Babble Interview: Katrina Evans

You all know that I love providing great interviews with women in design here on the Babble. I have such a fun interview to share with you this month.  Katrina Evans has been high on my list to interview for a while, and I’m so glad our schedules finally worked out because I’m able to publish this post on her birthday of all days.  Happy Birthday, Katrina!

Katrina Evans

Katrina Evans

I first met Katrina and her husband Chris when we moved to Athens, Georgia back in 2008.  Though their business (E+E Architecture) was just starting up, she took me in as their first employee.  I couldn’t believe the number of projects she had going at once.  Katrina managed to not only keep her business afloat during the worst of the recession, she’s such a (forgive this choice of words) hustler that they made it through a shining example of success.

I admire Katrina’s work ethic and drive, her down to earth nature, her functional creativity.  She’s patient while at the same time demands excellence from those she works with.  I learned a lot from Katrina during the short time I worked with her (we relocated to Virginia in 2009) and do wonder what life would be like had we stayed in Athens.  She taught me how to respect clients’ wishes and still keep the project rolling along.  It’s the same attitude she applies to her family, making the whole work/life balance look effortless.  Katrina and her husband Chris recently designed and built their house in Athens, and she’ll talk a little about that in her interview.  Let’s get to it.

Tell us a little about yourself- where you’re from, where you went to school, what you are doing now, etc.

 I am originally from a smallish town in Iowa called Cedar Rapids. I studied architecture at Iowa State University. I was lucky enough to study abroad in Rome for a semester and had some perspective knocked into my wholesome Midwest background. I graduated and stomped around as a young professional in NYC, later moved to Atlanta. After a few years working at a great firm, Perkins & Will, I had the opportunity to work as a staff architect for a hospital in Athens, GA. My husband, Chris (also an architect) and I jumped at the chance to move away from Atlanta into our charming college town.

Present day, my husband and I have our own Architecture / Interior design firm with a few capable employees. E+E Architecture started in 2007, right before the economy tanked but somehow we’ve grown each year and have a solid reputation with some cool projects under our belt.

How did you get interested in architecture?

 I think I got interested by one of those super basic classes in early high school where you draft out a house. I poured myself into the project and proclaimed that I would become an architect. As a bonus, I liked that upon earning a degree, you practiced architecture versus aimlessly wandering around in the business world. This is of course not really true since folks trained as architects branch into a million directions.

At what point did you decide to go into business for yourself?

Chris and I had a few side projects and formed E+E in 2006. We both had full time jobs but out of the blue the hospital I worked for cut my position.   I freaked out for a couple hours and decided by the end of the day that I would ramp up E+E full time. Chris joined two years later.

Tell us a little about your home and work schedule.  How do you make it all work with a shared business, two kids and a dog?

 Ha! I suppose we make it work because we work our tails off. It definitely helps that Chris and I have shared goals: a healthy business and happy home with our kids. We split up all duties and divide and conquer as much as possible. I used to be the type of person where I could waste away a whole weekend doing very little of anything. Now, we are always on the go or doing something which helps. Balancing both family and work can definitely be overwhelming for us. We try to remember a mantra “work to live, not live to work”.

Tell us a little about the house that you and Chris Evans designed for your family: the property, the process, some of the trials, and what you are most proud of in the house.

 We had been looking for an in-town lot for a while and made a few unsuccessful attempts at buying one or two. When we found our current property, it took about two weeks of marinating on the thought because the house was just gross. Our friends called it the “flophouse” and it had been vacant for years. Ultimately, the street, schools, location and the wide double lot sealed the deal.

Before the renovation and expansion

Before the renovation and expansion

 

 

We established our goals: open floor plan, tons of light, a big screened porch and ultimately, a house that reflected exactly how our family lives. It was a little tricky to find the time to do our drawings since we were busy but we finally went on vacation and found time to lay it out. Elevations quickly followed and the entire process was pretty easy considering we are both hands-on dueling architects / spouses. We definitely disagreed on some parts here and there but overall, it was shockingly painfree.

Challenges were really about staying within our budget. A realization to us was that appraisers are not necessarily great at reading drawings and that “cool” elements don’t always translate into a higher appraisal. Once the home was complete, we did ask our appraiser to come out and walk the actual home and the number went up dramatically.

Completed house

Completed house

 

We also decided to GC it ourselves, which… is a lot work.   Fortunately, we worked with a friend / GC who helped us through site work, foundations and framing and then we tapped into the pool of wonderful sub contractors in the area. I think we may have worn a few folks out but we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them again to any of our clients.

