The Architect

converted french mill

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Okay. Let’s just get this out there. My blog is going to have a split personality for the next year, or probably longer. I’ll be talking about the French cottage in the countryside. Giving updates on the renovation. Sharing photos. And very likely taking trips back to France when we need to make in-person decisions. But I’ll also be talking about Oakland. Very urban Oakland. What it’s like to settle in. What we figure out for schools. And how we’re making our house a home. I hope it will be more fun and interesting than it is confusing. But who knows? We’ll find out soon enough. : ) This one is a cottage post.

On Tuesday, we met with an architect named Bernard Pasquier. And it was the dreamiest sort of meeting. Bernard is actually retired and he’s only taking on passion projects at the moment. So before he would commit to our project, he wanted to meet us, and visit the property to “get a feel for the spirit of the place”. He also wanted us to see his work in person to make sure his style was a good fit for us.

So we had our first meeting at his home. It’s the building pictured above. A converted mill. And it’s stunning! See the bridge heading to the top floor? That’s the entrance. He designed the bridge himself. And that top floor? It’s a modern open loft with French industrial influences. It looks like it would be right at home in Soho. I love it.

french loft

Oh man. I was in awe at the space and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to meet him. We really wanted to work with a local architect if at all possible, but we are so rural there aren’t many around, so to be introduced to Bernard feels like such a gift. And guess who made the introduction? The same family that owns La Cressonnière. They know all the coolest people! I swear.

At that point, we knew it would be ideal to have him as our architect, but he still needed to see our cottage. And what if he didn’t like it? It’s so modest, and in such ruin! But he went with us to the property, inspected every inch of it, and spent some time walking around the building. His conclusion: it’s a special place with a really unique outbuilding. And yes, he’s going to work with us!

french architect and ben blair

As an extra bonus, Bernard speaks about as much English as we speak French, and we understand each other quite well. During our conversation, Bernard would typically speak French, and we would answer in English. It worked out for everybody!

We couldn’t be happier. This adventure is really happening! We can hardly believe it.

Tell me, Friends. Have you ever worked with an architect before? Any tips? I haven’t and don’t quite know what to expect. But I’m excited!

P.S. — I’m thinking I should create a “Cottage” tab and an “Oakland” tab to make it easier to follow along. Watch for it.

23 thoughts on “The Architect”

  1. What a dreamy home and kitchen Bernard has!! I am going to love your blog even more for the updates on the French cottage as well as the “how we’re settling in Oakland” updates. Yea!

  2. We had such a great experience. We found a local architect that had the same love for the arts and crafts movement that we have. We worked with him to expand our 1915 American Foursquare from 2000-2002. We worked with the architect for a year on ideas and drawings before execution. My advice would be for those initial meetings to have all your dreams down on paper, your list of everything you see you need for your family including storage and work from there. Everything was complete before our first son was born. Perfect Timing!

  3. AHhhhh! This is so wonderful! How incredible–of, course, after the house and land, the architect is everything! So great that he feels the meaning of the place–it is bound to be a success. I am so happy you will continue to write about both lives, as I have become so attached to living France through your family blog! Love it, love it!

    Wish so much you were moving in next door to me, though! Best to you in your settling in!

  4. I am an Architect and I enjoyed reading your post. The best thing you can bring to your relationship with your Architect is an open mind. I commend you! You are one of the few people in our population who believe that working with an Architect will assist in realizing your dream. So many people think that they can do it themselves… and well they end up with a project that looks that way! Keep you mind open and give your Architect as many details as possible about your goals and needs for the project. Also make sure to keep a close watch on the cost implications of your design decisions. You are in for quite a ride. Working with as Architect to designing your home will be exciting and fun but also frustrating with communication being the most important and sometimes hardest asset to maintain! Keep these things in mind and you will end up with so much more than you ever hoped for. Best of luck!

