Saturday, November 14, 2009


As noted in a previous blog "Looking for Unbiased Information" I had some unit owners from a Connecticut condominium community ask me toevaluate the condition of their cedar siding. This request was prompted because the community's board of directors had hired an out-of-state engineering firm to inspect the siding and provide a report that would strongly recommend removing all the cedar siding from 54 units and replace IT with vinyl siding. The project had bids ranging from $830,000 to over $1,000,000 so this was no little home improvement project. This engineering firm had done their inspections and reported that the siding had deteriorated so severely that the only recourse was removal and replacement with vinyl. They asserted that the cedar was of inferior grade, had been installed incorrectly, and would result in moisture and water infiltration problems unless dealt with immediately. When I arrived at the site and walked around the buildings I thought I must be in the wrong place because whatever these engineers were describing was hardly the case here. I had to go back a couple of times to look over the buildings because I could not believe their report could be so wrong or that I could have such an opposite opinion.

Questioning myself, I was fortunate to be able to consult with the foremost authority on Western Red Cedar siding in the eastern USA, Edward Burke. This expert offered to drive three hours to the site for no charge just to see the buildings for himself. With his experience and authority he insisted that there had to be some ulterior motive for the engineers' report because he felt it was blatantly and deliberately wrong. He was able to quickly refute every assertion the engineers made.

Now comes the tricky part. The board of directors had hired these engineers, accepted their report, bid out the project, and negotiated a bank loan for the project. The only step left was for a vote of the community to accept the loan. So they had invested their time, many thousand of dollars, and their credibility in the work of these engineers. The two unit owners I was serving believed that most of the unit owners were going along with the board. Could this be turned around?

The board scheduled an informational meeting for all unit owners to attend to listen to the board's engineer, property manager, attorney, preferred contractor and vinyl siding salesman and to ask questions. Three unit owners gave me power of attorney to speak in their behalf and ask pointed questions. It was very awkward and the board's chairman limited me to only a few questions with which I tried to sow seeds of doubt for other owners. My clients and I came out of that meeting not thinking we had made any great inroads.

Next, my client owners invited all the other owners to their own meeting where I was able to make a full case for not believing the engineers. We reinforced the argument with a report from the cedar expert and an evaluation from a home improvement contractor. About 20 unit owners showed up and the meeting lasted about three hours. They all seemed convinced to vote no to the loan and the project. We encouraged them to spread the word to other owners.

Finally, the board scheduled a day for the vote. My clients called on other owners imploring them to review the facts and turn down the project. But all along it was very difficult to know if we were really having an impact.

Well, the vote was held yesterday. Last night I could stand it no longer and sent an email to my clients asking if they knew the results. Late at night they wrote back to me that the vote was an overwhelming 40 - 18 to reject the loan and the project! Sometimes the truth prevails!

So the project will likely be changing the making the minor repairs to the cedar siding where needed, replace pine trim boards that are in worse shape than the cedar, and putting the buildings on a good rotating painting schedule. But I wonder about those engineers. They market their services to lots of condominium communities and they claim to "investigate roofing and exterior siding systems, of all types, for specific analysis of defects, installation techniques and replacement or repair alternatives." If their work for other communities is as shoddy as what they did here then there are lots on boards wasting engineering fees and construction costs on unnecessary and ill-advised work. As I wrote in a previous blog about some architects: How do they get away with it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


An old Waterbury building is getting new life – a new sports complex is moving to the Brass City and will be built at the now-defunct Waterbury DeckHockey Rinks.

Scattered championship banners, a worn-down scoreboard and graffiti-ridden walls are what’s left of the building that was once a popular roller skating and ice hockey rink. The building’s new owners hope to transform all of that.

“Indoor hockey was a big thing in the 90s, so we were able to find something in Milford … now we found something similar and we hope to do the same with this one, the same vision,” said new tenant Gustavo Flores.

