How and Why I Started LS&A, & Who We Are:
I started Leslie Saul & Associates on December 21, 1992, almost 25 years ago. I had been a principal in a large architecture firm, where I led the interiors/interior architecture group. I felt as if my job was to keep the senior folks happy and I missed the direct connection to the everyday work of design. It may be a gift or a curse, but I can walk into a space and see the possibilities. I can visualize the completed project. Once I listen to the clients talk about their wants, needs, challenges and look at images of things they like and don’t like, this vision of what the space can be comes into sharper focus. When we do large projects, we are usually doing these listening sessions with big groups of people, but the motivation is the same, and the results reflect who the client is and what they need and want. How can we improve the space aesthetically, but more importantly, how can we make the space “work” better for the people who work, play, age, live and learn in those spaces? People are not alike, visually, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. People have differing dreams, politics, cultures, religions, styles, and budgets, so WHY DO SO MANY PROJECTS IN THE DESIGN MAGAZINES LOOK ALIKE??!! I want to help create space that is customized for its use, its occupants, its purpose and its limitations, I want to make it fit like it’s tailor-made…and, maybe because my dad was a CPA, be within an appropriate budget. I started out as an artist, a painter and drawer, but after spending a year between high school and college working and studying abroad, I realized that I’m a people person, and that I probably wouldn’t be happy working alone in my garret studio. When I returned to Rhode Island School of Design I became an architecture major. When I started this firm, I knew that I needed to find really good people – people who have more than design skills, and who want to do the right thing for the client, community, and for future generations. I also knew that I needed people who would fill in for my weaknesses. I had no interest in being a sole practioner, because I wanted to do the best work possible, and that means teamwork. Suma Greenwald was my first employee in January of 1993. She was good at so many things, including how to deal with people and vendors. She is genuinely interested in people and is dedicated to pursuing the right thing for every project. She has impeccable taste. Suma is our Senior Interior Designer and furniture specialist. Monique Jankowski joined us in 1998. She is gifted on both sides of the brain – she has both design and organizational skills. Monique is the master list maker – and she works with steam coming out of her ears: efficiently and effectively. Monique is our Senior Project Manager and architectural designer. The firm has grown and contracted over the years based on our workload, and we call these alumni of LS&A our friends and family. Together, for almost 25 years, we have designed projects large and small for clients large and small. The slogan of one of my granddaughter’s favorite TV shows, Paw Patrol, fits us (excuse the slight modification): “No job is too big, no design firm is too small. LS&A to the rescue!” Please call us whether your project is big or small.
Why We are Nimble and Agile – and we’re not talking about gymnastics
If you have read any of my posts, you are probably sick of hearing about our five practice areas: providing architecture and interiors for people who work, play, age, live and learn. Recently, I’ve been wondering what the benefits are to our clients and to our staff. The obvious benefit to our staff is that the practice is never boring. However, the added benefit is less obvious. We have had to learn to be nimble and agile. Think about this. A typical retailer (our “play” category) changes its store design seasonally. Yes the basics stay the same, but we are designing spaces that can accommodate rapid change. A typical office client (our “work” category) is designed to last 5-10 years. Our designers are masters at finding the right materials, finishes, furniture, as well as the right space plan that will last the clients for 5-10 years. Now think about our institutional clients, like colleges, universities, houses of worship (our “learn” category), who need our designs to last 50 years. These projects need our expertise to find long lasting materials, an understanding of long-term maintenance issues, and also more timeless designs that have a chance of looking good for as long as possible. A retailer must be trendy, but an institutional client must be timeless. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little fun on the institutional projects, since we know that there will probably be a recarpet and repaint happening once or twice in the 50 year project span. Through working in these broad practice areas, Leslie Saul & Associates staff learn how to be nimble, agile, and flexible. We are also knowledgeable about what works and what doesn’t for each client type. How does this “architectural yoga” benefit our clients? Ask them! Many clients who hire us for their office space, then take us home, or refer us to their church/synagogue or senior center. LS&A is about all of life! Life with design built in.
Homework – Can Homework Help Make Adults More Successful?
