Expert Advice: 13 (Great) Questions for Architect Gil Schafer
With much of life on hold right now, including many home improvement and construction projects, the Remodelista team has stored all kinds of questions to ask the design professionals we admire. In a new series, we (virtually) visit residential architects to get their ideas on large and small construction topics. Their answers could lead you to take a closer look at your four walls or to start a chair renovation yourself.
Gil Schafer of G.P. Schafer Architect in New York has been translating the virtues of old houses into new construction and renovations for over 30 years. A recent triumph: his own 90s “close to a frame” on the coast of Maine, now a place where old and new ideas meet in a thoughtful and sensitive to place. The project is featured in his 2017 book, “A Place to Call Home”. We asked him to share his thoughts:
Remodelista: What material is always worth madness?
Gil Schafer: A wooden room or space somewhere in your home. The change in palette of materials and the natural warmth of the wood provide a distinct feeling from other rooms. In my own barn-like house in Maine, I created a small and comfortable “paneled” bookshelf on a tight budget by placing sheets of oak plywood on the walls, brushing the wire and giving the wood a lightly oiled protection. finish. The simple treatment suited the modern vernacular of the house and gave the room a lot for its money.
RM: The neutral color of your paint is….
GS: Benjamin Moore’s “Sea Pearl” – a perfect white that is warm without being too “French vanilla”.
RM: What do you minimize in a house and why?
GS: The presence of technologies and systems. We tend to use “built-in” devices whenever possible, to place air conditioning grills very deliberately, keep them finely proportioned and minimize flanges, and hide items like tops as much as possible – stereo speakers and thermostats.
RM: Your signature move in the kitchen?
GS: Minimize the visual presence of the devices, if applicable. This allows us to enhance the carpentry and cabinetmaking.
RM: The best countertop material?
GS: A dark stone, such as soapstone, Belgian black granite, or a variant of Belgian granite called “Jet Mist” (not as dark as pure Belgian black, with gray / white veins) seem ideal for kitchens and locker rooms. They are simply more forgiving of the inevitable stains that will occur. For the butler pantries, I like to use mahogany countertops and give them a glossy varnish for durability.
RM: An unsung hero in your design work?
GS: In new constructions, we will often increase the height of doors and doors between rooms to create a greater feeling of flow in an interior. When we renovate an older interior, it’s one of the first things I look at to make one room more connected to the next without blowing up all the walls or widening the doors. And when an opening that is too high would throw on a human scale, we sometimes add a transom on the door.
RM: The essential luminaire is….
GS: A recessed LED spotlight for strategic lighting. I always make sure to get a bulb with a slightly warmer color temperature, something between 2700 and 2800 Kelvin.
RM: The smartest “smart home” function?
GS: The Nest Thermostat! Even a technophobic luddite like me can make one work. I love the fact that it connects to an iPhone or iPad for remote operation. I saved my pipes from freezing the other day in Maine, when I was able to connect remotely to the house and discover that the fuel tank of the furnace was dry.
RM: What gesture do you like to repeat?
GS: The easy and simple answer is “comfort”. The most complicated is related to the way we use the design of moldings, door hardware and even bathroom accessories to convey a sense of harmony and cohesion within a house, while suggesting, where appropriate, a hierarchy between the most important spaces and the secondary ones.
RM: The most durable wood floors are….
GS: For a traditional interior where durability is the key, I count on an oak parquet floor, typically in white oak. If the budget allows, we always try to use reclaimed old oak. The cellular structure of old trees is tighter and the boards therefore wear out better. And you can’t beat the look.
RM: How small can a room get before it is claustrophobic?
GS:. In fact, I don’t mind a small room, provided you transform it into a sort of jewelry box. This can be achieved by building the bed in an alcove or niche at one end of the room. The simple fact of covering the walls with fabric, as if the whole room was a four-poster bed, can make the small size a real asset. If the bed is freestanding, my basic rule is as follows: the width of the bed plus 5 feet by the length of the bed plus 3 or 4 feet. Even 9 or 10 feet by 10 or 11 feet can be achievable.
RM: A fashion that must go?
GS: The pot filler within reach. Does anyone really use them? And you should always take the full pan down the sink to empty it after cooking is finished!
RM: Your favorite design maxim?
GS: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Sometimes making a subtle gesture is more impactful than making an obvious, high-powered gesture. Example: Customers who build a house on a site with a magnificent view assume that you will want to see this view the minute you enter the property. But it is actually much more impactful to hold your sight until you enter the house, to create a moment of discovery and surprise. The house becomes the threshold of sight. Knowing when to remember is something I firmly believe in.
RM: A favorite space saving move?
GS: Concealed storage. We deploy it whenever we can in a house or apartment – in nooks and crannies and in any unused interstitial spaces. We will place a hidden cabinet behind a panel in a deep paneled jamb or behind a flush door concealed on the wall of a space where the visual clutter of another door and a door box is not desirable. It is not always the cheapest solution, but when space is limited it is really welcome to have another place to store things.
RM: What do you like to exaggerate and why?
GS: The size of traditional windows, but slightly. Today, everyone places great importance on light and views, and modernism has made it clear that large expanses of glass are possible and desirable. Traditional architecture demands the expression of the wall and the openings as two separate things. We have found that we can subtly change the size of traditional windows to give our customers the light and views they want while keeping things proportionate and not unraveling the authenticity we are looking for.
For more information inside design professionals:
Expert advice: 15 essential tips from an architect to design the kitchen
Expert advice: 10 essential tips for designing the bathroom
Expert Advice: 5 Things Your Entrepreneur Wishes You (But Is Too Polite To Tell You)