Rome Complete

Way back in June, I shared with you about “Creating Rome in a Day” for my church’s vacation Bible school (VBS). Well, it’s August now, and our VBS has come and gone. We didn’t build Rome in a day, but we did build it in two days. Recall that I had five basic areas that needed a bit of decoration: marketplace, sanctuary, jail/house arrest, and a cave.


This is the easiest space for me. In fact, I don’t really do anything because the “vendors” come in and set everything up themselves. Yes, I like this space.


Sanctuary Decor

This was the most time consuming space, but we spend the most time in here and it’s the first area everyone sees. Additionally, we finished this space first to help get everyone excited.

Jail/House Arrest

Besides the marketplace, this was one of the easiest areas to complete. We cleared the room out and brought in a bookshelf, a few “homey” chairs, and some tchotchkes. Voila! Insta-home! It was a simple set, but it got the point across.

Paul’s house while he was under house arrest.


Ahh, the cave. I changed the methodology for this so many times. In the end, we created a cave-like walk through in the hallway that lead to a classroom. We used cardboard boxes to create the general shape of the cave and draped whatever fabric type substance we had available – sheets, bolts of fabric, tarps, etc. I think the tarps worked best though – the brown color worked well for the cave, but the shininess made it seem like it could be wet.

Outside the cave entrance.

Walking through the cave! Watch out for stalactites!

The cave’s main room.

In the classroom portion of the cave, I used plastic backdrops that I ordered online – lifesaver. The backdrops only covered three quarters of the room so I grabbed my handy dandy brown packaging paper and set the youth group to creating a rock wall. It’s not perfect, but the kids loved it – every night they asked if they would be going into the cave.

Bonus Space: Parent Cafe

We typically have a space for parents to stay and hang out. I typically ignore this space when decorating, but this year I put a bit more effort in.

A real working fountain! (left) Obelisk from last year’s Egypt theme. (right)

Prep Work

Big shout out to the youth for painting, taping, cutting, and creating all the set pieces!

Creating sets for VBS may seem unnecessary, but many of the parents noted how much more of an impact the lessons, skits, etc., made on their child. Plus, decorating the spaces really sets up the mood for the congregation as a whole. Next year, we’ll be recreating Babylon! My head is already filled with Babylon’s famous Hanging Gardens – who wants to help?

50 Shades of White

You might think 50 sounds like a lot of shades of white, but actually, it’s more like 500. One of the craziest and most unexpected discoveries I made when I began selecting paint for clients is just how many versions of white exist. I had no idea that when asked to “pick a white,” the task was more than a simple exercise. Instead, I found myself in the scene from “Forest Gump” where Bubba lists every shrimp dish he knows.

By “white,” do you mean…

From the Sherwin-Williams color deck alone, “white” includes: Pearly White, Dover White, Pure White, Spare White, Extra White, Reserved White, Ilbis White, Zurich White, Origami White, Westhighland White, Arcade White, Toque White, Shoji White, Egret White, Frosty White, Incredible White, Everyday White, Eider White, Extra White, Moderne White, Ethereal White, Site White, Windfresh White, Honeyed White, Summer White, Navajo White, Décor White, Dreamy White, Polite White, Intimate White, Smart White, Original White, Aged White, High Reflective White, Welcome White, Gauzy White, Panda White, Divine White, Nice White  and Welcome White.

The tip of the iceberg

And then, there’s…Snowbound, Alabaster, Casa Blanca, Muslin, Neutral Ground, Greek Villa, Ice Cube, Fleur de Sol, Crushed Ice, First Star, Rock Candy, Cultured Pearl, Rhinestone, Pediment, White Heron, Natural Choice, City Loft, Nuance, Whitetail, Roman Column, Marshmallow, Steamed Milk, Nacre, Paperwhite, Eggwhite, Medici Ivory, Crisp Linen, Biscuit, Downy, Patience (No, really!)  Crème, Polar Bear, Rarefied Air Casa Blanca, Intricate Ivory, Futon, Muslin, Choice Cream, Vanillin, Lotus Pod, First      Star,  Only Natural, Gardenia,  Ionic Ivory, Topsail, Nonchalant White, Opaline and Snowdrop.

Now for the takeaway

The reason for all these whites is not because paint manufacturers want to make design folks run screaming from their studios. Rather, the variety relates to color theory and choosing a color that works best within your palette. Shades of white may be subtle, but they make a difference.