Flores, along with his three partners, was the lone bidder of the space. They have agreed to pay $1,500 a month in rent and renovate the two rinks that have become the target of vandals in the last few years.

The Board of Alderman approved a 10-year lease and Mayor Mike Jarjura made the deal official on Monday.

“It’s going to bring opportunity to all the people of Waterbury that wasn’t available to them,” he said.

The company will build a full-size artificial turf field for indoor soccer or flag football and a fully-enclosed boarded rink for inline skating or lacrosse. It will cost United Athletic $600,000 to $800,000 in renovations.

The sports complex is scheduled to open to the public as early as this year.

© 2009, WFSB; Hartford, CT. (A Meredith Corporation Station)

POSTED: 7:49 pm EDT September 21, 2009

UPDATED: 8:51 pm EDT September 21, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I was pleased to find that a site called "Unique Unique Design" reposted photos of our pool house design for the DeCaro-Kaplen residence in Chappaqua, New York.

To see the web page go here:

To see more photos of the pool house project go here:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Every once in a while an architect is called upon to research and provide a client with an opinion. Sometimes it is very hard to find tuly unbiased information on the subject you are researching. In my case I have homeowners in a condominium association looking to me to help settle a controversy.

The development is an upscale residential condominium in southern Connecticut that is about 25 years old and has cedar clapboard siding. The association let the exterior maintenance slip and now the buildings really need attention. Some owners want to remove the cedar and replace it with vinyl. Some owners want to repair and restain the existing siding. Others are interested in alternative siding like fiber cement as long as it’s not vinyl. Now they look at me and want some guidance based on facts and not just my opinion or personal preference. They are concerned about longevity, continuous maintenance, initial costs, and the effect on their property appraisals and resale values.

What I have been amazed to find out is how little unbiased information is available on this subject. Siding materials are probably the most popular, highest produced, and greatest income generating products in the residential building industry, yet, I can’t find that anyone has bothered to do real head-to-head comparisons to find out which is the most cost effective, best performing product out there. Sure, the Vinyl Siding Institute will tell me their members’ products are the best thing since sliced bread! Of course, the Western Red Cedar Association will tell me how cedar will stand up, is easy to maintain, refinish, green, and overall the absolutely best thing ever.

As an architect I am left to sift through biased information and distill it to come up with a real comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of these products and arrive at a well reasoned conclusion. How do I do that and feel comfortable that I have given the best recommendation possible to my client? Maybe there isn’t much market for it and not much money to be made doing it, but it seems to me there ought to be some kind of “Consumer Reports” for construction materials and products where owners and professionals can go to get relatively unbiased information so that we can make educated choices on what products are best for what applications. Technology, the proliferation of synthetic and composite materials, and increasingly stringent building, energy and sustainability codes make it rather hard for an architect to give a strong recommendation to a client without knowing that opinion is limited by our own personal experience and preferences.

Who will step up and help us?

