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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Artist Series ~ Andrew Skurman ~ Part IV

I begin Part IV of my interview with Andy Skurman, architect extraordinaire, with a photo from the Resort at Pelican Hill (mainly because I wish I was there!). If you need to catch up on the interview with the many interesting and informative topics, click here.

This is the last part of the interview. I feel sad as I have read and re-read this so many times, I don't want it to end. Fortunately, I will always have it as a reference to draw ideas from.

Today, we finish up with Andy's hotel recommendations, his shift from modern to classical, working with designers, working with clients, and yes ~ his fee structure. We also discuss art and his thoughts about art studies for our youth. I throw in a couple of my thoughts too. The more I speak with people influenced by art, the more sure I am about preserving art and music education.

We'll finish with Andy's magnificent Resort and one final renovation that I truly adore.

Thank you Andy for a wonderful thoughts and inspirations.

Here we go.....

Paula: You mentioned that sometimes it’s difficult for you to go into hotels ‘cause when I asked you about how it’s -

Andy: Oh well, you know I’m very fussy about hotel rooms and hotel bathrooms and hotel lobbies and hotel restaurants. You know I try to find a hotel that’s got a good design, that’s going to be a pleasurable experience, that doesn’t cost too much money. It’s not easy. I spend a lot of time researching hotels on Expedia and Trip Advisor, looking at reviews and trying to decipher what I might like and I take a bet and go with it. It’s kind of a fun game and it’s fun to plan these vacations ‘cause you get to bet on something. You take your best bet and sometimes you’re very happy, and sometimes it’s disappointing when it’s not well run and there’s problems with the room and the beds aren’t comfortable and all of those things. My wife doesn’t really mind going to a hotel that’s not perfect or doesn’t have a great standard for her. It’s just not important, but for me it is.

Paula: Well said. I think that’s probably why you’re successful because of your standards.

Andy: Oh definitely, but it’s not easy when you’re not going to spend the money on an Amman Resort or Four Seasons. It’s not easy to find something that’s gonna be pleasurable.

Paula: Do you have any recommendations for me? [Laughs]

Andy: Well let’s see. Where do you wanna go? Oh, I can tell you one that I – I mean if we stay at a price I can tell you some great places.

Paula: Okay.

Andy: In Avignon, France there’s La Mirande. I think it’s a wonderful hotel.

Paula: Okay.

Andy: You can take the TGV train from Paris right to Avignon in about two and a half hours.

Paula: Oh.

Andy: And in Paris I really like L’Hotel designed by Jacques – oh, it’s an old hotel. Oscar Wilde had stayed there and it’s got a fantastic staircase and a beautiful lobby designed by Jacques Garcia.

Paula: Oh really?

Andy: Yeah. It’s a terrific design. Small, charming rooms. I’m not giving you the bargain ones here. These are tried and true ones. I would say that they’re not one of those tried and true chains that I mentioned earlier. You know what I mean?

Paula: Right. Exactly, but you know a personal recommendation is – I think that’s important.

Andy: I also love the Ferragamo hotels. I’ve been to a few of them in Florence and I think they’re the best hotel chain. They’re all wonderful. They’re modern, very well run, beautiful designs, beautiful bathrooms, beautiful rooms. Any Ferragamo hotel would be great with me.

Paula: That’s a well-run business then.

Andy: Oh boy, is it. It’s so great.

Paula: To have that it sounds like consistency.

Andy: Yeah. I stayed in three of their hotels in Florence and I loved all three. They’re different, but they were great.

Paula: I’m gonna change the subject just a little bit because you said you’re a firm believer in buying art over the Internet and it just sounds like you do quite a lot of research, because as a designer when I select art it’s a rarity when I actually get to show them the piece, and I’ve had quite a lot of success in selecting art for clients and having them enjoy it, which is a wonderful thing. So tell me about how you go about doing your art escapades on the Internet.

Andy: Okay. Well Art.net is a site to keep you busy for the rest of your life. It has incredible – it has every artist ever known, almost every artist ever known, and you have thousands and thousands of artists to look at and thousands of galleries around the world, and it’s incredible, and you can find a gallery that you like and you can go off Art.net and go to their personal site and take a look at their artists. By really calling and asking you can find something in your price range sometimes. Sometimes you can’t, and sometimes I find an artist – I found an artist that I just fell in love with. Her name was something like Shirazeh Houshiary, and I thought I found it, this is it, and I called up and everything was $75,000.00 or more, but I was hoping that – I get excited on Sunday and Monday I get depressed when I call and it’s too expensive.

