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. ​

Backstage with Janis Joplin, Onstage with the Cincinnati Opera​

Sometimes we are asked to be the “front man,” to borrow a jazz term, and sometimes we are the “back-up singers”. Sometimes we are just behind the scenes, making the folks onstage look good, and sometimes we just touch stardom by proximity and opportunity. This is a story about my brush with stardom.I grew up in Cincinnati, OH; a great place to grow up, I might add. My father was a CPA and my mother was a full-time volunteer/organizer for good causes. My mother was known as “the Queen of Paddock Hills” (our neighborhood), because she knew everyone, and because she had a column in the neighborhood newsletter. She became a surrogate mother to people who didn’t have their own parents in Cincinnati. One of these “adopted” couples were the promoters/producers of most of the folk and rock bands who stopped in Cincinnati as part of their tours across the country in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. They had a daughter, Margo, who was a year younger than me. We became fast friends. I loved going to her house, a mansion in the Rose Hill neighborhood, because there was always something interesting going on. They had a very large Great Dane, who could knock you over with his strong tail, and a very tiny Yorkie, who hid under the bed, and probably some other animals as well. Margo had a large built-in windowseat in her room that I loved (and now replicate for my clients). I often slept over on nights of concerts. Of all of the bands who came back to the mansion after a concert, only Mary of Peter Paul & Mary, came up the stairs to talk to us as we watched from above. I have thought many times since then that being famous doesn’t mean you have to ignore the little people.Spin forward a few years. I think I was 13. Margo’s parents invited us to come to a concert, instead of staying home with a babysitter. We were thrilled. My sister, who was 17, thought this was completely unfair that I was invited to go, since she thought that I didn’t even know who Janis Joplin and the Big Brother and the Mothers of Invention Band were – and she did! The year was 1967. First, we stopped at her dressing room, where Janis saw us, said “hi” and then turned around and guzzled Southern Comfort from the bottle. I can still see her in my mind. We watched the concert from backstage in the wings – it was amazing – it felt like an alternate reality and we weren’t on drugs, although in hindsight, maybe many members of the audience and the band probably were.What impact did my brush with fame have on me? I think that perhaps I am less intimidated by super successful people, since I was exposed to the stars in my youth. I think that I also got a sense of how many people were involved in making each concert happen. I know that I love being part of the team that makes great spaces come to life – whether I have a starring role, or whether I’m behind the scenes getting things done. I’ll tell you another time about how I was onstage in the Italian touring production of Manon Lescaut in the Cincinnati Summer Opera during the summer of 1975. Please note: I didn’t get hired for my operatic singing voice.​

Are Private Buildings Hiding Their Public Spaces?​

In New York City, developers can create Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in exchange for the right to build taller buildings than allowed by zoning regulations. A book about the 500 POPS in NYC has been written by Harvard GSD Professor Jerold S. Kayden, in association with the NYC department of City Planning and the Municipal Art Society of New York. They detail the pros and cons of these Public Private places with photographs, maps, and notes. The book can be found here. A recent New Yorker article, “Gilt” by David Owen, in the April 17, 2017 issue, compares and contrasts the new POP in the old IBM building on Madison Avenue at 56th Street, with the adjacent POP in the atrium of the Trump Tower. According to Owen, the IBM POP is an oasis in the city, a place that welcomes the public to take a break. Owen shares that the Trump POP has removed the benches and basically offers the public no amenities. It seems that some developers may have forgotten the agreement that allowed them to build more height and square footage in exchange for providing public access to indoor and outdoor private gardens and sitting areas. In Boston, MA, we have a similar regulation. That requires a permit holder to make privately owned spaces available for public use in exchange for a variance. The Boston Society of Architects occupies the public benefit space at the old Russia Wharf Building with a gallery, meeting rooms and office space on part of the first floor and most of the second floor. The space has a long-term affordable lease because the developers exchanged this public access space for more square footage in the redevelopment.               Another POP space you may not know about in Boston is the 14th floor observation deck of Independence Wharf, located at 470 Atlantic Avenue. The observation deck overlooks Moakley Courthouse, Boston Children’s Museum and Boston Harbor. Because it is a POP, it is free to visit, but visitors must sign in and show ID at the front desk. You can visit daily between 10 am and 5 pm. Do you have any Public Spaces in Private Buildings in your town? Do you ever tuck into one of these spaces for a respite from city life? We would love to hear more. We know that our private lives are more integrated with our work lives, as we work with more flexibility and in more remote locations. Our private lives are “meshed” with our public/social media lives. Do you feel that privacy is hard to find these days? Do you crave it? Does it matter? Please comment below. To learn more about how to get started on your next architecture or interiors project, contact me directly at or call the office at (617) 234-5300 x 0. We would love to be a part of your functional and beautiful project stack. ​

