Laney LA is a totally different architecture firm. Practicing at the intersection of design, architecture, and technology, Laney LA, brings forth a unique, creative, and deeply personal approach. Delivering world-class architectural services by harnessing a new generation of digital tools and technology. Laney brings about the very best client-driven architecture. We sat down for an exclusive interview with founding partner Anthony Laney to discuss their unique approach and exciting projects.
Anthony, thank you so much for sitting down with us. Your firm is doing some amazing work! So tell us about Laney LA. How did you start and what is your design philosophy?
Great. So the company is Laney LA and we are a design studio with a team of 14 architects and designers. When we started, it was my wife and I, in 2014, in our garage studio. For the past five years, we’ve just been growing the team designer by designer and project by project. We moved to a studio in the City of Hawthorne which is in the south part of L.A. And most recently, we moved to an incredible new studio in the city of Hermosa Beach! Our design philosophy has a large impact from the cities in which our projects are located.
We specialize in high-end, luxury residential homes, all along the coast of California. Beach lifestyle and a love of natural materials, natural light, indoor-outdoor space, and a calm atmosphere, are all elements that we integrate into our projects.
That said, at our core, I would say that we really do have a passion for the creative process. What’s fun about that, is rather than having just one signature style or perhaps a prescriptive approach to an end product. We really enjoy a wide and thorough design process. We’re partnering with our clients and our collaborators to explore multiple ideas with an open mind. Often what emerges is the client’s lifestyle, their passions, or their travel experiences that really start to inform a custom approach to the way that a home can be designed.
That sounds like so much fun even for you guys though, because you’re learning a lot and actually being able to see it from their perspective too. Take us through the process from design to completion. What does that look like?
Well, it starts with what we call the discovery process where we interview the clients in great detail about their lifestyle, rituals, and habits. We really want to make sure we understand not only the prescriptive wish list but also their greater hopes and dreams and aspirations. Oftentimes, that includes assembling imagery from other projects that inspire us, and ultimately, landing upon an early design direction! It is about beginning to craft an attitude and approach toward the site and the design.
From the Discovery phase, we dive into design. We hallmark that phase by multiple iterations of design sketches, 3D modeling, and renderings to allow our clients to see multiple design options. Rather than trying to convince our clients about the merit of an approach, we like to present multiple visual solutions to spark debate over which elements of a design have the most merit and deserve the consideration.
Even as we move into our next phases, design always continues even until the final day of construction. But to finish the project, we kick off an engineering phase, in which all of the engineering consulting and documentation required for a home is coordinated. And we finish our primary services with the facilitation of the permitting phase, in which all of the engineering consulting is required for a home as well as the permitting phase, in which we handle all of the city and municipal code requirements.
As licensed architects, we’re not builders, so we just do the design piece of the puzzle. During construction, we team up with a construction team and stay involved in a project to ensure that the vision execution goes according to plan and to be available to answer any questions. Of course, at the end of that, we get the most exciting moment, when the homeowner gets to move into the new space.
So then do they usually come to you with a master plan or vision, or is it kind of just an individual space or separate ideas?
Great question. You know most clients come to us with bits and pieces of a vision? So yes, some elements a client will care deeply about and express a strong opinion regarding. Other elements of the home, they’ll admit they have only a vague idea of what their preference is. So to answer your question, our clients certainly don’t need to come to us with a fully formed master plan or crystal clear vision. All we need to work with is an address and an open mind!
Awesome! What trends in architecture do you see moving into 2020?
The two most prominent trends in 2020, I would say are health and flexibility. I think that our population is growing increasingly aware of the impact that spaces have, both on our physical health as well as our mental health and wellbeing. So, we are noticing timeless principles, of natural light and sustainable materials gaining new appreciation and impact in our culture.
Regarding flexibility, life can change so fast. And in big ways and little ways, we’re seeing the need for rooms and spaces to perform dual purposes, especially as property values rise. For example, a pool might need to transform into a patio; a garage might need to transform into an art studio; an indoor space might need to be opened up, or an outdoor space might need to be closed up just to embrace the evolving and dynamic nature of life. Even when we design a new home, we’ll sometimes consider future renovations, so in a sense, the project is never truly done. And so flexibility and adaptability, I think, are key trends.
I agree. Health and flexibility are becoming much more of a focus. What are your tips for making a house feel more like a home? Because anybody can have a house, but just to walk in knowing that’s my sanctuary is a whole other feeling!
I love that! So I have a couple ideas here. The first is really asking how does nostalgia plays a role in the design process? We all have different conceptions about what home was and is and should be. And we all have different histories and relationships with the spaces we’ve grown up in. If we can tap into some of those pieces, they can actually, believe it or not, be leveraged as items that are inspiring the new design. So one route, is being able to speak comfortably about what pieces automatically feel nostalgic for a particular family.
The other approach is a little more unique to us. It has to do with how to make a modern home not feel cold, commercial, and sterile. A lot of our clients come to us because they want this contemporary masterpiece of architecture and sometimes they have a taste profile that leans fairly minimal. But at the same time, they’re aware enough to know that, that style can go wrong. That if not done correctly, it can feel cold and kind of minimal in a bad way. As a team, we really enjoy taking clients through the process of infusing the warmth, and charm, and nostalgia into more simple modern spaces.
