After earning a master of fine arts degree from UCSD, artist-craftsman-designer Roy McMakin launched his Domestic Furniture operation here, later relocating to Los Angeles and then Seattle, garnering rave reviews and celebrity clients along the way (he even designed the set for The Tonight Show). His Domestic Architecture firm, run with business partner Tom Mulica, takes up where his witty furniture creations leave off — finding the sweet spot between rustic and industrial, vintage and modern. Roy was one of the original Murals of La Jolla artists (see “Mural, Mural on the Wall” in the August issue of SDH/GL), created an installation of furniture as art in the new downtown library and is represented by Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla. Once again making San Diego his home base, Roy is working on a children’s book about furniture and architecture.
Q: San Diego has a history of architects as developers. Is that what you’ll be aiming
A: It’s got both a history and a present-day version of that, which is kind of interesting to me. Not to be comparing Seattle to San Diego, but Seattle is much more set up to make it very easy for developers to come out and consolidate a block into just a big thing. There are surprisingly few architect-developers up there. It just doesn’t work
out, and I really notice that here it does.
Q: How did you get from furniture to architecture?
A: Somehow [the furniture work] just led to people saying to me, literally, “That’s a nice sofa, would you do our huge remodel for our house?” Thinking back on it 20 or 25 years later, I kind of can’t believe I said yes. I can’t believe these people are offering me these things that they did. I just sort of began doing architecture, and that then led to forming my own architecture company where I employ trained and licensed architects. I act as the principal and have these architects who help realize what I’m doing.
Q: Is it true Irving Gill played a role in your jump to architecture?
A: I was living in a spectacular Irving Gill house in L.A. It was by living in his house for a number of years that I really understood what great architecture is — and not just from the aesthetics of it, but from the func-tionality, the choreography of it. I felt like I was — not in a creepy way, but in the way great art does it — in Irving Gill’s mind, not
so much looking at [the house], but how I moved through it in my daily life. It was deeply influential.
Q: Do you have any formal training as an architect?
A: I have zero formal training as a design person, but I have always had a love of domestic issues in architecture. And when I was considering what I would be when I grew up, so to speak, I thought of archi-tecture. But I really felt like I was more of an artist than an architect, so I pursued an art career. I began doing the Domestic Furniture project here in San Diego, then moved it to L.A., which was really meant as a kind of good distillation of my art thing. But it took off in its own way.
Q: What surprises you about San Diego?
A: I think it has a sort of arrogance about
how nice it is here in terms of the weather and the landscape, but kind of an inferiority complex about the built world and the kind of things that go on here. I think it’s mis-guided. Friends of mine who have been here and been part of things and had a pretty rich life here, you hear in their voice the sense of regret, “Oh, I got stuck here for my whole life.” And then I’m thinking, “Well guess what? Being stuck in a city that’s beautiful like this, you really shouldn’t complain.” This is really a secondary city, because it’s so close to L.A. But I think it’s diverse and interesting, and it’s got this incredible architecture. You drive around Mission Hills and South Park and all the old neighborhoods — it’s incredible the stuff that’s here in terms of 20th century architecture.
Q: What do you have on the boards now?
A: I’ve done lots of major restorations and remodels of homes, a lot of times architecturally significant, historical homes. And now I’ve decided to discipline myself and not do that this time, but to build some-thing from the ground up that would be my home and studio. I found this spot that’s bigger than I needed, so I’m in the initial phases of a home/studio for me and a second home for a couple in Bankers Hill.
Q: Do you have a master plan for San Diego?
A: I’m not here to improve San Diego. I’m here to be happy and enjoy it and try and do decent things while I’m here. I don’t have any illusions that anything I will do will be that major. But I do think people should get over [the inferiority complex] and realize it’s pretty great here and perhaps do a little bit to make it better.
By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
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Native San Diegan Kimberley Hansen is an award-winning designer with Burgess Hansen Design, where she has worked since 1999. A board member of the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers since 2007, she begins her tenure as president this month. Kimberley has participated in many ASID programs, including home tours and the renovation of dog and cat habitats at the San Diego Humane Society. A strong advocate for design students, she also has taught business practices for interior designers at Mesa College.