What is your reaction when you hear the word “homework”? Do you cringe? Get worried? Or maybe you think homework is the best way to reinforce a new lesson (are you a teacher...?). I certainly have my opinions about homework for kindergarten and first grade – really? Can’t our 5 and 6 years olds come home and play after school? But I digress. This post is not about homework for school children. It’s about homework for adults. At Leslie Saul & Associates, we give our new clients homework assignments before our first meeting. Homework is another word for preparation. The more prepared our clients are for their first meeting, the more we can accomplish in the meeting. For our clients who are homeowners, typical homework assignments include: Look through design magazines/books/catalogues and mark everything you like and even what you don’t like. Use Post-its: “I like this style”, “I like this color”, “and I don’t like how this looks with that”, etc.Go to Houzz.com and Pinterest.com and look for more inspiration or even start your own Pinterest boardsFeel free to show any proposed plans, site plans, fabric or paint swatches if you happen to have them What do you call it when you check out a company’s website and LinkedIn profiles before you meet with that company? Isn’t that called “doing your homework”? When I first started teaching in the 1980’s, I created a course called, What is Design? Our goal was to expose 1 st year students to the concept that Design is Everywhere (yes, we were ahead of curve, Design Museum). I followed this theory of homework as preparation, and we asked the students to do a project each week before the subject expert spoke to them. We had designers of all types speak to the students: a landscape architect, an architect, an interior designer, a graphic designer, a fashion designer, and even a scientist. By doing the homework in advance of the speaker, students learned enough about the subject to be able to ask good questions of the experts, made them more appreciative of the experts and what they do, and more importantly, they learned to be resourceful (this was way before Google!). Curiosity, once sparked, leads to real learning. It seems curious to me that homework can either be mindless repetition or a creative way to investigate the unknown. I am working on a book about the characteristics of the best clients, because we think that the best project results come from the best clients. Would you do a little homework right now and take our short survey here? We will compare the results of this survey with the same one done 10 years ago. You will really help us prepare for a useful book for clients in all industries. No grades for doing the homework, but we will share results with folks who participate. Thank you!
Don't Let Your Fence Be a Barrier to Your Style
Residential and commercial design doesn’t stop at the exterior walls. It continues (or should continue) through your landscape design, which includes fences or property boundaries. Make sure your fences enhance, rather than detract from, your overall design. Use Fence Styles That Complement Your Architectural DesignWhen you’re ready to design – or replace – your property’s fence line, consider your overall architectural style when choosing a style for your fence. You will want to balance that aesthetic need with function. That is, what else is your fence for? Is your fence purely for looks or should it provide privacy, a sound barrier, or structural support for climbing plants or espaliered trees? These factors will also need to be taken into consideration when choosing your fence style. While your fence should obviously serve it's function, it should also serve to bolster your overall design. Source: Houzz Here are a few different examples of complementary architectural and fence styles to give you an idea of what we’re talking about. The Contemporary Home.The Sudbury Steel House is a prime example of a contemporary home, which prioritizes clean lines, ample windows for natural daylighting and sustainable materials. Did you know steel building components are made largely from pre- and post-consumer recycled products, and that they can be recycled at the end of their lifespan? The result is a home that requires a contemporary fence style. Contemporary fences often read like walls, because they are as much about aesthetics as they are about privacy or creating boundaries. Materials will also be more modern, like steel or pre-fabricated recycled materials, and designs will be very linear or may even incorporate geometric designs. Choose a tall fence (6-8 feet high) with flush boards and no horizontal rails that will look good and deter anyone from trying to climb it. Source: Houzz The Traditional Home.While we designed the Newton House in the modern era, the design was very traditional in its conception. In fact, once of the catch phrases we came up with when working with the family was, “Old meets New meets Old,” A home like this requires a more traditional fence. Traditional fences were typically made of wood, although “modern” traditional fences are largely made from vinyl or more sustainable products, like Trex fences. The latter are composites made from reclaimed/recycled products (making them a green option) designed to look like wood. These modern options are more durable and maintenance-free than classic wood counterparts, but offer options resembling traditional fence styles, like the classic white picket fence. The Natural Look.Natural fences are another green option, often designed using what is on-hand at your building site, whether that be wood, branches, stone, or any combination of the three. While there is a traditional aspect to a natural fence, that style can just as easily be used with a more contemporary home design. An example of this is the Maine House, which was built in a natural environment and, although the design is contemporary, has a natural wood exterior as well. Your team at Leslie Saul is a great resource for anyone looking to design their dream home. Source: Houzz Are you planning to build a new home, renovate the one you’re in or are you ready to add a fence to your property? Consult with Leslie Saul & Associates Architecture and Interiors so we can deliver ideas and fence styles you’ll love.
