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Daily Inspiration: Meet Andrea Shapiro

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrea Shapiro.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I grew up on the east coast and received a Bachelor of Architecture, at Roger Williams University, in Rhode Island, in 1994. I did my internships and became a Massachusetts licensed Architect, working for 10 years in Boston area firms before moving to California in 2003. At that point, I knew my focus would be in Residential Design.

In Massachusetts, I had a varied work experience. At DHK Architects, I was a project manager on transportation projects including airport parking structures and car rental facilities & T-stations around Portland, ME and Boston, MA. I worked on rehabbing old hospital buildings into senior care facilities and designing numerous homes in the Boston suburbs at other firms. While at Ives Architects, I worked on environmentally friendly buildings such as the Cambridge Sustainable Design Project (which became The Sabbatical House) and The New England Wildflower Society. Such work included the use of trombe walls, radiant floor heating, grey water reuse strategies, solar water heating, and environmentally sensitive material selection. Sustainable design was still an up-and-coming concept, and I had taken an early interest in it. I made urban sustainable design the focus of my college thesis and was thrilled to get a job in the field right out of college.

When I moved to California in 2003, I decided to focus my job search on residential design firms only. I found the work much more personal and therefore fulfilling. I worked for eleven years as a project manager at Eserts Architecture & Interiors in Santa Monica, CA. This office focused on high-end residential design clients looking to create dream homes in the Malibu and Beverly Hills areas of Los Angeles. Amazing sites to work on beautiful projects. After this, a two-year stint with a valley firm that puts out many houses in a year. This experience gave me great insight into how to get a house permitted within the City of Los Angeles.

During these two-plus decades of work, I always did what is referred to in the industry as “side work”; smaller projects that friends and family asked me to do that I could handle on my own time while holding down full-time jobs elsewhere. It was in 2016 that I had compiled enough “side work”, that I was really working two full-time jobs. And it was no longer just for friends, I had made a lot of contacts just bringing the kids to the local elementary school, meeting families looking to expand their homes, or contractors that also needed to bring their children to school. At this point, I made the decision to work for myself. I remain a sole practitioner in business structure, and I still work out of my home. I meet with clients at their job sites, homes, and offices, as well as virtually in recent years. My clients include homeowners, contractors, and developers. My projects range from interior renovations to small additions to brand-new homes up to 12,000 sq. ft.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I cannot say that there were any extended dire areas of time, fortunately any low points were short-lived. I tend to recognize a problem and look for solutions. It’s part of what makes me good at getting permits, working within the city’s zoning restrictions and my client’s design wishes simultaneously. This can also be applied to how I handle my work life.

Early in my career, I struggled to find a firm that I enjoyed both the Work and the Atmosphere. I had big dreams of becoming a designer. I found that at very small firms I had enjoyable work that I could really sink my creative brain into, but it was isolating for a young professional in a quiet office. Contrarily, I didn’t enjoy being a lowly intern in large firms that used younger, aspiring architects to pump out standard details; although I found the atmosphere energetic and fun, working in the city with many like-minded individuals at that stage of my life.

But the most difficult office was a small to mid-size residential design firm. I learned a great deal about designing houses there, enjoyed my co-workers, and realized residential design was my calling. Unfortunately, the boss was a misogynistic workaholic. He was good designer and ran a great business designing houses in the suburbs. But he promoted a toxic work atmosphere. As the only woman designer in the office, I had to ask that the use of the b-word (commonly used to describe an unpleasant woman) no longer be used in reference to every female client after they’ve left the room. I was also told that my average 60-hour week wasn’t enough, That if he had a family and averaged 80 hours, why couldn’t I put in more? Yes, we all suffer for our art… but life is short, and there are better jobs to be found.

One misogynistic anecdote though, was when I had earned a spot amongst the project managers in a mid-sized firm that worked on large transportation projects. There was a big meeting for contractors to learn about a 30 million dollar build-out at an airport, the requirements of bidding the job, and to pick up a set of drawings. There were probably 50 people milling about the conference room before the meeting began. A middle-aged gentleman asked me to get him a cup of coffee. I politely pointed in the direction of the table with the coffee urn and told him that he could help himself. When the meeting began, I was introduced as the project manager for the architecture firm running the job. He came and apologized when the meeting was over. I accepted graciously, no need to make it worse.

By the time I moved to California, I was a registered architect, much more confident in my abilities, and had a keen focus on residential design. I was also getting married soon. I knew that I wanted to establish a long working relationship with a firm. I intended to stay and grow with the firm, grow a family, and be able to take leaves as necessary and come back to a wonderful work environment, doing work that I loved. I was very selective during my interview process at that time. And I was very fortunate in that I found exactly what I was looking for.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I specialize in Residential Design work. From small renovations to large new homes and everything in between. I start with the schematic design of a house, I draw up the construction documentation and coordinate with all the necessary engineers, and finally go through the city permitting process. I stay on for construction administration as needed. I work mostly within the City of L.A., but have a few L.A. County and Calabasas jobs, too. I usually have about 10 projects in varying stages of design through construction at a time.

Stylistically, I can work on anything a client would like. I’ve done Modern, Modern Farmhouse, Transitional, Mid Century Renovations and Additions, Mediterranean and Spanish Style, New England Traditional designs, amongst others. I take great pride in that when I work on an addition, you will not look at the design afterwards and know where the original house starts and the addition begins. I prefer the design have a cohesive look, that it appear it was all designed together.

I currently have an Interior Primary Bedroom/Bathroom Renovation, with no wall reconfiguration. It was necessitated by a tub leak. But we are truly making it a better space for the homeowners to enjoy via skylight and door changes, bathroom layout fixes, closet upgrades, etc.

Many of my projects for homeowners are the need to open up interior spaces and add small additions. One of my favorites was a job where we opened up all the interior spaces on the back side of the house, so they could see their backyard and pool from the kitchen and family room. We also added a wrap-around porch and roof deck.

Most of my work comes from developers. Many of them also contractors. And much of that work involves building a new house from the ground up. The Single Family Dwellings can range from 2400 sq. ft. to 12,000 sq. ft. and some of the projects include Accessory Dwelling Units, which are very big in Los Angeles currently, some include small Rec. Rooms to be used as Cabanas near the pool. Many times there is site planning needed, and retaining walls involved in the hillside properties of the area.

I am extremely proud to say that recently a Woosley Fire Rebuild project was completed, and that lovely family was able to be home again for the 2022 holiday season.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
I listen. I take notes at my client meetings. I ask questions about what preferences homeowners or developers have. And then I apply it all back into the design. I had an architecturally savvy client one time say that I was the first designer that actually gave him what he asked for on a project instead of only my own ideas. And another said that I took her ideas for her home and made them better instead of coming back to her with things she hadn’t asked for. I take pride in knowing I’m making my clients happy just by listening to them.

I come at each design from multiple angles. Because I believe there is never just one design solution, I bring multiple designs to the first meeting. And then we mix and match the ideas in each floor plan, like a puzzle. At the second meeting, I bring a layout with all the best parts pulled together as one-floor plan. Once we finalize the floor plans, I pull up exterior elevations the same way.

I cooperate. Each of my designs is only a success because many people came together and fulfilled their aspect of the project. Engineers, Interior Designers, Contractors and all their Subcontractors each play a pivotal role in all of these projects. I work together with each of these professionals so that at the end of the job, the homeowners will love their living space.

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