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Austin Home Tour (Part Two): Q & A with Tim Cuppett Architects

This past fall I had the pleasure of visiting several homes on the AIA Austin Homes Tour, an annual event that highlights 14 of the best homes within the city of Austin, Texas. A collaboration of work, it’s a unique opportunity for both designers and architects to showcase their talents. The homes showcase a range of styles, techniques, construction, materials, and execution.

Continuing my series on the home tour, I sat down with Tim Cuppet of Tim Cuppett Architecture & Interiors to chat about the Eva Street House. Tim leads a small team of six and offers full-service architecture and interior design services with a residential portfolio spanning two decades. Their work is rooted in traditional forms of hearth and home interpreted in quiet modernism. Over the years, Tim and his team have won several awards for their distinctive work and continue to do so each year.

The AIA Homes Tour describes the Eva Street House as:

“…a new urban infill home for empty nesters. Eager to embrace their surroundings, the owners wanted a home with a graciously scaled front porch and street-facing pedestrian-friendly street. Indicative of the early 20th-century era homes that fill the neighborhood, the interiors remain crisp and current, consistent with the scale of older neighboring homes. Eva Street House is quietly modern, modestly scaled and integral to its old neighborhood context.”

Here’s the scoop from Tim on this gorgeous home.

Can you tell us about the client and how you worked with them? “The client approached us about designing their next home in Bouldin, a walkable neighborhood adjacent to South Congress Ave. Being recent empty-nesters, they chose to downsize from their large suburban home.“

What was the timeline of the project with the client? “The client approached us early as they wished to work methodically through the process and were not ready to sell their existing home. On their schedule, we worked about a year in design, documentation, and permitting.“

How long did each process take? “After design and documentation, construction for this house took approximately 12 months.”

How big of a team worked on this project? “Our team consisted of 4:  myself, my business partner Dave who functioned as the project architect, a draftsman, and our interior designer, Adriana Chetty.”

How does this house incorporate the design needs and style of the client? “Like each project which is designed for specific individuals, our solution marries the style and needs of the client to the site. Interiors were developed using sentimental pieces which they brought, supplemented by a few new items.” 

What was the most challenging part of this project?“As on most projects, the most challenging part is stretching the budget to get the highest “quality-of-life” return on the dollars being spent.” 

What are the prominent design features of this house?“The house was intended to blend seamlessly into the existing neighborhood. This tree-lined street was particularly pleasant and we didn’t want to disrupt its rhythm. The new house, scale, massing, and setback were compatible with existing fabric; its detailing and execution make it stand out upon close inspection.” 

Were you able to stay within the client’s budget? “Yes, the budget was fixed.” 

Did you work with local manufacturers and vendors? What was that like? “We prefer to work with local fabricators and vendors when possible; the collaboration leads to more meaningful solutions. For Eva Street we worked with local maker, Shoda Yamaguchi for some new furniture items. In addition, Ambrose Upholstery reworked some existing upholstered pieces.“

Tim and his team work in collaboration to create the unthinkable: a seamlessly perfected collaboration between design and architecture. They are happy to provide their expert advice and help your dream home visions come to life. You can follow their work and get in touch by visiting, www.cuppettarchitects.com.

Home & Garden Shows: Inspiration Around Every Corner

The 21st Annual Austin Home & Garden show was exactly the last-minute adventure that I was searching for on a cold Saturday afternoon. The three-day event showcases outdoor products, landscaping, windows, doors, cabinetry, storage and so much more to inspire the designer in me. The beautiful vignettes were a sight for sore eyes and a great incentive to entice the crowd for more information. As a new homeowner and professional designer, I was intrigued by all the aftermarket utilitarian and functional products that were available. I convinced my husband to accompany me with the rule that he was able to spend freely with no restrictions.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the highlights and vendors that I had a brief chat with. As you’ll see, these Home & Garden shows are full of new products and inspiration for even the most seasoned of design professionals.

Custom Home Guides

Building the home of your dreams, shouldn’t be stressful for the homeowner or the professional. With the help of a custom home building company, it’s easy to see your visions come true. They hire the crème de la crème of contractors, suppliers, vendors, and financial providers so that the designer can focus on showcasing his/her expertise. They have in-house architects as well, so in reality, this becomes a collaborative project with all the trades. They provide construction expertise, organization and collect options from multiple bids. The designer has an opportunity to mark-up profitability while focusing on the homeowner’s overall budget. From the financial side of the business, they help the homeowner by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source for all construction services. This is a great opportunity for the designer to offer these services in a one-stop-shop package deal.

