Want a challenge? Play Golf!

I play golf in the Summer in New England and occasionally in the Winter in Miami. I’ve been playing on and off for almost twenty years, but I’ve gotten serious about improving my game over the past five years or so. No one can believe that I like golf. Maybe it’s because people assume that a creative soul like mine wouldn’t like the preppy world of a stereotypical golf country club. Side-bar: If you want to learn about what a fictional country club life is like, watch Amazon’s “Red Oaks.” It tells the story of the creative misfit daughter of the President of the country club making friends with the wannabe filmmaker/tennis assistant pro at the club along with other stories of family dynamics, love, and income inequality of the members versus the workers. It’s hysterical! We don’t belong to a club, instead preferring to play a variety of public courses. We’ve been paired with all types of people, some more enjoyable to play with than others. We’ve discovered that golfers are teachers, property managers, sub-contractors, musicians, chefs, business owners (their country club was closed for repairs), scientists, bankers, architects and retirees. It may be the best part of playing on public courses. Golf is a sport that is mentally and physically challenging. I think that some folks don’t think it’s a proper sport because it’s not aerobic (is baseball?). Of course, now that there are folks who watch professional video gamers, perhaps aerobic exercise is not the only criteria for a sport. One thing that most sports require is practice. I am a fair-weather golfer. I’m not so obsessed that I will play in 100-degree or 40-degree weather, or in rainy or extremely windy conditions. One summer the weather was so gorgeous that we got to play every weekend day and I actually improved my scores! But golf is not just about learning to strike the ball, which is so much harder than it looks on TV. Golf is mentally challenging!!! Once I broke 100, I raised my expectations for myself. Confidence is important in any sport or work of any kind, I guess, but golf is unlikely to allow you to sustain that confidence. One time I broke 90, then I scored a 104 the next time out. Last week I got one of my very rare birdies on one hole, then immediately scored a double bogey on the next hole. Explain, please. Then explain why I love to play it! Architecture and Interior design are also challenging. Fortunately, our successes build on each other. No project is perfect, but the issues tend to get smaller as our experience increases. Experience also helps us communicate to our clients about the probable outcomes for each decision. We have five practice areas: work, play, age, live and learn. Over time, our practice areas have become specialties. Experience really matters for design and construction projects. I love what I do. I love to see great outcomes for our clients who are willing to let us guide (caddy?) them through the “course” of a project. Interested in teeing up your next project? Looking for more birdies than bogeys? Please call and learn more about how we can help.  ​

What is a Motif?

Motifs are a repeated element or theme in music, literature and in design. In design, a motif can be inspired by a company’s logo, a homeowner’s favorite piece of art or music, a client’s passion/mission, a historic element in an existing building, the shape of a letter, or even nature itself, such as a nautilus shell, rose bloom, or maple tree leaf. Use the motif only once and it is a focal point, but use it often and it can tie a building together visually, communicate a message or add a little fun. Use it too often and it can make a space look like you are selling luxury goods (think the Gucci logo). Even luxury brands are adjusting their logos to differentiate from the copy cats. Gucci’s advertisement on the back cover of the July 2018 edition of Boston Magazine features a bedazzled shoe with a giant “G” on the toe. But I digress.Creating and selecting a motif really helps us as designers to understand better who a client is and what brings them joy. Some of the applications of the motif can be quite subtle and can be fun for the client who after moving in can search for the motifs and discover where we have hidden them. Like my previous post about patterns, the use of a motif can personalize and enliven a space that might otherwise be more generic. (If you read my post about “meh” you might know that sometimes generic is good!) In music, John Williams understood the power of the motif or theme. By having the motif reoccur, in variations of the original, we the audience can get a clue about what is about to happen. Think of his brilliant “Jaws” motif or the theme of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The man could churn out an identifiable, unique musical theme for each movie. Inspiring and intimidating. Before John Williams, there is another musical motif that comes to mind that I bet you can hear in your mind’s ear when you read this: “James Bond” by Monty Norman. Mr. Norman has collected royalties since 1962. Between the years 1976 and 1999, he earned 485,000 British Pounds. A good motif pays well! Don’t let the brilliance of some composers and artists intimidate you. In design, a motif can be simple, like a quatrefoil, a musical note, or a triangle, and still serve the purpose and grand design goals of the project. Start with something simple, then embellish, simplify, enlarge, or reduce it and you may find the secret ingredient for taking your space to the next level. When you are ready to discuss a motif that is appropriate for your project, give us call! It’s never too late to add a little fun and a little meaning into your life. ​