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Rell Job Reversal Perplexes Top Pick
By JON LENDER | Courant Staff Writer
July 6, 2008
Greg Grew of Woodbury was driving to Stamford on April 1 for lunch with a friend to celebrate his pending appointment by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to the key post of state building inspector.
Then his cellphone rang.
It was state Public Safety Commissioner John Danaher, who delivered the jolting news that Rell's office had reconsidered: Grew — a successful architect and business owner who holds the record for the highest score ever on the Connecticut building officials' certification exam — was out.
It's still a mystery to Grew three months later — and to leaders of professional groups who say an injustice was done to a man who embodies the very ethics and professionalism that Rell has espoused as hallmarks of her administration.
Rell's office said it pulled the plug because of concerns over Grew's level of debt.
"I don't believe that for a minute," Grew said, because he owns real estate worth $1.6 million — three times what he's borrowed.
The irony of Rell's stated caution is that it led to an unusually messy misstep with a top gubernatorial appointment — casting an unfavorable light not only on Grew, but also on the candidate Rell finally appointed last month.
Lisa R. Humble, a longtime state employee who had worked most recently as an architect in the Department of Public Works, has been referred to in Rell's office as the "number two candidate." In addition, some observers speculate openly that Humble, an architectural graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, was picked because Rell wanted to appoint a woman, something the governor's legal counsel denies.
Humble did not return calls.
Bad News
By the time Danaher delivered the bad news, Grew had spent about 80 hours of unpaid time in March touring the state and being introduced to groups of builders, designers and building officials by the retiring building inspector, Christopher Laux.
A major basis for that introductory tour was a Feb. 28 letter Danaher wrote to his employees, announcing that in anticipation of Laux's March 31 retirement, "we embarked upon a search for an individual who could carry out the challenging and critical functions of the State Building Inspector. That search having been concluded, the Honorable M. Jodi Rell ... has decided to appoint Milton Gregory 'Greg' Grew. ..."
Danaher added: "We are fortunate to have permission to bring Mr. Grew onboard before the effective date of Christopher's retirement so that there will be an overlap" for a transition.
That announcement, and the subsequent month of introductions, made Danaher's April 1 phone call all the more unexpected to Grew. Danaher gave no explanation on the phone, but said Grew should call Rell's legal counsel, Anna Ficeto.
The Explanation
It took 24 hours for Ficeto to call back, Grew said, and she told him that "there was 'nothing of concern' in my background check but that some individuals had concerns about my 'debt ratio.'"
"I expressed astonishment and disbelief with that analysis," Grew said. "I told her I was very disappointed that no one even called me to inform me of their concerns, and get my feedback or more complete financial information."
He sent her an e-mail saying that credit-rating agencies' numbers assigned to him and his wife were very favorable — 780 and 730. He said some of his $550,000 in debt, which also includes his home mortgage, was on rental property whose income covered any loan payments. He owns other properties free and clear.
But Ficeto responded in an April 2 e-mail: "[T]he decision stands and we're going with the number two candidate. I'm sorry this didn't work out."
Interviewed last week, Ficeto said there's no set debt-ratio standard. "The bottom line is it's the governor's appointee, and there has to be a level of comfort. ... We basically looked at the documents and we just didn't have that comfort level. ... She has to feel comfortable. ... This isn't a perfect science.
"Part of the problem, to be honest, is we deviated from our own process," Ficeto said, referring to the public safety department's decision to bring Grew in early — albeit without pay. "We never make an announcement of a candidate until we've done a complete background" check.
Did that mean that Danaher was wrong to write the Feb. 28 announcement letter? Ficeto said she had been unaware of the letter, but added, "I don't want to say he made a mistake."
One of the debts of concern was $42,000 on Grew's credit cards, Ficeto said. Grew responded that if someone had asked, he would have told them that he was using zero-percent credit card offers rather than the home-equity line he could have carried the debt on.
"That just shows an ignorance of how you do business," he said. "It's called using other people's money."
Ficeto called it "odd" that Grew doesn't have a degree from a four-year college even though he had studied at three community or technical colleges. Grew said he had disclosed that fact from the moment he was recruited by the Department of Public Safety to apply. He said a four-year degree was not required when he got his architect's license in Connecticut. Actual design experience was factored in.
