Designer Crush: Susan and Ben Work of Homework

1. How did you two meet and what was the journey like to start Homework?

We met in New York at a house party during our days as first-year designers just starting out after grad school, through mutual friends in the field. After working for and gaining incredible experience from design firms in NY and moving to SF in 2010, it felt natural to finally run our own projects and open our doors to taking on clients. Thus Homework was born 

2. How did working in boutique hospitality and commercial firms in New York City influence and inform your current approach?

We learned such invaluable skill sets working for established firms and working under team leaders and with multiple colleagues, and about how to set up and format detailed drawings, organize project tasks, create successful presentations, and run projects from beginning to end by working through the proper phases- all of which have informed our design process now. These protocols were important to establish at these firms, especially on large scale projects like the ones we worked on, such as hotels, which require super-clenched organization and coordination between all the various parties. At our studio, we work extensively through an initial Schematic Design process with clients during which ideas are generated and solidified, and the dominoes fall from there and shape the rest of a project through to completion. We take a great deal of pride in the way our projects are organized based on what we’ve experienced works best from former employers who paved the way—and it’s gratifying to repeatedly produce successful projects and have happy clients as an outcome.

3. Susan, you have a background in holistic nutrition and yoga—in what ways, if any, do those areas of expertise influence your work as a designer?

I’ve learned and experienced that as obvious as it sounds, everything is connected. You are what you eat, and how you live affects how you feel—pretty much on a day to day. As in yoga, where the mind and body connect for a holistic experience in healing—leading to feeling more peace, love, and harmony, the home is a place where one should have an emotional and heart connection to. Our spaces should restore, edify, and nourish us—allowing us to perform, feel, and be better overall. Therefore the objects you fill a home with—as you would choose food for your body—should be thoughtful, health-inducing, colorful, clean, and good quality.

4. Ben, you have a background in fine art, UX design, and product management—same question: how do those skills play into your architecture work?

Fine arts has taught me everything I know about the joys of creating. It also has helped immensely in the fundamentals of design such as color theory, composition, figure ground relationships and how to work conceptually to drive your creativity. UX design has taught see what I create from other people’s eyes. Product management has taught me about the business side of design such as how to explain the value of your service, how to differentiate it in a marketplace, and how to reach new customers.

5. Tell us about an especially memorable project/client experience.

Our biggest break and longest project to date was a 30,000 square-foot ground up residential project on the peninsula for which we got to visit and source Covelano blocks from a quarry in the Dolomites, work with 19th century decorative woodworkers in Paris for all the custom millwork throughout the home, use tiger-eye as flooring(!) among other highlights—while creating a set of construction documents that encompassed nearly 500 pages.

6. San Francisco now has such a mix of classic homes and brand new buildings—what are some specific challenges/rewards of working on old-school and new-school projects?

Working on anything old-school in a new-school age brings about interesting tensions that pose fun challenges, which we love and always seek out. We’re seeing in a lot of our more “modern” projects that clients want to preserve any sense of old-school details in a home where appropriate, as these elements are attributed to characteristics that are charming, historic, special, cozy, and soft. Vice versa, for projects with more traditional and classical architecture, clients want to imbue a sense of modernity by way of sleeker furnishings and modern-day statement lighting fixtures, for example. Incidentally, we’ve taken on a stylistic approach of always looking for ways to meld the old and new as well as other contrasts—as doing so consistently yields a richer and more balanced result.

7. You also have a 9-month-old (congrats!)—what does an ideal day off look like for the Work family?

Since we work from home and we are part-time childcare, we’ve designed our current lifestyle such that we get coverage in between his naps in order to go a long stretch of focused work daily. Then we take over in the late afternoon and go on a family adventure like hikes, museums, parks, the beach, and often we explore a new place—so in that sense each day somewhat feels like a day off, and it feels like an efficient mix of work and play every single day.

8. Who’s your dream celebrity client and what would you create for them?

Our absolute dream would be to collaborate with our favorite site-specific installation artists like James Turrell, Michael Heizer, or Andy Goldsworthy to build a house from scratch together, as architecture is an inherent element in the work of these artists. For someone like Heizer who creates monumentally oversized earth sculptures most notably in the desert, that completely rely on the beauty of natural materials like dirt, land, and rocks, we can only imagine the incredibly sculptural site-responsive mass that would take shape as that of a functioning house.

9. How do you define “California style”?

Historically, it’s defined and embodied by indoor/outdoor living due to the pleasant climate, although here in SF that is less of a feature in a home since it’s cold most of the time. We visited the Eames House in LA recently and was blown away by how progressive and forward-thinking they were in their easy-to-build methodology and smart use of materials and technology, and thus it will forever guide us as a great and important model for modern California architecture and style.

Lightning round!

10. Surf or ski?

Surf.

11. Beauty and the Beast or Little Mermaid?

Little Mermaid.

12. Dogs or cats?

DOGS!

13. Tattoos: yay or nay?

Yay.

14. Beyonce or T-Swift?

Bey.

15. Skittles or M&Ms?

Peanut M&Ms.