Check on who you are working with: Are they a licensed Architect?

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

We can’t emphasize this enough—a designer is not a licensed professional.  They may have certain skills and experience, some may even have a degree in architecture, but they do not have the extensive training of a licensed architect.  Unlicensed individuals are not legally liable for their work.  To verify whether someone you are interviewing is a licensed architect in California, you can check online with the California Architects Board at

Would you go to an unlicensed person for medical services?  For legal services?  Why would you trust your home or business, probably your biggest single investment, to an unlicensed person?  It does not save you money in the long run.  You will not likely get the best possible design solution either.

Some folks have taken to calling themselves architects when they do not hold a California license.  (That is not legal.)  Some have licenses from foreign countries, or other states.  It’s simply not the same thing.  California has some of most stringent requirements in the world for design and construction.  This is partly due to seismic (earthquake) safety, but it is also due to environmental regulations, life safety, building energy performance, local ordinances, and other concerns.  A licensed architect not only has a four or five-year architecture undergraduate degree, they also have years of apprenticeship under a licensed architect, then a rigorous multi-part examination that usually takes multiple years to pass successfully.  For a good summary of the steps to become a licensed architect, see this blog: by Derek Leavitt.  For more details, and the process to be licensed in the U.S. for foreign architects, see

Our firm was underbid for a contract on a commercial building remodel a few years ago.  A woman who claimed to be an architect offered her services for half of what we estimated.  The client didn’t check on her license, but trusted her claim.  After she created a full set of documents (and charged him for it), the project could not get permitted.  There were glaring errors and omissions.  The unfortunate client had to come back to us and start all over.  None of the designer’s work could be used.  Instead of getting the project for “half price”, he ended up paying 1.5 times what he would have paid in the first place.  He also had a huge setback to his schedule and lost potential revenue waiting to get his new tenants into the building.

Just recently we found out another cautionary story by coincidence.  A married couple interviewed us about a residential addition project.  We determined that the home already had a second story addition that was built without permits.  The couple wanted to add more square footage to the home.  We outlined the complexities of legalizing the existing second story to them, including that they would not be able to build as much additional square footage as they wanted.  Instead they chose an unlicensed designer who told them what they wanted to hear.  We found out the rest of the story later because we know the General Contractor that the couple chose to build the project.  After it was all said and done, the couple ended up having to do exactly what we had proposed in the first place.  The project had to be redesigned and downsized.  The drawings had to be redone and resubmitted to the permitting agency.  It took 2 ½ years of back-and-forth with the permitting agency because the designer was not familiar enough with the code requirements and kept trying to tweak the design to make it work.  The General Contractor told us that the original estimate he had given the couple had to be increased quite a bit after the 2.5-year delay due to rising construction costs.

Keep in mind that the “soft costs” of a project (architecture, engineering and permit fees) are typically far less than the “hard costs” of construction.  It varies, but soft costs usually run less than 15% of the project budget.  Don’t get scared of overpaying on the soft costs.  Hire the best, and most experienced, licensed professionals you can find, who are available and willing to take your project.  Double-check on their license status.  The fee for a good architect is money well spent, and could save you time and costs in the long run.

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Design Considerations for Millennials

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc., Architects


It is time for architects to consider the needs and lifestyles of Millennials in our design process.

We’ve already seen some of this in office design—most tech firms use an open space floor plan devoid of the cubicles of the past.  Many incorporate relaxation amenities, such as places to lie down or put your feet up, exercise or play equipment, and break rooms with high quality food and beverage choices (no more stale coffee, water cooler and vending machines).  In fact, break rooms have become full kitchens.  Creative space with whiteboards or wipe-off walls are a normal part of collaboration spaces.  Conference rooms can look more like living rooms with sofas and a large flat screen on the wall, instead of a huge table surrounded by chairs.  Outdoor landscaped areas and indoor plant scaping is a common feature of the work environment.  These amenities are clearly worker-friendly and appeal to the Millennial mentality of work/lifestyle balance.

