Interface between Architecture & Interior Design

We’re guessing you’re here because you’ve decided to make some updates to your home and you’re gearing up for a big undertaking. You’re planning to invest a large amount of time and money and are looking for experts to take a great deal of the work off your hands – and looking for some advice on how to find the right team for you. Maybe you’re considering an architect, or maybe an interior designer, but what if you need both? Who does what and how do you know if they will work well together to ensure a cohesive project? Simply put, architectural services typically address big picture items related to codes, permitting, exteriors, and the bones of the space. Interior design services generally address the interior materials, finishes, furniture, and functional minutiae of a space. When your team works in tandem, an additional layer of detail, thought, and functionality becomes apparent in the final product.

Let’s take a look at an example from one of our own projects where we examine the design process from both an interior designer and an architect’s perspective. We’ll look at what they were thinking, how they worked together, and how this benefitted the client and the project as a whole.

Case Study: Waterfront Condo

Many of our residential projects involve an existing structure, as was the case for the Waterfront Condo. Our clients had a clear idea of how they wanted the space to feel and approached our team to figure out how to best accomplish their goals. Molly O’Donnell served as architectural project manager while Annie Michels focused on all things interior design.

At Atelier Drome, our architects’ and interior designers’ day-to-day roles have a lot of overlap and can look very similar. The difference is all about perspective and background – problems and solutions are approached with different points of view depending on the designer’s education, project experience, and specialties. Working on the Waterfront Condo, Molly focused on how decisions could affect code, permitting, and the coordination of existing structural, electrical, and HVAC systems. Annie’s angle began with materiality, function, and the tactile experience of the space. Together, they successfully designed a highly functional space in tune with the clients' desires and goals while working within the constraints of the condo’s existing footprint.

With low ceilings and limited square footage, the clients and design team likened the existing space to a boat - and just like the sailboats on Lake Washington, every nook and cranny was to be utilized, carving out smart storage and display solutions throughout. Annie sized the entryway art niches relative to the client’s pieces. She specified the best viewing height for an observer in the tight hallway and proposed clean drywall returns at the alcove’s edges to align with the minimal aesthetic. Molly kept track of what was housed within the walls throughout the space, noting which areas could and could not be recessed. Knowing this early on, Annie was able to specify and tailor the tile sizes, shower niches, and medicine cabinets accordingly.

In the kitchen and dining room, existing parameters drove design decisions for both team members. Molly knew that an existing structural wall in the kitchen needed to remain, but the clients wanted to maximize counter space and preserve an open feeling. To retain the kitchen’s view outside, Molly designed a peninsula island layout that avoided closing off the kitchen and provided additional counter space and storage – using an image from the concept board Annie had created as inspiration. When coordinating the kitchen layout with the dining space, a standard dining table felt too cramped. Instead, Annie opted for a built-in dining bench beneath the windows. This kept furniture out of circulation paths and provided hidden storage while providing another opportunity to showcase the detailed design of the custom built-ins throughout the home. Both designers decided that with the low ceilings and high windows, low-profile light fixtures were the best choice to maintain clean sight lines outside.

Primary Bedroom Design
When the clients wanted to remove a poorly placed window in their bedroom, Molly noted that wasn’t an option due to code restrictions and worked with Annie to disguise the existence of the window. Annie specified and designed custom upholstered panels that hid the window from view and retracted if access was needed. Together, Annie and Molly worked with the cabinet maker and the project’s contractor to create bespoke nightstands that fit the desired look (inspired once again by boat interiors) and contained a notch in the back for the panels to rest. Molly helped coordinate with the electrician to integrate power into the nightstands and determined the appropriate location and weight for mounting the panels.

At this point, you can see that an interior designer and architect’s unique perspectives are best utilized as a team, but what are the benefits of my architect and interior designer working at the same firm?

A project team that includes an interior designer and architect with an established relationship working at the same company means they are able to communicate quickly and avoid time delays. Just a quick message from Molly alerted Annie about proposed architectural changes, which allowed her to quickly assess whether the changes would affect furniture layouts or sizing. Because of this, Annie was able to quickly provide alternate furniture options, or if the furniture was already ordered or otherwise non-returnable, request to rethink the architectural changes. The opportunity for casual conversation meant they could brainstorm more efficiently and get one another’s perspective in real time without having to wait for a formal meeting.

Another benefit of integration is that the architect and interior designer are not competitive. Annie and Molly knew when to highlight their specific disciplines and when to show restraint, showcasing the other. They were able to prioritize the desires of the client without bias and with a full understanding of why choices were made throughout the process. This in turn created a balanced, well-rounded project – see for yourself!

Final thoughts

There is, of course, a lot more to talk about on this subject – and working collaboratively is certainly a topic we are passionate about! If you have any additional questions about what it’s like to work with both an architect and interior designer, feel free to shoot us an email and we’d be happy to share our thoughts.

This piece was written by our in-house interior designer, Stephanie Davis, who grew up in Austin and has a natural talent for combining color and pattern, fostered by her grandmother’s skill in Southern traditional-style decorating. While pursuing her BFA in Interior Architecture and Design at The George Washington University, Stephanie discovered that her interest lay beyond decorating in the sweet spot between architecture and interiors. She was inspired by the attention to sustainability and history she experienced during study trips to Copenhagen, Denmark and London, England, and filtered these experiences into her holistic and intersectional approach to design. To learn more about Stephanie check out her bio!