Water Softeners

Often overlooked by most construction companies, the water softener is an integral part of any home. The water softener is a water treatment conditioner that uses the latest technological equipment, to filter and soften the daily intake of water. A stainless steel tank that is embedded with a hygienic filter purifies chlorine, chemicals, and any heavy metals. The goal is to create crystal clear drinking water for everyday usage. Unfortunately, most designer centers do not offer this feature as an option to add to the overall homeowner package, so a Home & Garden show is a great venue to make connections in this niche market. Do note that water softeners can run with a pretty hefty price tag, anywhere from $3000-$6000 to install. I would highly recommend providing this as a design service or even educating the everyday homeowner about the long-term benefits.

Cabinet Storage Options

As a previous kitchen designer, I know that maximizing cabinet storage is a must for any utilitarian and functional kitchen, saving homeowners time and adding to a home’s value. It’s also an easy way to break the age gap barrier between all members of the family. No matter the age of the home, custom glide-out storage cabinets can be installed to existing cabinets. Custom solutions that are installed on top of new or existing shelves to utilize every inch of space for pots and pans, trash/recycle bins and everything else you could imagine. With a 100lb weight capacity, these shelves stretch out and push back with ease. Dovetail construction is used for strength and stability. The next time you have an opportunity to design a kitchen, consider all these new product options and details.

Garage Organization:

The garage can be a difficult space and most commonly overlooked as a great utilitarian area for extra storage. At the Home & Garden show, you’ll see innovative organization systems that can hold up to 800lbs of capacity for overhead storage. And, it fits the test of sturdiness, since not one but three people can hang from it! From a designer’s perspective, this product is innovative, resourceful and budget friendly. The next time your client is looking for extra storage, peek into their garage and imagine all the possibilities!

Stone Decking

In the 21st century, it’s all about bringing the indoors outside. The big trend in outdoor design is creating a functional environment, where you can entertain and enjoy the outdoors. A hub of activity for the family, it’s the perfect place for your next gathering. Fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, pools, bars and patio seating all require a great foundation to walk on; this can be achieved creatively through stone flooring. The choices and options are unlimited and you can collaborate with a professional to maintain the design style and vision of the homeowner.

Concrete Leveling

The core of a well-designed home is a quality foundation. With a cracked foundation, eventually, everything will sink down or turn into shambles. Concrete repair has come a long way with new and innovative technology. Polylevel injection foam is polyurethane foam which is injected beneath the concrete to fill the gaps of soil erosion. It is a fast-drying, strong, waterproof, stable, quick and non-invasive. Consider collaborating with the construction company on choosing quality products, before you begin the project.  

A Feast for the Design Senses

A few of the other types of vendors you’ll run into at a Home & Garden show include: door and window manufacturers, pool companies, solar shade producers, kitchen remodel and design-build companies, paint contractors, energy saving specialists, clean air companies, etc. As a professional designer and homeowner, it was beneficial to see the after-market options available for both existing and new homes.

As a designer, I would highly recommend convincing your clients to consider some of these solutions for long term financial return by investing in energy saving and quality products. It was an eye-opening and educational afternoon for this designer. Unfortunately, my husband came back empty-handed, but I put a smile on his face with a $5 bag of roasted sweet pecans. Win-win for all!

Social Media: Creating a Brand Persona

Visit an Instagram page, Pinterest Profile or Facebook page then take note of the first thing you see. Does the bio speak to you or do the images grab your attention? First impressions are KEY when people find your profiles. In a matter of seconds, people will leave if they aren’t absolutely in love with what they see.

Persona

Your persona in the digital world consists of everything that your brand encapsulates (or strives to) – voice, color theme, consistency, and all. On social media platforms, everything should align with your brand. Never get off track! Consider how you want to be perceived, create content that contributes to that idea, tailored to each platform. Your brand must be consistent across every outlet, including in press, at events, and most importantly today, social media.

Your potential client must be able to connect your business from platform to platform, but yes, what you post on Facebook should be different from Houzz. When you make a post, you want your audience to know it’s coming from you, even before seeing your name or logo. People need to identify who you are as a designer or firm. Give your brand a personality people will recognize!

What Differentiates You?

When creating this persona, think of what is important to you as a designer and all the things that make you stand out. This is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Always communicate how you are different, this will pull people in. You’ll make yourself memorable when you set yourself apart!

Play the Algorithm Game

If you’re not posting regularly, it’s time to change that. As you may hear from time to time, the Instagram algorithms change. If you’re not posting at peak hours, no one will see your photos, no one will give you likes, and you’ll be at the bottom of everyone’s feed… therefore probably not getting any reach. If people aren’t liking your photos, they will be less likely to see your photos in the future, even if you are posting at a popular time. So, post on peak days, at peak hours, and stay consistent.

