Client Empathy Blog #1 - When Empathy Hits Home

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Time to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...

While Marvin and I have been creating drawings for renovations to private homes and visiting the sites under construction for ... lets just go with years....assuring clients throughout the process that "it's going to be great!"...

We are finally embarking on major renovations to our own 1923 home.

When we purchased the house in 1997, my father's face went pale as he mustered up "its a great starter home." My mother, who is better at conceptualizing, said "you are going to love that porch!"  Having just given birth to our second child, my mother stayed with us and helped us move in with a four-year-old and a new baby as Marvin started a new position as an Associate at a firm in NYC...and good friends pitched in to help us make it safe and livable.  The next time my father visited...he was like wow....and yet all we had really done was clean, re-roof, refinish the floors, and paint inside and out.

We have lived in this house and dreamed of the possibilities for 20 years now.

Over the years we fixed what needed fixing and mused about the possibilities. We considered moving when our third child was born and made the choice to stay put. The kids were growing and their interests had us on the go.  We had started Clawson Architects and, as they say, "the shoemaker's kids...." Other than the typical home maintenance, we did not do much.

So it is time.  Time to renovate, and the lessons in empathy are hitting us they are:

The answer is three.  It has taken us quite a few years to get the plans together and we drew three different schemes before making the decision to go with the plans we filed with the building department. Like our clients "we just put it on the drawings" we were giving to the contractor for pricing to see if somehow, even though we knew it was going to cost more, that it would magically be within the budget we had set.  We too had to "pull back."

Stake holders....Marvin and Rene....we had to take responsibility for our dream and our budget.  As you can imagine...both being architects and interior designers we came to an agreement and set some ground rules:  we needed to keep our goals and needs in front of us and not stray. We heard each other out; I yielded to Marvin and gave him the last say on the outside decisions and he yielded to me giving me the final say on the inside decisions. I don't recall having to claim "my decision"...after 20 years of talking about it, we are on the same page.

We will be living in the house while all this goes on, like many of our clients choose to do during their construction. So of course, like our clients, we want to stay ahead of schedule and under budget. It worries us.  We know the truth.  It is disruptive.  It is noisy.  It is dusty.  People are going to be in our space. There will be challenges. We are anxious...about the choices we have made and of course the budget ...reminding ourselves, "If you want to stay on budget what is on the plans. DON'T MAKE CHANGES!"

So to my dad, who has passed away, was a great starter house and I regret that I will not get to walk you around to show you the new and improved forever house. And to my mom...your were right ...the porch has been awesome! We have made so many memories....we have shared many drinks and laughter with friends, family and neighbors.  It is a porch where we have snuggled as a family to watch the thunderstorms and sipped coffee as we watched the hummingbirds in "Marvin's Garden."  School projects, crafting 4th of July bike decorations, and creating watercolor paintings of the garden. First steps, first Popsicle, college applications and graduate school papers have happened here. It has been the favorite family meal spot April through October and where all the world problems are solved. Tomorrow it is going to be dismantled to make way for something new.

The new plans do not include a screened porch. While we are all excited about the changes ....and all we will gain, we have all had our doubting moment. We are left to assure each other that it will all be fine. That the new space we are creating will be the place where we create new memories.

This journey of our own has been a real life lesson in client empathy as we have watched many clients over the years stress as they pack and clear their belongings to make way for new's our turn.  We have spent the last few weekends clearing the attic and basement...playing trash or treasure...the memories are overwhelming and yet WE CANNOT WAIT to host a holiday party in our newly renovated home with kitchen and family room addition!

Stay tuned as the lessons in client empathy continue.