What is this all about?


I always have many great ideas when asked to write something to share, but by the time I get the page ready for words to appear, I have forgotten them all! It’s similar to when I have a design project for a client when they have not told me what they want!

“Will you please tell me what to write about? Please!” In my own ear I sound like a sniveling child.

“No Peter! There are thousands of things we talk about, so pick one!” I hear in my ear reminding me of Finding Forester for inspiration: “Punch the keys for God’s sake!” as Forester tells Jamal.

         So I sit here attempting to describe a process I go through rather than write about something you might want to read! I know I can hit the delete button when I finally get to something worth reading, so it’s almost like a standard thing with me; write, edit write more, edit more.

         “Come on! Get it started! It doesn’t matter where you start! It’ll become obvious when you get into it,” I tell myself, imagining a group of cheerleaders from Saturday Night Live! And that’s almost enough to make me stop altogether. Imagine Will Ferrell duplicated, but not identical, as if each of them wants to be different from the other while still being Will Ferrell!                  

                   No way!

         Suddenly I wonder how much I copycat, yet still inject enough to make it a variation on something already existing somewhere in someone’s house, someplace, somewhere, some day! I can hear “Westside Story” ringing in my ears.


         I almost always start a design project with an objective, letting design follow function. The greatest contribution I make to the design community is by being a master assistant, helping a project become better, easier, and/or more efficient. I have done many creative things in my life, in different arenas, and I find creativity seems to invite different mediums as well as different purposes to keep my challenges alive and fresh. I actively search out real design challenges. I attempt to never do the same things twice, and if the client truly wants what they have seen from a previous project, there is always room to improve it while still keeping the same “flavor,” so to speak.


I have always loved kitchens the most because they are the most complicated and specialized places. When I have done designs for chefs, I get to asking detailed questions even they may not have thought of, like are you left-handed, and where would you reach for each item you need? A kitchen is unlike any other residential space I can imagine. Commercial kitchens mostly fit a formula for the process of filling the plates efficiently, quickly, and correctly. Commercial kitchens also have many work stations for the highly trained personnel. A specialty kitchen with one chef is a wonderful opportunity to make the space the most creative it can be.

My best accomplishment:

        I have helped raised 4 girls and 5 boys, none of my own, or did they raise me? One of my sons went from busboy to the cover of Chef’s Magazine. It took 15 years to become a Master Chef, where he did all the planning, ordering, storing, prep and cooking. Whenever he came to town, I always wanted him to cook at our house, and whenever I asked him what to buy, he’d say, “Let me go shopping: I am best creating a dinner from the best ingredients I can find, and then I’ll know what to do.” I’d love to create a flavoring book, and have his personal line of seasoning. I even imagine a TV program where residents would sign up for the show to arrive and prepare a meal with whatever the chef found in the house. You could not go out to buy anything, yet if the place was truly empty, the “chef” might go to the market. The challenge was to make a meal from what is available to cook.


         There were a few shows in the eighties that came close to this theme, and watching shows back when they were not shouting matches, gave me insights into the freedom a chef can have in a kitchen designed especially for the chef.
         I once designed a duel kitchen for Mr. & Mrs. Pizza Shop Owners. His portion of the kitchen was for baking, while the opposite corner was for sautéing all the things his wife loved to prepare. They loved the design, and it came easily after I listened to how both of them individually cooked. Having been a vegetarian cook myself, helped as well. The one thing I’d love to create is that magic shelf you see the TV chefs use to put their used pans and bowls below the counter, and have them magically become clean (no dogs allowed).


         When I stop and think about kitchens and baths, I realize there are almost never two alike. Each of my 188 designs was for a different client, different needs, different cabinets and different budgets. With all these ingredients (I’ve been waiting to use that pun) these residential rooms are my favorites. Commercially, I love a reception area, the conference room, and the big offices in the corners! For a restaurant, it’s about the views externally or internally, with artwork, and smiling service.


         Knowing my limitations helps me as well!


         Another son was studying how businesses are put together, and one day he sent me a letter with a single question: “Peter, please define your creative process for me.” I had never actually defined it for myself, but while listening to the sentences I use, I found the common starting point is question/answer time, followed by a budget if possible, and then I almost always say, “Let me see what comes out of the pencil tomorrow.” I trust the process.


