as we cruise into spring 2016, i wanted to share some thoughts on my last round (really—last round??) on being my own designer and client for a project in paradise valley. i recently finished a rather intense rebuild/restoration of a masonry hillside home designed by ned sawyer, originally completed in 1985. four plus years ago, when i fell in love with the house and its very discrete setting into the north east slope of mummy mountain, i had a naïve impression of what it would take to restore and rebuild this project. (denial perhaps would be a better description of my psychological state when buying it). —one would think that, after more years of interior design work than i care to count, i could be realistic with my own budget and mission creep! but, not so much.
the house remodel is now complete, and i think that the restoration/update of the house does justice to the beauty of the original structure and siting by ned. in terms of the updating to the design itself, i need to credit susan biegner of beigner-murph architects, for some design assistance on building modifications and the addition of the pool. brian wieberg, in my own office, was instrumental in defining and drawing the vocabulary of design details for the house, which is especially rich and exacting in this project. of course, all of the best laid plans on paper mean little without good execution in the field, and for that i owe a debt of gratitude to stephan mackos and john annos from mackos construction. they were great stewards of the original building, and actually survived having a perfectionistic interior designer as a client! their attention to detail and commitment to the work was and is remarkable. millwork for the house was designed largely in our office, and built by woodesign and bulthaup scottsdale. those elements of fit and finish enhance and marry so beautifully to the building itself.
i am glad and proud that a uniquely good piece of modern architecture, from an era of building design that has not all had great staying power, has a new life! the great overarching logic and siting of the house by ned, made a wonderful framework on which to add our interior details and finishes in. many of the details that we have created over the years for our clients, have been revised and repurposed in this house project. i feel lucky to be able to now enjoy, not only the building and interiors, but most of all, the natural terrain of our mountain desert, which is what drew me out to arizona now nearly 37 years ago!
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at the outset in 1989, it seemed unlikely to me that david michael miller associates interior design would succeed sufficiently to ever allow me to reflect on 25 years of business. from beginning dmma in a converted second bedroom in a rented condominium at 17th avenue & camelback road, to operating out of our wonderful modern studio building in old town scottsdale today, we have certainly evolved and matured. over the years, we have had the good fortune to work for many very special clients, and have had the privilege of traveling to some pretty interesting places in the course of our work. i am so grateful to our clients who have allowed us to help shape the places and spaces in which they live.
of course through the years, i have been helped by some very talented people within my own studio, as well as have been able to collaborate with many gifted architects, craftspeople, builders and workrooms along the way. no accumulation of good work in interior design is possible without being surrounded by talented people—and through the years there have been a great many. at the dmma studio itself, shelley behrhorst & brian wieberg have been working with me now for two decades, and our clients know how important their contributions are to our completed work. their tireless attention to detail, and vigilant efforts over the years have facilitated the creation of some very beautiful interiors. after all, the conception and visualization of our project’s interiors is not sufficient in and of itself–you must have the right talent around you to implement those conceptions and visualizations to make them real. i have been very lucky in that realm over the years.
so, for those who might be starting out in interior design, take heart—if i can start a business in a rented condominium with wall to wall plush carpeting and popcorn ceilings, there is certainly hope for all! and to those clients, builders and architects who have invited us to join them in their projects over the last 25 years, we count you as friends today, and we extend our greatest thanks and appreciation.
at the end of the day, i consider myself blessed to be able to work in a field that i love. probably because i enjoy interior design as much as i do, looking back, it seems impossible that a quarter century has elapsed!