Art And Politics: Part 2
Art and Politics: Part 2 The Williamstown Theatre Festival brings Broadway and television actors to Western Massachusetts for a working vacation away from the city. We saw an ambiguous, humorous, and marvelously acted two- person play about date rape, and a lovely musical about movie-making, love and resistance against the McCarthy witch hunt for Communists and Jews in the entertainment world of the 1950’s. We particularly loved how the “facts” of the musical were revealed slowly, creating mystery. The musical genre is perfect for the love and longing of the story. The political content is more than a time period, it sets the stage to ask the question, “will you collaborate with a vile, politically corrupt system to protect your loved ones; or are principles more important than love?” These theatre experiences made me think about politics and art. A conversation that matters. The play’s theme was particularly relevant to me because my cousin Bert Berman, who was the producer of Jack Paar’s Tonight Show, was blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for being Jewish (all Jews were considered Communists). He lived out his life in Cincinnati and rural Ohio: making videos for the University of Cincinnati Medical School and growing herbs on a farm on the Ohio River. Is there a principle that is so important to you that you would give up your career and your family for its defense? Does the recent resurgence of hate groups have you worried that the McCarthy Era will return?
Art and Politics: Part 1
Williamstown, MA in mid-August provided the perfect weekend for my husband and me: golf in the morning, museum in the afternoon, and theatre in the evening. There are many fancy museums being built. As an architect, I know that they are very sought-after projects. However, the transformation of these huge and ordinary mill buildings into the sprawling art museum Mass MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, Massachusetts, may be one of the finest examples of museum architecture and of architecture as inspiration for the artists whose works fill the space and give viewers an experience not easily forgotten. The Mass MoCA is definitely worthy of a visit as soon as you can. It’s a 2 ½ hour drive from Boston and from New York. There are so many amazing exhibits that are relevant to those of you who love art, architecture and the mastery of a medium. Sol Lewitt designed paint by instruction wall art. The scope and breadth of the exhibit is almost overwhelming. If you are looking for something even kids can appreciate, this is it. This is a visual, not a political experience. The James Turrell light show is filled with master works. I encourage you to go online and secure a time slot for the 1991 “Perfectly Clear.” The tickets are free (not including admission), but only 6-7 people can go in at a time. The experience is physical and visual. There are many other pieces that do not require tickets, so you can see the Light Master at work. Take your time to see these ever-changing art pieces in their entirety. Turrell’s work uses technology, artistry, ambition, and color to create an experience not to be missed. The art with political content at Mass MoCA is by Nick Cave. His installation in Building 5 is called “Until.” There are three parts: a “hanging garden” of metallic lawn ornaments, some of which have gun shapes hidden in all of the shiny twirling objects. In the middle of this “garden” is a crystal “cloud,” which asks the question, “Is there racism in heaven?” On top of the cloud are many objects including a black-face lawn jockey. The last part is a giant draped object made of netting and beading with symbols like the rainbow. Cave believes that art must speak to society, challenge society, and he hopes, to bring people together. Architecture is not the same as art. It is an expression of an idea that must also solve specific functional requirements, site requirements, neighborhood/community requirements, government requirements (codes and zoning), maintenance requirements, materials challenges, while at the same time be acceptable to the client and most importantly, perhaps, be within an acceptable budget and buildable within a given timeframe. Art is generated by the artist, although some art is commissioned by patrons for a specific site, such as the Nick Cave work at Mass MoCA, or such as the art for most corporate atria or lobbies, and thus must also meet the requirements of the space and perhaps of the patrons, but art is the result of the artist’s expression – communication as banal as how the light bounces off an apple in a still life or as political as confronting racism in billboard sized messages. Architecture communicates the hopes and ideas of the client, of the architect, and of the community (see our blog on P.O.P.S). It’s really hard to satisfy all of the demands/requirements, but it is possible tosolve many, if not most of them. The client may want a space “filled with natural light”, but if the site isblocked on the south with a tower and on the east with a forest and on the west with a midrise buildingand the north has a highway, and if their goal is to reduce their carbon footprint with solar or windpower and to reduce heat loss with lots of insulation – “filled with natural light” may be a biggerchallenge than if the project were in the middle of a rural field. Architects are constantly balancing the needs of the client, the community, and what’s possible. It’s not easy. Be kind to your architect.
