Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The War On Windows

By Beth Herman
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."


Anonymous said...

Very interesting insight. I think architects would do well with understanding that actual life should be taking place in their spaces and listen closely to interior designers on all their insights. That being said, there are several ways to adorn a living space, and a good space should have several permutations available to accomodate different owners or changing styles.

As for the exterior of his house, I'm surprised it's so ugly. Maybe consulting with an architect might have helped.

Anonymous said...

The owner should befriend some better architects. It's interesting to note that he's designing from the outside in, when considering the environment. And I'm surprised that the house looks like a fortress from the outside, shouldn't part of the design philosophy be to draw one in and reflect kindly on your neighborhood context, too? Or is introversion the goal?

Design Critic said...

Yeah, the designer sounds a bit too omniscient, maybe he's not always right. And while he's comfortably living in his perfectly designed fortress, the rest of us have to drive by what looks like its going to be an eyesore that's ill at east with the neighborhood. Nothing, nothing looks worse than a house that doesn't blend with the neighborhood.

bp on Jan 5, 2011, 3:35:00 PM said...

Mr. Winegrad's comments in this article are inflammatory at the least, and more slanderous than is necessary. He certainly has some nerve to knock architects for their faults - and by faults I mean attempting to deal w/a the ever changing direction of the sun. Of course, the best thing to do is create a facade that ignores the issue all together. Of course, this is coming from someone whom attained his degree in "Interior Design", as noted on his website, and makes his website impossible to view because he has his firm name painted on each and every photo. I suggest Mr. Winegrad find a)some better clients who can afford better architects, or b)find work w/some better architects.

Secondly, I think it was in poor judgment that DCmud ran this article, based only on the opinions of one interior designer. Giving someone like Mr. Winegrad a platform for his displeasure w/sub-par design (of which he certainly is guilty of himself) has done nothing but alienate an entire demographic. Good work DCmud!

Anonymous said...

Easy on DC mud, I think it's wonderful to show how obnoxious this guy is. He may have some valid points, but taste, not so much.

Anonymous said...

As an Interior Designer I think Mr. Winegrad's comments are very interesting. He's been butting heads with the stero-typical architect it seems and he's right about how they approach design. As with anything there's two sides. There are architects who understand to look at the interior and not just the exterior as there are interior designers who don't understand structure. In general I do think Architects spend too much time thinking about the site, the exterior proportions, and building scale rather than thinking about how we live, work and play in interior spaces. In a perfect world you find a team that works together to address both. But the world is not perfect....

Ken on Jan 5, 2011, 4:18:00 PM said...

Hey, its a perspective. We're not endorsing it, we just hope to showcase the design process.

Anonymous said...


CitizenZ on Jan 5, 2011, 8:51:00 PM said...

I can't believe I am defending an architect...

I work in the building industry and I work with and see all the worts of everybody that puts any effort into making your home or any type of structure you have experienced. The thing with any given structure is that it is a mix of compromises. And architects make hundreds of compromises, as does the designer of this home. You can see them in the comments, as some think the worst thing in the world is to have building not "blend" with the neighborhood. While others think the homogeneity that exists in some areas is sickening.

The point is if you want the perfect home (or building) design it yourself. The architect isn't designing for the interior designer, more like the code, the budget, zoning, the site, architectural boards, the market, etc. etc. There is no outside in way of thinking, it's just a balancing act of many many criteria.

Winegrad's home looks just fine, and for him it's great but when the home changes hands I'm sure the new owner will have a list of things they would have done differently. Many have already pointed out that it's a bit too much like a fort.

What the comments show is that it's hard to design, and impossible to design perfectly.

I think DCmud did a tremendous service to all to post this article that highlights the tension of design through the eyes of a designer.

PS. I did think the statement of columns in the wrong place was hilarious! I'm sure the engineers are giggling thinking "of course I should have just engineered the floors to levitate without the need for support."

Anonymous said...

Wow! What passion this brought out!

As the subject, I guess I should add some things for clarification;

1. Please remember that I didn't write what you are reading, and it appears that the story is about how I hate architects. My story was really about my home and how I designed it without using an "architect".