Depending on the size and newness of your company, you’ll need to adjust your posting accordingly. For more established companies, it’s alright to post more sparingly – but consider maintaining a steady presence to keep your audience on the edge of their seat and updated on what you’re doing. Smaller and newer businesses benefit from posting more and promoting. By promoting you expose yourself to a greater reach, and at a higher frequency you’ll boost public perceptions, making your name stick in people’s minds.

Consider using apps such as Schedugram or Later to plan and automate posting to Instagram. If you don’t use the Instagram draft feature, these tools can help to visualize your content and maintain consistency.

The Grid

Make sure to be conscious of the posts and ultimate grid you are composing on Instagram and Pinterest. Do you have a color theme, standard style of shooting photos, or method to editing your posts? An acutely curated feed will show your attention to visual detail, which relates back to your work as a designer.

Communicate & Stay Connected with Your Followers

Keep clients and your greater audience in the know with what you’re up to, even if you are not looking for more projects. You may have all the business you’re looking for and want to stay small, but even so, it’s important to represent your brand in the digital world. Be sure to make your name stick!

Social media offers opportunities businesses can benefit from. Learn how to use it in the most efficient way, and take advantage of all the features. Your social media content represents who you are as a designer or firm, and you want people to stay around, so remember YOU need to stay around. No one will find you on their own if you’re not connecting correctly. Furthermore, you’ve got to give a reason for people to come back to you. Make your digital brand persona memorable – one to come back to.

Austin Homes Tour: Q & A with Restructure Studio

The AIA Austin Homes Tour is an annual event that highlights 14 of the best homes within the city of Austin, Texas. A collaboration of work, it’s a unique opportunity for both designers and architects to showcase their talents. The homes showcase a range of styles, techniques, construction, materials, and execution.

Digital Marketing Platforms for Designers

When considering digital marketing beyond ads, you’ll probably first think of social media and Houzz. Other than these common platforms are sites like Architizer, Archelllo, and Dwell – all specific to design. Before setting profiles up on all platforms, first decide what your goals are with posting online. Do you want to find manufacturers or clients? Are you looking to alter your brand image? Whatever your goals are, I guarantee there are sites that cater specifically to your needs!

Blogging

Medium & Personal Sites

Blogging offers a transparency and honesty that social media posts don’t allow. Through writing blogs, you can talk about your projects in progress, tell the backstories of the projects you’ve completed, or anything else you desire. From what you’ve been loving to your own tips and tricks, writing allows your potential clients to understand you better. Getting to know your thinking process, beyond simple images of finished designs, you can achieve a level of relatability that people will want to come back to.

If you don’t have a blog on your site, consider using Medium, an online blogging tool. This site is not specific to one niche or industry, but is used by anyone writing about anything from entrepreneurship or culture to fiction and art. Considering the site is not industry-specific, this allows a larger platform and the potential to connect with unlikely people. Through categorization and following, connect with others writing about the same topics. Unlike other sites, the goal of Medium is to share ideas and perspectives, rather than writing on the basis of sponsorships or with clickbait.

Designer Platforms

Archello

A platform to select products, discover stories and showcase work, Archello is a hub for professional collaboration. With a ‘product selection’ tool, users of the platform have the opportunity to create a collection to reference. In addition to the product selection are stories behind projects and specific tools used to create the built environment.

Connect with others, get inspiration and showcase your work on Archello. Feature the best of your portfolio, include members of your team on posts and give all the details you wish to share about projects.

Dwell

A digital and print magazine, Dwell goes beyond inspiration. Catering to professionals and merchants, the site creates a space to both advertise and showcase your work. By becoming a Dwell Professional, market your work specific to your industry and connect with others also registered as a Pro. As a merchant, you can create a direct partnership or affiliate network partnership. Know that the magazine is much more than a place to get inspiration, but a place for YOU!

Architizer

Connecting designers with clients, the site is mainly used as a tool for inspiration for architects and to advertise manufacturers to build teams. They’re currently building their product marketplace to better connect architects with products. Through their digital journal, Architizer stories of architectural projects and manufacturers share advice and news on the latest to happen in the industry.

Join as a firm or as a brand to search through manufacturers, products, and projects. You may also request to publish your work for the opportunity to be featured on the site. Use the site as a tool for finding others to work with, a place for inspiration, or simply to express yourself!

No matter where you decide to share your portfolio and ideas, do it with a purpose. Decide if you want to find more work with clients (existing or potential), manufacturers to work with, or purely wish to express yourself. No matter where you post, know there is a place for exactly what you need to do. Being in the right place and posting strategically, your content online can work for you. Don’t miss out on the opportunities the Internet can bring!