Let’s say your color scheme is based on a peacock blue as the primary color. You choose accent colors in your scheme that are analogous (colors next to each other on the color wheel.) A white with an undertone of blue would harmonize perfectly with the similar hues of purple and lavender-gray. (See Scheme A.)

On the other hand, if you choose to pair your peacock blue with colors that are complementary (colors opposite each other on the color wheel), a white with an undertone of yellow-orange would work brilliantly with the energy of your orange and yellow accents. (See Scheme B)

Scheme A





From left to rtght: Ceiling Bright White SW7007 paired with your schemes’ primary color, Silken Peacock SW9009 and analogous accent colors of Plummy SW6558 and Quest Gray SW7080

Scheme B





From left to right: Paperwhite SW7105 paired with Silken Peacock SW9009 and complementary accent colors Emotional SW6621 [orange] and Daffodil SW9091

Add, not detract

A successful white should add, not detract from the color story you want to tell. In the above color scenarios, using the grey-ish Ceiling Bright White of Scheme A as the “white” for Scheme B could cause a detour from your desired effect.

So the next time you need to pick a white for your room’s window trim, ceiling or blinds, you may want to take a little extra time. And have a little of my favorite Sherwin-Williams white:

Patience SW7555



* All colors and photos courtesy of Sherwin-Williams,


My Gehry Experience and Internal Debate about Architecture

Last week my family took a brief trip to Minneapolis to visit my son, who is there interning at Target’s corporate offices. The city has many interesting architectural highlights, but today’s focus is the Weisman Art Museum. It was designed by Frank Gehry, a “starchitect” known for his metal skinned buildings and curved exteriors. He also famously said, “98% of what gets built today is shit.” Perhaps to the dismay of my fellow architectural colleagues, I am not a huge fan of Gehry’s designs. His first, free flowing, curved metal exterior building was exciting, but after multiple curved exteriors it feels like he is in a design rut.

This is the second Frank Gehry designed building I have toured and the exterior was classic Gehry, with curved metal panels arranged in an artistic fashion. Honesty, the exterior design seems a little clunky and not as elegant as his other structures. Gehry is fascinated with the idea of the fold, but this looks more like he clad a Picasso in metal.

Exterior of the Weisman Art Museum.

Once I entered the museum, I was immediately conflicted. As I expected with any Gehry design, the interior spaces are just as artistic as the art displayed on the wall. But what role should architecture play, especially a museum?  Should the building be art in and of itself, or should it merely be a backdrop for the pieces it houses? My architecture artistic side wants the interior spaces designed as unique artistic expressions, but I also don’t want the design of the spaces to distract from the precious art on display. I liked the solution I saw at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The spaces there had many beautiful architecture moments, but generally not in the main display galleries.

Gallery at the Weisman. Do you look at the art or the ceiling?

Display at  SFMoMA.

The dichotomy between art and architecture in this building, has given me great pause. What is the role of architecture and how does it relate other artistic mediums? I absolutely support a vivacious architectural experience, but I am not sure I support the gallery spaces competing with the artwork. What do you think?

The Performance Trifecta

If you haven’t caught on already, we’re a pretty musical bunch in the office. From stage productions, marching band, solo instrumentation, singer/song writing, to playing one heck of a radio, we love music. Personally, I’ve been directly involved in music for fifteen years between concert bands, marching bands, pit productions, chamber groups, and even the rare orchestra performance. This is unsurprising seeing as my father is musically inclined as well. He plays violin, sings (he even professionally produced his own record), and is constantly listening to and watching classical music and stage productions. So, on a recent trip to New York City we went to the one place you can get it all, the performance trifecta.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

Left – The three big-name buildings and the grand stair, with LED displays. Right – Revson Fountain and pavement design.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a complex of buildings in NYC, is home to nationally and internationally renowned performers. To many, the Josie Robertson Plaza and Revson Fountain are main attractions (other than the performances) and a visit wouldn’t be complete without the iconic panorama.

Serving as the gateway to the three iconic performance houses, the Josie Robertson Plaza was originally designed in 1964 by Philip Johnson (in collaboration with Wallace K Harrison and Max Abramovitz). The plaza was redesigned in 2009 by Diller Sofidio + Renfro (in association with Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners). The new design reconfigured the pedestrian approach to the site by expanding the grand stair, renovating the masonry of Johnson’s original iconic pavement pattern, and redesigning the Revson Fountain. Technical interest was added to bring the site to 21st century life with ticker-tape displays on the stair risers, special effect lighting, and water shows in the fountain capable of sending water forty feet in the air.