 Describe some of the unique features you included. 

We are very happy with the quantity of windows. Every room has a generous amount and it fills the house so well with light. A bonus is that we can see our children in the front yard / back yard with ease.

Playroom window

Playroom window

Day-lit living space

Day-lit living space

I guess the standing seam vertical panels are somewhat unique. We love the way the panels fold up the connector and bridge from the original home to the addition.

In general, we kept the palette very clean –white walls and dark floors and intended for the light fixtures to be the only semi-permanent feature that jumps out. We found some great old fixtures, had a few custom made by the local lampsmith and we made the string lights upstairs. I love them all. It’s especially interesting to see the shadows the lights cast.

Handmade light fixture

Handmade light fixture

Custom designed and built light fixture

Custom designed and built light fixture

Other design details we like are the stair railings. We wanted something that had interest, was economical and safe. They aren’t exactly code compliant so we had plywood up at our inspection and then installed the rope. I think it plays well with the light fixtures.

Lights and custom handrail

Lights and custom stair rails

Master bedroom

Master bedroom

What projects are you working on now?

 We are working on a mix of projects right now. We just wrapped up design on a new restaurant, Seabear, an Oyster Bar. We are also doing a childcare center, a new office building and an open-air pavilion for the UGA Ropes Course program.

Designed and built by E+E architects Katrina and Chris

Designed and built by E+E architects Katrina and Chris

Recently completed outdoor dining table

Recently completed outdoor dining table

Child photo-bomb!

Child photo-bomb!

 

What architect (or architects) inspire you and why?

Lake Flato. They are very successful at merging vernacular architecture with modern, clean design. They also choose materials that have integrity and let those materials guide the design. They also work on various scales and budgets but still create spaces and places of beauty. I’m a fan.

Since you are currently teaching a course at UGA, what, if anything, would you change about architecture education?

 There are lots of flaws. Most basically, I think that there is so much emphasis put on design and theory, it leaves very little room for any practicality. Some programs around the country have a construction element built into their program and I think that would be invaluable. At Iowa State, which has a great program, it was deeply theoretical. A slightly more rounded approach would benefit students and the professionals that will work with them.

The class I teach, Building Systems for UGA Interior Design students, has a goal of teaching the students about how a building comes together by real-world examples and whenever possible, by getting out in the field.

Lastly, what is your favorite thing about being an architect?

 My favorite thing about being an architect is creating buildings or spaces that have a direct impact on people. Good design really does matter… and now research is backing up the egos of countless architects …

Examples: Being intentional about natural light can lead to improved outcomes in healthcare settings, lower pain medicine usage for patients. Staff will even sleep better with high exposure to natural light. Efficient, deliberate layouts of offices can increase productivity and decrease employee absenteeism.

I could geek out about this for a long time. Good design really is good business.

Upstairs

Upstairs

I hope these words and images inspire you like they do me.  I love when she shared her secret to success: work your tail off.  And those orange kid-proof chairs- I totally see where she’s going with that! She forgot to mention the astro-turf they installed in the kids’ playroom. Seems like they thought of everything.

Thanks for letting us take a peek into your life, Katrina.  And Happy Birthday!

 

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about those countertops

Soapstone.  Man do we love this soapstone.

Image

I’ve had questions about our countertops since we’ve finished the kitchen remodel (what is it? do you like it? etc) so I thought I’d write a post explaining our choice for soapstone.

First of all, yes we love it.  I think it is an excellent material for our family.  It may not be for everyone (I’ll explain why) but for us, it’s perfect.

Let me say a little about our soapstone specifically.  The stone in our kitchen is from the USA.  It’s from a quarry in Virginia very close to where I went to school, in fact.  This soapstone is Alberene Soapstone, and they are the only remaining producer of soapstone in America.  Most of the soapstone in this country is sourced from Brazil or China, but it was important to me that we support  this more “local” company.  So important, in fact, that I had to set up Alberene Soapstone with a more local distributor and fabricator, Smokey Mountain Tops, in order to get this stone installed in our kitchen.  Basically, I started a dialogue between a salesperson from Alberene and a project manager at Smokey Mountain Tops in Nashville and got them to agree to work together in order for me to buy this stone instead of soapstone from Brazil.  Alberene sent me a sample piece to make sure I knew what I was getting, and I was emailed photos of all the available slabs that would fit our dimensions.  Dr. Jay and I narrowed it down from there.  We would have been able to pick it out on-site if we had wanted to travel to Virginia, but we chose our slabs from photos and questions over email.  Then Alberene had our slabs shipped from Virginia to Tennessee to be fabricated into countertops.  Smokey Mountain Tops did an amazing job crafting our counters and I can’t say enough good things about their service and help along the way.  We had one small hiccup in the initial installation and it was fixed within two days.  Neither of these companies know I am writing about them (or that I have a blog) so don’t think I was given a discount or compensated for mentioning them.