Asked why there was concern about a four-year degree when Grew has been licensed in six states and runs a successful architectural business, Ficeto said it was just part of "the whole package."
Ficeto noted that Grew's federal corporate tax return showed $535,000 in gross receipts for his Woodbury-based business, and "one of the questions" for any prospective employee is "can you live with the salary that we are going to give you? ... We don't want anyone to be susceptible to corruption.
"Our concern is: How are you going to pay all this debt when you are taking a substantial pay cut?" Ficeto said.
But Grew said that's another misinterpretation of basic business principles by Rell's office. He said he wouldn't have been taking a substantial pay cut: After paying his seven employees' wages, consultants and other costs out of his firm's gross receipts, he said his own income was $122,000 — as also shown on his IRS forms. His pay as state building inspector would have been $118,000, and the state would have provided family health benefits he now pays for himself.
Grew said he had been arranging to hand the business to others — including his father, also an architect — in anticipation of starting the state job in April. He said he lost some business because of that.
He had thought briefly of legal action but said he is not seriously considering it now.
"I think this was handled very poorly by the governor's office," said Brian Platz, president of the Connecticut Building Officials Association.
Platz speculated that Rell simply decided to appoint another woman to a top post. "I don't know what the real reason is," he said, but he doesn't buy the "debt ratio" claim.
Ficeto denied that gender preference played a role.
The head of another industry group said Rell and her aides seem to misunderstand how businesses operate.
"Debt ... in real estate, with an appreciating asset ... is a good business model," said Bill Ethier, chief executive officer for the Home Builders Association of Connecticut.
"If I owned a million and a half dollars worth of property, and I only had a half-a-million dollars' mortgage on it, I'd be thrilled," said Laux, who had recommended Grew.
Recruited For Indignity
Grew, 47, married for 22 years with two daughters, was perfectly happy as an architect and building contractor, and never thought of a state post.
But then, one night last November, Grew was attending a continuing-education class in Norwalk for building officials. The teacher was Laux, who asked him, "Have you ever thought of becoming the state building inspector?"
Laux said last week that he'd spent 10 years building up standards of professionalism at the office in the Department of Public Safety complex in Middletown, and Grew would have been a "perfect" successor to maintain those standards.
Grew possesses a rare combination of extensive experience in the business end of design and construction, a detailed understanding of code requirements as a state-certified building official and exceptional communication skills, Laux said.
The state inspector's office has important powers — one of which is ruling on safety code disputes between builders and municipal inspectors. Laux has made news by addressing safety and fire code violations in dormitories and other buildings at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Laux and Grew both live in Woodbury, but say they did not know each other well until they had professional dealings during Laux's tenure as the state building inspector. Laux said that years ago, Grew "got the highest score in the history of the state" — a 99 — on the state test required for certification as a local building official.
Grew was the first choice of four candidates interviewed by a panel that included Danaher. Grew and Rell met Feb. 26 for about 45 minutes, and she told him that the job was his, pending a background check.
Platz scoffed at the idea that the debt incurred in the course of Grew's successful business could lead him astray as a public official. "You're either an honest person or you are not," he said.
"They dragged him around the state and introduced him ... as the next state building inspector. What have they done to this poor man's career?"
Contact Jon Lender at
Over 120 comments were left by readers of the online article:
Lead Editorial the following Wednesday:
A Raw Deal
July 9, 2008
If you're thinking of serving in state government, attend the tale of Greg Grew.
Mr. Grew, a successful architect and businessman from Woodbury, was tapped last winter to be the state building inspector. Mr. Grew had once gotten the highest score ever on the state's building official certification exam and was well-respected in the industry. He seemed a perfect choice.
On Feb. 28, Public Safety Commissioner John Danaher told his employees in a letter that Gov. M. Jodi Rell had decided to pick Mr. Grew for the job, and that he would be brought on early for a transition before his predecessor's retirement at the end of March.
With the job seemingly in hand, Mr. Grew began handing his real estate business to others and touring the state to meet builders, designers and other building officials. But on April 1, as The Courant's Jon Lender reported on Sunday, Mr. Danaher called Mr. Grew and told him the job offer was being withdrawn.