Sustainable Design: The mind of an Interior Designer

By Ramya Ramachandran

“Sustainable” is a term used often in a designer’s vocabulary, but what is the true concept behind it? Webster’s dictionary defines sustainable as “relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Its three R’s rule the concept of recycling, reusing and reclaiming. There many unanswered questions within the design industry and I’m investigating further into the marketing and business side of the practice. Talking with Kelly LaplanteSuzi Connoe, and Valerie Morris, we’ll take a look at the positive impacts of practicing with sustainable design.

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Cost-effective Ecodesign

Is sustainable design a savvy business move for the average designer?

“Sustainability is an added value, it is something you should be offering to your client, and you should know how to execute it well, and as cost-effectively as possible in order to keep a competitive edge.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business owner

“For residential design, the onus lies on the designer to specify and lead the client to sustainable choices and procedures. My experience has proven that it is not on my typical client’s radar, nor is it prevalent in the vendors’ products I use and specify. Commercial projects tend to lead the way with sustainable projects and products. I would love to see a shift towards sustainable and life cycle analysis in all projects-commercial, residential, industrial design, etc.” -Suzanne Connor, Business owner

 “Presenting sustainability at the forefront of any project is fundamental. Clients are concerned with sustainability, but the major impact is still highly price-driven. In my experience, successful green projects have a 5-10% margin above the traditional cost, but cost becomes a major issue at the 15% mark. Hence, it’s crucial for designers to present sustainability at the beginning of a project; to illustrate the benefits, as well as a future return on investment.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

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Clients are interested in sustainability

Is there a broader industry-wide shift towards sustainable projects?

“Savvy builders, developers, and manufacturers recognize that there is intrinsic value to providing sustainable products. Consumers are demanding it, so if you’re not providing it, you’re going to find yourself running to catch up with the rest of the industry.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

“I have not seen any increased interest in sustainability in Florida. However, Arizona is entirely different. The harshness of the desert forces humans to think through the longevity of their building systems, material selections, etc. There is an obvious awareness and forward thinking towards energy efficiency, life-cycle costs, sustainable or more natural product offerings, and even more organic and natural food offerings. I believe this to be directly linked to the proximity to CA, the most “green” state by building code standards.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner

“Absolutely, but it’s more common in the Architecture and Design industry. LEED certified projects have numerous benefits, but it’s rare to see it within the design furniture industry.  In times today, there is a strong focus towards the philosophy of Cradle to Cradle. However, I also think the shift towards sustainability differs regionally. Austin, Portland, Oregon, California, New York have embedded sustainability practices, but Florida is far behind in time.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

The trend maybe Regional

Are clients more interested in sustainability than they generally were in the past?

“In the mid-aughts, there was a very big spike in awareness, especially in progressive parts of the country but the choice to purchase products that were sustainable came with a huge price tag. In 2008, when the recession hit, consumers who wanted to design sustainably found themselves in a position of not being able to afford it. It became a back-burner concern for the consumer, but, fortunately, the wheels had been set in motion for manufacturers and they continued to pursue development that would make their products more environmentally friendly. Today, I’d say that there is less active interest in sustainability, on the consumer, but it’s become a baseline standard. It is something they expect to have in a cost-effective way; hence, the bar is raised on a consistent basis, so manufacturers have to continue to innovate.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

“Florida is more concerned with wind and water damage from hurricanes and weather events. Flooding and mold are also high on the list. With storm preparation, comes the added layering of chemicals to prevent water penetration, need for bug repellents, and need for water run-off and drainage. No water is ever harvested for building systems use, despite the mass quantities that fall every day. Every house installs whole-house generators to run air conditioners and refrigerators on propane or natural gas so mold doesn’t start to grow. It may be the most unsustainable place in this country.” -Suzanne Connor, Business Owner

“I believe there is strong awareness towards of our environment as a whole, but at the end of the day, the key decision comes to price.  If a designer can present the financial benefits of sustainability, it’s an easy sell.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

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Hope for the future

What are some ways that an Interior design project can become more sustainable while being cost-effective?

“Re-use is the most cost-effective and the most sustainable thing one can do in design. If you have something existing that functions properly, continuing to keep it in use means that you are using no new resources. You are contributing nothing towards the landfill or to the environmental footprint that comes from packaging and shipping. You are also spending no new dollars.” -Kelly LaPlante, Business Owner

 “Little changes go a long way, for example; using natural materials in lieu of manmade, low VOC paints, materials with little to no off-gassing, specifying partially recycled product and repurposing all make a difference.” -Valerie Morris, Design Project Manager

As the research above suggests, sustainability is at the forefront of Interior design and is making unbelievable waves within the industry. Yet, for many designers, project decisions are primarily driven through finances. State to state design practices vary, however, education is still a powerful tool. Striving to implement sustainable design at the pinnacle of a project will not only provide a reduction in harmful environmental impacts but offer a financial, psychological and productive working environment for the future.

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