As for soapstone as a product is concerned, I will say that there is a lot of misinformation out there.  As I began my search here for a source for soapstone, I was told by one local fabricator that soapstone “wasn’t for me” and that it’s a “showpiece” countertop, not one for every day use.  This was completely disheartening to me, and I came home telling Dr. Jay that maybe we should consider granite (which I have never wanted) because this man told me soapstone was for show kitchens and not real kitchens.  He reminded me how much research I had done and asked me to reconsider before I changed my mind. I’m so glad I did.  Folks, this might be rule number one for dealing with salespeople or contractors during a remodel.  If you’ve talked to someone for five minutes and they proceed to tell you what is or is not for you, start getting suspicious.  Maybe they are right, but probably not.

So I forged ahead in my pursuit of soapstone and became more convinced that it was the right material for us.  And I was finally able to find someone I could trust to work with.  This means a lot when you are forking over thousands of dollars on one item in your kitchen.

What do we love so much about soapstone?  We love the way it looks.  It’s a charcoal grey, but when it’s oiled, it becomes black with white and grey veining.  We chose a honed finish, so it’s not shiny and has a very real look to it.  We like that.

Soapstone is not porous, therefore it’s naturally anti-microbial.  It’s completely non-reactive, so it won’t stain and acidic food or cleaners won’t affect it at all.  Soapstone is what schools used to use for counters in chemistry labs (when plastic laminate didn’t exist) because of these characteristics.  It’s thermal qualities are incredible.  I can set a pot with boiling water on it with no fear of it cracking or leaving a mark.  Soapstone is pretty indestructible, and for a family with small kids that is important.  Ours is not a “show” kitchen by any means.  We make three meals a day here and really put it to the test.  It’s definitely a working kitchen.

Soapstone is natural though, so it is not bulletproof.  Here are its downfalls, if you will, that aren’t deal-breakers for us.  It can scratch pretty easily BUT these are only surface scratches which will disappear in a few days time with the natural oils from your hands or if you rub on some food-safe mineral oil.  I think this is why that one man was trying to dissuade me from it, but I don’t think he realized the “self-healing” properties of soapstone.  It is also very hard, but brittle.  There is already one corner that was filled in with epoxy because it chipped before it left the shop, and another corner was chipped while the electrician was here installing a light.  But this is a very minor flaw that I’ve since rubbed smooth and no one has ever noticed it.  Basically, I like that our countertops will take one some natural patina.  I take care not to drop anything heavy on it, and I’m okay with the daily scratches that come and go.

I recently oiled it with the food-safe mineral oil (which is recommended a few times a year) and it came out looking as good as the day it was installed.  I thought it might be an annoying process, but it was a relief to completely clear off the counters and have a chance to start over again.

So there you have it.  Soapstone.  I’m really happy with it.  Any other questions for me?

Getting started (again)

Guys, we have so much to talk about.  First of all, I’m back to blogging.  I guess I couldn’t stay away.  Or maybe potty-training our son is just too good of material not to blog about.  I’m kidding about that.  I won’t write about that I promise.  Take me out for coffee if you really want to hear about it.  It’s too awful to discuss online.

Anyway, so we finished remodeling the kitchen over the spring.  We like it a whole lot.  I am immensely proud of the kitchen we were able to pull off for the relatively small budget we gave ourselves (small in terms of the average kitchen remodel).  This was possible mainly with Dr. Jay’s dad’s construction help, a lot of elbow grease on our part, and (I’d like to think) smart decisions during design.  We didn’t move any plumbing around and kept the appliances mostly in their same positions.  Here are the two true Before and After photos we managed to take (from the same angles).  If anyone is interested, I can do a full write up of the sources or paint colors, etc.  I still have a few items to finish on the punch list (note the unpainted beam in the photo below) so these aren’t really final “After” photos.  But I’m happy to keep blogging about the kitchen if there is interest, otherwise I’ll move on to the other topics occupying my design mind.  Our bedroom.  The guest rooms.  The apartment.  I haven’t talked about the apartment yet?  So much potential.  SO MUCH.

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