Why? It's still not clear. A successful small-business owner with a reputation for probity, a family man who is an elder at his church, would seem to be an ideal candidate. When pushed for an explanation, Anna Ficeto, Mrs. Rell's counsel, said there was some concern about his level of debt. This doesn't wash: Mr. Grew had borrowed $550,000 but owned property worth $1.6 million.
Ms. Ficeto said in an interview with The Courant that Mr. Grew's federal corporate tax return showed $535,000 in gross receipts for his business, and so there was a question about whether he could live and pay his debts on the state salary of $118,000. But as Mr. Grew said, this was not a pay cut. His tax returns showed his firm's gross income. After he paid his seven employees and other expenses, his own salary was $122,000. Add the state's benefit package, and he would have been comparably compensated.
So specious are these explanations that we are left wondering if this was mere bungling or if something else was at play. Neither option is particularly attractive. Mr. Grew said he easily could have explained his financial situation if someone had asked, but no one did.
This was not the only curious personnel move orchestrated by Mrs. Rell's office this spring. About a month after Mr. Grew was sandbagged, Mrs. Rell nominated two men, Cicero B. Booker Jr. and Robert W. Neil, to the new Board of Pardons and Paroles, and then withdrew the nominations just before the confirmation hearings.
If the idea is to get top people to serve in state government, this isn't the way to go about it.
Over 20 comments were left by readers of the online editorial:
Weekly column:
This Man Deserves An Apology
Stan Simpson
July 9, 2008
Anna Ficeto, the governor's legal counsel, found it "odd" that the top candidate for the state building inspector's position didn't have a college degree.
It's doubtful her boss M. Jodi Rell concurred — or Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele for that matter — with that assessment.
Neither Rell nor Fedele completed college. Both ended up OK — earning $150,000 and $110,000 a year, respectively. They overcame the lack of a sheepskin by developing business and political skills and substituting common sense for book smarts.
Before he was sworn in two years ago I asked Fedele, founder and CEO of a Stamford-based information technology business, if he was concerned about whether his and Rell's lack of a degree would send an awkward message to the public, young people in particular.
"I didn't finish school because I was very interested and excited to enter the business world," Fedele said. "I got married early and started a family early. I think education is very important. I think education and hard work and good work ethic all come into play. [But] I've met many people in my life in business and in politics and just in the course of life who have more degrees than a thermometer — and quite frankly they just haven't done well. I think education plays a very critical role, but there's a combination of other things that also do — your work ethic, your drive and where you want to go."
Education was actually not the primary excuse used by the governor's office in nixing Greg Grew of Woodbury for the $118,000 state building inspector's job.
Grew registered the highest score ever on a state certification exam for building officials, and his character and integrity are apparently unblemished. The licensed architect and building contractor runs his own design firm and earns about $122,000 a year.
The governor, through Ficeto, expressed concerns about his "debt ratio." Grew's credit card debt of $42,000 raised a red flag, along with his real estate mortgage debt of about $550,000.
Historically there has been corruption in the building business. This week a former engineer for the state Department of Transportation pleaded guilty to bribery as part of a federal corruption investigation.Grew had a ready response for his finances, if only he had been asked. He was using zero-percent credit cards to finance his debt, rather than tap a more expensive home-equity line. He also owns $1.6 million in real estate, including investment properties that generate their own revenue.
Despite the concerns about his debt, Grew's assets are worth three times the total of his liabilities. It shouldn't take a financial whiz or college grad to see that his financial house is in order.
If there were questions about Grew's vulnerability to corruption, then a good background check would have included talking to people who know the man and his character.
Rell's office had no comment Tuesday, two days after The Courant's story on the governor's embarrassingly botched job search. An apology is in order here. Of course, any indication that the process was mishandled could open the door to questions about whether Grew's reputation has also been damaged. And that could lead to a lawsuit.
Maybe this will be a blessing for Grew. He has received numerous calls of support since the miscue became public. "I'm not looking backward, that's for sure," he said Tuesday. "Grew Design is in business."
Good for him.
All content: Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant

