Mitchell Studio, www.mitchellstudio.net, New Haven, CT
1) What UEC light do you like to use the most and why?
I'm a big fan of the Chisholm Hall fixture because its equally effective in both traditional and more contemporary designs.
2) Your six picks of favorite UEC lights:
The Chisholm Hall series, of course
The Rosenbloom because it's so solid and timeless.
The Globus because like the Chisholm it crosses style boundaries easily.
The Mitchell -why wouldn't I like it.
The Sullivan's Island perfect outdoor lantern to use in multiples.
The Lafayette Double very elegant.
3) What is your design philosophy?
Every part informs the whole. My goal when designing a project is to have a consistency of scale and proportion from the macro decisions about plan-making to the smallest decisions about the curve of a molding, the selection of a cabinet pull or the pattern in a masonry wall. When a project comes together perfectly, every detail is inseparable from the whole composition.
4) What is something people may not know about your firm?
We dabble in the design of all sorts of objects. Because we work with so many different design components we develop ideas about what sorts of things we'd like to see that we can't find. We've designed rugs, hardware, furniture, light fixtures – even jewelry.
5) What is your favorite part of a home to design and why?
I love to design stairs and there are a number of reasons. Stairs are the most sculptural element of a typical house because they are a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal focus on the floor plan. Stairs also are the one element in a house where I'm able to choreograph movement, as the pathway that a stair traces is fixed by its geometry. One always descends or ascends a stair the same way: entering or exiting in the same direction each time. Because I know that procession is locked into the design of a stair, I think about how I want to craft that experience. Psychologically the stair is also an important transition point where one moves between different realms. In a house, that is usually a movement between public and private zones and getting that transition right starts with the stair.
6) Three design resources you can't live without:
Most important is simply the act of looking closely at the environment around me. I'm a sponge for all types of precedent and I try to absorb whatever I see. It helps to take pictures, or to draw as a way of processing that visual information but looking closely can be enough. Where I am not able to see primary sources for inspiration I turn to my library. Books and magazines are a great source for inspiration and I particularly value architecture books that have measured drawings of existing buildings. Translating between drawings and built work is an important acquired skill and looking at drawings of built work is like doing design calisthenics. I also have found Google image searches useful for finding inspiration, partly because a simple search can often lead down an unexpected path. As vital as these resources are however, from experience I've found that I have to put away all the specific images that I reference and rely on memory when I'm designing. There is never the resource that's precisely appropriate to a specific design challenge, so looking for just the right image to plug in is futile. Using those resources as a boost to a design vocabulary makes it possible to come up with new translations that are both familiar and unique.
7) Best design tips you have learned from experience:
There is no substitute for the iterative process. Design can't be done in your head, and you have to draw a lot to truly see and understand what works. Also, I find that it's important to not accept default design conditions based on the common dimensions of building materials. Doing so often results in awkwardly proportioned details.
8) What do you collect?
I collect industrial objects. I'm fascinated by the aesthetic quality of functional objects and the proportions that are inherent in a well-engineered tool or machine part. Among the objects I have though, are many that were machine-made but later repaired or patched by an individual. I love the contrast of the hand-crafted repair juxtaposed with the utilitarian original.
9) What are your favorite paint colors to use?
Architects often see things in black and white – literally at times – and like most architects I tend towards neutrals. I'm not afraid of color however, as long as it's an indeterminate color, colors that are shaded by changing light. I like Farrow and Ball's Shaded White, Benjamin Moore's November Rain and Benjamin Moore's Bleeker Beige.
10) What are your favorite design books?
My favorite design books depend on what I'm thinking about at the time, so the context matters a lot. I do find that there are certain books that I go back to over and over, however – The Houses of McKim, Mead and White, Graphic Standards, 3rd edition (for the old construction details) and Houses and Gardens by E.L. Lutyens