Paula: So it does affect your psyche. It affects your psychological and emotional well being these escapades of yours.

Andy: But it’s a lot of fun.

Paula: Yeah it is. It is a lot of fun.

Andy: What I mean about the art on the Internet is I bought an antique on the Internet and I couldn’t really tell the finish. When I got it, it looked newer than I expected it to look. I don’t have enough experience in antiques to – ‘cause we don’t do interiors – to really tell this 19th century set of chairs, but when I buy art I have never been disappointed. I can see it clearly on the Internet. I know what I’m going to be getting and I don’t find it to be a risk.

Paula: Well I think there’s a difference between attempting to buy an authentic antique and art because I think art is much more subjective. I think like you said, you fell in love with this artist, so there must’ve been something about her artwork that you were attracted to.

Andy: Oh definitely.

Paula: Versus trying to find a true 19th century piece, and so I think that there is a great amount of subjectivity when it comes to art because one person can look at a piece and love it and the other person can look at it and think not.

Andy: Right, but you can see it clearly and know what you’re getting.

Paula: Yes that’s true. Tell me, do you have thoughts or ideas about art education in schools for our youth? Have you thought about that other than when I posed that question to you?

Andy: Yeah. I haven’t thought about it, but I can tell you my thoughts off the top of my head.

Paula: Okay.

Andy: I think that the awareness of potential careers or pursuits is very important in art education. For instance, in junior high I think there could be a course about all of the options to a student. They could be a designer, a graphic designer, an interior designer, architect. They could be a fine artist, a sculptor or a video artist or a painter. There’s so many careers in the movies. They could be set designers or art directors or film directors in film. I think the awareness, for students to get an early -

Paula: Exposure?

Andy: - understanding of the possibilities of a career in art is really important and I think it’s lacking in the schools.

Paula: Yeah. I think the exposure to it just alone is valuable because there’s this whole gamut of careers that is driven by art in one way or another.

Andy: Right.

Paula: But I get frustrated because I do think like yourself in your experience you were kind of ushered away from those types of careers because it wasn’t maybe lucrative.

Andy: Right. They wanted a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman.

Paula: Right. I also find – I’m just gonna say a couple of statements and then you can react. I also think that there’s a whole part of the brain that’s awakened by exposure to art that actually makes our whole brains work a little bit harder that’s helping both sides of the brain develop better.

Andy: Mm hmm.

Paula: There’s lots of research and literature that supports that.

Andy: Oh absolutely, and I just saw a shop a couple blocks down that was selling exercising your brain. You go there to exercise your brain, and I think as designers we are always exercising our brain. [Laughs]

Paula: Stretching it to the limits.

Andy: Remembering all the different names of all the different companies or the furniture designers or fabrics. It’s amazing how much we have in our heads.

Paula: Yes. As I get older a word that I know sometimes escapes me and then I have to think harder and hope that my brain connects all the dots before I leave the client’s home.

Andy: Right.

Paula: But yeah, I just am a firm believer in that. My concern is maybe some kids won’t have the kind of moxie that you had and pursued it anyway despite the opposition. So as you probably can tell I’m a firm believer that art and music and those types of curriculum needs to stay in our schools.

Andy: Oh I agree.

Paula: Yes. I would think so given your love of art and your skill at architecture. Is there anything else that you think I should know about you or that people should know about you?

Andy: Well I think there’s another aspect to being a designer or an architect, which is the psychological aspect that we haven’t really touched on.

Paula: Yes.

Andy: I think that’s also extremely important, not that I think you have to go to school for it, but you have to be able to almost be a peacemaker. You mentioned earlier that sometimes couples were hard to work with because they’re on different pages, but we have to be able to bring them together and have them trust us.

Paula: Right.

Andy: The big key is getting the client to trust you.

Paula: Yes.

Andy: Such a hurdle, but once they do trust you then the project goes really well, but getting to that level of trust is difficult and you need to use psychological means to do that sometimes.

