Filed under: design
As the third post in our series celebrating Studio Zerbey’s first full year in business, we decided to talk more about the actual work. (See the first post here and second post here.) On our website and blog, we’ve featured a handful of the projects we’ve been working on, but the truth is we have so many more that we haven’t shown yet. Just like it’s hard to determine when a space is done “enough” to show the reveal, we find ourselves doing the same thing with Studio Zerbey projects – waiting for finished photos or taking the time to put together sexy graphics. So, consider this post a sampling of what we’ve been up to this past year, including some of the lesser known services we provide.
+ Consultations – although it’s not a very bloggable topic, we’ve been doing consultations from the very beginning. Simply put, consultations are on-site visits where we give off-the-cuff advice and suggestions (following up with a written summary). We charge a flat fee that varies depending on the scope of the job and due to travel constraints, they are mostly in the Seattle area. Sometimes it’s someone looking to buy a particular house and wondering about its remodel potential. Other times it’s a homeowner that’s interested in remodeling all or part of their home (whether they’ll be hiring a contractor or taking it on as a DIY). For many of the consultations, it also serves as an informal meet and greet where we can learn more about the owners and their home and they learn more about us and the way we work. Although this is a service that some architects offer for free in hopes of getting the job, we learned early on that in most cases that just wasn’t a feasible strategy for a two-person firm (it also helps filter out those who aren’t very serious in the first place). As a solution, we decided to credit the cost of the consultation for clients that end up hiring Studio Zerbey for their project.
+ Schematic Design – Over the last year we’ve taken on a number of small schematic-only projects, including everything from a condo remodel in DC and an Eichler house in Palo Alto to remodels in Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder and Vancouver, B.C. Essentially, “schematic-only” is a pared down design process where we put together sketches (or idea palettes, such as the one above) in lieu of a construction set that’s ready to be handed off to a contractor. Although it places more responsibility on the owner, it’s been an effective strategy for small remodel projects that are remote or where the budget or scope doesn’t warrant a site visit or technical drawings. We haven’t featured as many of these projects because either they aren’t finished yet (often times the homeowner is DIYing it) or the end product is a floor plan sketch and not a pretty 3D rendering. (We have plans to remedy this though, soon!) Nonetheless, these projects are just as important to us, especially since most of the clients are blog readers as well. And so we thought it was important to highlight this particular service, recognizing that not every design project ends with a thick drawing set (a common misconception about architects, perhaps).
Above, options for different kitchen layouts in a small row house (click to enlarge). And below, a schematic floor plan for a super tiny 1937 fishing cottage in Seattle.
+ Remodels and New Construction – This is the bulk of our work and includes projects that are taken from pre-design through permit and/or construction documents. It includes remodels to early 20th century homes (which make up a large part of Seattle’s housing stock), new single-family residences and a few commercial jobs. Although much of our work is in Washington state, we also have active projects in California, Montana and Alaska.
Above, schematic plan for a rooftop deck addition to a single-family house in Seattle.
Above, a new custom residence in the Hilltop neighborhood near Bellevue, WA. Below, a new custom residence in Pacific Grove, CA.
Above, a remodel of an existing Animal Hospital east of Seattle. Below, an extensive remodel of an old brick building into a commercial building in Missoula, Montana.
Above, a new custom residence (blogged about recently) east of Seattle. Below, a prefab residence on the Olympic Peninsula.
And there it is, a snapshot of what’s in the hopper at Studio Zerbey. 2013 has been a good year and 2014 is shaping up to be even better with a handful of new projects already, including at least four different remodels in Seattle and a new house in Alaska!
Originally, my post for this week was going to be about our bedroom progress, but we’ve been so swamped that there has been no progress (and we realize that’s not a bad problem to have). So we’re just going to pretend like those four paint swatches are artwork and live with it just a little bit longer (although we have decided on a color!). In the midst of this holiday season, we are feeling quite thankful. This little blog that started out as a glorified Flickr account for our family has transformed into a means for growing our firm and working with some pretty awesome people on a variety of interesting projects. And for that, we want to say a big thank YOU!