Is It Charmingly Eclectic or a Big Mash-up?
Eclectic design has been around since the 18 th and 19 th century when the China Trade introduced Chinese porcelains to early Colonial America. It was popular again in the late 1960’s when affordable long-distance jet travel enabled people to bring artifacts to the U.S. from all over the world. It is still favored by many interior designers. Of course, there are still purists, who create an entire environment with one style, whether that style is mid-20 th century modern minimalism or whether the style is late 19 th century Victorian frou-frou. In general, designers appreciate the design achievements of almost every era. We appreciate a variety of styles on exteriors, interiors, and in neighborhoods. I love eclectic interiors for their charm. Ditto for eclectic neighborhoods, for their sense of history and development over time. Note: don’t you hate the new developments where every house/building looks the same? This horror show includes Boston’s new Seaport neighborhood, an assemblage of modern boxes, all designed within the past decade. It’s boring; and the developers of new neighborhoods forget about being pedestrian friendly. It also looks wrong when buildings combine styles on new homes (perhaps because the developers/owners don’t have enough knowledge about the style antecedents). I just drove through a neighborhood just outside of Boston in one of our wonderful “inner” ‘burbs. One house looked like a lovely shingle-style house – but with a farmer’s porch that had columns that would never have been on an authentic shingle style house (don’t farmer’s porches belong on farmhouses?). The second house that caught my critical eye was a Greek revival style from the front, but it had a Victorian bric-a- brac bay window on the side. Could have been added later, but it looked like a pimple on the beautiful clean face of the classic plain Greek Revival. The third house was an historic colonial with a modern glass and steel addition on the street side. The last house is more complicated to analyze. The good news, even supported by some historic preservationists, is the obvious separation of the new structure from the original historic structure. The bad news is that the flat roofed glass and steel structure called attention to itself and overpowered the original structure, made worse by its street side location, hiding the original with its bulky blocky style. As separate structures in one neighborhood, I would love the contrast, but connected it’s a bit of a mashup that just doesn’t work to me. The most obvious category of bad design is the “Builder’s Special”. What, in particular, makes builder’s generic homes so bad? Mostly, it’s a lack of detail, a lack of proportion and a lack of human scale. Check out this website to learn more. Hiring an architect is no guarantee that these pitfalls will be avoided, but at least some of these design mistakes will be intentional, like the glass and steel hulking addition to the handsome historic colonial. Drive around your neighborhood and see if you can pick out the successful and not so successful additions or new-builds. Just call if you would like to tour with me. After all, isn’t it more fun to be a little “catty” together? Please leave your comments below.