Paula: Yes. I pretty much use every skill from my previous profession in my current profession. When I’m actually doing the designs and selecting pieces for people there’s a whole psychological aspect in terms of selection of the art, selection of the pieces, placement of the pieces just to please the client’s psyche, but there is also the aspect of making sure every single one of your clients – I work with a lot of families that have kids and it’s interesting when I talk to the parents about talking to the kids, and they always find that interesting that I really want to include the kids in the interview for the design or separately so I can get their perspective as well. I think developing trust is kind of hard because in our business a lot of money changes hands, and I think that people are always out to save money and think that the other person is always out to make money.

Andy: Yeah. This happened to me recently where the client would not go with the percentage fee, which is what we normally do, and insisted on a flat fee, so what I did was I developed a flat fee based on the size house they wanted, and it was based on the percentage and based on the square footage cost that I thought might be at, and then I gave them the flat fee and I said, “If your house grows it’s gonna be this much more per square foot. If your house shrinks, it’ll be this much less per square foot.” That was based on the percentage and cost of construction but prorated by the square foot.

Paula: How did that go for you?

Andy: It went well. He loved it. It was being creative within the fee structure.

Paula: Right. I’ve absolutely done the same thing. I’ve had to be creative with the fee structure. I’ve actually moved to – I’m telling you my life, but I moved to a fixed rate based on on average how long it takes me to do a room, so I find that works a lot better than just an hourly rate because people know. I have this amount and then they pay for it over X amount of months, so they know exactly what is going out. They know exactly what the amount of the check they have to write to me every month and I just find that that psychologically works so much better for the client versus the hourly rate because then they’re basically evaluating every minute that you spend together.

Andy: Oh absolutely, but then you’re gonna get the client who can’t make a decision or keeps making changes. That’s the problem. I have a job that next month will be seven years.

Paula: Oh my goodness.

Andy: [Laughs] So you have to watch out for that. You have to somehow let them know that if they make changes it’s extra after it’s been decided.

Paula: This is what I say. Tell me what I think because I value your opinion.

Andy: You have to tell them that once things are decided if they want a purple room instead of a green room then they’re gonna have to pay extra.

Paula: Right, and I do have that in my contract and I make them initial it so they have had to have read it.

Andy: Okay. Good, because you can’t just have it open ended like that.

Paula: No, and I do say to them that if the on average for them starts to lengthen, then we need to renegotiate because they’re not average.

Andy: Right. I did another scheme for fees where they said, “Oh, your fee is way too much money”, so I said, “Okay. It’ll be this much a month and if it goes faster you get it for less, and if it goes longer you pay more, and it’s up to you on how fast it goes.”

Paula: Oh. How did that work out?

Andy: I don’t know. I haven’t heard back from them yet. [Laughs]

Paula: I see. It’s true. People will try to stretch their dollar as they should, but sometimes they try to stretch it by means that are sort of unsavory.

Andy: Right.

Paula: Yes.

Andy: What else can I tell you about my work or my life? Oh, I can tell you one thing, another I think important aspect of my life. You know I went from being a modernist doing commercial work to being a classicist doing residential work. It’s one of the biggest switch-ups in our profession, but it’s still within the profession and I think it’s good to make changes in life and follow a different dream. When I left the corporate world I realized my corporate contacts were not going to follow me, so I needed to reinvent myself, and I reinvented myself as far away from corporate commercial architecture as I could possibly be, but I was able to pull it off and I’m very happy doing it. I think that’s pretty unusual.

Paula: Was that a conscious decision to really do the 180 that you did?

Andy: Yes.

Paula: Okay, so you didn’t just follow your love of traditional design.

Andy: Oh no, I did, but I took the chance to be able to do this. Of course I had to think about could I make a business out of it, and could I make a living out of it, but the idea of doing – it’s a true love of mine, but there is always a practical part to me of whether I can make a go of it.

Paula: You see, that’s what I mean about the development of both sides of the brain. That’s exactly what I mean is that because artists typically or people that are in an artistic field, the stereotype is that they’re not business savvy. I would argue that that’s incorrect. That’s a generalization, but I do think, and you’re a good example of that.

