Today we chat with Eliza Hart, principal at Hart Wright Architects (HWA) in San Francisco. Originally from Massachusetts and having lived in Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Los Angeles, Eliza Hart has a unique style that is deeply influenced by California architecture.
Eliza Hart has 2 masters degrees from UCLA: one in Architecture and one in Urban Planning. Before forming HWA, Eliza worked with Studio Bergraun Architects in Emeryville and Sagan Piechota Architecture in San Francisco. She has experience on a variety of residential and commercial projects including remodels and new construction; from schematic design to construction documents to construction administration. Eliza has also worked extensively with John Kaliski, the urban designer, architect, and author in Los Angeles. To read more about how this wealth of influences impacts her current work, read on for our new Q&A!
Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?
Eliza Hart: The short list is: nature, other architects (both famous and not so famous), local buildings, and our travels. Stuart Wright and I are both transplants to California by choice and discovered that we are inspired by the California design aesthetic. We’ve spent a lot of time in Los Angeles and there are many great modernist buildings there. We walk around just looking at buildings collecting ideas even if it’s not for a particular project.
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?
Improvement can be assessed on a number of levels. In some cases a project can look great but not function properly. Sometimes they’ll work perfectly but look wrong; neither of these situations could be defined as an improvement. We have found that listening to the client and asking follow-up questions early in the design process helps define goals for the success of the project. Once we’re all on the same page (including the contractor) we can work towards an agreement that brings together an attractive and functional design solution. In general, design is all about just making decisions and solving problems.
In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with pre-existing structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?
Difficult floor plans with tortured circulation. Bad circulation eats up the limited useable floor area in San Francisco sized houses. It’s almost criminal! Through long analysis and lots of sketching we’ve found various ways to reclaim this wasted space. Sometimes we need to give some more area to a problematic hallway in order make it a beautiful gathering that lies between two more important rooms. We love when that happens because then all three spaces become better.
Tight property lines in San Francisco make it difficult to get natural light deep into residences, too. The code is strict so you have more constraints. That said, we always do a thorough analysis of the site to see the opportunities. This is extremely important at HWA.
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?
Since the great room (living/cooking experience) era looks to be here for at least the next generation I’d say that it’s time for us to start looking to make the kitchen feel more like the living room rather than the other way around. We don’t always want to look at a kitchen all the time or have your living room feel like you’re sitting in a kitchen! In order to do this, architects need to look carefully at the materials palette between these spaces and find materials and colors that work in concert.
Another component that needs to be carefully worked out is the lighting. Kitchens need good, layered lighting in order to function, be fun to work in, and make food look good. Living rooms require good light too – but less of it. It’s a tricky thing to dial in all of these elements in such a way where everything is in balance.
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?
We like to treat the design of bathrooms as an extension of the overall design of the rest of the house. HWA’s goal is not to have a bathroom scream “I’m different than the room on the other side of the door!” We do try to integrate the design of these typically small and complicated compartments into the overall design of the house in a way that the transition from out-to-in is comfortable. Also, we’re big proponents of introducing as much natural light to the bathroom as we can.
Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?
This week we’d say the entry because that’s what we’re working on at the moment. We like working on them because entries are rich in program, they are the introduction, the set-up for the next experience. They also act as the transition from the outside world to the private realm, the place where people first meet, where things get dropped off and where first impressions are made. There’s a lot happening in that small piece of real estate! Next week we might say something else because no matter what we’re working on, there are always opportunities that present themselves and then benign space becomes special.
In the San Francisco design community, are there any trends you hope to see disappear in the near future?
Behemoth commercial kitchen appliances shoe-horned into galley kitchens. Nothing cheapens a space like too much of a good thing!
Still, to end on a positive note, it seems to us that architects and contractors are talking to each other more and finding common ground that results in a better-designed environment. This is a trend we hope will not disappear.
We appreciate this opportunity to connect and thanks for asking us to participate!
Thanks for talking with us, Eliza!
For more of her work, see the Hart Wright Architects website.
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