Q: What will be the priorities for your ASID presidency?
A: For me, a huge push will be to get out in the community, not only doing more volunteer programs, but also getting out and educating the public about interior design, because it really is for everyone. Obviously there’s a luxury market, but interior design really is for everyone. It’s about making sure you are safe in your home, that you live in a house and environment that you can stay in as long as you want because we’re thinking ahead.
Q: What will success look like to you?
A: Success obviously will be making sure that I meet my budget, but also that we engage as many members as possible. I want to re-engage with seasoned designers that have been doing business for years, and then you have all these emerging professionals, too. The knowledge base that they each have is so different that putting those two sources together I really think is unstoppable.
Q: With the younger generation and their DIY ethic, is there a concern that residential interior designers could go the way of the travel agent?
A: There is a little bit of that. Everybody has a neighbor who’s really good at design. It doesn’t mean your neighbor might not have some skills, but the difference is your neighbor does not have the education or the experience as far being a qualified professional. That’s where the big difference lies.
Q: Do you think the rise of Internet shopping has hurt the interior design business?
A: Now everybody can shop for themselves. You can find anything on the Internet, which for a lot of designers wasn’t really a good thing. It hit them in a way that they were not used to. But I see that as almost creat-ing a client base, because there’s so much information and there are so many products, so many choices to make, that you actually need someone to assist you in deciding what really works for you. Because everything is beautiful in a catalog, in a picture, but what really works for you? What functions in your home?
Q: Are you a trend watcher?
A: I think it’s important to pay attention to trends in terms of what’s going on, what’s hot, what’s coming out and bring that back to your client. And I think trends as far as colors are really important, because that’s where you’re really able to change things up. You can do that with paint and fabric, as long as your base pieces are really solid. But I’m a big believer in making sure people get what they want, what they’re comfortable with. And that runs the gamut, because we don’t all want the same thing.
Q: What kind of trends are you noticing now?
A: We’re getting back to a little bit more of essentials and what makes us comfortable and what we really need or want to have in our space. Even in very traditional spaces, I think we are going much more simplistic and almost a little sparse. And I think people especially aren’t committing as heavily to one certain style because of the economy, because of the housing market, because they want it just enough so that it appeals to their sense of style but not so overly done that they can’t get out. So I think people are making a little bit safer choices in terms of deciding if they really want to jump wholeheartedly into a trend.
Dialogue by Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
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CREATING A BETTER SAN DIEGO is at the core of everything Martin Poirier does in his work with Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects. From the firm’s 15-year involvement with the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan (Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed by spring 2014) to the federal courthouse project with its expansive public space, from pro bono community efforts to spearheading an innovative program teaching environmental design to elementary school kids, he has been a tireless proponent and steward of smart, efficient and engaging planning. A fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Martin earned his master’s degree at Harvard Graduate School of Design and is involved with an alumni program, Harvard Disrupt, that seeks to more deeply engage local Harvard grads with San Diego issues.
Q: What are some of the highlights people can look forward to with the Embarcadero plan?
A: What I think San Diegans are going to see is just a remarkable quantum leap forward in the quality of the public realm along the waterfront. They’re going to be able to see toward the bay better. We’re creating a 30-foot-wide median in the center of Broadway that will be populated by rows of medjool date palms in a very intricate patterning of very low-water use succulents. What people are going to start to see is one of the first major public infrastructure landscapes that is exemplifying low-water use and doing it in a way that’s going to be just really quite stunning.
Q: Who are some of the artists that worked with you on the project?
A: There are some very elegant light masts developed by Leni Schwendinger. Leni is a very important light artist and lighting designer on our team. Her beautiful, sweeping, curved light fixtures will march down the median, setting up this view to Broadway Pier and to the bay, bringing you to the public esplanade. We have groves of jacaranda on either side [of Broadway], along with some elegant new shade structures that are designed by the artist Pae White and feature really wonderful cutouts of letterforms that put a beautiful, dappled shade on the ground.
Q: What stands out for you about this project?