Fire Codes: Gotta Love Them!​

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, many people have asked me if this could ever happen in the US.  Of course, tragic fires happen frequently in the US, about 3,000 people die in fires every year, versus a few hundred in Britain. Some say that the British focus on building to building fire spread has blinded them to the urgent need for a focus on fire spread within a building. Right wing politicians in Parliament have fought any increase in requirements for the use of non-combustible building materials as unfair to building owners. The Grenfell Tower sub-contractor who installed the combustible aluminum sandwich cladding (a non-combustible version is available and required in most countries on buildings over 2 stories high) claim that they didn't know that they were installing the cladding, which they knew was combustible, over a combustible insulation material.  They assumed that the insulation was non-combustible.  So, the combination of combustible insulation, combustible cladding and an airspace behind the cladding allowed the new façade not only to combust, but also to spread the fire around the outside of the building.  The Grenfell Tower building was a concrete structure (often called “Brutalist” style) that naturally prevented floor to floor and unit to unit fire spread.  Without the new cladding and insulation, the fire in the fourth-floor unit might have been contained in that unit, sparing at least 79 residents. A very good accounting of the post fire analysis by the New York Times is available here. Apparently, manslaughter charges will be brought, although the article doesn't specify against whom. When I first heard that the public housing building was unsprinklered, I thought that the government should have invested in sprinklers instead of a new façade. Now that I have more information, I realize that the concrete structure would have made the need for sprinklers feel less pressing.  However, I was amazed to learn that the building only had one stairwell! In the US, we have had a requirement for two means of egress for almost ever! Two stairs might have also saved more people. Of course, sprinklers might also have saved lives, quenching flames as they entered each unit from the outside.  The smoke from the combustion of the materials also contributed to loss of life.  In the US, we have the NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, funded primarily by insurance companies. The fascinating requirement of the NFPA testing is that they require a test of all assemblies. This means that not only the materials need a fire rating, but also, the proposed assembly of materials needs to be tested to determine their performance as an assembly in a fire.  Had the testing of the Grenfell Tower exterior cladding been performed according to the NFPA standards, it would have been rejected as hazardous. So, US building owners, please don't complain when you are required to pay for an assembly of the proposed exterior design to meet the NFPA and code requirements.  Please don't complain when you are renovating an old building and the amount you spend triggers a requirement to bring the building up to current codes.  The lives you may save are priceless! ​

Are you one of 33% who feel engaged at work, or do you feel disengaged?

The scariest part of the 2017 Gallup Report on “The State of the American Workplace” is that only 33% of employees feel engaged at work. That means that 67% of employees (or time) are NOT engaged. Even the world’s best organizations have only 70% engagement. What can design do to enhance the employee experience and engagement?

Cool and Contemporary Parking Garages​

There used to be a clear “pecking order” to desirable projects for architects. The premier jobs were grand civic projects such as museums and concert halls. Next in line were choice projects such as hotels and corporate headquarters. Last on the list were the utilitarian structures like parking garages. So when did things flip-flop, and the utilitarian structures become the cool commissions? Take a look at these modern masterpieces! The 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage designed by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron Architekten is considered one of the most beautiful public garages in the world. This is a mixed-use building with shops on the bottom level and office space on the top floor. Who can believe that a parking  garage is considered one of Miami’s most notable architectural gems? Miami Garage design by Herzog & de Meuron No need to worry about searching for a parking space at the Autostadt parking garage in Wolfsburg, Germany. Cars are actually parked via robotic arms that reach to the top of the 20-story garage. Autostadt Automated Parking Wolfsburg, Germany At first glance this parking garage in Oklahoma City seems lackluster compared to some of the other showpieces we’ve featured. Nevertheless, there is real beauty to this design, which hides cars with a translucent mesh skin. The mesh actually lets the garage “breathe,” so the building meets code in terms of air quality. The real beauty of this building is that the color changes with the reflection of the rising and setting of the sun. Car Park One Oklahoma City Santa Monica, California is home to the world’s first LEED-certified parking garage. The photovoltaic panels and lamination provide the majority of the building’s energy needs. Construction materials include many recycled products. Forget the sustainability – we love the lights, which make this building look like a piece of contemporary art. Santa Monica Civic Center Parking Garage Perhaps the days of driving around for a parking spot in order to avoid a dank, dark garage are over…​

