What is the primary goal of residential remodel architecture? What challenges are Bay Area homeowners faced with when planning a room addition, kitchen remodel, or bath renovation? We sat down with San Francisco architect, Andrew Mann, to find out in our newest Architecture & Interior Design Q&A.
Andrew Mann Architecture specializes in the design of distinctive residential projects throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The firm’s work includes buildings in both urban and rural settings. They approach the unique problems of each project by addressing the specific desires of the client, the particulars of a site, and the parameters of existing structures.
Andrew Mann has been an architectural professional in the San Francisco Bay Area for 25 years. His work has been featured in local and national design publications, including The San Francisco Chronicle, California Home + Design, and Sunset Magazine. Originally from New England, Andrew graduated Magna Cum Laude from Connecticut College and received his Master of Architecture from Princeton University, where he was awarded the American Institute of Architects School Medal and Certificate of Merit for academic achievement.
Where do you look for design inspiration?
Northern California is a very special place, with its temperate climate, beautiful urban and rural landscapes, and rich quality of light. I always look for ways to take advantage of these elements in my work. I am interested in connections to the outdoors, the abstract qualities of space, the play of light and shadow, and how natural light enlivens a space.
In terms of architectural form, I am influenced by many of the earlier architects who have contributed toward the residential California vernacular. This includes proponents of the Bay Area Style, especially William Wurster and William Turnbull, plus architects from the Los Angeles area including Pierre Koenig and Albert Frey.
Improvement is the motivation behind all remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?
To create a successful project, one has to start with the very first meeting. I know how to listen to my clients, both what they say out loud and what they don’t verbalize, about who they are, how they live, and what problems need to be solved through a renovation project.
I know I’ve provided a good design when I can see the pleasure in the clients’ faces, both as the project gets revealed through the process of construction, and especially once they have moved in. I also know I’ve provided good design when the completed project looks effortless. And, in the most pragmatic sense, I know I’ve done a good job when their remodeled house has less clutter than before. Then I know I have found a place for everything.
In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with preexisting structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?
The typical San Francisco lot is only 25 feet wide. This means that most houses have windows only on the front, the rear, and any light wells adjacent to the side property lines. The challenge is always bringing light into the center of the house, especially if a rear addition is part of the project scope.
Besides the issue of natural light, what excites me about what I do is the thoughtful type of problem solving that the constricted nature of San Francisco properties requires. I try to find one simple move or concept that unifies both the existing building and the new construction, and allow it to inform all other decisions regarding the design.
As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner?
The most important thing is to understand how the homeowners inhabit these rooms, which are often the most social spaces in their homes. How do they cook, eat, entertain and relax? With this information, I work to solve those pragmatic needs while creating a space that also provides a sense of pleasure to be in. Also, as someone who likes to cook himself, I understand how a kitchen needs to function, whether for an accomplished home chef or someone who relies on take-out.
Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?
Bathrooms should always feel like special places, regardless of their size. As with kitchens, I first listen to my clients’ needs and understand their unique appreciation of privacy or communion.
My favorite elements to include are heated floors and skylights over showers. Both always feel luxurious.
Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?
Architecture is one of the few arts that require the observer’s movement through it to experience fully. My favorite elements to design are stairways. They are one of the few places where one gets to inhabit a space both vertically and horizontally. What also is interesting about stairs is the opportunity to create and to capture changing views into rooms within the house, the outdoors, or of the sky. I try to manipulate architectural form to take advantage of that.
In the San Francisco design community, are there any trends you hope to see disappear in the near future?
I’m concerned about the prevalence of modern design as the dominant ethos. Design should be timeless, whether in a modern or traditional aesthetic, or some elegant blend of the two. And when designing a residence, that timelessness should allow for flexibility over the years a house is lived in. Architecture should provide the shell to allow its inhabitants to grow and change.
Thanks for the interview, Andrew!
Please visit Andrew Mann Architecture for more photos of beautiful Bay Area residential remodels.
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