The Joy of Design as A Team Sport
One of the greatest gifts of this firm has been the opportunity to collaborate with other architects, some famous (BCJ, Gund Partnership, e.g.) and some not so famous (Handlin, Garrahan and Associates, William Sloan Associates, e.g.). Fame is funny. Since the famous have a national and local reputation for high design, these firms have their fans and their detractors (jealousy, perhaps?). This is a story about meeting Graham Gund for the first time. People told me “all” about him: he only likes neutrals, he doesn’t want your ideas, he’s not friendly, etc. The client had fired Gund’s first choice of interior designer, so I was prepared for the cold shoulder. I got kind of worked up about it. Those readers who know a bit about our work know that I LOVE COLOR! The only thing to do was to wear a bright yellow suit to my first meeting with Gund for the Young Israel Synagogue of Brookline. As you might imagine, the “trailers” didn’t really represent the “movie”. There is a quiet about Graham Gund – he’s thoughtful. His family is from Cleveland (I’m from Cincinnati). He is not unfriendly – but perhaps he is a little shy. He listens and he is open minded. He needed decisions, so he and the project needed me to help the committee make those decisions. My approach to working with other architects, who may have already been on the project for years before I come on board, is to figure out what the architect and client are trying to achieve. Graham Gund was articulate. He and his team visited Israel and Europe to see what older synagogues were like. He studied the history of the Jews and their synagogues. By the time I was hired, there had been five years of design development for the constricted site in Brookline, MA. The prior synagogue had burned down in 1994, and I had helped the Congregation get temporary seating right away. They remembered the kindness and asked if I would help finish the project with GUND Partnership. Graham Gund and John Prokos showed me the drawings, models, and schedule. There were deadlines approaching on lighting, flooring, wall finishes, religious accessories, fabrics, the dividers between men and women, and the modern artistic sanctuary windows. The Gund concept was (in my best recollection) to recreate the feeling of the Tent – the temporary Ancient Jewish Temple by curving the ceiling, and to commemorate the permanent Mishkan Temple with two columns on either side of the ark, and two columns on the outside facing east, not due east, but the true direction of southeast toward Jerusalem. Like the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, the sanctuary building would not be square to the site, but would be canted toward Jerusalem. They wanted the space to be filled with light, despite the urban location. Keeping all of this in mind, I then met with the Interiors committee of the shul, led by the charming and wonderful Shirley Feuerstein, who thankfully had great taste. It was relatively easy to bring the committee to agreement on the pressing interior design items, like carpet and fabrics, not so easy to get sign-off on some of the religious items like the mehitza divider. The client coordinator/project manager was a member of the Congregation, Norm Kram, of blessed memory. He helped instill the project with love and attention to detail. We worked to get Graham Gund and his team the interior design that would mesh seamlessly with their architectural concepts, so we could “deliver” the right building for the synagogue’s community. The process and the project had a great result. Our work at Young Israel of Brookline led to working again with Gund on the Young Israel of New Rochelle, a project that took over nine years to get to completion. The Brookline synagogue also led to getting hired by an eye surgeon to design his eye clinic, after he and his wife (an oncologist) attended a wedding at the Young Israel (imagine that). Design is a team sport, and I’m as passionate about our projects as a NE football fan is about the Patriots. Next, I’ll tell a story about how my path crossed with Bob Kraft’s, owner of the Patriots. If you are interested in getting design help when the project is complex and the deadlines are looming, feel free to contact us. Our design “capes” are ready to save the day. Please leave your comments below.
Color Explosions in 1967, and a special offer from Leslie Saul & Associates 50 years later
It has been gratifying to see the response that we have gotten for my post about meeting Janis Joplin in 1967. So, I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me that the Boston Globe has begun a series of stories on the summer of ’67. Read "Summer of Love" by Marni Elyse Katz, in the July 28, 2017 Boston Sunday Globe. Fifty years has passed since the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Club Band” brought the mash-up of bohemian and military to fashion. Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco turned “flower power” into a trend in the streets and into pop-art style design elements used on shirts, wallpaper, and decorative objects. The global peace movement and access to more affordable long-distance travel, led to the appreciation of cultures and styles different from ours. In 1967, the home living room was transformed from muted colors and clean (but stiff) mid-century modern monochromatic minimalism, into a colorful explosion of eclecticism. I can’t tell you how many living rooms that needed a redo in 1980 had the same look: white Haitian cotton boxy sofas, a tribal Moroccan rug of dark red, black and white, a Lucite coffee table, and loads of bright colored art and throw pillows. Many of these rooms had wall-to-wall carpeting – the big innovation of the era. How many kitchens or bathrooms had the pink orange and chartreuse flowered wallpaper? It was a time of revolution, optimism, and maybe because of the widespread use of marijuana, a little less inhibited and a lot more playful. Well, here we are in 2017, and thank goodness we still have Marimekko for bold color and pattern, Dansk colorful cook/bake ware and Lucite furniture (thank you Mitchell + Gold for bringing it back). A sales rep for a wallcovering company made a presentation to our office yesterday. You’ll never believe this, but they are re-introducing “flocked” wallpaper! Apparently, the younger generation of designers has never seen this before. Welcome back to the future of fifty years ago! If your home, office, or learning spaces seem ready for an update, Leslie Saul & Associates architecture and interiors may be able to help you. Please give us a call. There’s something from every era that can still seem fresh. Perhaps a visit to the attic is due? In celebration of the summer of 1967, our initial 2-3-hour consultation fee of $700 will be reduced to $500 for the first fifty people who call during the month of August. (Consultations can happen anytime within the next year, payment is due after consultation, NOT in advance). Let’s make the year ahead feel “groovy”. And if you are still thinking about Janis Joplin, click here for a funny video of the great Janis singing with none other than Thom Jones!
