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An Architect Who Wants Your Ideas
©2000, The Litchfield County Times.  Reprinted with permission.
Lydia Straus-Edwards at her Woodbury office.
Mary Anne Haggerty  
A Litchfield house designed by Ms. Straus-Edwards in a photograph taken by
the architect.

By KATHRYN BOUGHTON                                                                 (Adobe Acrobat printable version)

      Perhaps no possession more clearly reflects the personality of its owner than a house.  Whether a starter home for a young couple raising kids in the suburbs, a mansion set amid manicured acres or a retirement home on the shores of a quiet pond, each dwelling mirrors the tastes and needs of those who dwell within it. 

      Similarly, the way space is used in houses can change with the decades and the changing life styles of homeowners.  Young families may find they need more room, while grandparents might want to create guest quarters for visiting children and grandchildren.  Retirees who choose to stay in their longtime homes may decide to use extra space for an income - producing apartment, or homeowners may opt for a general redesign to make living space more efficient. 

      The evolutionary changes a house goes through are of particular interest to Lydia Straus-Edwards, principal designer, architect and master planner with Straus-Edwards Associates of Woodbury and San Diego, Calif.  A year ago, Ms. Straus-Edwards decided to change the direction of her 20-year-old architectural practice to offer a new service especially designed to help families recreate their homes to meet changing uses. 

      "After 20 years in the business I decided I wanted to change things,” said the architect.  "I searched my soul for what I liked to do best and realized I was happiest working with existing houses, doing something wonderful with them.  I like working with people, and I find you learn more about them when you are working with an existing building.  You are not as concerned with style, but more with solving a unique problem.” 

       To that end she has established Design-In-Tandem, a service of Straus-Edwards Associates that provides affordable design packages for owners. of moderately priced homes.  Through the service, she meets with homeowners for half-day, intensive planning sessions that leave the owners with workable concepts and scale drawings they can use to carry their projects forward. The service eliminates many of the standard procedures used in redesigning buildings, with benefits for all.

      "All the same issues are there as when you are planning new construction-lighting, traffic patterns, room arrangements, land uses - but this is an area of the business that has been under - served, where the traditional approach to architecture doesn't work.  And the reason it doesn't work is because the fees just aren't there," she said.  


‘I searched my soul for what I liked to do best and realized I was happiest working with existing houses…’  
                                                                                     - Lydia Straus-Edwards,
                                                                                           Woodbury Architect


      "There is a tremendous amount of work involved in doing a redesign, so when you approach it from a traditional point of view everyone is unhappy - the architect feels he hasn't been able to charge enough and the homeowner feels he's paid too much.  Then, when the project is under construction, the builder is there every day, the homeowner is there every day and the project will always evolve into something similar to what was planned while a fairly rigid set of plans sits unused in [the contractor's] truck.  It's inevitable, it's human nature to want to change the plans, but about 20 percent of the [architect's] effort will be wasted."  

      "So what part does the architect do best?" she asked rhetorically. It seemed to me that the part that was missing was the master planning. How does the house work? How will it evolve? How do the house and land work as a unit of design? I am now offering a design service package that does that part and leaves the homeowner free to decide how to handle the rest of the project. 

      When Ms. Straus-Edwards is called to discuss a redesign she begins by meeting with the owner or owners of the building.  “That owner may be undeveloped intellectually, but he lives with that house daily," she explained.  "They know how it works.  When I arrive, I will talk to them for an hour or an hour and a half and then we will walk through the whole house and I will tell them how I think we can solve the problem.  Often, they will say, 'No, that doesn't work because.... So, off we - go and plan again!  

      "Often they have a fantasy, but it hasn't jelled yet," she continued.  "They haven't resolved the conflicts.  But I haven't met a client yet who doesn't know what they want and how it should work." 

       Following the tour, the designer sits at a table with the owners and starts to plan.  If the owners already have drawings of their house, the designer will use those as the basis for the planning; if not, Ms. Straus-Edwards does a drawing of the portion of the building to be redesigned.  “It's a great deal of fun,” the architect said.  "Often these are lay people who have not been exposed to the design process and they are amazed at what can be done. Sessions cost $675 and last between three and five hours, but in that time we will solve the problem.” (cont.)

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