Last week, we caught up with Katie Morgenroth, a new client working on a remodel in San Mateo. We were struck by her talent as a designer and the ease at which she was able to communicate ideas with our team, allowing the project to move smoothly and to satisfy everyone’s vision. Katie spoke with us about the intersection of her work as an industrial designer and the collaborative relationship she has developed with our design team.
How did you find Feldman Architecture and what made us the right fit?
We did a fair amount of looking at architects online and through home tours which helped inform the style and feel we wanted to pursue. Dezeen, Wallpaper, Dwell and Pinterest helped us crystallize common themes we liked. Architecture, like product design, is a form of art, with many layers and feelings that merge together. A common pattern in the homes we loved was an airy and effortless aesthetic that blended architecture and nature. Also, for us, sustainability was very important. The fact that FA can design gorgeous, sculptural looking buildings with a sustainable ethos really drew us in. We very much wanted our home to feel in harmony with the land and have a real sense of place. That is one of the things that attracted us to our home when we first bought it – the building itself is unassuming, but is very private and on a property with trees and natural landscaping. We wanted an architect that would accentuate the home’s natural setting. I also gravitated to the tone of voice that the firm used to describe the work – FA seemed approachable even before we met.
Is collaboration important in your career? How has your experience of design in your professional life crossed over to this project?
Collaboration is essential in my career, I have learned, many times over- that we cannot do anything successfully alone. As an Industrial Designer, we need the expertise of engineers, UX designers, project managers (and many more) to make a product magical and achieve the best possible outcome.
At work, the last year has required us to adapt to new ways of collaborating – allowing us to design together, apart. We use shared virtual sketchbooks to pass ideas back and forth and update each other with new information. Matt, Steven, Lindsey and I have borrowed this workflow and it’s been great. We are all able to be very visual and communicate efficiently – we can easily align on what we are hoping to achieve. If I have a circle in my head and they have a square, we can easily share what we are thinking and sync up.
In terms of our work with FA, I’ve really enjoyed walking around the property with Matt and Steven and observing as they flip between creative and technical aspects of design. That is specifically why we wanted to hire an architect like FA, I have a certain aesthetic that I really want to achieve, but without that expert intuition of how things are made, I knew we would never be able to achieve the final outcome we hoped for. Because of my background, I am able to go that layer deeper with Matt and Steven, building off their ideas and at times developing alternate concepts in CAD. It’s been a fun process. Matt and Steven have really encouraged the collaboration and I’ve personally learned so much from their perspectives.
Describe your experience working with Steven and the FA team. What stands out as successful in the process?
One thing we really appreciated was how FA was able to expedite the process by quickly assembling a team to suit the goals and needs of our project. It was clear early on that FA has strong relationships and trust built up across the industry. On our project, we were able to fold in a lighting designer, structural engineer, and landscape architect quickly and have kept the whole thing on track. We are submitting for permit now!
We were really impressed by the google slide presentation you made to introduce the project to our team. You clearly spent many hours thinking about this project before you started to look for an architect. And, we love how you have kept this live document as a way to communicate your feedback to design meetings and discussions. Describe your process when selecting your preferred schemes, finishes, etc.
When we design a product at work, we are always careful about proportions, form, materials – so I am very used to working with different layers. When working on our project, I am very conscious of the materials, light, and views in addition to the flow between spaces – if there are too many rich focal points it’s hard to appreciate anything in isolation. Choosing what to accentuate or tone down in each space has been the most challenging and interesting part of this process.
We like the exposed wood ceilings, lighting details, casework, and views – but we want to be able to see that all in the same frame, and peel back whatever is too extra and doesn’t work. We have been pretty consistent in some areas- finding a quiet material palette for the project, so that when we introduce furniture, flowers, decorations and art into the house, we are bringing in beauty and life as opposed to extra clutter. Sometimes what pulls everything together is the omission of things; simplicity can really bring harmony.
What aspect about your project excites you the most?
Because of how beautiful the property is, we want to focus on bringing the outdoors in without breaking the bank. We have been able to be creative with budget constraints – for instance, we would have loved floor-to-ceiling windows, but we are able to achieve that effect in different ways by looking at the intent and taking a few steps back. As one example, the existing entryway is dark and enclosed, but by pushing the door out a few feet and placing a large window at the end of the hallway, we are able to achieve a similar effect that a floor to ceiling window would have given us.
Working with the FA team, we identified a few choices we really liked – high asymmetric skylights, a bold spine at the center of the building and powerful indoor-outdoor moments. We also have been enjoying exploring casework concepts that give the home a muted, warm, modern feeling. The combination of the geometric elements of the house with a natural palette help accentuate the outdoors and the beautiful oaks on the property. I am also excited to be able to reuse parts of the existing structure, making the project as sustainable as possible.
As the designer of the family, how do you integrate your children and husbands needs and opinions into the design process?
