Designer Crush: Tichenor & Thorp Architects, Inc.


1. How did you both get started in the industry?

BRIAN: As a teenager, I was trained as a cabinetmaker- and I studied Art and Architectural History as an undergraduate, so by the time I went to graduate school, I had ten years of building experience. History, Art, and knowing how things get built: a pretty good way to start.

RAUN: Like Brian, I was also obsessed with making things when I was young, from paper dolls to building “forts” and decorating doll houses. My college major, “The Growth and Structure of Cities”, led me to take a Saturday not-for-credit class in the rudiments of architecture, which emulated an architecture school studio class. After another summer studio course at Harvard GSD, and a two-year stint working in NYC for a small architectural firm, it was clear that this was going to be my career path. Then it was on to graduate school in architecture.

2. How did you two meet and how did you decide to join forces professionally?

BRIAN: In graduate school – the more I got to know Raun, the more I admired her (and ultimately fell head-over-heels in love with her). There is nobody I’ve ever known that I’m more in tune with. It was very natural to work together as a team – we have complementary strengths.

RAUN: We met at UCLA in the Master of Architecture program. It was a very small graduate program, and we all got to know each other really well……the rest is…. history. 

3. Most challenging part about working with your spouse? Most awesome?

BRIAN: Pro: we always have something to talk about. Con: we always have something we need to talk about.

RAUN: It’s great, but, when we want to take a vacation and both principals are out of the office at the same time, that’s a little tough. We also carry the same stresses at the same time, which can be both a plus, and a minus, with one of those pluses being that we can go out together for cocktails and dinner, and discuss (though, that’s a pretty big minus for our daughter).  Another plus: there is no need for an explanation when one of us working late. 

4. You’ve completed some incredibly sensitive, successful renovations of historically significant houses and landmarks — how do you approach these projects and retain the history while incorporating modern touches?

It’s a combination of inclusivity and hard editing. There’s a saying attributed to Lao-tse: “If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.” That sentiment, in our opinion, is somewhat missing from Architecture right now — that’s why our work is so layered: we afford our projects the chance to absorb a wide variety of influences before we hone them down. The editing is the vision and the ‘modernity’.

5. Tell us about your book, “Outside In: The Gardens and Houses of Tichenor & Thorp.”

BRIAN: The nice people at Vendome press approached us with the idea of doing a book that would explore both houses and gardens. That made us consider our work, and just how different our way of approaching the design of the house and the garden is from the norm.

RAUN: We wanted to make sure that there was a variety of projects that ranged from smaller, urban scale projects to expansive properties that incorporated large landscapes. It was important for us to show, in every project, how the outside and inside work together, but to also show how the design process worked for each project, which meant that the projects we included in the book were good examples of this integration and explored the range of the work we’ve created. We also wanted to explore specific aspects of the way we approach design, so each of the projects is accompanied by a topical essay that discusses and illustrates (literally) these tenets of design.

From the beginning of our practice—well, even before that– both of us have always been involved in designing both indoor and outdoor spaces and the way that the work together in a complete design project, beginning from the outside. We realized when we were conceptualizing the book that although stylistically, our projects are very diverse, the concept of working “outside in” was the overarching idea in our work. It was also important to us to explore the design process itself along with key ideas that we incorporate into our projects. As our work really does capture outside and inside, this book gave us a chance to explore gardens, buildings and interiors all in one volume. 

We have always had a comprehensive, unified approach to design: we take the entire “picture” into account before we begin the design process, which means that we approach projects by taking the context and the site in to consideration in a very developed way. Even if you’re living in an apartment, it’s still possible to bring the outside in. For example, the view through a window or a door is choreographed and to focus on an exterior garden space, or an “outdoor room” as we sometimes say. Outdoor and indoor spaces work together to create a sense of place in our projects that works in both directions. We also wanted to invite the reader into the design process. We do that with the renderings and illustrations in each chapter, and with illustrated topical essays between chapters that explore some of our ideas about design: Views, Narrative, Pattern, History, Puzzles, to name a few.

We both see drawing as integral part of our design process: we think by sketching. The illustrations in this book reflect how we conceptualize a project while we are fleshing it out: look closely and you’ll see that the drawings give the feeling of where the design is heading, as opposed rendering exactly what it will be. They are the means by which we find our way into the design and begin to refine its character. 

The Vendome Press website has links that make it easy to find the book online, and of course, on, or at a good bookstore in your neighborhood:

6. Describe one particularly memorable project and what made it rewarding/challenging.

BRIAN: A house we did in Rancho Santa Fe, which is the last project in the book, has been a deeply influential project for me- it is based on Provencal Bastide, and was built around a collection of French antiquities and building materials that our clients, a couple, had spent thirty years assembling. The dimensions and logic of the boiserie rooms which we integrated into the fabric of the house taught us volumes about the way these elements can organize space- and the windows and doors, which were commissioned from a traditional mill in France, just in the way they worked, brought the outside in. We also were fortunate enough to be invited back to re-work the house some fifteen years after it was originally finished: we refreshed and re-envisioned many rooms and re-designed areas of the garden to address the challenges of the California drought. The opportunity to revisit and re-calibrate a house, and garden, at a different stage of life for our clients and for us, as its architects, was a fascinating exercise; and to have mature, happy trees in just the spots we wanted them was a gardener’s dream. 

RAUN: Hard to choose the “favorite child” amongst many rewarding and memorable projects……One of our favorites is the house we did for my parents, overlooking the ocean in Orange county—stylistically, it’s an abstracted take on a Portuguese Quinta, but it is very light and airy, and each room is completely linked to, and looks into, an adjacent garden.  Because of the size limitations of the property, as well as onerous design review limitations it presented some real challenges. That said, the best design solutions inevitably come from the most difficult parameters. Addressing all of the design parameters in a way that also celebrated the extraordinary view, this house very much benefitted from our practice of establishing garden priorities before the plans for the house were set. It makes great use of the land it has: a perfect expression of “Outside In”, and the carefully choreographed ocean view garden is very habitable, to boot. We’re currently working on the new headquarters for the Los Angeles Times—which is already proving to be all of the above: rewarding, challenging, and memorable….. 

7. If you could have any other job besides your own, what would it be and why?

BRIAN: Horticulturalist: I’d be scrambling around some hill in Mexico looking for a rare agave or something- endlessly fascinating.

RAUN: One of the pluses (and sometimes minuses) of being an architect is that one already has multiple “jobs” in addition to actually designing—it’s a jack-of-all-trades profession, so it’s pretty hard to come up with a job I’d rather have…. But, jazz pianist and some-time cabaret singer would definitely fill the fantasy job niche—either that, or linguist with frequent commissions as a simultaneous translator. Jewelry designer is another one I’d love to pursue, someday.

8. Describe your ideal Sunday.

BRIAN: Not having to drive anywhere is good start.

RAUN: Is that a weekend day? (What’s a weekend?)

Lightning Round!

9. Ski or surf? 

BRIAN: Surf    

RAUN: Well, I don’t really do either, but love the idea of doing both—after all, isn’t that part of what the California lifestyle is all about?

10. Cutting-edge fashion or vintage style?

BRIAN: Vintage

RAUN: Vintage – but with an edge– everything old is new again anyway. 

11. Krispy Kreme or Ben and Jerry’s?

BRIAN: Ben and Jerry’s –  I think.

RAUN: Ben and Jerry’s

12. Tattoos: Yay or nay?

Double NAY (Imagine anyone you know with a tattoo, and think about how that’s going to look in 25 years…).

13. Madonna or Gaga?

Billie Holiday.

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