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How an Architect Designs Your Home: An Interview with Carl Solander of Reverse Architecture

By Carl Solander

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the services you offer.

Reverse Architecture is a full service architecture and design firm. We specialize in spaces for living and working, although we design just about anything. We are probably best known for modern, sustainable custom residential design. Many of our projects have been renovations of very small spaces, so high design in a small footprint has become a trademark of ours. Our work is very detail-driven and we often end up designing custom furniture, sinks, and other built-in elements in order to achieve an integrated and efficient design. To us every project is unique and demands uniquely crafted solutions.

What are some of the first steps you take when you're starting a new project for a client's home?

We start with a series of conversations, first to confirm that the client's vision is compatible with our aesthetic, and then to get a clear understanding of the client's goals. We always write up a narrative so the goals are memorialized. Then we spend some time in the space, trying to understand the light and the physical constraints presented by the existing conditions. We take very detailed measurements and photo surveys in order to draw and produce computer models of the existing conditions. To us this is an integral part of the design process; the designer who will work on the project should be involved in the survey because you notice a lot about a place when you attempt to measure and represent it. Only after we have fully comprehended the context do we start design, and we always design multiple variations simultaneously. We almost never present a single solution to a client as the only answer. There are always many competing designs which have positive and negative aspects, and the best results come from analyzing these different solutions and trying to combine the most promising aspects of each.

How do you come up with a home design that matches what the client wants and improves on it at the same time?

Design is a long process. With most clients, what they want evolves as the design develops. This is one of the major ways that a client participates in the design process. Their understanding of the potential of design changes, and their project goals become clarified. Our method of producing many variations during the early part of the design process often points to many new and unforeseen possibilities.

Is there something that most people don't know about working with an architect that they should know?

To be honest, most homeowners know very little about working with an architect unless they have done it before. The best architects are scholars of building and have a broad base of knowledge that is empirical, historical, and technical. Architects are trained to use our knowledge in the service of creativity; we really savor big, open-ended challenges. Most people do not appreciate the open-ended nature of design and the importance of going through an intentional and guided process in order to get the most out of it.

What are some of the biggest challenges that architects face when it comes to implementing their design during the construction phase?

The biggest challenge is simply that the design must be implemented by a third party. With some builders the process goes very smoothly, with others there can be a lot of miscommunication or lack of communication which leads to problems. The highly custom nature of our work requires that builders take care to study the drawings to understand the design intent and work with us to come up with the best solutions. We often take over the sourcing of particularly intricate custom fabrications for our clients which makes things a little easier on the builder, and also tends to put us in closer communication.

What advice do you have for people who have a strong vision for their home, but with some unrealistic expectations given what they're working with?

Build better smaller. If you try for more square footage than your budget can handle, you are going to be left with characterless spaces. Find what part of the project can have the biggest impact, and focus your energy and your budget there.

What's the best way for people to contact your firm?

Visit our website: Contact us by phone or email: 617-440-3622;

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