Thursday, June 11, 2009


What is being an architect all about? That question could illicit a myriad of responses but an appointment of mine today brought it home to a very simple answer.

This afternoon I had an appointment with a prospective client at his home in a suburb of New Haven. They have lived for five years in a nondescript ranch built in 1963 with 1,400 square feet in a lovely quiet neighborhood of similar homes. Nothing very exciting or sexy you might think and you would be right.

Here’s the good part. They need more room. The bedrooms are small for their family and they share one bath. They simply want to get a larger master bedroom and master bath along with another bath for the kids and some additional living space. The constructed project probably won’t cost more than $200,000. What did they do? They didn’t call builders or remodeling contractors. They didn’t call an unlicensed residential designer. They call an architect!

Why did they call an architect? Because they felt they had the best shot of getting comprehensive advice from an architect. Which way to expand- up or out? What range of construction cost could they expect? What implications might there be with zoning regulations and their old septic system? Is their house structurally sound enough to carry a second floor? Could an appealing exterior design be devised?

Now this is not a project that I am going to get rich on. I don’t believe every project has to be a home run. If I can get to first or second base on every time at bat do I win the game? You bet I do! I usually do much larger projects, but frankly my profit margin on the small ones is often better. Very often when I meet with prospects like this one they tell me they called other architects before me and the architects would hang up when they find out the size or budget of the project. Too bad for them. Good for me!

But it doesn’t help dispell the notion that architects are elitest snobs who can only be bothered designing for the rich and famous or when they can rack up a big fee on a big budget. Why are more architects not happy with the notion of ordinary mid-middle class folks calling on them for help? More architecture is seen in ordinary middle class working neighborhoods and some of that is bad architecture simply because architects hung up the phone on the homeowners and so they called contractors who hashed something together or remuddled.

This is what it’s all about. Not masterpieces or monuments. Simply good design for ordinary folks who appreciate it and know it will enhance their family life. There’s a lot that being an architect means but this is actually as good as it gets. What do you think?


What does the latest discovery of cheating say about our profession or the state of ethics in general?

Recently it was discovered that some candidates for the national Architectural Registration Examination had improperly shared information on the content of exams and basically cheated on the test. This is the exam that qualifies an architect to be licensed to practice in the states. The announcement regarding the action taken by the national board is found here:

Now one might say this is an isolated event and we should not draw broad conclusions. But hearing about this got me thinking about the continuing erosion of honesty and ethics in our profession, all professions and society in general. Notice an interesting observation made in AWAKE! magazine:

Older persons can remember a time when, in many places, people did not lock their doors. They did not think of stealing from others or of cheating them. If they borrowed money, they felt honor-bound to repay it. And their word was ‘as good as gold.’ True, there was dishonesty, but it was not all-pervasive. Today, however, stealing, lying, and cheating are commonplace throughout the world. And many dishonest acts originate with so-called respectable people who live and work in nice neighborhoods, dress well, may have a religion, and consider themselves good citizens. Indeed, dishonesty has become notorious among officials of government and business. (Nov. 15, 1986)

The Apostle Paul wrote: "We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things". (Hebrews 13:18)

It seems everywhere one turns today we must navigate through a dishonest world. Owners that don't want to tell the truth on permit applications about the construction cost. Clients who want to pay cash or use other means to bury money so they don't have to pay taxes on it. Clients who offer us cash if we keep accounts off the books thinking we would likewise not report the income for taxes. Owners and contractors who don't want to take out permits for the construction. Employment candidates who inflate their credentials. I could go on and on.

Architecture is a noble profession but it does not appear that it is any more noble than others when it comes to ethics. How many architects have read the AIA Code of Ethics or the rules of ethics written into their state's practice regulations? What meaningful education on ethics, honesty and honorable practice is really given to architecture students? I just make a random check of the listing of courses for a prominent university's school of architecture. Not one class on ethics in practice or honesty in life. That says plenty.

Why has honesty and ethics in society and our profession become so unimportant? We create environments to promote the well being of humans, to lift their spirits, and bring them comfort combined with guarding their health, safety and welfare. How could we cheat on anything having to do with our profession?


