DESIGN : Some Students Eager for Homework


When Larry and Joan Hauber moved to Newport Beach two years ago, they felt that their 1940s, bungalow-style house needed a change. They wanted to connect their detached garage to the house, add a true master bedroom and add some light to the house.

They asked around about architects and heard about Lawrence O'Toole of Laguna Beach, who was eager to add experience to his resume.

O'Toole got the job while studying for his master's degree in architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. Last year, the school organized the Sci-Arc Network, a directory of alumni for people on small budgets searching for architectural help.

Architects in the referral service work on projects from adding a room to remodeling part or all of a house.

The Sci-Arc Network is made up primarily of graduates of the school, which was founded in 1972, and includes architects in about half of the United States and a number of foreign countries. A call to the Sci-Arc referral service ([310] 574-1123) will elicit the name of an architect within the caller's geographic area.

"It's really expanded over the past year, and many graduates are finding jobs through it," says spokeswoman Julie Taylor. "It's generated calls from around the country. There's really a need to find an architect who'll fit into your budget."

The usual architect's fee is 10% of the construction cost of the project. But some homeowners are looking for architects who'll take less in exchange for the experience.

"I have a list of relatively new architects I call on," says contractor Frank Williams of Anaheim. "It used to be that people would go to an architect who would recommend me. Now everyone's trying to save money, and they're asking me if I can find them an architect who'll help them with a room addition or a kitchen remodel."

Although the practice of hiring an inexperienced graduate is generally frowned upon by the established architecture community, doing small projects while still in school is common for most architects.

"Every big name got his or her start somewhere," says an Orange County architect who asked not to be named. "And it was probably doing a bathroom addition or rearranging a kitchen, the not-so-glamorous jobs that pay the rent."

For O'Toole, the Hauber project became a baptism by fire into the world of construction. When work on the home was half done, the contractor left.

"I had to take the role of the general contractor, which was a true learning experience," O'Toole says. "It wasn't great timing, since I was also trying to finish my thesis."

The work consisted of building a master bedroom above the garage, a loft above the family room and an outside deck with an ocean view. "With a skylight and windows brightening the family room, I wanted to make the loft seemingly float in the light space," O'Toole says.

O'Toole tried to achieve a minimalist style by using light and commonly found materials. Another Sci-Arc graduate, Kimberly Hodge, worked with him on creating the interior.

"We used aircraft cable to create the loft railing and left the ceiling joists exposed underneath," O'Toole says.

Doug and Marcia Gilbert tried to get as far away from the original style of their Laguna Hills house as possible.

"It's the typical three-bedroom tract house that you'll find anywhere in Orange County," Marcia Gilbert says. "But we felt like we were going to be living here for a while, and we wanted to make the house our special living space."

The couple's first goal was to get rid of a small bedroom by knocking out a wall and making it part of the family room.

Then they wanted more.

"We figured the bigger family room would make the adjacent kitchen look small, so we needed to make the kitchen larger, which presented more problems," Marcia says.

When they saw that they needed design help, the Gilberts hit a roadblock. Hiring an architect didn't fit their budget, especially with the growing number of changes they wanted.

After a few phone calls to friends, they learned about Bonnie Abrams, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia.

"They called and told me what they wanted to do and said they needed some professional advice," Abrams says. "They also said they couldn't pay very much, so we worked out a creative deal."

Abrams was interested in touring California and Baja Mexico, so she agreed to create the design for the Gilberts' remodeling work if the Gilberts would give her room and board in their home for a month.

"It worked out really well for both parties," says Marcia Gilbert. "Bonnie got a great vacation, and our plans are great."

Abrams concentrated on the kitchen design, because the Gilberts already knew what they wanted in the family room. "I put a small island in the new center of the kitchen floor, which created more kitchen space and made the larger area seem cozier," Abrams says.

Since graduating last year, Abrams has worked on five remodeling projects, all of which she feels have helped build her skills.

"I've learned quite a bit from each job, and, while I think I'd rather be working for an architectural firm right now, eventually I want to work for myself, and this is giving me a good background," she says.

Beyond making use of the Sci-Arc referral service, homeowners might consult with a faculty member of an architectural school. Not only do many teachers practice, they have a pipeline to recent graduates who might be interested.

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