    1. You mean because I found a CAD program online and drew my own plans, I am not an Architect? Yet another career to add to the list of internet “professionals”. I love (and would terribly miss) having the vast knowledge on the internet available at my fingertips .. but somehow we need to keep a perspective on the time, training, real experience and passion people invest in becoming a true professional (Architect and so many more) as well as in developing the creative and intellectual property so readily shared (and not always with permission) on the internet. Seeing and reading does not always translate to doing, well.

  5. I’ve worked with an architect on two projects – one a mid century center hall red brick home and one an 1870’s Victorian. The same one too. It was such a fab experience that we used him again.

    Like Tara, I think it’s critical to work with an architect. The contractor executes the design (you need a good one!) but an architect is the master of the design in the first place. Neither can do the other’s job.

    There will be times when what looked great on paper in 2 dimensions won’t be realizable in real life – that’s when the contractor, the architect and you will come up with solutions.
    Renovations are really all about problem solving. You have space x and needs y and then a plan to marry the two. And along the way things will come up requiring tweaking.

    You’ll spend more than you expect. And you should be ready to spend “well” on the “non-sexy” behind-the-scenes things. Don’t get seduced by the finishings alone. It’ll be earrings on a monkey if the structure and other aren’t well done.

    Communicate often. Make decisions promptly. Know that that you’ll never be able to find the PERFECT tile or paint color but that’s okay – good enough is good enough. You’ll drive yourself crazy looking for the perfect knob or drawer pull.

    Make a list of what you want and narrow it down to the “must haves”. Then be flexible on the rest.

    Have fun and I can’t WAIT to read all about it over the next year. I’ll happily renovate again.

  6. Congratulations on the lovely cottage and the move! I think the most important thing with any big life project is finding someone with expertise, whom you totally trust, who totally “gets” who you are, and whom you communicate well. So I think you are on the right track!! After striking out with many many professionals who did not see the charm or potential of our fixer upper, and who offered what felt like “canned” solutions, badly adapted to our individual space, we worked with the same master carpenter on several different renovations to our Cincinnati city house. He was able to translate our “big picture” hopes and dreams into tangible spaces and brilliant design decisions perfect for the kinds of gatherings we wanted to have, the way we wanted meals to feel, the kinds of shared spaces and private ones we hoped for. With his help and vision, we transformed a run down 19th c “railroad” layout city house broken into apartments, with a tiny yard — into a welcoming family home. Now we are in the process of moving to N California also (Davis, not Oakland), and we had the same experience with our realtor — she understood exactly who we were as a family and that turned out to be the most important thing. One house she suggested we look at was the exact opposite of everything on our lists, but it was love at first sight for all four of us and I know we will be happy and feel at home there. I suggest brain storming as a family the kinds of things you like to do together or apart so your architect can help you create spaces that will correspond well to how you work as a family. Sometimes the “features” you think you really want do not exactly fit the bill for the way you want your spaces to work. Good luck and enjoy. Can’t wait to read about both Normandie and Oakland. If you reconsider and look at houses anywhere in Yolo County, work with JAMIE MADISON, the very very best realtor in the world, and also one of the world’s loveliest people.

  7. Congratulations on finding an architect. From our many building projects, I would say the #1 piece of advice I could give, is to make sure the general contractor and architect meet, and know each others phone numbers. There will be a time when the two will have different ideas about construction related issues, and as the home owner you will be stuck in the middle. Having good communication between the parties helps. For example, our architect had drawn a beam in the ceiling where a wall was coming down, but the GC suggested a different approach to give us a fully flat ceiling, and with the help of a structural engineer, we were able to adjust the plans and easily change the permit. The general contractor who is actually doing the physical labor with his crew, can often times be over looked for their expertise. Also, don’t skimp on paint! It can save you years of grief and aggravation, if you put the money into quality paint.

  8. Hi Gabrielle,
    I’ve been following along on the search for an architect…looks like you have a winner… local. speaks French fluently, will know the best local craftspeople for the job.
    As an architect myself, I find my best client relationships and design outcomes are with clients who are really prepared, can show me pictures of rooms/exteriors/kitchens/baths they love (Houzz,com is a great resource for images), can make decisions, . also helps if you and Ben work out your major differences if any (regarding design choices) between yourselves.
    Be clear with your architect on what his services will be vs. your design input …ie are you choosing all the hardware, plumbing fixtures etc. yourselves or is he?