         When I sent this to him he replied, “Please be specific about how what feeds the pencil,” or something like that. The next morning, I began to describe my process as I had never defined it before: I imagine standing in an open space without walls and a ceiling yet comfortable. About ten feet around me is a cylinder of documents, drawings, and bits of information. The cylinder is about eighteen inches thick, twenty feet in diameter, starting about a foot above the floor, and as tall as I can see. These individual documents don’t bump into each other. They rotate slowly upward from left to right and rise about 2 feet with each revolution. I can’t really see the details on the pages, but I know they contain all the information needed. New documents appear at the bottom and evaporate at the top. It’s all very Virgo; neat and clean with no waste.

When I feel ready, I close my eyes, cup my hands as if to catch water, and everything I need to start creating, falls into my hands, or rather directly into my head. The belief  I have is all knowledge is suspended like a giant web surrounding the planet. My challenge is to tap into this web and use what is appropriate for the task at hand. How I put these creative bits together is the uniqueness I reflect about the project. Many times I have this GREAT IDEA that will change the world, and then discover someone else has done it! The idea of a patent may come from the possessiveness some people have, plus the belief in the money they may make. I do know patents do not make money.  Products require manufacturing, which is not a click of the fingers. Then the product needs marketing, distribution, and support, not to mention warranties and legal restrictions. This is BEFORE a sale, so the investment to get to the market place is an expensive and long path.


         Usually my ideas flow early in the morning. While I rest, and my mind takes a break, the creative part of me begins to formulate a result. I used to doodle, and from the doodles came the beginning. Now with a computer to design in 3D, I begin with any part of it. I can add/subtract/duplicate/change any part of it, or hit DELETE and star over the next morning.

          It has been a wonderful fifty years watching computers become a tool allowing my 3D imaginings to become real. With a few control choices, the computer can render the item as if a photograph. I can also make a 3D PDF drawing you can open on your own computer and twirl it, walk through it, and see it from angles you can’t imagine. I am limited only by my own thoughts and beliefs. We are in a golden age of machines becoming tools making a reality from our imaginations.


              So what’s the down side? This is a stretch for me. It may be that we don’t use technology enough. Often clients believed if I can draw it on a blank page, I could undoubtedly build it. However, a computer generated drawing might be created by someone who has never cut a board, hammered in a nail, or even knows what a router is, let alone how to finish, paint, and install whatever it might be.


         Another downside I experience more now than ever, has to do with the complications of these computers and the software I need. It occurred to me a few years ago to ask for, or find a list of the keyboard shortcuts. When I count the shortcuts, I know how many commands I will need to learn to use the program. For one of my architectural programs there are 380 shortcuts, or commands. This means I need to learn a minimum of 120 to start, and another 100 to become average, and the rest to use the program at its maximum. Now in my seventies, my experience is far greater than my computer skills. I look forward to teaming with younger nerds. I had one assistant who loved to click! I disliked 20/20 because most actions took 5 clicks minimum. This seemed a waste of time and not very creative. My assistant loved to click away! And she did, with a smile!


         Teams can be both a burden and a joy. The periods when they were a burden, I was arrogant and single minded. The times when the team was a joy, the project got better every time there was a change, a solution, or a new person making a contribution. My best successes came from a team of people bringing their perspectives and experiences to the project and made it better.


         When I was young, I did everything myself. As I got older, I began to search out solutions from masters who had experiences they shared. My life took some shortcuts. In my midlife, I found room for other masters to become part of the solution. I also sought out people who had mastered their craft, like finishing, welding, and technical issues.


Now in my later years, it is I who can contribute my experiences in every way needed. As I mentioned, I consider myself a Master Assistant, filling in the gaps which can make the project easier, better, and successful for the client. A successful project creates a happy client. A happy client usually pays the bill making us all earn a living. A successful project sells a future project. Referrals are the best part of the creative business. This creative business is built on an idea becoming reality, creating a smile, and filling the needs of a client who trusts us to make their dream come true.


What is the saying?
         It takes a village to raise a child?

It takes a village to make a dream come true.



Peter Burt

V5 Thursday, December 18, 2016