Do you see Patterns?​

Patterns are everywhere, in nature, in man-made things and in behaviors. Sometimes we use patterns as models for things, as in dressmaking or woodworking. Sometimes we get trapped into perhaps bad patterns of behavior, such eating dessert after every meal. Sometimes we add patterns as a decorative tool in our designer tool belt. From a design perspective, patterns are back in after a decade of solid colors. I’ve even seen the overabundance of patterns, English decorator style, in a few design magazines that previously featured only stark Modern minimalism with pops of bright color. Shocking!! I have also noticed that even the modernists are using patterns to add life to their white spaces. Biophilic design, incorporating nature into architecture, has been pretty popular for at least the past five years. Twenty years ago, we studied how Mother Nature made her patterns as inspiration for our own design work. We discovered that curves in Nature are almost always made up of straight lines. Even those curvy leaves, on closer examination, are made of segments. We thought this was exciting in the late 1990’s. If you look at our portfolio, you’ll see many examples of the segmented curve. This is an example of a pattern that is integral to the design, rather than a decorative add-on. Decorative patterns are also important. We know that life, whether in the office, in a restaurant, in a home, or in a library, is hard on most interior finishes. Adding pattern to carpets (case in point antique oriental rugs that are still beautiful after 100 years of use) or fabrics will do a good job of hiding the wear and tear and dirt of life. Although you may think that designers want our clients to redo their spaces every year, for us the longevity of a space is important not only as an economic benchmark, but also as part of creating a more sustainable planet. I remember buying my first sewing machine when I was 12 or so. My Dad said that I could select anything within a certain price limit. Together, we narrowed down the choices to two. One was a Singer, with every gadget and fancy stitch you can imagine. The other was a Husqvarna, white, simple, with only the basic straight and zig-zag stitches. They were the same price. I chose the simple and sturdy and elegant one over the fancy and complicated machine. I sewed on that machine for 40 years, with maybe one or two maintenance services. I used patterns when I was young, but then learned how to make my own patterns when I was at RISD. These skills were put to the test as I made costumes (pirate captain, cowboy, fire fighter) for my son. That wonderful sewing machine finally died a decade ago. Two years ago, I finally decided to replace it. My new (used) machine is a Pfaff from Germany. It is good looking and it has the fancy stitches. It took me almost a year to get up the nerve to use it! Do you use patterns in your work or hobby? Do you have patterns of behavior that you would like to change? Do you appreciate patterns as decorative elements? We would love to hear your thoughts. If you think it is time for a little pattern in your home or workplace, give us a call!​

How to improve productivity without giving up the open office​

Many of you will remember the old McKinsey study on improving productivity in a factory. Every time the lighting was brightened, the productivity went up. After a while, productivity stabilized, so the researchers tried reducing light levels. Productivity climbed again. Researchers’ conclusion: changing the work environment can improve productivity. When enclosed offices gave way to open offices, productivity went up. After making “cubes” smaller, productivity went up. After a while, the small cube open environment got reinterpreted as even more open, more rustic, and at first this felt fresh. Now almost every article in the business press [see this interesting example from NBC News] has been about the disaster of the open office. My theory is that employees like choice and change, but employers like cutting RE expenses and looking trendy. The unsuccessful open offices are noisy (no acoustic ceilings) or strangely quiet (with earbuds in every person...see this article from Harvard Business School), dark (bad lighting), and crowded. These open offices feel more like a monastery for monks copying manuscripts than like a creative collaborative workplace. There are not enough private spaces for either 2 people to work together or for 1 person to work alone for intense concentration. These private spaces cost money to construct and for the increased space requirement, resulting in increased rent. Corporate Real Estate Departments who brag that their cost of space/person is low may find that attracting new workers has troughed, and that productivity may have tanked. Since the McKinsey study proved that change to the work environment can increase productivity, corporate America may want to reorganize the open office to maximize options. One of our recent projects in Boston for a large local non-profit implemented the concept of workplace choice. Without increasing the overall square footage of the space, the workplace was transformed (see image above). The new floors have a feeling of openness but there are dozens of private booths that are available for standup work, reading in a lounge chair or for 2-person meetings. We provided 1 private booth for every 4-5 people. At first, no one realized that the booths were available for them to actually use as needed, and almost every booth was vacant. Within a month more than half were occupied at any given time. When asked whether they liked working in the more open environment, it was interesting to hear their responses. They actually liked working at their smaller 120° cubes, and they felt less of a need for more privacy because privacy was readily available. I found it curious that the secluded quiet rooms (bigger than booths) were not in high demand. I think that the acoustic “white noise” mitigation makes the whole space quiet enough to concentrate and quiet enough to speak on the phone or to others without shouting and without disturbing others. Acoustics may be the central reason that some open plan offices are considered failures. For more information about the acousticians who worked on our successful open plan workplace, visit the website of Acentech. If you want to transform your workplace from noisy and dark into a quiet, bright, happy and productive revitalized space, please call us. Increasing productivity, decreasing absenteeism and improving employee engagement is a complicated challenge. We would love to help!​