Name: Phillip Andrew Jessup, RA
Date: 2009-06-13-04-56
It's refreshing to see this note in your blog. I've taught professional practice courses at an accredited design school for just over a dozen years. In the early years, I included some specific modules on morals, codes of ethics, and similar topics but distributed that info out among other topics. Recently, after some observations similar to yours in this post, I added emphasis, but this renews my resolve to add a specific discussion on professional ethics again into this course. On reflection, it may have been a dilution to have spread it across other topics, though we have generated some lively discussions on occasion.
Name: Jensen
Date: 2009-12-24-05-16
THanks for this article.
Time has change and human practically changed alot.
You read the bible, seems like ur a religious man.
Well... I can say that, times are not what as it used to be.

We just have to make changes and be watchful.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Will interior designers continue to be viewed as design professionals?

Here is a news article in the New Haven Independent regarding a current lawsuit in Connecticut that challenges the title law for interior designers.

There is history of this case at this news site:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I get a great feeling when I run into a former client and find out how they continue to be happy with the work I have done for them.
Just yesterday I was across the street from my office in the local supermarket when I ran into a client. She and her husband live in a neighboring town and hired me to design substantial renovations to their house including a family room and screen porch additions, new entry, new kitchen, new master bath and closet, and other upgrades. In addition, they hired us to build it as general contractor. They were very pleasant people to work with. They appreciated my designs and also gave us some good ideas of their own. The construction went reasonably well but did take longer than I planned so we had our touchy moments to work through. However, it was so satisfying yesterday to hear her say "We love the house and how it come out!". She told me how pleased they are with the finished project and they are working on an album of before, during and after pictures. You can see our photos of the project here:
A few weeks ago I was in a local coffee shop standing in line for the cashier when I realize another client was in line ahead of me who lives here in Woodbury. I had designed an expansion of their second floor to make room for a larger and new master bedroom suite, additional bedroom, new kitchen, and new larger decks. He and his wife were also very enjoyable to work with and we had a good collaborative relationship. They hired their own builder and we heard very little from them during construction. I think the builder called once with a question. I can get a little uneasy when I don't hear from builders. It can either mean our drawings were very clear and they just breezed through construction or it can mean they are too proud to ask for direction, have messed it all up, but have also blamed the architect so that the owner doesn't want to call either. So with a little anxiety I asked my client while standing in line, "So, how did the project come out?" You can imagine my relief when he said "Great! We love it! The builder did a great job and everything came out as planned. You should come over and see it." That I will do. It is one of the projects we do not have in our photo gallery yet, but when I have some time I will visit them and then post the pics.
I have a real feeling of achievement when I am able to see residential or commercial clients enjoy occupying the spaces I design and build. When you get bogged down with the paperwork and the non-design part of owning a practice it is moments like these above the bring you back to why you chose this profession in the first place.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Sometimes when you see a house that you generally like you can get turned off by the few elements that you wanted but are missing. Perhaps you can’t see how they can be added to make the place completely what you dreamed. That’s where a little time with a design and construction professional can help.

For instance, we had a client who was kind enough to give us the following testimonial:

We were looking for a house in the Litchfield area for almost 2 years when we finally found something with potential on a gorgeous piece of property. There were 2 drawbacks to the house.The house did not have a fireplace and there was no outside wall to put it on and we felt that we had to remove the main support wall between the living room and the den in order to make a great room. Before we placed a bid we called in contractors and they all told us that both the fireplace and the removable wall could not be done and if they could be done the costs would be so prohibitve that we wouldn’t want to get involved. We had really decided to pass on the house when the realtor suggested that we call in Greg Grew who was a structural engineer and might see things in a different light. Greg came over for a nominal consultation fee and in less than an hour he assured us that the wall could easily be removed without the house collapsing and that the fireplace flue could be worked out by taking out a small alcove in an upstairs bedroom and then going out through the roof. He also recommended a contractor who could make it happen on our budget. We hired Greg to draw up the plans, hired the contractor and are now enjoying a fireplace that works perfectly and looks as though it was always there and a great room that is multi functional. Thank you Greg for making our dreams a reality. – Jane and Harold Goldban, Bantam, CT

In addition to finding a good spot for the fireplace and designing it (photo above), we also designed a new kitchen, selected new interior doors, added a vestibule and porch on the front and a few other odds and ends. The whole package, purchase and remodeling, was within the budget they were will to spend.