2. I was reluctant to provide any photos of the house because it's incomplete. It's risky to show a project incomplete but it's a fool who judges one!

3. This home will have stacked stone and cedar siding and cable rail on multiple levels of the exterior. It will fit very nicely into the heavily wooded landscape.

4.I have many years experience working with architects and know very well their limitations & strengths (in general), and although I meant every word I said, the out of context quotes makes for an architect bashing appearance which is not the intention.

5. You can beleive that as an experienced, published and award winning interior designer I have design skills which make my interiors great to live in, work in, and look at. Good interior designers, not architects specialize in this so it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that we may have the position that we do.

Anonymous said...

Lighten up people, relax your fists and open your mind. You don't have to agree with him.

Anonymous said...

Interior designers decorate the spaces architects create. They don't create the spaces people live in, as this house clearly attests.

Anonymous said...

Citizen Z, your comment is the most level headed and fair response to an article that I have read in the 6 months I have been checking this blog. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a 5,900 square foot house! Guess I should have been an interior designer instead of an architect.

Like others, I think the tone of the article was really off putting. One can talk about bad design trends in window placement, etc without vilifying an entire profession (one which probably could have brought the designer referral business had he not just alienated every architect in DC).

Like CitizenZ I got a real kick out of the pesky column comment. As an interior designer, perhaps he doesn't have to deal with as many structural, mechanical, site, and regulatory constraints as we architects do. With the resources to build a 5,900 square foot house, my guess is that he doesn't have my typical client's budget constraints either.

Well at least he didn't claim his 5,900 SF home in the 'burbs was sustainable or "green"...

Anonymous said...

perhaps it is just me, but there seems to be an inordinate degree of concern over television viewing, television placement, television screen glare, television cords...should we really be designing buildings and spaces now just to watch television?

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell this guy isn't even properly licensed practice interior design.

An online search in both MD and DC do not turn up any licensed architects or interior designers with the last name Winegrad and no firms with I. Michael in the company name.

It is illegal to practice both architecture and interior design without the appropriate license. If you're going to advertise that you offer interior design & architecture services (which he does on his website), its always a good idea to indicate that you are licensed and even to include your license number.

And if you're going to skirt the law and not get licensed, at least don't go throwing stones at properly licensed professionals who are charged with protecting public health, safety and welfare, along with trying to figure out where the windows go so they won't create reflections on the flat screen TV.

Anonymous said...

What a dink. Why tar an entire profession as he did? Why assume there is only one "correct" way to design a living space?

There are good and bad and mediocre architects, and the good ones DO understand that people inhabit the spaces.

There are good and bad and mediocre interior designers. With this guy's attitudes, it's not surprising he hasn't gotten to work with {m}any good architects.

Not everyone has the same set of preferences for their living spaces. Personally, I think it would be criminal to design a house that did not take advantage of its views. An East-West orientation is my favorite -- and what I have -- and solar control is not rocket science. I find North light cold and South light harsh. i love play of light as it changes over the course of the day. Some people like dark and cozy; some people like light and airy.

I checked out the guy's website. Virtually all the photos were taken at night, and the few daytime shots were heavily lit by the photographer. He seems to have no interest in, or ability to, deal with natural light.

And award-winning? He lists one award back in 1993 that he received from the New York Times Magazine, but he doesn't indicate what it was for.

Self-important and making pronouncements without subtlety or nuance. I hope DCmud runs the house again when it's finished, and then the rest of us can see if he iives up to his own standards.

Anonymous said...

My god people, what's with the personal attacks? He's not a serial killer, he just has an opinion. And have none of you looked at new homes or condos lately? Can you really say the interiors are so stunning and use space so wisely? I think he has some valid points. Maybe those of you who are the most defensive are the exact architects he's talking about??? Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

or maybe he's just an arrogant person. No crime, but you should be able to take as well as you put out.

Anonymous said...

I do think the level of vitriol here is pretty high. Some of the article reads as sarcastic, but I didn't see it as a condemnation of an entire profession . . . just a person's expression of their opinion and frustrations. I certainly don't see any reason to attack that person's profession simply because one might disagree with the opinion being expressed.

