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Design Tips for Residential Architecture: An Interview with Jeff Zimmerman of Zimmerman + Associates

By Jeff Zimmerman

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Z+A is a Bay Area architectural studio led by a seasoned vet and fueled by great young talent. We specialize in housing - custom homes, senior and workforce housing, all with a modern bent.

What are some of the first steps you take when you're starting a new project for a client's home?

We always begin by getting to know our clients so we can actively assist in defining their program and meeting and managing their expectations. Of course we like to make sure we are a good fit for each other because designing a home is a deep and long process, which means we'll be spending some time together. It's a team effort and a sense of humor goes a long way in this office.

How do you come up with a home design that matches what the client wants and what is possible for the site?

Client needs and site parameters are actually what drive the design. We like to avoid bringing preconceptions to the table. The process is finding this marriage between client program and site attributes. The rest - massing, form, colors and styles - is subjective.

Is there something that most people don't know about site-specific design that they should know?

It's not a secret science, but sometimes the obvious is overlooked. We really delve into the site. We spend a lot of time there (we virtually camp there), getting to know all it has to offer, as well as any constraints. Design starts once all the givens, such as neighborhood culture, sun, winds, views, zoning, soils and history, are understood and mapped. Site parameters and surroundings are our main influences at the start of the design process.

What are some of the biggest challenges that homeowners can run into during the design-build process?

In true design-build, it's a team effort. Communication is key. The challenges for the client can include defining what their expectations are and embracing and trusting that the designer and builder understand their vision. Budget restraints can help sharpen the creative process for us. There is always going to be give and take.

What advice do you have for people who have a strong vision for their home, but maybe some unrealistic expectations given what they're working with?

Reality can be tough. Start by developing a master plan. Do what you can today and lay the groundwork for future phases. Some of our current projects are designed with future development in mind.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

The web, the phone, a meeting . . . We have a great space on the bay in Sausalito. The view is beautiful, come see us!

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