Follow this link if you would like to see more photos of our work at the house:

So, if you think a house might be what you are looking for but is missing something, check with an experienced professional who may be able show how to get it all!


Our firm is not a real estate brokerage but we can do a lot to help clients find the land, house, or building that will best suit their needs. One of the most valuable services we provide is helping our clients perform proper due diligence. I can't tell you how many times we have found that properties listed by licensed real estate agents had open permits that were never closed out, lacking certificates of occupancy for part or all of the building, serious structural problems with either foundation or framing, potential for hazardous materials to be present, problems with compliance with zoning regulations, and a host of other issues that can affect the selling price, make a client decide not to pursue it, or give us a realistic understanding of what the total investment will be if our client goes forward with the purchase. Home inspectors, real estaste inspectors, and real estate agents are limited in the advise and knowledge they have about a property and often do not have the ability to understand the implications of these issues for the prospective owner whether it involves renovations or new construction. So if you are planning construction for the property you are buying be sure to pay for the assistance of your architect up front so you don't have to pay more later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HOW DO THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? Some Architects Really Tick Me Off!

You know, if I screwed up the design of a roof the lawsuits would be flying, my reputation would be trashed, and I would not be able to live with myself. But not these guys.

The facilties manager for a Connecticut school district contacted me and said I was recommended and he needed a proposal to consult on a failing school roof. So I agreed and met him at the school. The building looked like a nice example of educational architecture. It was designed by one of the largest firms in the state and they do a ton of schools. The building was only 8 years old. Fortunately, he also had the plan and specs for me to review after the tour.

The roof was a gable design of about 6:12 pitch. The roof covering where top-of-the-line architectural grade asphalt shingles with a "lifetime" warranty. The shingles had been installed over felt underlayment, plywood sheathing over air space spacers, polyiso insulation board, gypsum board, and steel decking.

Now here are the problems:

  • Leaks all over the place. It's nice to see buckets on counters and floors and water stained ceiling panels in a relatively new building.
  • Nail heads backing out and coming up through the shingles.
  • Ice dams galore.

The shingle manufacturer has walked away from the warranty based on the design and construction of the roof.

My quick review of the plans and specs revealed the following:

  • No mention anywhere of the required thickness or R-value of the insulation. It appears to be about 2 inches for an R of maybe 10 to 12.
  • No explanation of why one would put regular gypsum board (Sheetrock) on top of the roof's structural steel decking.
  • The spaces for the vented air space under the plywood sheathing are shown 90 degrees to the way they should run for the ventilation to work.
  • No detail to prevent the attic within the thermal envelope from letting air escape through the ridge vent, which it does.
  • No detail to show how the soffit vents will work.

Hopefully I get this project and get to delve into the causes and cures of these problems. But I would love to know how an architectural firm gets away with such shabby drawings and specifications. A lot of it looked "boiler plate", like they probably repeat these over and over in so many of the schools they design. I could never do this, especially for what they get paid. But, of course, they get so much of the work in school districts through "Quality Based Selection (QBS)". Basically if you are a big firm and have done a lot of a particular building type you keep getting the work. Sadly when problems like this creep up they don't get known because the client goes and hires another architect to fix it.

There is way too much information available to design professionals so that there is no excuse for that kind of practice. Their managing partners should be a little more aware of the legal phrase "standard of care".