 ​Design Trends Throughout The Decades

Architectural trends, like fashion, come and go throughout the ages. Just as skinny jeans and shimmery makeup populate the runway nowadays, modern and mid-century architecture and design was re-popularized last decade and now gold fixtures and finishes (remember the 90s?) are showing up again too. When design trends are recycled, they blend favorite ideas from the past with contemporary innovation to gain the best of both worlds. Let’s revisit design trends from previous decades and compare them to contemporary trends. Comparing a Century of Design TrendsFor our comparison, we will take a look at three common living areas – kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms – to see what aspects of their designs prevail and which ones have been left behind…for now. The Living Room. The living room of the 1930s and 40s was a more formal affair. This space sat empty for much of the year, only inhabited when there was “company.” Thus, furniture was very upright and had high-maintenance upholstery and trim. Wood accents, especially crown moulding and elegant door trim was popular. Today, most homes are built with an open floor plan that blends kitchens, living and dining areas. Thus, while beautiful architectural accents are still appreciated, homeowners typically prefer stylish but comfortable furnishings that are easier to maintain. The Kitchen. The kitchen is definitely a contender for “Most Transformed Living Space.” In the 1930s and 40s, it was all about function. An absence of processed foods and microwaves, and the lack of ample and efficient refrigeration methods, meant preparing meals was a full-time job; style took a back burner. The post-war era, however, brought a wealth of convenient, time-saving appliances and food preservation/storage methods. This allowed women more time to socialize, which made kitchen aesthetics more of a priority. By the 1970s, we had a heyday playing with bold colors as well as varied materials and finishes. Today’s kitchens are often the heart of the home, where the bulk of the dining, socializing and even entertaining takes place. Thus, high-end appliances and luxury finishes are the norm. The Bathroom. In the 1930s, much of the nation was still using outdoor commodes or perhaps they shared common hall bathrooms with apartment neighbors. By the 1940s and 50s, bathrooms were (almost) exclusively indoors and this change placed an emphasis on bathroom design. Since then, bathrooms have evolved into more luxurious spaces with each decade. Bath tubs and showers have gotten bigger and better, often serving as bathroom show pieces. Tiles are still the preferred finish for flooring and shower/bath walls, but natural stone has superseded ceramic tiles. While the predominantly pastel color schemes of the 80s have gone by the wayside, glass tiles and metallic fixtures are making a comeback, which just goes to show you never know which trends are gone for good and which ones are here to stay.Would you like to design a residential remodel that blends some of your favorite design trends with contemporary aesthetics? Start a conversation with Leslie Saul Architects and Interiors.​


Here are some ideas for boosting your profitability: Place more women on your board of directors. Surveys show that companies with 20% or more women directors are more profitable. (Source: Boston Club Research and 2020 campaign)Place more people of color on your board of directors. See above – it’s true – a diverse board leads to more successful companies, perhaps because of less cronyism – fewer “yes men” and more open discussions with multiple viewpoints makes for better decision making on the board level. (Source: Forbes Magazine)We also know that companies that are associated with community service have more loyal customers. (Source: Harvard Business School Study)But did you know that “businesses that incorporate design know that good design boosts the bottom line” (Source: Design Museum Foundation). Design can help businesses communicate to their customers that they have new products and services that deserve attention, and to their employees that their contributions are valued. Venture capital firms indicate that design is a key factor in improving their investment success rate from 10% to 80%. (Source, Design Museum Foundation) Apple is an example of a company who has used design as a business quality differentiator. Other companies make similar products, but Apple – or should we say Steve Jobs – made design a priority. Even in the post Steve Jobs era, Apple continues to emphasize good design. They recently hired the world-renowned architect, Foster and Partners (designer of Boston’s MFA glass box addition) to redesign their stores. Are the stores so radically better? Maybe not, but the Apple customers expect the best, and continuing to emphasize design communicates the “best” attitude of the company.What if a small company wants to play in the same park with its big competitors? Design can make a difference without spending “Apple” money. At Leslie Saul & Associates, we believe that good design can work to “make the world a better place for people who work, play, age, live, and learn.” Our mission is to use our design tools to make things better for people in the places they use every day, once a week, once a month, or once a year. Good design can make life better, easier, happier. Try it, and you may find that design can truly improve your bottom line – socially, environmentally, economically. Twenty years ago, Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence” said that every CEO should have design consultants on their speed dial list. Put LS&A on your company’s speed dial list. We’d love to help! ​


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