The Tale of Two Clients. . .A & X

Mr. & Mrs. A* sound interested, respectful and curious during our initial contact. They are committed to where they live, love their old building (or the idea of a new one molded to their dreams), have adequate funds and are likely to build. Furthermore, they want my best work and understand that good ideas take time to blossom and bear fruit.

They understand that they will gain the benefits of good design and construction and are willing to take managed risks. Their tolerance of risk will guide how I structure the process. We can disagree without threatening our relationship and they appreciate solutions to their specific situation.

They pay promptly, even early, and raise any billing questions immediately. They pay the contractor regularly and appreciate his good, sometimes difficult work. They accept the unpredictable nature of unseen aspects of construction — under the ground or buried in walls, as well as, vague regulations and inflation.

We have a shared sympathy for the environment, children and irreplaceable old buildings (and neighborhoods), yet, have no idea of how each other votes or worships.

Throughout the work they are grateful for and excited to see their dream becoming real. They do homework before and during the project, listen well and stick with decisions (or graciously accept the cost of changing their minds). They enthusiastically refer me to their friends and introduce me to those who can strengthen my practice. I get heady when I receive a spontaneous letter of thanks or a gift at the completion of our work.

At the other end of the spectrum are Clients X who call from the yellow pages or web searches in a rush and are concerned about the cost of services early in our first conversation. I don’t know enough of what they want or need to throw a number out. Perfectionists, will be unhappy sooner or later. When disappointed or surprised these folks become angry and even threaten. Others want to be the designer and/or contractor, they say that they only need a drafts person. They complain about previous construction experiences and are suspicious.


Normally clients want to double what their budget will buy. However, aggressive price shoppers will probably get a mess for their relentless cost-cutting. Somehow, at that point, they will find more money to patch it up and will try to place blame for their unhappiness. Oddly, they feel better, even if a large amount of their money goes to lawyers, not construction.

The reader may be surprised that Clients A actually exist, though probably not surprised about Clients X. I am happy to report enough of the former have hired me over the past three decades to not only stay in business, but to thrive and produce good work together. My sincerest thanks to those who have helped me understand these fundamentals. * Although a couple is used in this parable, a business owner, project manager or committee chairperson can fit as well.

Restoration. I like that word. The house, the land, perhaps ourselves. But restored to what? Our lives are full. It’s our zeal for all this work that amazes me. Is it only that once into the project, what it all means doesn’t come up? Or that excitement and belief reject the questions? The vast wheel has a place for our shoulders and we simply push into the turning?

Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes



+ Quoted by the New York Times in an article on front porches 3-20-05 Connecticut Section.

+ Organized “Old Buildings vs. Tough Budgets #3” for the Historic Resource Committee of AIA/CT. Three interesting case studies revealing the extraordinary costs of regulatory mazes, the effective analysis of & appropriate repairs of quirky old barns and the social skills to manage a leaderless building committee through a challenging project under media glare and public comment.

+ Pleased to have been asked to submit qualifications for the Nathan Hale Homestead Visitors’ Center & Restoration. A dozen years ago I helped plan the access for the disabled at this site. This beautiful property in Coventry reflects a national hero’s influence and those who came looking for him…including one who dug up the earth four foot deep around the house in hopes of finding who-knows-what!

+ Designing a Waterford wood turning shop for loyal clients whose house was tuned to renewable solar and wood energy, yet resembled their favorite English cottage. Hoping to design a Woodbridge horse barn for the new owners of my Georgian/Shingle style home from the early nineties.

+ Helping New Haven folks adapt an untouched cozy beach bungalow near the Sound for their retirement and to meet new flood regulations.

+ Consulted to help fit an ambitious building into a historic downtown Mystic.

+ Asked to join the board of Schooner Inc, New Haven, a wonderful resource that has taught thousands of children and adults about marine ecology aboard great old wooden sail boats over the past thirty years.




Just got back from Seattle where Rem Koolhaus designed an angular downtown library that has brought an unmatched level of excitement and logic to the stacks. Highlights include glowing green escalators with back-lit signage, throbbing red meeting spaces, hazy polka dotted glass and Piranesian vastness, all well knit to a steep urban site. A rare design achievement. I am curious about the patrons’ satisfaction?

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