Joanna Saltz: How much of your job, as a designer, is actually problem solving?

Jay Jeffers: That’s a really good question. If I had to pick a percentage I would say maybe 30%? But my team and the people that work with me, it probably goes up for them because they’re the ones that are in the trenches, on the job site, saying, “We need to fix this!” or “We need to do something about this” or “This isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.”

I think in the beginning of a project, it’s kind of all about problem solving. How do you make a big house feel small and intimate, or a small house feel big, or, you know, somebody that wants to have parties for 200 and dinners for 10 people and a birthday party for 14 or 36 year olds—how does that all happen in one entity? So there’s a lot of problem solving when it comes to that, too.

Jo: That’s a great answer. What about when you are working with a client—when you’re sitting down to work with a client—how much of it really is the dream of designing a great space, and how much of it is answering those questions people have living in their space?

I’m going to take more cheese as we’re talking. Pass this around.

Catherine Kwong: I think it has to do with what phase you’re in. For us, if we’re talking about renovation or a round of construction, there’s that programming phase that’s almost like talking to the clients: What is working in their current home, what is not working, what is their kind of like dream for their lifestyle in this new home, are there any sort of specific needs that pertain to their family specifically?

We kind of try to nail all that out in the programming. That helps us figure out the floor plan. Then the next phase we move onto is more concept development and I almost take the problem solving out of it. It’s like, let’s just say we can do anything. What do we want the space to look like? What do we want it to feel like? All that stuff.

Then it’s the actual hard work of how do we make that happen. We can kind of say, I want this to be a serene space, but then, in reality for that client, what does that actually look like? Does that mean all the toys are going in this cabinet every night? Does it mean the kid’s rooms are totally unseen? What are those things that you’re doing to try to achieve that.

Noz Nozawa: Very much kind of echoing what Catherine just shared, a lot of the process for us is sort of Phase l, in sort of taking in all of the inputs from a client about what’s working for your home, what’s not, why is it not working. Understanding all the functional and practical flow needs and hopes and wishes of the client is a big part of the initial phase, of just, you know, space planning and figuring out storage. What are the aspects of someone’s home that can be modified in order to actually solve for the problem?

And then that initial phase is 100% problem solving, to answer the question directly about what percentage. Once we sort of have the main architecture of the space and we know, okay, we now have a system that can work, then we move into making it beautiful and fabulous and actually representative of the spirit and the style of this client and the way that they want to live their lives.

As much as it is dreaming, I’m think I’m definitely still always trying to think about the problem solving aspect of design. Even if we are dreaming up fabulous couches, there’s always a part of me that’s like, alright, we still have to make this extremely practical: There’s kids and there’s two dogs and three cats. Everything needs to perform. So much of what we do is beauty and aesthetic, but always grounded in the practical problem-solving part of making someone’s home actually work for them.

Jo: It’s interesting that we forget, I think, because we do look at so many aesthetically pleasing things everyday. But ultimately this is a place that someone has to live! I’m trying, when we feature homes in the magazine, to also really showcase he actionable function that you guys are bringing to the spaces. Sure you’re covering it with beautiful things, but you are making their lives easier and better in a lot of ways.

Emilie Munroe: So everything everyone else said, yes. For our studio—for me personally—I have found I’m most comfortable operating in the intellectual sphere throughout all phases of design. I approach every project as it is 100% problem-solving, from the first second to the last day. Problems as in challenges, like, Okay, how are we going to handle the actual physical space and architecturally what are those details? How does the Tetris of the floor plan fit into the constraints? One of my favorites is, okay he’s modern and she’s like a little Parisian, bohemian—how are we going to solve this problem, bring these two things together?

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