A: What I like is that you can stop complain-ing about why San Diego can’t do a major public project, because now we have. We will have done it and demonstrated to people that San Diego can have what people have been wanting, which is a world-class waterfront. We are building a waterfront that is deserving of the grandeur of the bay and what the people of San Diego deserve.
Q: You have to balance artists, designers, architects, egos, deadlines. How do you make it all work?
A: I think that the simple answer is vision and passion. Because if you’re reactionary and don’t have the stamina, you’re just going to get winded and beaten up every day. Being able to put what you do on a daily basis into perspective, to be able to be strategic about that and know that everything you’re doing is being guided by these basic tenets, these basic visions and personal goals that also should be community goals, that’s how I do it. And I couldn’t have done it without the kind of alliance and allegiance that Andy [Spurlock] and I have had with each other. We’re both really working to build a better community in San Diego.
Q: Does the election of Bob Filner as mayor mean anything for planning in San Diego?
A: I have high hopes that it’s going to be positive for planning. About 12 months ago, he found out that we were authors of the downtown open-space plan and called me up and said he wanted to come and hear about it. So he came and sat about two hours and was all ears about what it was to create a great public realm downtown — why the parks were needed, why the trails and linkages we were proposing were needed — and it really captured his attention.
Q: So the future looks bright?
A: I really believe San Diego is the city of the 21st century. There’s a tremendously bright future for everything that’s happening here related to biotech, high tech, energy, the kinds of inventions that are going on daily up at UCSD, at Scripps, at the Venter Institute. I think they’re really going to explode and create a tremendous place for continued vitality here in San Diego.
Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren
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From custom furniture and landscape design to creating and remodeling contemporary homes, architect Marc Tarasuck, AIA, has a had a wide-ranging career since establishing his practice in 1979. A specialist in the rehabilitation and preservation of historic homes and buildings, he also has been involved with the establishment of Heritage Park in Old Town and the Gaslamp Quarter. He sits on the board of the San Diego History Center and the advisory committee for restoration of the Junipero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.
Q: How did you originally get involved with preservation architecture?
A: The initial interest came about when I purchased a row house in National City in 1973. The railroad was supposed to end in that location, but it ended in Los Angeles.
Ten row houses designed for Santa Fe Railroad executives were going to be torn down for a parking lot. So the city had these wonderful historic homes, and I bought one just as an investment. That was during a period when I had more time than money, so I did a lot of work myself and really began to understand the importance of historic preservation.
Q: Was there much work like that going on in San Diego at the time?
A: That was right before everything kicked off with the Gaslamp Quarter, which came about in the later ’70s. And my interest in preservation went right to the Gaslamp Quarter. I was on the first project-area committee for the Gaslamp Quarter and
so really helped develop that particular area.
We thought it was going to take just five years at that time to be where it is today.
Boy, were we fooling ourselves.
Q: What’s the goal when you’re working with a historic home?
A: Fitting in with the neighborhood obviously is extremely important. Honoring the original architect is also very important for me. That’s often very difficult, because some of the homes are located on large properties where you could pretty much easily double the size of the house. It takes a lot of work, thinking and decisions on how to make it all fit in.
Q: What do you tell people thinking about applying for historic designations for their homes?
A: I tell them that it’s a great honor to have historic designation. It’s also a great respon-sibility. I tell them that they’re going to need to comply with some regulations they may not like, but that, in the long run, the opportunity of perhaps getting the Mills Act [applied] on that particular home, which reduces their taxes, is a great incentive.
Q: Is San Diego’s Mid-Century Modern architecture getting an appropriate amount of attention?
A: Mid-Century Modern is to me extremely important. We really need to learn to recognize how important those structures are to San Diego. I’m looking at areas that are turning 45 years old, which is kind of the point where [these buildings] need to be reviewed by the city or flagged by the city [as historic]. We’re talking about Del Cerro and Clairemont and Del Mar Heights; these are all areas that have some very significant structures within them and need to be recognized. We have some of the finest Mid-Century Modern churches located in Clairemont, and people just don’t know
Q: What are some of the most endangered structures in San Diego?
