Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Client Interview: The First Step to a Successful Remodel

As a design-build firm, Morse Remodeling considers the client interview the most significant component in a successful remodeling project.  This is not a single interview, but a process that occurs throughout the design process wherein the designer learns about the unique tastes and lifestyle needs of the client in order to create a design that is both aesthetically pleasing and fully functional. Morse Remodeling is pleased to welcome Registered Architect Andrea Montalbano to the Morse Remodeling team.  Andrea brings with her a wealth of experience in architectural design, specifically in the Client Interview process.  Below, Andrea shares with us a history of the client interview and why it is so relevant to the work we do.


Andrea Montalbano-Registered Architect, pictured above on the left with Eric Coppola-General Manager & Estimater (center), and Amorette Ramirez-Interior Designer.

The Client Interview

Many clients come to a designer with a detailed description of why they are not happy with a space in their home but they unknowingly omit crucial information. After all, translating ideas about 4 dimensional life into three dimensional space is not a simple task. A professional, practiced in the art of client interview process, understands that there is a plethora of hidden information critical to the success of the project that needs to be uncovered. To insure these details are addressed, the designer needs to dig deeper, asking the right questions to allow for these spaces to function appropriately year round and to allow for the space to be flexible enough to evolve over time. Most of the time small nuisances can be overlooked as the client ploughs through their daily lives but these functional and aesthetic irritations can be brought to the surface and addressed by the skilled interviewer – the cupboard sized guest bathroom that requires a gymnast’s flexibility to navigate, the obstacle course-like kitchen layout that functions okay for most of the year but becomes a nightmare during the holidays, or the narrow entryway that makes a welcoming home feel cramped.

Not long ago, the job of a designer was to design a home from their own ideas of how a family lives, and presented it to the client as a finished product. The client then had to make their lives conform to the home, rather than have the home conform to their lives. Intensive client involvement in the design process evolved slowly, and was influenced by Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology.

One of the earliest pioneers of creating a home uniquely designed for the client was Richard Neutra. Neutra was born in Austria in 1892 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1923 where he designed the so-called “Lovell Health House”.  Completed in 1923, it is a prime example of the design process he pioneered.  Influenced by Sigmund Freud, whom he knew personally, he performed in-depth interviews with and created questionnaires for the future home owners, their children, and their staff of servants. Every detail and idiosyncrasy of the family’s daily life, both their good and bad habits, were recorded by Neutra and added to the design stew. Neutra asked his clients about childhood memories of their homes and associations they had with spaces in the home.  Pleasant memories, such as napping in a sunny window seat, or negative memories, like being trapped in a dark cellar, were recorded as important associations for Neutra to keep in mind when designing the home. He believed that eliciting this information from his clients, digesting it, and creating a house that reinforced all of the positive qualities and avoided the negative ones contributed a healing power to both the independent and communal life of the residents, greatly benefitting his clients.

Although he became an internationally renowned architect, his views on client involvement were not widely regarded, repeated, or copied until much later on. In the 1960’s, many architects, sociologists and city planners, independently and collectively came to the realization that using the tools developed in the Social Sciences, namely, qualitative analysis, could be used as a tool for creating more satisfying spaces – not only in residences but in office buildings, hospitals and schools as well. A whole generation of architects, to varying degrees depending on the school attended, was educated to be aware of this movement, and to be aware of the possibilities afforded by these tools. They were encouraged to take advantage of them in order to create greater end-user satisfaction.

As an architect, it is important to me that the client’s unique needs are addressed during the design process.  I have studied the methods of the client interview process while working on my Master of Science in Architecture degree at one of the Universities that first recognized the importance of the interview; UC Berkeley. I then practiced the art of the in-depth interview for the design of numerous single family residences and even a few institutional clients such as the Crossroads Homeless shelter in Oakland. Working at Morse Remodeling gives me the opportunity to combine my love of the investigation of the client’s unique world (Design) and the physical creation of beautiful, useful objects and spaces (Build). That’s why the Design/Build firm is such a wonderful place for someone like me to work. The designer can see the process all of the way through from concept to fruition, and can be sure the client’s needs and desires are fulfilled all along the way.

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