On Stage at the Cincinnati Summer Opera
When I was in college at RISD, I spent summer at “home” in Cincinnati, working for the City’s Planning Department. I worked on a hillside study examining the slope of the seven hills, did some of the work on planning a park along the river, and worked extensively on what was then (1970’s) the New Findlay Market. If you can put yourself back in the 70’s, you might be able to imagine that I was the only woman (as I recall it) working in the department who was not a secretary. One of the things that I loved about Cincinnati in the summer was the Cincinnati Summer Opera. My sister and I grew up listening to the NY Metropolitan Opera on the radio on Saturday afternoons sprawled on our mother’s bed. As soon as we were old enough, we started volunteering at the Opera as ushers; first at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens (yes, at the zoo-where singers competed with the barking of seals!), then later at Music Hall (no seals, but maybe too serious a venue for summer?). One weekend, the head of the ushers told us that the next Opera, Manon Lescaut, needed male “extras” (no singing required). Everyone pointed at me because they knew that I worked in an office full of men. I begged my co-workers to come down the few blocks from City Hall to Music Hall for the audition. By the time we got there, they had already filled the roster. I came with my guys for moral support – but I can report that they were happy to get off the hook. We were just about to leave, when I hear a heavily Italian accented voice yell – “You! Stop!” We turned around and he said again, “You!” It was clear that he meant me. We could see him speaking to his assistant. She excused the guys, but told me that the Italian Director wanted me as an “extra” in almost every scene. Why? He knew that the costumes came from the Italian production and he guessed that I would fit the costumes better than the college age children of donors who usually received this perk. The experience of being onstage in the Opera was one of the highlights of my life. My mother got a big kick out of it, too! One of my “roles” was to be hand-maiden to the starring Soprano who was quite beautiful. (This is more common now, but then it was more unusual, so she was quite popular with the stage hands). In one scene, I had to hold a towel in front of her while she got out of the tub. The director, wanting authenticity, had the soprano stripped down to nothing but her panties. Only the towel and I were protecting her modesty. We needed to rehearse this separately. Our rehearsal garnered a big group of guys who chanted, “Drop the towel!” It was so funny. When we got to the dress rehearsal, all I could hear (in my mind) was “drop the towel.” I did my job – and nothing extra was exposed. Relief! For another scene, I waited with the lead Tenor – who told me that I reminded him of his ex-wife. “In what way?” I asked. “You like the same awful perfume,” he replied. In my desire to overcome the tremendous stench of body odor in the costumes, I sprayed the strongest scent I could find in my mother’s assortment or perfumes, Estee Lauder “Youth Dew”. Too funny! Being so closely involved in almost every scene of the Opera, I got another great lesson in teamwork. Nothing works without everyone participating and doing their jobs. I also learned that sometimes you have to fit the costume, instead of the other way around. When I look back at my college days, I think about how being open to new ideas, new and sometimes scary experiences, and new people, has made me a better person, a better designer, and a better team player. If you need LS&A to guide you through your next renovation, we can help you both behind the scenes and onstage.
Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.
architecture and interiors
1972 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140