celebrating our latest opening

This month AxD celebrates an opening of a very different sort – our front door, literally.
For those of you who’ve never been to AxD, it has been organized as an art gallery which flowed directly into my architectural studio. Since subletting the gallery space, I found it necessary to separate my architectural practice. In so doing I wanted to create a transition which reflected my handcrafted, personal sensibility.

New entrance doors to Always by Design

New entrance doors to Always by Design

No project is too small to be worthy of, and benefit from, thoughtful design.
Whether it’s the spoon that you stir your morning coffee with, or a skyscraper you see on your way to work, good design can add value to our lives every moment of every day. That pursuit is what gets me out of bed each morning.

Dealing with existing conditions
Every project begins with “existing conditions” – qualities perceived as good or bad, obvious or subtle, easily changed or not. In this case, the starting point was a brick opening (shown below) with rough, jagged edges. It was as though the wall had been smashed open with great force. Many visitors to AxD over the past five years have commented admiringly about the visceral presence the opening exudes. So, the bad news was, the project meant needing to mess with something that people liked. That’s never a good start. It’s a lot easier altering something that pretty much everyone agrees is awful and is begging to be changed!

Existing brick opening between studio and retail space

Existing brick opening between studio and retail space

Functionality, Aesthetics and Costs
The first design question was: How does one close off this beloved opening, without destroying its essence? My answer was to set the doors beside the partition (barn door style) rather than inserting them within the opening itself. This left the exuberant, rustic brickwork fully visible and untouched.

With the “functional” component of the design task resolved, I considered what the doors themselves “wanted to be” aesthetically. How could they complement the brickwork and suggest meaning about who was behind them?

As is often the case, I evaluated available resources. Rather than perusing catalogs and suppliers for stock doors, I inventoried my basement. It was choked with architectural samples, mock-ups, display pedestals, signs and damaged furniture. No doors, but a lot of material – of all shapes, sizes and colors. Utilizing this material, if possible, would certainly be cost effective!

Stitching together a whole
The idea of a quilt came to mind, a classic example of turning scraps into a coherent, artful whole. One aspect of vernacular or “folk” quilts in particular is how they can be intensely personal or tell a narrative. I was intrigued by the idea of literally taking the cut-offs and scraps of my life and stitching them together to regain purposefulness. Given the rough brickwork, the new doors needed to be something “robust” in order to hold their own. In this setting, the crazy diversity of wood at hand would itself be tamed. The resulting doors, colorful and idiosyncratic, fit the rough world of jagged brick while having their own unique signature.

Welcome to Always by Design

Welcome to Always by Design

Finding Meaning
A visitor may initially simply enjoy the jazzy freshness of the varied colors and profiles of the pieces that make up the doors. Further study might reveal the wide diversity of wood species: oak, walnut, mahogany, pine, Douglas fir, hemlock, spruce, poplar and cedar. There might be a spark of curiosity, wondering about the source of the pieces. Are the pieces “authentic” fragments or faux-finished simply for appearances sake? Why are the company initials AxD spelled out with children’s toy blocks? Some people ask.

The doors are rich with meaning – literally made of the fabric of my life. I can remember the source of nearly every piece. With each I associate a place and a time, experiences with colleagues, friends and relatives. There are scraps of cedar from my most recent house project, Douglas Fir from my gallery renovation, red painted oak slats of wooden porch furniture exposed to too many seasons of rain, green poplar slats from a table I built in Chicago, and stained pine from an old carpentry workbench. The letters AxD, inset into a former bookcase back, were from the alphabet block set of my childhood.

The single board I treasure most though is a 2 inch slice of pine of my grandmother’s bread board. She gave the board to me to serve as my first drafting board when I was barely a teenager. I enjoy entering the studio through these doors every day to practice my craft as an architect, feeling each time, a gentle reminder of the richness of time and my experiences.

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

1 Response to “celebrating our latest opening”

  1. 1 Sandra Milner
    December 8, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Good Morning Ed,
    I am glad to read about your door solution. Also, glad you are still maintaining your architectural firm.
    All best-
    Sandra Milner

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