Textiles To Dye For​

Color may be my favorite tool in my design toolbox. I guess it’s kind of obvious when you look at our work. I realize, a little late, that we should photograph the spaces in which the largest change is color so that you can see more directly the positive impact that color can have. Our specialty for the use of color is in architecture and interiors, but of course there is another specialty that is impacted by color, and that is textiles – fashion and furnishings. Did you know that current techniques dyeing textiles causes pollution? Even if your wardrobe and your sofas, chairs, towels and sheets are all in shades of gray, your clothes, furnishings and bedding are dyed. Dyeing textiles requires huge quantities of water, energy and chemicals. In the primary textile locations: China, India, and Bangladesh, rivers have been reported to have unnatural hues from the chemicals released in the wastewater. Synthetic dyes are used to color both polyester and cotton, but cotton is the more water and heat intensive process. The surface of cotton is negatively charged and doesn’t react easily with the negatively charged dye compounds. To make dyed cottons color fast – the dyed fabric or yarn is washed multiple times in hot water, creating large amounts of wastewater. 200 L of water is used to produce 1 kg. of fabric. Apparel manufacturers are making sustainability pledges, and the $3 trillion textile industry is beginning to respond with innovative techniques. In India, under government pressure, dye factories are now recycling 90% of their water. One of the companies innovating is Intech, located in Hong Kong. Their specialty is digital printing with pigments instead of dye, reducing water and energy usage. A review of the textile wastewater revealed that it contains high concentrations of dyes and chemicals, including chromium, arsenic, copper and zinc. Dyes and chemicals in the waterways also block sunlight, increasing biological oxygen demand (J. Chem. Eng. Process Technol. 2014, DOI: 10-4172/215-7048, 1000182). Another innovative dye technique is a process called “cationization” that improves the bond between cotton and the dyes. Color Zen, in North Carolina, is a start-up that has developed on pre-treatment for cotton that attaches a positively charged amino site on the cellulose charged fiber, that then naturally attracts the negatively charged dye. Color Zen treats the raw cotton fiber after the seeds are removed but before the cotton is spun into yarn. They think this pre-treatment process uses 90% less water, 75% less energy, 90% fewer auxiliary chemicals – and makes dyeing faster. It also cuts out half the dye compared with processes that call for salts in the dye bath. Please note: All of the technical information above comes from the fascinating article in Chemical and Engineering News, July 16, 2018, page 28-33, “Greener Textile Dyeing” by Melody Bomgardner. Ms. Bomgardner’s article also has an interesting chart that outlines the differences in dye requirements for cotton, polyester, viscose (rayon), and wool. Perhaps not surprisingly, the least environmental impact from the dyeing process is wool, and perhaps surprisingly, the most environmental impact from the process of dyeing is cotton. Let’s hope that the innovative companies showcased in this c&en article will succeed in improving a process that we didn’t realize was causing so much harm.​

Let’s Embrace Human-Centered Design Thinking​

Richard Farson, PhD, psychologist and author of The Power of Design, perhaps overstates his case when he writes, “Design, the creation of form, has the power to transform culture, ignite education, foster community and even broker peace.” Wow! I think that the most powerful design fields are Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Interior Design because people experience life (and space) in 3 dimensions. It’s hard to avoid feeling the results of any particular design, whether those feelings are intended or not intended by the designers. So if a space/design engenders a reaction, a feeling, then as designers, let’s make that feeling the intended one. We all have heard the term “unintended consequences” as it is used in reference to our behaviors. Let’s think about the consequences of our design decisions and strive to achieve the intended ones. If we want to “broker peace,” architecture may not be the first tool that we think of; but if we want to foster community, architecture really matters. Lofty goals can be achieved if we embrace them. Let’s consider the effects of our design choices on the people who will use the spaces we create. Jon Kolko wrote in the Harvard Business Review on the evolution of design thinking: “Design is empathetic, and thus implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business.” If designers can remember that they are working to enhance the lives of people, not just to have fancy photographs in design magazines, then the full power of design can be implemented for “good.” Maybe we can avoid the unintended consequences of our design actions and achieve our intentions – enhancing the human experience. Human-centered design thinking means thinking about people first. Asking questions about the needs of the people and the goals of the community is the first step of design thinking. Human-centered design thinking could make the world a better place for people who work, play, age, live and learn. If you have a project that could use better, human-centered thinking and project pre-planning, call us. Let’s embrace the power of design!​

