out, but 6 years into term it may be time for a few strategic updates in order to not look shabby. That trendy orange might be just what is needed for improving the lives of employees for 4 years. Or not.  The point is that a transformation can be made with a series of small gestures. One doesn’t need to tear down all of what exists to feel fresh and new. One doesn’t have to follow what is proclaimed as the “Trends for 2019” to create that feeling that you want to have when you enter/use/work/play/age/live or learn in a space.  If you want to discuss this year’s trends- or if you want to avoid them, give me a call! 

How to be a Rock Star​

Janis Joplin was an amazing artist. She was a Rock Star, and yet she was able to use music to openly express her vulnerability and pain. Although she was inspired by others, she remained true to herself. We knew that she was the “real” deal, and she was fearless. I’m not suggesting that you emulate Janis Joplin- no screeching on the job site! But here are my 6 tips on how to become a Rock Star as a woman in design and construction. 1) Stay CalmThere are constant pressures and frustrations on a construction site. Keep your cool and you will build respect. “When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred”-Thomas Jefferson  2) You don’t have to know everythingEmbrace your vulnerability. It’s OK to say, “I’m not sure, but I’ll get right back to you with the answer.”  3) Become an expertBecome an expert in something that interests you. You don’t have to know everything, but you do have to know a lot about something. Then you become a go-to person.  4) Be true to yourselfNobody trusts a faker. When your authentic self-shows, others will trust you.  5) You don’t have to rush everything“Delay is preferable to error.”-Thomas Jefferson  6) Overcome your fearsYou can do this! I can teach you to do some hands-on exercises that will help you see that your fears are usually overblown. (Just email me and we can do a group training session). Follow these steps and soon you will rocket up the ladder of success.  Leslie S. Saul, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP BD+CPresident, Leslie Saul & Associates, Architecture and InteriorsCambridge, MA and MIAMI, FL.C 781.266.7900​  


Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

Cambridge Office:
1972 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
Office: 617.234.5300

Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

architecture and interiors