Designing a 5,900 s.f. home for his own family in Bethesda, Md., interior designer I. Michael Winegrad, of I. Michael Interior Design, decided to travel a controversial road when building for himself – strictly without an architect. The three bedroom, three full and two half bath home, still under construction, and which includes the designer’s office and library with a separate entrance in its finished basement, is an exercise in creativity and independence for Winegrad, who admittedly tires of battling architects and mending their mistakes.
“It’s a touchy subject”, Winegrad said, “but most of the time architects and interior designers don’t agree about how to design a house and really don’t like each other for different reasons. I’m continually fixing problems,” the designer said. “Quite simply, as an interior designer, our job is to manipulate, control and create the interior environment in which one works or lives. We work from the inside out,” said Winegrad, whose portfolio includes residential, hospitality, commercial and religious projects in greater D.C. and throughout the world. “An architect works from the outside in.”
The Charge of the Light Tirade
Citing a litany of issues including a ubiquitous window placement flaw perpetrated by architects, Winegrad said it is standard for an architect to fenestrate with eastern or western exposures, contingent on light and view. “If you have them facing sun or view,” he said, “and then the homeowner moves in on that first day, when the sun comes up or sets, depending on the room, they can’t sit there – they can’t use the room because the sun’s in their eyes.” In addition to that, sunlight can promote intense heat gain in the summer, taxing HVAC systems and the environment. It will also fade fabrics and bleach artwork and rugs, he indicated, adding that he generally espouses a northern and/or southern exposure.
Speaking to other fractious design issues, Winegrad said he can’t begin to count how many phone calls he gets from people who say they “… don’t know how to dress this window, don’t know where to seat the furniture, or can’t put their TV in the bedroom,” all because architects are not sensitive to where windows ought to be, where doors ought to be, how furniture lays out properly. “How many times have you seen a fireplace on a 45-degree angle in a house?” he asked. “They do it for various reasons because buildings have clipped corners and curves,” he explained, “but nobody can use those spaces.”
Blinging the Barracks
Residing in Darnestown for about 10 years before breaking ground in Bethesda, Winegrad revealed that his former house, “a Colonial on a cookie-cutter block,” was part of a development, but at an increased cost he’d been able to prevail upon the builder to allow him to customize to some extent, in part by moving windows around to open up wall space. Recalling that neighbors commented consistently on the differences between the Winegrad house and their own, where in some cases they’d been forced to situate furniture so as not to block windows, where light fixtures were consequently off-target and displaced furniture narrowed a room considerably, Winegrad said analyzing how design and construction need to work for the homeowner right out of the starting gate is vital to creating a livable space.
For the designer and his family, an issue with two adults sharing a bathroom (an admittedly universal problem with humidity from a shower precluding effective use of a hair dryer, mirror, etc.) precipitated the creation of a master bath in their new Bethesda home that boasts a common spa-like shower, but with his and hers dressing rooms, each with its own sink, hair dryer, mirror and space for clothing. In the family room, floor outlets eliminate running electrical and extension cords around furniture and under rugs, and slot windows frame a flat screen TV area. “It’s enough for daylight, but not enough to interfere with where the built-in unit goes or create glare on the screen,” Winegrad explained. A linear gas fireplace is anchored on both sides to give it balance, and traffic flow is considered with the seating group easily accessed, unlike a lot of rooms the designer said he sees where one must enter around the backs of a couch and chairs. Due to architecture-related issues, things can’t practically or aesthetically be configured another way. The designer’s own new home reflects and promotes an active family’s lifestyle by facilitating traffic flow, diffusing Mid-Atlantic sunlight and its thermal effects, eliminating conventional though unused rooms (there is no living room because Winegrad said their Darnestown living room was very rarely used) and increasing kitchen space to accommodate family activities and entertaining.
Make Lofts, Not War
“Right now, I’m doing an expensive waterfront condo where it’s a battle to get the rooms to work because there are silly little niches that are the result of a column in the wrong place,” Winegrad said. “You can’t put up draperies because they ran the ductwork in the wrong place,” he continued, adding the dining room isn’t wide enough for a dining room table. “You could step back and look at a photo of that building from the outside and you could admire it, and you might like the materials, but then you go inside and see the inherent design problems,” he said, noting condos are often poorly designed.
“I think the idea is to have an interior designer lay out the room– where windows and doors are; where the TV needs to go; where sunlight comes in; do you have to scoot around something to get to a closet–all so you don’t have to fight with anything,” he explained. “This is what’s really going to dictate the success of your space."