Tyrian Purple

If you think purple is a mixed-up color today, you may be surprised to know that it has a mixed-up history as well, one as rich as its hue. In today’s world, colors and pigments are so readily available, through paints and computer graphics, that we often don’t realize that color has an extensive history, dating back to cave paintings which were made from grinding up available materials, such as dirt, stones, plants, and even insects, into different pigments. The color palette was extremely limited in that day – they definitely did not have access to purple! In fact, according to the book “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair, purple was not accessible for a very long time, and even when it was (around the fifteenth century B.C.), it was so rare and difficult to make that only the powerful and wealthy were able to access it. The earliest evidence of purple dye comes from the Phoenicians in Tyre (today’s Lebanon). “Phoencia” literally means “purple country,” and it was named so because the hue “Tyrian Purple” gave the region fame and fortune through the trade of this dye. The dye was produced using a very timely, costly and pretty gross process involving two varieties of shellfish native to the Mediterranean, Thais haemastoma and Murex brandaris. Phoenicians would crack open the shells of these crustaceans and locate a specific gland called the hypobranchial gland, which when squeezed would produce a single drop of clear, garlic-smelling liquid. Within minutes, the sunlight would turn this liquid into a deep purple-red, the best hue being obtained from mixing the gland fluids of both types of shellfish and was dubbed “Tyrian Purple”. This fluid combination was then placed in large vats of stale urine (for the ammonia) and fermented for 10 days before cloth was even added. Afterward, although the cloth was a beautiful Tyrian purple, it allegedly kept its smell of rotting shellfish, garlic, and urine. That’s real commitment to the color purple! The poor shellfish though…since each one contained a single drop, it took approximately 250,000 to make one ounce of dye. Because of this labor-intensive process, Tyrian purple dye was incredibly expensive, and was therefore only affordable to royalty. Soon it became law that only royalty was allowed to wear it. Around 47 B.C when Julius Caesar was in power, he introduced a new toga in his favorite color, Tyrian purple, and declared that only he was allowed to wear the color. His rule was so severe that anyone caught wearing the color could face death. A bit farther east, Byzantine queens would give birth in royal birthing chambers completely decked in Tyrian purple, so that it would be the first color that new princes would see, and they would therefore be “born into the purple,” sealing their right to rule. Today, we realize that even though “violet” is the shortest spectral wavelength that humans can see, there are hundreds of variations of the color through advanced technology. Suddenly everyone has access to purple, so it has become just a color like any of the other thousands. Even Tyrian purple now has many different interpretations – we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Tyrian purple hues from Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and PPG so that you too can feel like royalty in your home or office! Purple isn’t the only color with a rich history! Want to learn more about the history of other colors? Check out “The Secret Lives of Color” to learn more! Please call Leslie Saul & Associates if you want to add a little color into your life.​

Purple – more than a mixed-up color​

Every little kid knows that red + blue = purple. One of my granddaughters’ favorite books is “Mix it Up! by Herve Tullet. This interactive book is all about how paint colors mix to make other colors. If you have read my other blog posts, you might think that almost every post is about mixing it up. I think that life (and construction projects) is not a straight line, yet sometimes it is the detours and mix- ups that make life worth living (and projects more successful), but I digress. Let’s agree that purple is a mixed-up color. I was driving back to my office last week, when I heard the NPR article about how Iowa is a “purple” state, but that both the legislature and the governor’s office are all Republican for the first time in a long time. The democrat running for Governor could win and bring Iowa back to its “purple” status. I come from what used to be an extremely “red” state, Ohio, with the exception of Cleveland, that has always been “blue”. Now Cincinnati, my home town, has become “blue” as well. Ohio is now a “purple” state. Perhaps I’ve always been a little “purple”. My logo was designed 25 years ago. As you probably know, it is a purple square with an orange dot. The color of the square is purple, but it really is closer to navy blue than it is to proper purple. I suppose my “blue” roots must be showing. When I got married, I told the women in the wedding party that they could wear any style dress as long as it was in any shade of purple that pleased them. It was so much fun to see what people chose. My husband’s grandmother chose a pale mauve, almost pink, and my sister chose a deep eggplant color – and we had every color in between. We bought the men purple ties. The cake was decorated in purple pansies. It all worked so well together (and so do my husband and I: we are about to celebrate 40 years of purple wedded bliss)! In design, I often use purple as a neutral. Whether it is a pale grey with a purple cast (Benjamin Moore’s Misty Memories 2118-60), a medium purply-gray (Benjamin Moore’s Sea Life 2118-40), or a deep purple that is almost black (Benjamin Moore’s Toucan Black 2115-20), these “purples” are so much more interesting than their counterparts of grey or black, yet they still function well as neutral “colors” that work well with any accent color in a project’s palette. At one point, a long-term client said that they always searched for the “purple” on each project. I confess, I do love purple! You too may learn to love purple. Whether you identify as “purple”, “blue” or “red”, let us know if we can help you with your next design project, no matter your color persuasion! After all, don’t we all just want to get along?​