It’s pretty funny – and kind of a joke between my husband and I. We always want to feel like we are collaborating, but it’s also really nice to have clear roles. My husband and I have known each other since we were 18 – he is a financial advisor, and I am a designer. I very much trust him on the money side of things, and he lets me lead design decisions, but if there are aspects of the project he cares about – he will most definitely let me know.
We also love involving our kids in the design process – I want them to be able to be messy and rambunctious, so we have been specifically selecting resilient materials, I don’t want our house to feel too precious. I like to give them tile samples and rough ideas and see how they react – let them really feel materials and interact with the process.
As we turn the corner into 2021, our team wanted to provide an update on the work we are doing behind the scenes to uphold our commitment to racial justice. Last fall, Feldman Architecture solidified a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee, consisting of five FA staff members, which since then has been meeting weekly. In the last quarter of 2020, the committee lead an internal analysis of Feldman Architecture’s procedures, handbook, hiring processes, and submitted a series of recommendations to improve upon these and other areas of our firm as a whole. Our internal assessment felt like a logical place to start, and also lead us to a few important realizations. We first made the decision to enlist help with our DEI efforts from a third party – we are in the beginning steps of working with Humanize Us All to complete an internal assessment of our firm, and engage in an all staff and leadership DEI training that will help us improve as an organization, reflect on our firm culture and mission, and make our efforts to engage our community more impactful.
The committee also realized that as a passionate group filled to the brim with ideas and lofty goals, we will best serve our mission with focused work in specific areas. This quarter, the JEDI Committee will be investing significant time and resources in educational outreach and internship programs for BIPOC students. As a start, the committee will be mentoring a high school student connected with our firm through AFSF, and will be exploring design, software, sustainability, and other aspects of what it means to work in architecture with her. We are also working on crafting summer internship opportunities, as well as beginning to engage in pro bono work at an East Bay school.
At the end of the quarter, we will follow up with another blog post to report our findings, share our progress, and hold ourselves accountable. Please feel free to reach out with comments, suggestions, or questions.
Immersed – The California Houses of Feldman Architecture is an in-depth look at 20 years of the firm’s defining residential work spanning three areas: Urban, Suburban, and Rural. Feldman Architecture, a vibrant San Francisco-based studio, aims to create authentic, site-sensitive, sustainable spaces through a deeply collaborative process. This book, which includes commentary from Aaron Betsky and Daniel P. Gregory, as well as an interview with Vladimir Belogovsky, situates Feldman Architecture’s work within the northern California design canon and illustrates how the firm’s voice subtly translates across diverse geographies and contexts. Jonathan Feldman, in closing, reflects upon the values and aspirations that unify the firm’s work and inform its vision for the future.
We are proud to announce that our first monograph is slated for publication fall of 2021! We are looking forward to sharing more about the project, and continuously delighted by the genius of Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers. Revisit this page as we develop more layouts, update ordering information, and plan book signings and events!
We can’t believe it’s already Fall! We hope you found some peace in the summer months and are ready for the changing of the seasons. In this newsletter, find some updates on virtual events, photoshoots, and even a little Hollywood magic… stay well, stay healthy, and be in touch!
“Standing on the site, looking at that view, I thought, ‘This is what you want to experience every day, all day, when you’re in the house.’ That experience of connecting to the land drove the design.” said Steven Stept.
We are so grateful to our talented friends at California Home + Design for including Slot House in their beautiful fall issue. In their Form and Function series, Partner in Charge Steven Stept describes the story behind the home, and the slot that runs through it – connecting the homeowners to the land. Read the full story here, and a big thank you to our lovely collaborators, Arterra Landscape Architects, Amber Autumn, Connie Wong, ZFA Structural Engineers, and David Wilds Patton Lighting Design.
Read the rest of our newsletter here!
Kelly Finley, Founder and Principal Designer at Joy Street Design, started her design career on an unusual path – in the court room. After 6 years as a practicing attorney in a corporate law firm, she began to realize that law wasn’t for her and enrolled in night classes through UC Berkeley extension, while still excelling at her law practice. In 2011, Finley started her own interior design practice – Joy Street Design, named after her first San Francisco home on Joy Street in Bernal Heights.
Today, Joy Street Design, headquartered in Oakland, is recognized as one of the top interior design firms in the East Bay, with 6 employees doing both residential and commercial interior design. Finley has a strong design vision, finding “joy in color,” firmly abiding by the rule “no white kitchens” – avoiding cliché muted color palettes. The use of color in her work is exciting and warm, integrating unexpected patterns and bright tones into home renovations and office designs (her work was even showcased on Property Brothers).
Finley found inspiration in her grandmother’s Chicago home where she grew up – “every wall was a different color and I felt like was being enveloped in a hug of nonsense” she told FA staff during our latest Third Thursday presentation. Despite some controversial color selections, her childhood home showed her how color can be used as an expression of life and joy.