David Geffen Hall (Avery Fisher Hall)

Left – Auditorium interior. Right – Exterior.

Home to the New York Philharmonic, the Philharmonic Hall was finished in 1962 by architect Max Abramovitz. The hall was renamed to Avery Fisher Hall in 1973 in honor of Avery Fisher, and again in 2015 to David Geffen Hall, in honor these major donors to Lincoln Center. The theater features seating for 2,738, with a linear arrangement of the space. Three balcony levels emphasize the auditorium, which continually break and shift down toward the stage. The break-and-shift theme is continued through the acoustic paneling on the ceiling.

David H Koch Theater

Far left – Building exterior with Revson Fountain in foreground. Center left – Auditorium chandelier. Center right – Main stage and balconies. Far right – Main lobby.

Home to the New York City Ballet, the New York State Theater was designed by Philip Johnson and was the second theater to open at Lincoln Center in 1964. Renamed in 2008 to David H Koch Theater, the theater has seating for 2,544 and a full pit orchestra under the proscenium. The space is highlighted with five curving balconies, gilded and studded with jewel-like lights, surrounding the central geodesic domed chandelier. The main lobby features extensive use of travertine stone and an 18K gold leaf ceiling, which has been replaced three times since the opening.

Metropolitan Opera House

Far left -Exterior travertine arches. Center left – Grand lobby stair. Center right – Center chandeliers. Far right – Auditorium interior, view from stage.

The Metropolitan Opera House, completed in 1966, was designed by Wallace Harrison as a center piece to the performing arts complex. The theater is fourteen floors, five of which are underground and is completely clad in travertine stone, including the main façade’s iconic arches. The fan-shaped auditorium seats 3,794, has an open pit able to accommodate 110 musicians, and six balconies scallop their edges playing off of the ceiling’s gilded petal design. A multi-story lobby is featured with curving terrazzo stairs and balconies interspersed with eleven crystal chandeliers. They match the twenty-one auditorium chandeliers, which were donated by the Vienna State Opera.

An Architect’s Pen

Ask an architect about a building in your area and you’ll get their thoughts without hesitation. This isn’t a surprise, but did you know architects are equally opinionated about their choice of pen? That’s right, pens. Most architects have a favorite pen and will shudder at the thought of using a different type, even in this digital age.

For me, the pen obsession began in college. I had an art teacher that insisted we sketch in pen because it required commitment to an idea. Beyond that, architecture school fostered an almost cult-like following of pens. Everyone used Koh-I-Noor pens, which were highly technical and came in a variety of thicknesses for easier control of line weights while drawing. These pens were very expensive and temperamental, needing a special case with a sponge to keep the right humidity so the ink didn’t dry out too quickly.

However, in the real world of architecture, those technical pens were too fussy, so I learned to adapt. I tried many pens before I fell in love with flair tips. Not to be picky, but there are two types of flair tips. One with a small felt tip and one with a large felt tip. The large felt tip was my pen of choice. I chose this pen because I could create a variety of line weights with one pen just by changing how I held it. If I held the pen upright I could make a fine line, but if I held it on its side it made a wide line.

The top pen gives more flexibility with line weights.

I used this pen religiously for years, but about 15 years ago they stopped making them. I wasn’t sure what to do and begrudgingly started using roller balls. About two years later, the large felt tip flair resurfaced. I bought several boxes to ensure I wouldn’t run out. Unfortunately, they stopped making them again a few years later and my supply is dwindling. I was prepared to make the return to roller balls, but a new office supply rep stopped by last week, so I took this opportunity to challenge her to find me a replacement. I hear there is a comparable pen available and I can’t wait.

Some might say it’s just a pen, but having the right tool makes a difference.

Taking Chances

When you think about architecture or design, taking chances probably doesn’t come to mind, but great architecture is all about taking chances. Now don’t worry, no one is going to get hurt by the chances we take, or at least they shouldn’t. The chances I’m taking about are design aesthetics.

Over the years, we designed several buildings for the American Public University (APUS), with the Academic Center being their first. It was a comfortable, traditional building, with the typical wood mouldings and chair rails. At the end of the project, APUS loved the design and details of the building.