Andy: And it’s about intuitively good at business. It’s not about looking at numbers and tax returns and bank balances. It’s about the idea of business and how to make a go of it. It’s like designing a business almost.

Paula: Exactly.

Andy: Yeah. I think that’s an important aspect as well that I don’t think you can just brush under the carpet. I think you need to think about that as well.

Paula: Absolutely. I agree.

Andy: ‘Cause you can be Michelangelo, but if you can’t get the project you’re not gonna make any money.

Paula: Right. I think it’s important to truly use your whole brain, have your creative side, have your business aspects, have your people aspects. A lot of our business is about working with people and developing those relationships and developing the trust, so I think it takes – to be successful I do think it takes someone that’s pretty well rounded to be successful really in life, and I’ve been finding by interviewing people that did have a lot of creativity early on in life that they’re probably the best business people that I have found in terms of just having successful art businesses or architecture business. The interviews that I’m doing are sort of confirming my theory.

Andy: Right.

Paula: That I have, and I’m trying not to lead people to that conclusion, but all the interviews that I’ve done lead me to that conclusion. They lead themselves to that conclusion.

Andy: There’s another aspect. If you have another minute I’ll tell you.

Paula: I have 11 hours on my recorder. [Laughs]

Andy: Okay. That’s great. One of the things that – how I started the business and how I made this decision to do the 180 was a recognition of the importance of a close tie between architecture and interior design. We have a very interior designer friendly business here. Most of our projects have interior designers and we work well with them in a non-adversarial relationship. This is counter to most architects, but I designed the business this way. I’d like to describe a little bit about how that works.

Paula: Okay. Good. That’s great.

Andy: Okay. Our job here is to create the coloring book. We do all the lines on the pages. We do all the details, all the profiles, and we do everything with black lines on white paper and the designer and the client color that in with materials, with carpet, stones, woods, colors. We don’t know if the room is gonna be black or white. We don’t care. We are doing our coloring book and making every detail beautiful, and so we let the designers do what they do best. They wanna do the color palette, all the materials go with the furniture, and everything looks great together, and we let it go. We’re not pushing materials. If we don’t have a designer of course we will help the client select the materials, but we have really worked very hard at being decorator friendly.

Paula: Well it seems – I think that the home, the results are much better because -

Andy: They are when you have professionals. It’s always better.

Paula: You take all aspects of the overall design into account. I do think that. I do a lot of work myself in – builders build a house, clients move in, then they call the interior designer and we have to change things because obviously when the builder built the house certain things weren’t thought of, of course not specific to that family or to that person.

Andy: Right, and we need to make sure that the furniture is going to fit in the room. We need to have that furniture plan to do the lighting plan and to do the floor plan and we really need that testing early in the project.

Paula: Yep. I couldn’t agree more.

Andy: Yeah, so it’s good to work with designers. We enjoy that.

Paula: You don’t have in house designers?

Andy: We do not. We don’t buy anything.

Paula: Okay. Do you have particular interior designers that you really like to work with?

Andy: Sure we do, but we like to work with anyone that wants to work with us. We’re delighted if they call us and recommend us and wanna work with us. We’re happy to work with them.

Paula: Good to know. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I’m going to have this transcribed. If I have any questions, can I call you back?

Andy: Of course you can, anytime, and thank you very much for finding me and calling me. It’s been a pleasure to speak to you.

Paula: It was lovely speaking to you too.

Yes, it really was lovely.

Andy gave some excellent hotel recommendations. I think the one below should be at the top of the list.


Still want to be here......


The wood and ceiling work are stunning.....

INTERIOR DESIGN: Tucker and Marks, Inc.
CONTRACTOR: Ryan Associates
PHOTOGRAPHY: Matthew Millman

As always, Andy has wonderful designers that make his hard work shine. There is a mutual attraction for designers to work with Andy as well. Impressive structures, excellent materials, meticulous partner. It does not get any better than that!

In the next several weeks, I have interviews with a diverse set of artists ~ a rock-n-roller, an exceptional glass artist, and blogger magnific! Stay tuned for their stories.....


  1. I'll take a week at the resort please. Just got back from the Cape and it wasn't long enough. I'd like to be at the Pelican.

  2. What an excellent interview! I really enjoyed it. Also liked the photos that went with it. Thanks!


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