    In architecture school we learn that the three words to guide a project are..
    Program: exactly what it is you are trying to achieve with the design…your wish list
    Budget: What is the realistic amount of money you have available to spend, and remember there will be surprises, so have a reserve planned.
    Schedule: What is your time frame for completion, what are the milestones that need to be reached in order to stay on schedule…..of course I’m not sure if that is the French way?:)
    Its going to be really fun following along as you embark on this wonderful project.
    All the best,

  9. “Architect” was on my list of career choices, so I’m going to love following this process! My dad is a builder, and when I was a kid he would buy me a real estate magazine called Unique Homes that was full of mansions and gorgeous homes so I could draw what I imagined the floor plans to be! One of my best experiences was to design our house (with help from a draftsman) and then build it with my dad.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this is really advice, but I know I irritated our draftsman because I thought I knew what I wanted the exterior of the house to look like, but it wasn’t until after I saw the finished drawing that I realized that wasn’t it at all! Luckily, I found a photo in a magazine of what I was envisioning and was able to show him.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with Tara, the architect who commented above: if you know what you want, try to be as specific as possible. Or be prepared to cause irritation if you’re like me and need to see something before you know it’s wrong!

  10. His home is fantastic, and it will be so fun to see your cottage come together! I think everyone speaking their native language in the conversation will be SO helpful during the process. I have a French friend that I tend to do that with, and I feel so much more comfortable and like I really express the nuances and finer details of what I want to say when I can speak English in response to his French. Though, to be honest, he understands me better when I fake a British accent because his language teachers have all either been British or learned their English from British teachers. It was fascinating and hilarious the first time I figured that out and tried to help him understand me better by faking the British accent. :) His eyes lit up and I saw the increased understanding in his eyes. It’s so interesting to me.

  11. Another Architect here- and I agree that if you have ideas you are set on including, do your best to convey those (we want a space that looks like this picture, we want a living room with room enough for… – that kind of thing) images are great to ensure that you’re on the same page.
    Think about the places you have lived in before – what worked, what didn’t, what would you replicate/do differently.
    Then again you may that (almost unheard of) kind of client that gives their Architect free reign – which is a lot harder to do!

  12. I didn’t realize how many fellow architects read your wonderful blog until now! So impressed to see so many female architects!

    My advice: you know those building you walk into that could have been spectacular but have odd design features, finishes, etc. that make it sort of just weird/ugly instead? The client likely had too much say. And what about the beautiful buildings you visit that just don’t work at all functionally? The client likely had too little. I think striking a balance between providing the kind of input only you can give and giving the architect creative freedom is an important challenge and the main source of tension between architects and their clients. Based on your other design projects, I don’t think you’ll have a problem striking this balance, but you may still want to keep this in mind if things ever start feeling overwhelming or out of your control.

    I look forward to reading about your progress and hope the experience is a fantastic one for your entire family!

  13. I am so excited for you (and a little jealous)! I’m really looking forward to reading all about your cottage renovations! Good luck!

  14. Three cheers for finding a local design profession!!
    Congrats on making “the connection”… all seems meant to be!

  15. Lovely to find the perfect fit. I can’t wait for the updates to begin. We lived with a retired architect for a while, in his back cottage, and he too only took on passion work. It was really inspiring to see him tackle these projects that he was so dedicated to. There was something very freeing about not having to do the work for money, but rather for passion.
    Here’s hoping to a smooth process with a wonderful outcome!

  16. oakland! that is great news! we will be neighbors. i hope we run into each other, or i see you at Makeshift. first recommendation is boot and show service. one of my favorite restauarants in the bay area.

  17. Also excited about the Oakland move! We’ll be in the same stake…you’ll be close to some yummy ice cream (fenton’s) awesome pizza (zachary’s) and a super fun cement slide (in berkeley). I guess this comment should go under the “oakland” tab. Anyway….lots to look forward too!

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