2014, bring it!
We’ve been working on a new project at Studio Zerbey and are excited to finally share some schematic renderings and plans with you!
(FYI – only the first two renderings show landscaping, but the entire site will be planted!)
Located east of Seattle, the project is a new custom residence in the Harrison Views neighborhood of Issaquah Highlands.
The home is being built in collaboration with YS Built and is targeted for 5-star Built Green, LEED for Homes Platinum and will also incorporate Passivhaus elements. (A few of the strategies so far include triple-glazed windows, extra insulation, green roofs and photovoltaic panels.) The clients, who have been fantastic to work with, are totally on board with this direction which makes the process really exciting for everyone.
The building site has a unique upper bench and lower bench with a steep slope between them. The siting of the house takes advantage of this topography, creating a linear datum line that not only serves as a retaining wall but also as an organizing element for the home’s circulation.
The massing of the home is designed to maximize views, natural daylight and compliment the scale of the surrounding community. (The neighborhood is partially developed, we just didn’t model the surrounding homes.) =) The living spaces are oriented to capture the panoramic views to the southwest and northwest, including Lake Washington and the Olympic mountain range as well as Seattle and Bellevue skylines.
A series of green roofs and protected outdoor spaces will allow the homeowners to extend their living spaces year-round.
With an emphasis on durability, the material palette will consist of a gray stained cedar siding, corten steel panels, cement board siding, T&G fir soffits, exposed wood beams, black fiberglass windows, board-formed concrete, glass railings and a standing seam metal roof.
A careful site analysis was done early on to suss out the best views and determine how unbuilt adjacent lots might be developed. (For the renderings and site plan, we used a combination of SketchUp, a v-ray rendering plugin and panoramic photographs.)
Below are the schematic floor plans for the ground level, main level and upper level (click to enlarge). The total area is 3,425 SF of living space plus 575 SF for the garage.
Construction is slated to start this spring and we look forward to sharing the progress!
Last year, we had a baby and started our own firm – all within the span of about 2 1/2 months. Needless to say, work-life balance has been a major part of our first year in business.
Being your own boss is challenging and sometimes stressful but it also completely awesome. We sometimes joke about working in sweat pants or happy hours at 4:30 and while there are certainly lots of perks to calling your own shots, the biggest perk has been our ability to stretch and grow during this first year of business and parenthood. Which brings us to our first topic:
For us, this might be the magic word when it comes to achieving an effective work-life balance. Staying flexible has allowed us to thrive in what has been a year of fast-paced changes and growth. We set goals and deadlines, but build in buffers for when things don’t go quite according to plan. We also see our days in 24 hour increments – which can mean going to the grocery store at 2:00 in the afternoon while hosting client meetings in the evenings after Avery goes to bed. If Avery decides to take an extra long nap one day, I keep chugging away knowing that tomorrow she may wake up early. Some days we work more, some days less (which feels like a more natural flow for our project-based profession anyway) – but at the end of the month it usually balances out. We’ve found that although schedule is important (see next section), allowing ourselves some wiggle room keeps us moving forward.
+ Schedule vs. Non-Schedule
I think at first there was an appeal in doing away with the idea of a set schedule. But as Avery went from newborn to baby I quickly realized that her schedule was my schedule and I needed to learn to accommodate it. That was all fine and dandy, but you see – as much as a schedule was important for her, it never stayed the same for very long. This was frustrating at times and for the first 8 months or so I felt like I was constantly re-adapting to her sleeping and feeding schedule. However, as she needed less feedings during the day and we hired some childcare help (more on that below!) things were much more predictable and I was able to create an effective schedule that worked. Now that she’s transitioned to one nap a day I feel like we’re in a sweet spot that will work for the next year or so. Also, I take Wednesdays off (in theory at least!), which gives me the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with Avery. In the mornings, we meet up a group of seven or so mamas and kiddos (we’ve been getting together weekly since our toddlers were newborns!). It’s 2 hours a week, but the support is invaluable.