People are free to roll their eyes at this, but we believe this is accomplished through the details between the color palette, the textures, the finishes, and all the many pieces that can lean either too corporate and glossy, or they can really expose the craftsmanship of a home in a way that just feels like it’s more oriented for someone’s personal use.
Yes, because you’re right, some of them do feel kind of cold. It’s almost like a museum. They’re pretty, but if you’ve got to hang out there in bare feet, it may not be the most comfortable spot, especially those with children.
When it comes to the indoor-outdoor connection of the home. What’s your approach? How do you create a cohesive framework between both, so it feels like you just evolved into the outdoor space or the outdoor into the indoor?
That’s a great question, and we actually just wrote a blog post about this! I think, I would say, the most popular and obvious answer, which we truly believe, has to do with these giant movable glass doors. They’re the big, sliding doors or accordion bi-fold doors that connect an indoor space to the outdoors. They truly enable parties and people to flow seamlessly in and out of the home. Another way to take that to the next level is to think about your indoor space and your outdoor space separately.
Consider, how do you make the outdoor space feel a little bit more indoor and vice versa? More specifically, I see many outdoor spaces go wrong, when one walks outside and all that’s there is direct sunshine, some landscape, and a water feature.
Those are all good ingredients, but when there is some covered outdoor space, when there are speakers and lights and heaters in the roof above you when the floor is heated, when tasteful furniture with and a rug underneath fill the space, when a fireplace and a TV and a chimney are present as well, when all of these other elements are in place and making that outdoor space feel literally more like an indoor room, that’s when you truly get that seamless effect. On the interior, holistically bringing plants and as much natural light as possible, really creates this third hybrid space – the best of both worlds.
Those are great tips! Take us through your delighted client map. What challenges have you been able to overcome with this?
So in my answer to question number two I gave a quick overview, but it starts with the discovery phase, then the design phase, then the engineering phase, then a pre-construction phase, and a guided permitting phase. The last piece is the construction phase, and I like your question,: what challenges have you been able to overcome with this? One of the challenges is sticker shock for construction pricing. Rather than doing the bidding process at the end, we include a bidding phase earlier on in the process, so that we can ensure alignment with the client’s budgetary goals as we design.
Secondarily, as our illustrated Proven Process demonstrates, our process is like a spiraling circle. Rather than one phase beginning and ending, before a second phase starts, all the spaces overlap which underscores the reality of what we consider to be the best design process. In other words, the discovery phase and the design phase begin, but never truly end.
Not only does this allow us to compress the schedule and actually work on multiple pieces at once, but it’s also a reminder that even though the design phase might be a little bit heavier in the beginning, there are so many design-related decisions that occur throughout the entire lifecycle of the project, and it is the orchestration of all those thousands and thousands of details that really make a piece of architecture special. So those are just two of the things that come to mind in terms of overcoming those challenges.
That is an amazing process that truly creates a highly efficient build! Tell us about a few of your recent projects. What was particularly challenging and rewarding?
Well one that is a really fun story for me is the project that has now been titled “The Disappearing Pool”. It was our opportunity to work with an incredible athlete, and they had this wonderful property very close to the ocean in Manhattan Beach. Their wish list included a lot of outdoor yards, an outdoor bar, as well as a pool, and a spa. We tried very hard to include all of those ingredients into the design. The day that we pitched the project happened to be the same day that my wife and I had our second child, so the start of the project coincided with a flurry of life events that have since become surreal memories in retrospect.
Ultimately, we presented a handful of designs, all of which we were very proud of. I think they received them very well, but at the end of the day, everything itself was a little bit too small. Each element wasn’t quite fitting the way that we wanted it to.
Over the course of the next year, the design evolved to include an extremely high tech pool engineering system where the bottom of the pool lifts and lowers to either make the pool either 8 feet deep to swim in, shallow like a Baja shelf, so children can splash around in it, or it can be flush with the patio to create an outdoor deck. The pool quite literally becomes invisible. It was really that layering, that overlap of creativity and technology, that also allowed us to embrace this more flexible approach. Our clients didn’t have to pick between two items on their wishlist. They could really, in a sense, have it all literally at the push of a button.
Wow, that’s amazing! Where did that technology come in from? That’s really great, especially if you have kids?
It is really is amazing! We used a consultant from the United Kingdom, that had to fly all the way to LA, and I believe the technology might have even come from Israel as well. It’s the AKVO Spiral Lift System, which is that what we ultimately used as the solution to that challenge.
I’ll have to look into that more! Besides this amazing company, what other designers, architects, and creative people/firms are you particularly inspired by at the moment?
Clearly, there are so many sources that inspire us. We really have a lot of fun sharing our projects on Instagram (follow us at @laneylainc), and we draw a ton of inspiration from other teams who are doing fun work on Instagram. However, two L.A.-based designers are really in tune with where design is headed. One is called Brendan Ravenhill Studio. He’s a lighting designer in Los Angeles. And the second is a multidisciplinary design studio owned by a couple friends of mine, called Klein Agency. They do everything from furniture to architecture to some of the coolest restaurants you could ever see in Los Angeles. Ultimately, it’s that young, energetic, productive vibe that I am truly inspired by.