As a part of the Joy Street Design family – Finley founded the nonprofit, Joy Street Initiative (JSI), in 2018 which donates time, money and design services to women’s shelters in the Bay Area. Not only does Finley use her own time on pro bono projects for organizations like Oakland Elizabeth House, but 10% of profits from Joy Street Design fund JSI projects. The JSI renovations are done with dignity and at a high level –without relying on hand-me-downs or second-hand furnishings and paying their contractors in full. Since the pandemic, Finley and the Joy Street Design team hosted a bedroom renovation giveaway to a COVID frontline worker – a nurse in the D.C. area, named Memuna, won the contest.
Throughout her career at Joy Street, Finley has thoughtfully cultivated a community of black designers and creatives in a predominately white space. From a longstanding relationship with her cabinet maker, to serving as an active member of the Black Artists and Designers Guild, Finley described how she hires employees and maintains collaborative relationships and networks among underrepresented groups in the design space.
We are looking forward to working with Kelly Finley and the Joy Street Design team in the future and are proud supporters of JSI. Donate to the Joy Street Initiative here.
Summer’s greetings from the Feldman Architecture team. We are so excited to share some updates with you – especially our very own Surf House featured in this month’s issue of Architectural Digest! We are wishing you a safe, healthy, and relaxing summer. Please find our entire summer newsletter here, and a few updates below.
“But beyond any piece of art or pedigreed object, the true spirit of the house resides in the Monterey cypress that lines its walls, doors, and cabinetry. ‘It feels like we’re living inside a fine piece of furniture, crafted by artisans at the top of their field. I love to lie on the couch and just let my eye trace all the details,’ the husband raves. His wife has the final word: ‘We don’t think about the house as a place. It’s an experience. It’s peace. It feeds our souls.'”
We are elated that Surf House is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of Architectural Digest! We are so proud to share this spread with our collaborators Commune, Ground Studio, Arborica, Tucci Lighting, among many others – and very thankful for the thoughtful words from Mayer Rus and stunning images from Stephen Kent Johnson. Read the piece online here, in print here, enjoy the project on our website, look for the issue on newsstands, and find one of our favorite quotes from the homeowners above.
This quarter, we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, discussing, and planning. Below, find a statement and a series of commitments from our team inspired by recent activism fighting for racial justice. We want to share these truths and commitments with our community to start our path towards reconciliation.
Feldman Architecture stands in vigorous opposition to racism in all its forms and is committing to actionable steps towards addressing structural, societal, and implicit biases, starting with those baked into the architecture and design industries. As a firm that names both sustainability and transparency as core values, we must acknowledge the lack of both in our industry at large when it comes to racial justice.
First and foremost, we must acknowledge the truth – our country and our industry specifically are structured to uphold systems of racism. With our studio’s focus on residential design serving very wealthy clients, we also must acknowledge our privilege and complicity within this system. With only 2% of all architects currently registered in the United States being Black, we must commit to actively working to increase accessibility and to offering support and reconciliation to Black architects, students, and members of our community.
Within our firm, we have formed an antiracism focus group, which has been brainstorming actionable items we can take collectively to address areas identified as needing improvement. We aim to assemble meaningful commitments with care and integrity, and to consistently and continually hold ourselves accountable and improve upon said commitments.
Feldman Architecture will firstly address racism internally at our firm, exploring tangible ways in which implicit bias affects our lives and the lives of those around us, specifically focusing on strategies to hold ourselves accountable and strive towards antiracism. These discussions will work to empower staff to start the journey of self-reflection and support and uplift Black community members, designers, and loved ones.
In order to address the lack of Black professionals in our industry, we will work to expand our recruiting and educational outreach. We commit to making our internship program more robust – Feldman Architecture will work with organizations like NOMA to offer internships to aspiring BIPOC architects, performing outreach and building relationships with high school and college students in our community.
We believe that specifically exposing marginalized and disenfranchised students at a younger age to architectural and design opportunities can begin to address and break down the systemic barriers that have historically kept the industry homogeneous. We must take intentional action to break this cycle and work with organizations performing educational outreach in Black communities and form pathways and relationships to do so.
We will scrutinize our hiring process. Currently, Feldman Architect has zero Black employees. We aim to change that to reflect the demographics of our broader community, and therefore will commit to actively recruiting Black architects and encouraging others in our industry to do the same. We will establish relationships with HBCUs and expand and diversify our hiring process via organizational partnerships, job boards, and community outreach.
We will prioritize pro bono efforts which provide design services and consultations to organizations and nonprofits that are working towards racial justice and/or that specifically benefit Black communities. Our entire pro bono effort will be focused more closely and intentionally on serving underrepresented and minority communities.
We will aim to increase the diversity of our collaborator and consultant pool, specifically seeking out Black owned and led companies to work with and promote.
We will invite conversation and discussion. Please feel free to engage us with suggestions, ideas, or criticisms. We are dedicated to making this work a permanent part of our firm’s processes and will have blog posts updating our community on our progress as we work towards making our commitments as concrete and specific as possible within the next six months.
We are committed and open. There is much work to do and much for us to learn. Black lives matter, and always will.