Now, Kyle also has a schedule but it’s not the same as mine. We eventually realized that we function best on slightly shifted clocks so instead of fighting it, we embraced it. In a nutshell, I get up earlier in the morning and he goes to bed later. Although it was a schedule that evolved over the last year, we realized that it gave us something that is hard to come by when you work from home (with your spouse!)(with a kiddo!) – personal downtime. I love having a bit of quiet time in the morning, then making breakfast for Avery and me when she wakes up. For Kyle he has that sliver of quiet time at night to finish up some work, unwind with Netflix or meet up with guy friends. It’s a small thing but has a big impact.
One year in, the takeaway for us is that a schedule is important, but it doesn’t have to be the 8-5 that we were used to. Now that it gets dark at 4:30 (bahhhhh!) we’re finding that we need to probably tweak our schedules yet again – meaning we should really take a break to get outside during the day then consider a second shift of sorts after Avery goes to bed. (I think one of the biggest adjustments to parenthood is simply being home bound by 7:00 each night!)
+ Divide and Delegate
Before forming Studio Zerbey, my plan was to work part-time while taking care of Avery. Childcare is crazy expensive in Seattle (if you can get in!) so this was a plan that made a lot of sense for us. When Kyle joined the firm, we decided that he would continue with his full-time schedule and we would see how it all panned out. This worked fine while Avery was quite young and either slept most of the day or was otherwise content with immobility. (I should also mention that she has been a good sleeper and that alone is HUGE.) Around 8 or 9 months though, we knew we needed to make a change. Although we have prided ourselves in our DIY approach to most everything, we needed some backup. So, we hired a nanny. And a house cleaning service. BEST MOVES EVER.
At first I was reluctant to shell out the extra money, but when you’re self-employed you think about your time in a whole new way. Time is money. You gotta spend money to make money. You get the idea. At first our nanny came 4 hours a day, 3 days a week – filling the time between Avery’s morning and afternoon nap. A few months later we added the 4th day and when Avery dropped to one nap last month we increased the hours to 20 per week. Because we both work from home (and Avery is usually a reliable napper), our nanny is able to leave after putting Avery down for her nap, which in theory gives me 6-7 hours of work time each day. (Of course, there are days when she doesn’t nap as long – see “flexibility” above.)
I was hesitant about finding a good nanny and how that dynamic would work with us at home, but I’m happy to say that the arrangement has exceeded our expectations. We have actually had two fantastic nannies that Avery adores and somehow we all function in our small house. I’m able to focus on my work, even with the sounds of playing and laughing coming from the main floor. Someone gave me this advice early on and it’s so true – you simple have to hire someone that you trust and then TRUST them. Also, it’s ok to take it slow – in the beginning I would take a break at lunch to prepare Avery’s food, but over time I’ve relaxed my involvement and it’s been totally fine.
Now, the house. We love ol’ chezerbey but she does get dirty. I blame the toddler. And the golden retriever. Oh, and the two adults who are home 90% of the time. (But mostly the golden retriever.) So, we got some help in the form of every-other-week cleaning. Guys, it’s awesome and our entire house is clean in an hour. Granted, there’s still regular tasks that we have to do ourselves, but it’s been both a practical and psychological relief to be able to delegate that out so we can instead focus on our business or our family.
+ Make Time for Yourself and Each Other
When you simultaneously become a new parent and a new business owner, this one can be tough. Admittedly, we have only been on four dates since Avery was born but we’re getting better. (It still feels odd to plan them in advance, but so worth it.) Since we’re together most of the time and regularly go out to dinner as a family, I think we underestimated the need for the occasional date night. And then we went on one and oh hey! there’s not that little human that requires a percentage of your attention at all times. And yes, we totally talk about work during date nights, but more in the vein of hopes and dreams rather than “so, did you figure out that scupper detail?”.