A: There’s a lot of controversy around Balboa Park and what we do with the park and how we get in and out of the park. I think that it is the jewel of San Diego. And when I walk through the park and I look at the deterioration, I’m just amazed that it’s been allowed to go on as long as it has. It really
is depressing to see the condition of some
of the structures and the infrastructure. …
All the parking is gone from the center of
the plaza now, and we’ll see what it’s going
to feel like without having cars there. I think we need to give everything a try.
Q: You call yourself a pragmatic preserva-tionist. What does that mean?
A: I don’t believe everything needs to be saved. I do believe that, obviously, the best
of the best does and that historic districts are extremely important. I’m also a firm believer that you just can’t put neighborhoods under a glass bell jar and pretend that life doesn’t go on. So I’m willing to see changes take place.
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SINCE 1990, architect Jennifer Luce and her Luce et Studio have been going on journeys of exploration that range from historic home remodels to developing modernist corporate compounds for the 21st century. Using an intimate, questioning process that can sometimes find clients writing prose or making mix tapes, Jennifer drills down to the core aspirations and needs of a project. Her award-winning architecture includes workspaces for the imagineers of Disney and Nissan, including the carmaker’s La Jolla and Michigan design studios. She has created signature looks for George’s California Modern and Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy. With a degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Jennifer also designs furniture (look for her soon-to-launch line) and is an artist who has exhibited at
the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and 2012 Venice Biennale. In August, she
will collaborate on a show with ceramicist Yasha Butler at the Luce et Studio gallery.
Q: Does your communication process with a client look and feel the same whether the project is a large corporate job or a residential one?
A: I think that delving into the mind or mindsets of our clients is critical to the process for us. Whether the project be commercial, residential, a piece of furniture or for an institution, the questions are similar at the beginning. And we often ask our clients to create a scenario where they can describe to us where they’re coming from, what the aspirations of the project are.
Q: What does that look like?
A: They write us a piece of prose or make a drawing or take a series of photographs. The request is big in the sense that it’s a huge responsibility for the client, and it’s a big thing for us to ask of them. In the end, that document — that expression — becomes often the essence of the answer we’re seeking. There’s an intimacy about the beginning of the process that we sort of warn our clients about in advance, and sometimes it can feel a little uncomfortable. But in the end, it’s so meaningful to everyone, because they’re able to truly express their intentions and their needs and their desires, and we can really respond to them in a very careful way.
Q. Are there hurdles to being a female architect?
A: There are stereotypical images. Those kinds of challenges are definitely something that I’ve had to face, with the question of whether a woman can build, does our brain think that way. I’ve never been frustrated by them, however.
Q: How did you land the Nissan job?
A: I think it’s a very good lesson for any practicing designer to think about every project as being important — critical to clients and to themselves. We were first invited by Nissan here in La Jolla to consider designing a café space that would allow the staff to gather. After asking lots of questions, we realized that the building not only needed that, but also needed other alterations, other shifts in perspective. … And that project led to really thinking about completely redoing the La Jolla facility. And then the success of that exploration turned into a completely new facility for them in Detroit. So you do the project that starts out as one room and ends up as a complete philosophy and two buildings and a shift in the ethos of the design community at Nissan.
Q: There’s a shop section on your website. Are you introducing a line of furniture?
A: Yes, we are, I’m really excited to say. Over the past two years, we have been making a lot of custom furniture on commission. We’ve got some simple but beautiful ideas, and a part of our studio space is going to become a gallery shortly. We’re going to collaborate with artists from all over the world to augment the idea of furniture — what the definition of that is.
Q: What do you think about the state of design in San Diego?
A: I’ve seen a huge evolution in the design community here, not only in terms of architecture, but also graphic design and interior design and the arts community since the late ’80s when I arrived. I think we went through an incredibly active, fertile series of changes right before the recession when people were doing alter-native things that were just so exciting to see. I think the recession has forced us all to just step back for a minute and recalibrate. I can only imagine what the next acceleration is going to be. I’m really excited about it.
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Dialogue: By Mark Hiss • Portrait by Will Gullette • Produced by Phyllis Van Doren