What is all the fuss about blue light?​

You have probably heard about the dangers of blue light (the light emanating from your smart phone or tablet). Some say it causes an increase in cancer rates, some say it causes insomnia, and now, who knew, the blue light from LED lights as well as from technology can damage your skin. Never fear, the global cosmetics industry is coming to the rescue! The May 14, 2018 issue of C & EN (Chemical & Engineering News) has a very interesting article, “Fighting Modern Stresses: Personal Care Formulators look for ways to safeguard skin from blue light and other perceived environmental assaults,” by Marc S. Reich. In the article, Karl Lintner, former CEO of Sederma, who now leads consulting firm KAL’ideés in Paris, was quoted as saying, “yes, we want to protect skin, but to single out one wavelength of light or another seems arbitrary and too simple.” The demand for protection from blue spectrum light may be fueled by fears and innuendos, but research has not actually proven the fears justified. Mr. Lintner continued, “we create a story and then sell it. That’s cosmetics. It’s all about business, and it’s all fun. As long as you don’t cheat and don’t lead consumers into danger by saying things that are absurd [wrong!], you are all right.” The cosmetics industry may seem like a superficial endeavor to begin with, but if an industry leader admits that it’s all for fun, while selling their overpriced products as if they are a result of scientific breakthroughs, they are producing skepticism more than fun. Mr. Lintner also said, “we do need science to tell a story, but cosmetics are all about the guilty pleasure of splurging on something that smells and feels good.” They know that the industry success is based on what smells and feels good to gullible humans, it is not really based on science. There is some scientific evidence that blue light does have an effect on our circadian rhythm. If you are interested in avoiding the sleep deprivation that may be caused by blue light, you may want to check out Rhode Island based Lighting Science, whose scientists come mostly from NASA. These scientists worked on helping astronauts sleep on the space shuttle, despite the short time span sunrise/sunset cycles. They recommend utilizing a warm color light for 2 hours before your bedtime to get your body ready for sleep, and they sell a bedside lamp that can do just that. In our industry of architecture and design, we often talk about “smoke and mirrors.” We refer to making a space look great on a small budget – we are not referring to deception, but rather to our creativity. Like the cosmetics industry, we are providing spaces that “feel good,” but it is so much more. We believe that pre-project planning defines the right project for the client – the right scope of work, the right budget, the right schedule, the right quality level, and the right impact on the community and the planet. Our designs are not based on whims, trends or on pie-in-the-sky wishes. If our client and site research are done well and our group consensus building/visioning session are successful, our projects will be successful. And that feels good. If you want help with you next architecture or interior design project, please call us. We’ll have fun together – even without cosmetics!​

“Meh” And the Happiness Curve​

In life, we experience highs, lows, and lots of time that is just “meh.” It’s not the most exciting nor the most devastating. It’s just life. My mother once told me that you don’t want to be very interesting to your doctor, that it is much better to be boring when it comes to your health. The Real Estate analogy would be to not be very interesting to your building envelope specialist, that it is much better to not have any unexplained water infiltration. So maybe “meh” is okay. Think about the stock market – it’s current state of volatility has many people anxious. Our current US President Donald J. Trump seems to abhor the “meh” and to thrive in the volatility of highs and lows. This volatility has caused most Americans and most citizens of the world to be anxious most of the time about world politics. We look forward to a quiet week at some point in the future. We look forward to “meh”. Design and construction projects (and probably other projects, like software development) follow a volatile path that we call the “happiness curve”. It starts with a super high after we have completed the design that fulfills our clients’ wants and needs, and falls when the pricing comes in. The curve moves higher once construction starts, but then drops to its lowest low, just before completion, when it seems like the construction is never ending. The curve comes back up at the end when our clients can truly enjoy what we, collectively, have created. Sometimes the long and winding road can lead to a place that is just right. With LS&A as your guide throughout you will know what to expect, so that those highs and lows will be less scary. If you want a copy of our “happiness curve,” please email us at koko@lesliesaul.com and we’ll send it to you. We have put together a set of project planning tools that can help you plan for what’s important at the beginning of every design and construction project. Email us with details of your project and we’ll share the tools that we think might be helpful to you.​


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