Also, make time for yourself. It can be easy to back-burner that pedicure or time at the gym, but it’s time well-spent. For me, this means working out at least twice a week and getting out of the house by myself(!) at least a couple of times a month.
+ Get Out of the House!
This is another tough one for work-at-home parents, especially during the cold, rainy months. (In fact, we would appreciate any suggestions on this subject!) So far, we’ve found that getting out for an early dinner is effective, or we’ll tag team it in the evenings to grab a drink with friends. If we want to get fancy and get out during daylight, then there’s usually a small sliver of time after Avery’s nap where we’ll head to the library or run errands. We also try to take advantage of the weekends, doing things together as a family.
Doing as-builts (in the rain) for a new project when Avery was about 3 1/2 months old. Also, it looks like I am wearing a stuffed animal.
+ Focus on the Awesome
Y’know, it’s easy to knit-pick the details when you’re your own boss. For me, I often feel like I’m straddling a line between SAHM and WAHM, sometimes feeling inadequate for either not spending enough time with Avery or not working enough. There are days that are challenging and days where everything falls into place and I feel like I’m doing awesome at both jobs. And I think that’s the key – focus on the awesome. Kyle and I regularly find ourselves stepping away from a particular situation and taking a moment to feel thankful for what we have. It’s a perspective shift that only takes a second but re-motivates us to keep pushing forward as architects and parents.
So there you have it – our strategies for making it all work (thus far!). We’d love to hear what has worked for other parents/business owners!
Yesterday, I painted swatches of the four bluish-gray colors we’re considering for the bedroom walls.
(They are, from left to right: “silver streak”, “eclipse”, “smoke gray” and “ashland slate”. All Benjamin Moore.)
Drastic differences, huh? Kyle and I laughed at the idea of a serious blog post about what color we should choose (though it’s not as comical as our choices for Avery’s nursery!), especially given that colors can vary from monitor to monitor. But, if you do have an opinion feel free to weigh in! (At this point, we don’t have a clear favorite.) Back in 2008 we painted the room white because it only has one window (north-facing) and tends to feel darker than the rest of the house. However, after living with it for a few years we’ve decided to embrace the lack of light and go more cave-mode. We love how cozy Avery’s room feels, but decided to lighten things up a bit for this space.
We’re going to give it a few days before we make a decision, but anything will be an improvement over the yellow-tinged white paint that’s there now. (Lesson learned, never buy off-the-shelf “white” paint.) Slowly but surely we’re chipping away at this room. Maybe a post-Thanksgiving bedroom charrette? What could be better!?
(Painting these swatches reminded us of our first go-around with picking colors for this room. Yikes, our house was scary.)
Studio Zerbey has officially been in business for over a year now! We haven’t taken much time to reflect on that milestone, so I’m glad for the opportunity to do so here. Starting a new business is no easy feat, but one that has been incredibly rewarding for us so far. To commemorate, we’ll be posting a three-part series on year one. This first post will cover an overall look at our firm – what this last year has included and what we’re planning for the future. In the next posts, we’ll talk about work-life balance and get into specifics about the type of projects we’re working on.
+ Start Up: For the first few months our time was divided between new projects and start-up tasks. (The photo above was taken during our first week, before we had ordered our new work stations or set up our offices!) We took care of the basics first: forming an LLC, obtaining state and city business licenses (and later amending those documents after Kyle joined), professional liability insurance, health insurance, setting up a business banking account, creating a website and business cards (thanks to Anna!), seeking out a competent attorney, hiring an accountant and purchasing bookkeeping software. Those tasks weren’t necessarily difficult, but there was quite a bit of legwork to find the right resources, make the appropriate phone calls and review the different options. Actually, I completed many of these tasks during the first few months after Avery was born – ahh, maternity leave for the self-employed! After we were all legit, we focused on hardware and software. Because we provide a professional service in lieu of a product, our overhead is rather low. That said, our computers and digital storage are one of the most vital aspects of our business. We chose to buy the best we could, creating an efficiency that could be passed along to our clients. Additional expenses included some office supplies, reference books and bulking up our materials library. Now that we have what we need, we feel like we’re running a pretty tight ship over here at Studio Zerbey and will have only minimal overhead expenses during year two.