There seems to be a lot of that going on these days, but I don't want to digress.

I do think architects have, in general, become a bit too focused on what a building looks like "from the outside." Single family homeowners may have a bit more influence to reel in that tendency, but I think some of the points apply to newly built condos these days. I have seen so many really flat-out poorly designed spaces . . . gleaming windowed spaces which nevertheless are plagued by awkward columns (in new construction) and strange niche spaces and/or notched walls that make furnishing the home a bizarre and unnecessary struggle, etc.

I know there are challenges, zoning laws and developers desires to cram as many bedrooms in a space as possible among them, but it is rare to see a really well executed new condo building that manages to have both a pleasing exterior AND attractive, livable interior living spaces. At best, you might find one or two good workable floor plans in a building that houses dozens.

Contrast that with almost any 1920's building you encounter, where even the smallest efficiency units somehow manage to be proportioned well enough for furnishings and functional daily living.

While one might disagree with the author's tone, there is a point being made that architects both excellent and poor should keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

Upon reading the comments and then returning to reread the article I am posting a comment for the very first time. I have to say, that editing aside, the ENTIRE arc of the interview and the opinion of the designer was that Architects are useless.

As an Architect myself, who has worked extensively with {professional} Interior Designers, contractors and Landscape Architects among others, I feel qualified to say that Mr. Winegrads opinion is at minimum a narrow minded fringe position.

Please pick up any reputable shelter magazine and note that most published spaces note the successful collaboration of trades. Yes, Architects generally are concerned with structure and exteriors. Yes, Interior Designers by definition focus on ... hello ... interiors. However, I personally know some ID's that could/should be desiging buildings. I also was once hired by a fellow Architect to help with his house as he had only ever designed tall office buildings, and there is in fact an "art" to designing residential architecture.

The best Architects ARE sensitive to interiors and the best Interior Designers understand the important role of the Architect.

I was personally offended by the subjects narrow minded and incenidiary maligning of an entire profession. And sorry, no amount of creative editing could have over stated this mans self inflated ego. I am just thankful that from my personal experience I have encountered and had the pleasure of interacting with other design professionals in a rewarding collaborative environment.

I think DCMUD has done a disserivce to the design community to publish such a clearly snarky opinion. DC is rich with design talent across the various professions and I cannot fathom that that someone with a more uplifting and positive outlook was not available to profile. Truly a shame.

One of my favorite projects is one where the Interior Designer hired by the client ""got"" the original design and responded with inteligent and thoughtful suggestions and produced interiors that enhanced and were harmonious with the project. (The Landscape Architect performed no less admirably)

As an aside, the comments regarding floor plans in condominiums while unfortunately acurate, are more a reflection of the competing forces of developers, bankers, builders and and budgets than the skill of any particular designer.

In the spirit of building bridges, I will refrain from making comments about the aesthetics of Mr. Winegrads home. However, while I to some degree would hate to perpetuate the old stigma of designer hate, I suggest that DCMUD rerun photographs of the finished product for the community at large to form an opionion of his talents as an "Architect". I would also be interested to hear Mr. Winegrads defense of his position.

(Ken, I think when you publish a point of view like this you actually do to some extent endorse. I as a regular reader assume you vet subjects for extreme opinions and for the most part get it right, but I think this time you missed the mark.)

As a final thought, I'd like to suggest that extreme positions of dislike for a person or group other than your own is in fact a form of bullying and unacceptable in any forum.

Anonymous said...

The last point is directly atributable to modernism. With its slavish adhearance to glass walls that look like they're floating (see akwardly placed columns), they have forced many a customer to bathe their view with floor to ceiling "window treatments", to say nothing about all the wasted square footage.

Ironically, the whole ethos of modernism was to be designed from the inside out. But until architects are taught to work for people, and let the great buildings rise from that base point we'll continue to see architects (cough, cough, Shalom) try to "shove glass walls down their throats" (cough, cough, Cunningham QUILL)

Anonymous said...

How many buildings look "great" while in construction? I'll bet all the negative comments are from jealous architects!

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