Other changes to office design are meant to increase productivity, such as multiple electrical outlets for portable devices and charging, wi-fi availability, better lighting fixtures and access to natural light, and improved communication systems.

More companies are allowing employees to use mobile devices—tablets and pads, smart phones—to do their work, email, and communications rather than be tied to a desk.  Millennials are just as fast on touch screens as Baby Boomers are adept on a keyboard.  Millennials want flexible work hours and are comfortable checking their devices when they are away from “the office”, whereas many Boomers want to disconnect when they are away from “the office”.  What if office space were designed less to be a place where people “go to work” and more of a place where telecommuting workers “come to meet”?

In home environments, Millennials seem to be moving away from the traditional single family home with a yard (not to mention white picket fence).  They flock to urban environments with lots of entertainment choices, living in apartments or shared houses, and consider the nearby parks, clubs, gyms, and other venues within walking distance as their outdoor space.  This dispenses with the need for lawnmowers and other home maintenance costs and chores and encourages social interactions at locations outside the home.  We’ve also seen increasing popularity for smaller, right-sized homes rather than the “McMansions” that were trending a while ago.

One thing we’ve noticed that Boomers and Millennials both have in common is our love of pets.  We have designed a lot of pet-friendly spaces, including Wag Hotels.  These are upscale board and care facilities for dogs and cats that are designed to mimic hotels for humans in accommodations, activities and levels of amenities available.  We predict that more apartment and multi-family residential facilities will become pet-friendly in the future, as more architects incorporate systems, materials and finishes that take the needs of pets and pet owners into consideration.

Millennials also seem to be letting go of the automobile as an extension of themselves.  Boomers are very auto-centric, and our built environment reflects that, with roads, highways, and parking playing a major role in land-use and infrastructure decisions.  Many Millennials are perfectly content to bike, take public transit, or use car-sharing or car-hailing technologies when needed.  Some don’t own cars because it is an inconvenience to search for parking in an urban environment.  Car ownership does not provide the hop-in, drop-off-at-the-door convenience of Lyft or Uber.  In a future where less people own cars, we may be able to change zoning ordinances to require less land and costs devoted to parking lots and parking garages.  Imagine neighborhoods without driveways, garages and carports.  Imagine drop-off/pick-up zones and a lot more Wifi hotspots in waiting areas.  The design possibilities and opportunities are exciting.

As architects adapt their designs to reflect the tastes and needs of Millennials, we will soon see major changes to our built environment, and it is something to look forward to.


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I like/I wish/What if: Working with Clients to Apply Design Thinking

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects


“Design Thinking” is all the rage in Silicon Valley.  People are applying it to all sorts of companies and products, and we can apply it to architecture as well.  Today I want to talk about design thinking in client interactions.  Often a client will come to us to create plans for a pre-conceived result.  For example, a client will say “I want to add a second story to my building.”  They already have a list of improvements prepared and often they have a pretty good idea of how they want to accomplish them.  This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t yield the most creative results.

Another way to go about a conversation with a client is to play the “I like, I wish, What if” game.  This game is a normal part of the process of design thinking.

The process goes something like this:  Start with a statement that is specific (and reflects your emotional engagement).  “I have a growing business.”  Next, you make a critical observation that is specific and actionable preceded by the words “I wish”.  In this example you might say “I wish our office building could accommodate more employees.”

The next step would be to take those actionable statements and give them to your architect.  The architect might show you a second story addition (your initial concept) or the architect might show you an open floor plan design that removes some walls and requires less square footage per employee.  That is how you get “outside the box” thinking.  From there you might say, “I like open floor plans.  I wish that they also accommodated more privacy.”  Going back and forth with this feedback loop, your architect will refine the design until you get a scheme that you love.

Another example that we often encounter is that the client has taken off-the-shelf home design software to draw a floor plan of what they want their project to look like.  We then start probing to find out what they are trying to accomplish.  For example, we might ask, “Would you like to increase storage space in your home?” “Would you like to increase natural light?” “Would you like to improve the flow from room to room?”  With the answers to these “I like” questions we often find that they have not considered all of the opportunities for improvements to their home with their preconceived design.  They are then more open to a fresh design approach.

