a new year’s resolution

I know we don’t often veer from the design/DIY related posts here, but I wanted to write this post because it is such a huge part of chezerbey and our first several years of homeownership.

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Deb was our neighbor from the day we bought our house till she moved in the summer of 2010. She was a vibrant and fun-loving person who did hair from the salon in her home. (That’s Deb on the left and Kyle’s mom on the right. Kyle’s mom is a stylist so they bonded instantly during her first trip to Seattle several years ago.) She was always the person that had time to stop and chat – in fact, you hoped to run into her because she just had a way of making you feel better about everything…that life was going to be ok and maybe you just needed to chill out a little bit?

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We actually met Deb for the first time when we came to look at the house. Days later, our offer was accepted and we guessed she might have had something to do with it (the seller lived out-of-state and we were competing against developers with cash who wanted to tear the house down). When we tackled the roof that first summer, she took photos from her second story window to document the process and provide encouragement. As we moved inside the house, she lent us her nail gun and compressor and generously refused to take them back when she moved. In 2009, as summer turned to fall and we still hadn’t painted our house, she actually came over (while we were at work!) and helped us out. (Like, literally climbed up on our porch roof with a brush and paint can.) We didn’t ask and she didn’t ask, she just wanted to help and so that’s what she did.

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Three and a half years ago Deb left Seattle for her native Austin but ended up in Florida instead to take care of her ailing mother. The photo above was taken the day she drove out of town. A group of 15-20 people gathered in the rain to see her off, which gives you an idea of the impact she had on those around her. Not long after she moved, she was diagnosed with breast cancer which ended up taking her life last week.

I didn’t think too much about New Year’s resolutions this year, but on the first day of January I sat down and started compiling a list that quickly grew to 6-7 rather broad goals. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about Deb. I think it’s easy to become self-absorbed with making improvements to one’s own self/house/career, but maybe that doesn’t really matter as much. Maybe the real resolution is to be a better person, to take more time for other people and enjoy life to its fullest. To be more like Deb.

We are looking forward to this coming year; to growing and learning and connecting. Here’s to 2014!

holiday cheer

A few weeks ago, we went with some friends to the National Forest to cut down our own Christmas tree (after obtaining a permit of course). Usually we just buy one at the small lot near our house, but we were up for the challenge.

Or so we thought.

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I guess I thought we’d drive in, spot a tree, cut in down and then be on our way. Instead, it ended up being a drive and a hike. Since I was wearing Avery in the Ergo, I opted not to climb the steep hillside (where the better trees were, naturally) and instead stood in the snow/rain with our friend’s tarp draped over me and an increasingly fussy toddler. (Making family memories!)

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But my mood lifted when I saw this guy come down the hill.

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I’m not sure why, but we always tend to go for a Charlie Brown tree and this one is no exception. Also, one strand of lights, gotta love that. To make it fit we had to push the couch over and put it on a small side table, which I think also helped as a toddler deterrent (although she’s been really great about not touching the tree). Growing up, we always had an eclectically decorated tree and I’m carrying the tradition on. We try to buy a new ornament each year and I have a few that my mom passed on during a purge a few years ago (and they’re 80′s fabulous, which is the best).

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Other than the tree, we did a little decorating here and there. The moose are new this year and were bought at Crate&Barrel.

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My mom gave me this little craft store advent calendar last year and it’s been fun to count down the days with Avery. Although really, she has no idea what’s going on and often reacts with a blank stare.

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Finally, Mr. Bails – still not a fan of the reindeer antlers.

Merry Christmas and happiest holidays to all of you! We’re certainly looking forward to it. Even though Avery doesn’t really get Christmas yet, she has a few surprises sitting in my office that I’m pretty excited about.

studio zerbey / our work

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.

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+ 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).

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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.

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+ 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.

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Above, schematic plan for a rooftop deck addition to a single-family house in Seattle.

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Above, a new custom residence in the Hilltop neighborhood near Bellevue, WA. Below, a new custom residence in Pacific Grove, CA.

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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.

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Above, a new custom residence (blogged about recently) east of Seattle. Below, a prefab residence on the Olympic Peninsula.

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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!

studio zerbey / issaquah highlands residence

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!)

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Located east of Seattle, the project is a new custom residence in the Harrison Views neighborhood of Issaquah Highlands.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Z:Studio ZerbeyProjectsActive Projects1309 Issaquah Highland

Z:Studio ZerbeyProjectsActive Projects1309 Issaquah Highland

Construction is slated to start this spring and we look forward to sharing the progress!

studio zerbey / the work-life balance

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:

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Kyle doing code research from the back deck last summer – in what ended up being the one and only time he worked from an Adirondack.

+ Flexibility

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.

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Hey look! Our dining room is also our conference room!

+ 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!)

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Putting our youngest intern to work!

+ 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.

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Kyle and I celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary a few months ago.

+ 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.

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On a sunny October afternoon we took a spur-of-the-moment (and crowd-free!) trip to the zoo.

+ 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.

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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!