Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do. Eric Reinholdt: I always struggle to define myself as any one thing. I’m 41, a father, husband, writer, hiker, guitar player, brewer, documentary film fanatic, traveler, metalhead, and entrepreneur. Professionally, I relate most to being a licensed Residential Architect and a Writer. I’m also the founder of 30X40 Design Workshop located on Mount Desert Island just off the mid-coast of Maine where I work primarily on custom residential projects. Like most Mainers I know, I’ve created a life here by wearing many different hats.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Eric Reinholdt: I think the most relevant recent project is my own home. I’ve used it as an incubator for my ideas, a showpiece for new clients and a proving grounds for affordable building. It was conceived as an open-source design made available to many rather than a select few. Dubbed “The Longhouse”, it’s a 20’x80’ modern interpretation of the traditional Native American communal home.It’s a simple, linear design - an archetypal extruded gable with a spare, minimalist interior. It divides public and private very directly, employs a ringed corridor and a small zone of vaulted space that gives it a scale that belies its small footprint. It will be featured in an upcoming book on small houses by Taunton Press due out in September 2015. It’s a case-study in small efficient design and I’ve launched a series of predesigned floor plan sets inspired by its functional layout. Other ongoing projects include a barn studio, a tear-down renovation, a green-roofed pavilion, a minimalist art studio, a music studio, a mixed use retail project, and an accessory dwelling unit.Novedge: You view Design and construction as a collaborative project. How do you, as an Architect, keep everybody in check and happy?
Eric Reinholdt: It’s actually quite simple, constant communication and a singular focus on the end product. I return all correspondence, from everyone, vendors, students, potential clients. All phone calls and e-mails I endeavor to answer within 24-hours. So many in the construction industry get this wrong. I regularly check-in with clients and contractors because the more informed everyone is the less likely there are to be misunderstandings. When something does arise it’s addressed quickly and collaboration ensures everyone has an ownership stake in the resolution. A singular focus on the end product helps to keep our goals aligned. My starting point is to ask the question, “What’s best for the project?” Collaboration makes the complex process of building so much more enjoyable and manageable. I’m not certain whether this still exists, but when I was an intern, I attended a summer program called Masonry Camp sponsored by the International Masonry Institute (on Swan’s Island, Maine). The camp brought together intern Architects and apprenticing Masons to collaborate on a project. But, our roles were reversed. The Masons were responsible for the design and documentation and the Architects were responsible for the construction. You can imagine the appreciation this engendered for the work of each party. Fostering collaboration recognizes that building isn’t a singular act by an individual. The Contractor is responsible for constructing the ideas of the Architect and client and they have valuable insights to contribute. Equally, the client isn’t merely a funding apparatus for lofty architectural ideas. By including them in every part of the design process it builds trust and it adds an experiential dimension to the design of their home. They’re not buying a product rather an experience.Architect +
Novedge: You make yourself available to the customer needs. Did you ever had extravagant or original design requests?
Eric Reinholdt: I was challenged to incorporate a large granite monolith into a project here Mount Desert Island. Sort of like the Kohler commercial where the clients visit the Architect plopping a faucet down on the desk saying, “Design our home around this.” This request, however, came while the home was under construction. The design featured three cottages set at the edge of the ocean, with the main living space resembling a wharf, set on piers marching out into a tidal salt pond. I thought it would be interesting to suspend this massive, 12,000# boulder in the middle of the open living space and turn it into a fire pit – a hovering hearth of sorts. The open fire pit wasn’t easy, it faced challenges from the fire marshal, we had to seek out UL-testing agencies for approval and we had to rent the largest crane in the state of Maine just to lower it into place. We navigated the approval maze and installed the entire assembly. Upon viewing it the client requested it be set flush with the floor. Instead of quitting on the spot, the contractor calmly said, “Sure, we can do that.” And he did; all without dropping it in the salt pond below. I think the finished product is quite dramatic.
Eric Reinholdt: I wrote Architect + Entrepreneur as the field guide I was searching for when I opened my business. As I began seriously considering transitioning to solo practice in mid-2012 the published resources I found were really outdated. So, I documented the best-practices and strategies that worked for me as I built my business. The book evolved into a step-by-step guide to help others looking to follow a more entrepreneurial path to practice. It’s primarily aimed at young design professionals, interns and interior designers contemplating building a business and for those who have recently launched their idea. But even established firm owners looking to update their marketing practices and retool their online presence will find it helpful too. It’s a fresh take on what it means to start and operate a business today. There are so many ways to build a design practice now, it’s both liberating and fascinating. The book presents a number of these new business models and marketing strategies (passive income, etc.) but the real message is that it’s more possible than ever to set out on your own. It’s meant to inspire action through a series of small, daily practices. I’ve been really pleased with the response to it so far.
Novedge: You are also a contributor of Houzz with a series entitled "Design Workshop". What is that about?
Eric Reinholdt: Something I talk about a lot in my book is brand building. My writing for Houzz is a great example of that concept. I was contacted by one of the editor’s at Houzz in late 2013 to ask if I was interested in becoming a weekly contributor. I used the opportunity as free marketing and to develop my brand message pulling the title “Design Workshop” directly from my business name. The idea was to use my writing to educate and inform potential clients on a platform much larger than mine. Each article is publicized to their e-mail list and I tailor the topics around the kind of work (and clients) I’m seeking. A typical article receives on average 70,000+ views and scores of comments. It’s been wildly successful thus far and an excellent source for targeted leads for my practice. I self-published a guide book about my tactics too.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Eric Reinholdt: I prefer the simple to the complex. I currently have a subscription to vanilla AutoCAD LT 2015 for drafting. I use SketchUp Pro for conceptual modeling and the Maxwell Render for SketchUp plug-in for basic rendering tasks. Sharpie Ultra Fine Point and Pentel Sign pens on trace are my starting point, followed shortly thereafter by SketchUp models. I’d find it hard to live without Evernote, Photoshop and Dropbox too; those are worth mentioning. Novedge: What is good Design?
Eric Reinholdt: t would be difficult to improve on Dieter Rams’ ten rules for good design, I keep his list on my desk as a reminder. If pressed, I’d say that good design tells a story; it provides a narrative. When there’s a deeper story to the physical manifestation of a building – I find that more compelling than design that merely looks good. Although that’s one of Mr. Rams’ precepts too.
Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received in your profession?
Erik Reinholdt: “Build something.” I remember as an intern Architect handling the construction management for a 100,000 SF office building and not having a very strong construction. During a walk-through I pointed out a detail that didn’t look right. The general contractor pulled me aside and said, “Listen, before you tell me how to put a building together, you should build something.” That stung, but he was right. Architecture school and practice - at least when I was in school - operated in completely separate spheres. Both design and practical construction experience are essential, but they’re not integrated well in academia. “Build something” is the right answer so often that I can’t help but keep coming back to that contractor’s words, both in my personal and professional life. I’m not only talking about physical structures - build things in the world - write, record a video, or a song, make a movie, teach a course, design furniture, or a new app, lasercut your dinnerware. In a consumption economy it’s the creators that build wealth, not the consumers. I strive to build things every day.
Novedge: If they made a movie about your life what would be the title?
Eric Reinholdt:That’s a tough one…! How about a favorite quote…?
“I should be loyal to the nightmare of my own choice.” from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The next feature is not a biopic of Eric Reinholdt, but is YouTube video where Eric walks us through the Architect's Design Project for a Modern Barn Studio. Enjoy the video, check out Architect + Entrepreneur and follow Eric on Houzz.