Before contacting your architect, try a “What if” scenario that begins with “What if cost was not a consideration?”  You might come up with some wild ideas that are totally impractical, but they might contain the seed of a concept that you can then play around with when talking to your architect.  For example, an urban homeowner in a confined space might say “If money were no object, I would have beautiful views from every room”.  OK, maybe your architect could maximize window space that looks out on small container gardens or figures out ways to incorporate art photography to give the illusion of great views.

The “I like, I wish, What if” game can free your thinking and allow you to consider new ideas.  Try it and use it with your design team.

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The IoT and Cybersecurity: Important Considerations for Architects and their Clients

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects


We love our gadgets, don’t we?  We have smart phones, smart TVs, and smart watches.  Now we have the option to build smart buildings and smart houses.  The Internet of Things is catching on fast.  More and more of our devices are connected to the internet and when everything from computers and home security systems to baby monitors and refrigerators are online 24/7, they can be hacked.  As we learned from the cyberattack that shut down major websites such as Twitter and Paypal last October while targeting the internet host Dyn, our devices can be hijacked for nefarious purposes.

If you like the convenience of these devices and want them installed in your home or office, you may want to consider cybersecurity as part of your decision-making process.   Your architect can refer you to a consultant that can provide valuable technical expertise for your project.  A recent article in the San Francisco Business Times headlined “The Dark Side of the Internet of Things” summarizes this issue and ranks several installed devices as “Disastrous, Disruptive or Damaging”.  These include IP-Connected Security Systems and Climate Control and Energy Meters (Disastrous), Smart Video Conference Systems, Connected Printers and VOIP phones (Disruptive) and Smart Fridges and Smart Lightbulbs (Damaging).  Unfortunately, you must be a subscriber to view the article, but if you are a subscriber or wish to subscribe, here is the link:

That is alarming and it doesn’t even address the privacy issue, an Orwellian concern that is becoming more real every day.  “Wired” published an article titled “Smart Homes of the Future Will Know Us by Our Heartbeats”  If that makes you cringe, then maybe you will want to be thoughtful about what you are installing and how much security is built into the device.  If you are thinking that it would be cool to have your surroundings and devices programmed to recognize and respond to you automatically, then maybe you are one of the early adopters of this technology.

While we don’t take a positive or negative approach to the Internet of Things, we do want our clients to be informed about their choices.  Some of our clients are eager to install these new devices and we will create designs that incorporate them.  Others choose just a few options, such as home entertainment systems and wi-fi, but aren’t ready to jump into the deep end with IP-connected infrastructure.

When you are making these decisions, you can start by checking with the suppliers or manufacturers of the devices you are considering installing at your home or business and ask about how much security has been incorporated into them.  Some of this information is already available online, and you can use your web browser to access articles regarding device security.  Whenever possible, use two-factor identification, such as getting a text on your mobile phone whenever your system has been accessed to verify that you initiated the access.  Use complicated passwords that can’t be easily guessed and don’t use the same password on all your devices.  Yes, this is an annoyance.  There are good password storage applications available, such as LastPass, to help you with this chore.

As architects, we want your built environment to meet your needs.  We want you to have access to modern conveniences.  In this new world of rapidly advancing technology, we are also learning what is safe to use, and what might pose a concern.  It is worth taking time to do the research and make careful choices.

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Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 2

Construction Progress

By Marie Barron, Designer, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects


In our last blog post we discussed the design process for our conversion of the Shroeder sheet metal shop into a home (here is the link if you missed it).  Deep into construction now, we wanted to revisit it and give you some progress snapshots.

Here is a photo of the exterior from Maple Street, as you approach towards Middlefield Road.  The iconic “Shroeder Sheet Metal” sign will return once exterior finishes are complete, respecting the building’s history dating back to the 1920’s.


Great care was taken by the contractor to reuse as many of the old building’s wooden studs as possible, reinforcing with new supplemental studs where needed.  Posts and metal shear walls were added in as well, to support the lofts on either end of the home.