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while in the chicago area over the holidays this past december, i visited frank lloyd wright’s “unity temple”, located in oak park, illinois. i had not been to unity temple in perhaps 20 years or more, and i decided it was time to enjoy it again. i always like to see architectural works if i am traveling, and wright buildings are certainly a favorite of mine. for anyone unfamiliar with unity temple in oak park, the building was designed by frank lloyd wright at the turn of the century as a religious meeting place, or more conventionally known as a ”church”. unity temple stands boldly today on the main avenue, much as it did when completed in 1906. the design for this “church” was heretical in its day, and challenged the traditional notion of “god above” –a quality which was commonly embodied in church design for centuries. in unity temple, mr. wright designed a building form aimed to communicate the belief of “god among us”, rather than “god above us”. mr. wright’s concept for the building was bold and innovative, conceiving the building as a cast in place concrete structure—no steeple, no spire.
as the docent gave us a quick orientation at unity temple, she invited us to walk around the building’s grounds and interior unaccompanied. there was something very personal about that un-narrated experience of the building, one which allowed me to take it all in, at my own pace. it is a richer experience, i think, to respond to a spatial setting through one’s own sense of it, as opposed to having it explained to you room by room—with the unavoidable phrase of “ok, let’s move on please”, when being herded from one room to another. my emotional experience of the building was one of inspired calm. there is a quality of light, of color, of line—that make the whole a very moving space to be in. as a designer, i was impressed by the extent of detail and thought demonstrated throughout the building. the level of commitment and discipline required to create such a building, in all, its intricate detail impressed me greatly. it struck me that the congregation and its leadership must have believed strongly in their architect’s radical design for a house of fellowship and worship. clearly mr. wright was completely committed to the art of design, in order to manifest so many different design inventions and detailed material delineations in the building as a whole. it is relatable i think, to every designer or architect, that there is always tremendous value and richness in detail—in today’s world of design, as much as in the time of the creation of unity temple. bold conceptual design is certainly initially important, as it was in the design for unity temple—but also important are the details!
in my self guided experience of unity temple, i was, of course, aware of the richness and the complexity of the details throughout detailing throughout – but not trivial details or disconnected ideas obligated to material expression, but rather, all connected details — all connected to a philosophical center. each detail, each material, line and color, all conspiring to create a specific effect — one that is conceptually and fully well married.
i was reminded, as i walked around each portion of the building, the importance of being “in the weeds” as a designer. this reality was reinforced in me that day at unity temple — that strong central design concepts, surrounded by material and detailing that support that concept, help to create a whole that can transcend time and fashion. great architecture, supported in part by well conceived and well detailed interiors, can help to achieve a timeless built environment. our value as designers is, at least in part, embedded in the beauty and complexity of the detail that we bring to our work. i was happy to be reminded of this, in the compelling embodiment of unity temple. the beauty of line and material in that building design, is as good an example of “god among us” as i can conjure.
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hello - October 20th, 2011
ok, this is my official entry into the new cyber world of blogging, facebook, and all things “web”. in the process of updating our website, our web designers let me know that blogging was a “new essential” in the world of web presence. i just sort of looked at them skeptically and said, “ummm, i can’t see myself making blog posts, or doing the facebook thing”. but then, after a little time, i thought that i would embrace the idea. for the blog, even if no one actually reads it, writing can bring clarity to issues that we all process in our lives, careers and so on – so there is a great opportunity there. besides, i really like to write, and those who know me, know that i have definite opinions and passions about certain subjects, design not least among them.
for those of us operating in the world of design and architecture, our professional disciplinary sphere is moving fast, and in recent years has produced some new, very real challenges. not least among the challenges is the web itself – ironic in that this method of communication i am using right now would be impossible without the web! that said, the web has splintered and diffused our field of design and design services. the web has paradoxically opened us up to seeing products and design creations from around the world in essentially real time – while at the same time, our clients and the public at large, has essentially the same access to all of that information. this reality brings the promise of greater education and aptitude among those people who are, or who might be, our clients. however, it also creates more challenges in being in front of what is out there – as the target is always moving. of course, along with diffusing the world of design, the web has also enriched it with so many efficiencies in sourcing, technical design applications, real time product updates, digital modeling of buildings and their interiors, in computer drafting and the advantages of interdisciplinary sharing, and so on.
it seems as though the way to deal with these rapid changes in the world of design, is to jump on board and morph with the times. i think it likely that this topic will be a familiar theme in my blog.
i also plan to share aspects of projects, materials, and sources that i experience and think that others could benefit from. if i am going to add to the information explosion out there, i am intending to share information or ideas that have practical value, or that encourage contemplation. that is a part of all this that i find interesting and exciting.
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Around the Studio