Fortunately, APUS commissioned us for their Finance Center, which was twice the size of the Academic Center. The safe and easy path would have been to match the Academic Center’s aesthetics. We decided to take the road less traveled, and designed a more contemporary building. This made sense given the scale of the building. However, we took a huge chance that the new design might upset our happy clients. In fact, the CFO asked me if I was on drugs after reviewing one of our entrance concepts. In the end, they did select a contemporary building.

To be fair, this was probably too much!

Our next large project at APUS was their IT Center. Being a building to house technology, we decided to push the envelope. We packed the design full of odd ball things like a Morse code window pattern, laying out lighting to resemble Orion’s belt in the lobby ceiling, and binary code etched in the glass. The most memorable item for me is the ceiling in the open office area. Michael Summers and I were working late on the project and we thought it would look cool to slope the ceiling. Now this isn’t a new concept, but the ceiling was 2×2 acoustical ceiling tile, which is typically flat. It looked good on paper, but there is no way to know if it’s going to feel right in the space. We decided to take a chance on the idea. We liked it so much, we have used it on other projects.

The slope is subtle, but spatially nice.


Taking chances comes with risk. Will it upset the client or will it be their new favorite item? Sometimes it looks good and sometimes… it doesn’t. My philosophy is generally “let’s try it and if we don’t like it, we won’t do it again.” Great architecture is all about taking chances and trying new things.

Why Physical Models?

Why do architects build physical models?

An idea is most plainly expressed by a physical model. Unlike abstract architectural drawings which take some skill to decipher, a physical model is direct. It is, therefore, the most clear and concise way to understand a project. By building a physical model, an architect can test the strengths and limitations of a space. Because physical models interact with the user directly, they are a dynamic means of communication by which both the architect and the user can realize the scope of a project.

What are the stages of building a physical model?

Building a physical model is an indispensable learning tool. Before a model becomes a scaled example of the final product, it is a progression of many iterations. It is intuitive and free forming play that takes different materials and establishes an understanding of their capacity. It tests the elasticity of a space. Through the prototyping nature of model building, the architect can work through an idea and establish the order by which that idea can be realized. All phases of the design process benefit from the feedback of a physical model. From the basic layout of a space to the specification of more complex details, physical models show the user how a space works.

What can a physical model do for you?

In the design process, physical models elicit reaction. They allow the architect and the user to establish a straightforward and instinctual line of communication. By sharing an experience of architectural space through a palpable object, each person can describe what feels right. Consequently, the architect and the user can more easily point to and express likes and dislikes that lead to a common ground of understanding of what is necessary in a project. A model is a comprehensive way of realizing a project because it is the most direct way that an architect can bring the process of creating place out of material and space directly into the hands of the user.

Lights, Camera, Action!

As an architect, photographing your work is the best way to represent yourself to future clients. This needs to be done by a professional, not yourself, if you want your work to really shine. We just finished a photo session of one of our projects this week, so let’s take a behind the scenes look at the shoot. Afterwards you should be convinced that hiring a professional makes a difference.

The Equipment

Most architects have a decent SLR camera, so we look like a pro. Unfortunately, there is a lot more equipment needed for a proper shot. Chris, our photographer, shows up with his SUV loaded from top to bottom, with no extra room for anything. He usually uses between 2-3 flashes for interior shots. Now these aren’t flashes like you clip to the top of your camera. The flash is about 18” long, 8” diameter, and needs a briefcase-size power module to power them. Lighting is critical to good photographs, making the sun your best friend or worst enemy. No need to worry, Chris has that covered too. Included in his tools are large sheets of black fabric to block windows and tungsten lights to ensure the lighting is just right. Once he has the scene setup, Chris takes a sample shot, which we review on his laptop, instead of the small camera screen. This 15” view makes it easier to analyze the shot and make adjustments to the camera settings. Sometimes the scene needs additional props, which Chris brings along too.

It’s what you do with it

Now all of this equipment is great, but you have to know how to use it. Most people understand camera settings and flashes, but may not know how to work them well. A pro knows how to get the best out of the settings. Not only that, they also have the skills to put it all together. A professional photographer understands how the camera often washing out everything around a window, like a blinding light in your face. This is where the black fabric comes into play. Chris takes shots with and without the fabric covering the window. Later, he combines multiple images together to achieve the perfect look.

The moral of this story is hire a professional. Photography is expensive, but the best investment in your company you can make. Check out my previous blog about the importance of professional photos. Many thanks to Chris Spielmann for helping us over the last several years make our projects shine.