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  • Catherine Holliss



In grad school they give you assignments that include everything from the site to the program. Rarely is the nature of the client considered in these educational discussions. But it is true that who your client is, their profession and their personality, will impact your work profoundly. How you work with the people behind a project has a direct effect on the evolution of a design.

Fig. 1 Fabric samples from Alexander Henry Fabrics

Sander Architects has had great success in our collaborations with clients who love design as much as we do. Most of our clients enter the design process with a high degree of Design IQ. Our Desert Canopy House was designed for a woman in Palm Springs who was fiercely devoted to creating a modern residence for the future, not simply reiterating modernism from the past. Brennan Boblett, a software designer from the Bay Area that has worked for Apple, Tesla, & Uber -‐ spends everyday crafting future design experiences for consumers across mobile devices, automobiles and transportation touch points. You can imagine the conversations. From where we stand, he is shaping the future. We will be sharing more on his project, Hillside House, soon. Our clients include music aficionados (Residence for a Briard), film industry professionals (Hermosa Beach House) and visual artists (Residence for a Sculptor.)

One of our present clients, Alexander Henry Fabrics and the deLeon Design Group, are a family of passionate designers who work together. Their company, a premier textile design house, produces original cotton prints that are fierce and fabulous and in constant demand by retailers and crafters around the world. Family members Marc, Philip and Nicole de Leon are in‐house artists who encourage and push one another to always be at their best. They bring that same passion and intensity to our meetings. They recently bought a building and asked us to design them office and warehouse space.

Fig. 2 Artist Philip de Leon with works in progress for the family business, Alexander Henry Fabrics

For our most recent meeting, the artists of AH Fabrics first put themselves through a design charrette* the results of which they presented to us. This is a complete reversal of most client meetings and it’s possible that this was a first in the history of Sander Architects.

*charrette refers to the cart used at The Ecole Des Beaux Arts to collect drawings from architects after an intense period of design or planning activity.

Fig. 3 The presentation board with façade studies done by the artists of Alexander Henry Fabrics

AH Fabrics presented an intensive study for the façade of the building that will house the new offices, design studio and warehouse. As such, it will be the face of the company in the physical world. The discussion raises questions: should the façade hint at the design moves of the interior? Should it provide anonymity or bold branding? Perhaps the company prefers to maintain a low profile? How welcoming—or how private—does the front entrance need to be? We have worked directly with security specialists for several of our office projects that had safety considerations. The answers reflect the requirements of the company, and importantly, the ethos and the personality of the company.

Names and inspirations fly as reference points during the meetings. At times, it feels like an intellectual salon from the Paris of the 1940s. Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre, Jean Prouve, Gio Ponti, Peter DeBretville, Armani, and even children’s book authors. It is marvelous, dizzying and thought‐provoking.

So how does working with top‐flight designers impact a design? First, we have to be at the top of our design game. That said, it is inspiring to talk through options with a client who is so informed, to challenge ideas and present thoughts. Each presentation becomes an exchange of ideas, and this is something that is common to our process with all of our clients. We like the iterative nature of presenting our thoughts, getting feedback and then taking that into consideration for the next round of presentations.

We find there is a depth that comes with this level of consideration, no matter who we are working with.

We do have a strong design direction, though nothing is finalized yet. It will be interesting to see how this process evolves.

Check back regularly for updates.



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