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Choosing the Right Architect: An Interview with John DeForest of DeForest Architects

By John DeForest

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Many firms focus on the 'what' of design; we are equally interested in the who, how, and why. We've built our practice around inventing new ways to engage clients in the fun and creativity of the design process. We think of it as "client-inspired design". In addition to designing great places to live and work, we see ourselves as personal guides to great adventures in design.

In your opinion, what are three qualities that every architect should possess?

Listening, leadership, and creativity.

As an architect, how do you make sure you're understanding of what your client wants?

We have a series of "homework assignments" that help us get to know what matters to clients before we put pencil to paper (or mouse to mouse pad). These range from a very practical questions about how they live to deeper ones about what inspires them. For example, we take a "spatial history" in which we ask clients to list every place they've lived then describe three that really resonate for them. In another, we ask them to envision how they and their family's needs will change over time. In some sense, our goal is to help them design their future.

For more about our design process, see

What are at least three questions every homeowner should ask their architect before hiring them?

Selecting an architect should be based on more than glossy photos of finished projects. You are also hiring a guide to the process so be sure to ask

  1. How will you get to know what's important to us (see above)?
  2. How will you help us set realistic goals, and how will you help us meet them over the course of the project?
  3. What does your design and construction process look like? Ask for example(s) showing all the stages of development from wish list to early sketches to finished project.

What is your philosophy behind creating dynamic, yet practical homes for your clients?

Rather than limiting ourselves to a particular style, we see ourselves as `expert beginners' who approach each project with a fresh eye and avid curiosity. Our projects look different because our clients are different: A church reinventing how it engages the community. A growing family re-examining how they want to live and play. A group of friends developing cohousing in Hawaii. A new business defining its identity. Connecting with clients' core values, experiences, and imagination helps us come up with new solutions to the challenges that really matter.

What are some practical ways that good design can make a difference?

Good design can:

  • Create harmony by creating distinct spaces to come together, and to get away
  • Help you spend more time doing what you enjoy
  • Reduce maintenance through sound detailing and careful selection of materials
  • Create more free time by streamlining everyday tasks like emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry and putting away work and kids' backpacks
  • Help you live in better tune with the environment
  • Support your values about the environment and community

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you or your company?

Just give us a call at 530.802.0820 or email . We'd be happy to send you tip sheets on 'How to Get Started' and 'What to Look for in a House to Remodel'.

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