+ Working Together: I was a little hesitant about what it would be like working together, but one year in we’re doing great. One of the big realizations we had is that having career fulfillment is WAY more important to how happy we are as a couple than any challenge or hurdle we’ve faced running a business together. We don’t always agree on everything, but in the grand scheme of things we’re always on the same page, playing for the same team. Last December, we talked about our strategies for working together and we’ve stuck to them. We each have our own office spaces and for the most part manage our own projects – though we also regularly collaborate or help each other out. In addition to dividing our work load, we’ve also developed a good strategy for dividing all those non-billable tasks. For instance, Kyle handles contracts and any IT issues, while I do the bookkeeping, invoicing and website upkeep. Again, these tasks came from a natural extension of what our individual strengths are, so there was never any squabbling over who got to do what. In fact, it’s a similar approach to how we handled the remodel and our work-life balance in general (which we’ll get into more in the next post!). Not only has this strategy worked well for us as husband-and-wife architects, but it’s an added efficiency that allows us more time to focus on our clients.
Our two offices, as of about 15 minutes ago. (I tried to use my camera’s timer to include myself in a shot, but the results were comical.) I think it’s funny how Kyle and I are on two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to office seating, but I really do love that yellow stool! Also, our two extra dining chairs serve as useful “spouse seats”.
+ Spreading the Word: We’ve spent a good amount of time this past year thinking about and brainstorming ideas for marketing. Right now, about half of our work is in the Seattle area and half in other parts of the U.S., which makes us think differently about how we promote our firm. Referrals and word-of-mouth are still incredibly important resources for getting new work, but we’re also exploring other avenues to get our names out there (such as Houzz and the Seattle chapter of the AIA). But after tracking visitors to our website over the last year, we’ve realized that our biggest marketing tool by far is this blog. (Hi!) We have had the privilege of talking to and working with so many people that came to us through the blog. Oh, and while we’re on the subject – a huge thank you to our clients. Seriously, it is amazing to work with so many smart and thoughtful people on a regular basis.
+ Personal Satisfaction and The Road Ahead: I don’t mean to sound like everything is puppies and bunnies all the time (we definitely have challenging days!), but overall we are making a living doing what we love and it’s hard to top that. So yes, personal satisfaction is high. That said, we’ve also worked really hard to get to this point in our careers. The timing was right, we made the leap and we haven’t looked back since. So what’s ahead for Studio Zerbey? We’re looking forward to expanding our list of projects and seeing some move into construction in the next year. Although we’re in a nice groove of just the two of us working from home – we haven’t ruled out the possibility of hiring employees or getting an office space at some point. Those are two major decisions and ones that we’d give considerable thought to before making any changes. For now, our focus is on the quality of our work.
+ The Takeaway: Prior to forming Studio Zerbey I read dozens of blog posts and articles on the subject, often inspired by what other people were achieving. This post is in part a means to share what we’ve learned in the past year. When starting a new business, it’s easy to just dive in and work, work, work so one of the best pieces of advice we can give is get organized! For us, we have a few essential tools: a shared Google calendar that has everything in it (work and personal), individual time sheets that are then referenced into a master file that tracks project fees and overall billing data and weekly Monday meetings to discuss the week ahead and assign tasks if needed. (This also serves as a good time to check-in on the status of each project.) In other words, the small stuff adds up. Don’t cut corners.
Finally, make time for the things that fuel your work. This is a hard one for architects and can be even more challenging when you’re wearing all the hats of a business owner (and new parent!), but being a creative person means constantly finding inspiration and ideas outside of work. And although we’ve been licensed for nearly five years, you never stop learning either. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking extra courses or reading every design magazine out there, but more about being aware of your surroundings, always asking why and how, and continuing to go down the paths that are the most fulfilling.