Three of the original trusses were kept as well, webbing across the central double height space as seen in the following photo.


Last, a look at the roof’s progress from the deck off one of the loft bedroom suites.


Look out for finished photos on our website soon!

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Case Study: 640 Maple Street, Part 1

The Vision and Design Process

By Marie Barron, Designer, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

The Kastrop Group prides itself on “designing for your reality,”–helping our clients envision the beautiful and boundless potential they can experience in their built environment.  The following is a short case study of a project that exemplifies this standard, and is now under construction near the heart of downtown Redwood City.

It was an old sheet metal shop, believed to date back to sometime around the 1920’s.  Worn, corrugated sheet metal provided a thin cover to its bare wood studs, and its interior was filled with workshop tables and left-behind supplies.  The client came to us with a strong vision and saw great potential in this old warehouse that many could easily have discarded or overlooked.  He saw his future home.

Once he came to our firm for guidance on the design and permitting process, we began by looking into the parcel map and had a survey conducted to locate the lot’s property lines.  We found that there were actually 2 buildings on the site – the sheet metal shop warehouse, along with a small residence next to it.  We would need to apply for a Use Permit to transform this into a completely residential lot, along with an Architectural Permit presentation of the aesthetic and design logic in order to obtain the City’s planning department support.  A constant dialogue between ourselves, the client, and the city, was fused into the final design.

By retaining the existing building’s footprint and perimeter walls, we could stay within the 0-ft setback lines that existed on this already-small lot.  The design challenge then became how to take this warehouse and turn it into a functional, comfortable living space, designing from the outside-in. Taking advantage of the high ceilings, two bedroom suite lofts were created on either end, opening up to meet at the airy, double-height central living space that showcases the building’s beautiful existing wood trusses.

The design embraces the industrial look and history of the site, with metal siding and plates of corten steel wrapping its sides, capped with a standing seam metal roof.  This industrial aesthetic carries on into the home, with exposed ducts and pipes threading along the high ceiling of its central space.  A touch of warmth for its residential turn was brought in with weathered wood siding covering the inner residential courtyard walls, tucked away from the street, as well as a recessed living wall proposed on the opposite side. A careful selection of refined interior finishes will also contribute to the softening of the home’s interior.

640 Maple - progress

This home is currently under construction.  Stay tuned for some progress photos as we near completion!

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Subcontractors and skilled trades: we need young people to enter the construction industry!

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects


You want your son or daughter to go to college, get a degree and enter the workforce with a high-paying job.  But what if they enjoy hands-on activities and are not motivated by classroom work?  Can they still enter the workforce with a high-paying job?  The answer is yes.

The construction industry lacks incoming apprentice workers in all of the skilled trades, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, framers, heavy equipment operators, masons, glaziers, solar system installers, and so on.  I’m not a representative of the trade unions, but I have heard that they are trying to attract young people to their ranks.  These jobs are skilled work, and usually are highly paid.

Many construction companies would like to hire young people with computer skills.  Millennials are comfortable working with mobile information technology platforms, such as laptops and tablets, and are adept at using computers for many daily activities.  In a similar way, most firms now use cloud computing and digital files instead of huge sets of paper drawings (or blueprints for those of us old enough to remember).  Sophisticated software is in use for the design and construction team on projects of all sizes.  Young tradespeople can combine their computer skills with their hands-on skills to become the top subcontractors of the future.

I’m a little bit outside my area of expertise here, because we are an architectural firm, not a construction firm.  But the need is apparent to us when our projects go out to bid, and we know that the excellent general contractors that we work with are always looking for new employees willing to join the construction industry and be trained in the highly technical building trades of the future.  For the employees in the skilled trades there is great satisfaction in seeing your work come to life in the physical world.  The sense of accomplishment in creating something and watching others use and enjoy it is something many office jobs cannot provide.

We encourage young people to consider the building industry when looking at possibilities for the future.  There are good jobs for skilled tradespeople in all areas of the country.  If the work interests you, go for it!  Here is a useful list of construction trades: with links to more specifics.


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