Storytelling Through Design – Art in Architecture from Studio von Kalinowski Design
by Cassidy Mantor
Wendy von Kalinowski, of the multi-faceted design firm Studio von Kalinowski Design, is an artist at heart. In addition to custom home architecture and remodels, she has designed furniture, hardware, and custom lighting for her clients. Wendy received her education in environmental design and is a California-licensed architect. She has a background in interior architecture, and has created commercial interiors, healthcare spaces, corporate offices, and also hotels and restaurants in Europe. Her commercial experience ingrained in her that every design feature and element must have a strong purpose and function.
Wendy brings her vast perspective to her residential projects. She designs a client’s home around a central concept that becomes their story. She hand-sketches ideas and translates the relationship between site, form, and flow with such finesse that she designs multiple homes for clients who appreciate the depth of her work. Her ultimate goal is to create an awe-inspiring environment that people love to call home.
whj: What makes architecture timeless?
I like design that is sensitive to detail and has a direct relationship to its place. I always think, “How does one feel when they’re in that space?” To me, a project that responds to the environment is timeless. Timeless design means composition and quality of space.
whj: How do you respond to challenges during the design process?
Creative problem-solving is a large component of my work, so I like when things are not predictable because they allow for us to imagine other possibilities. A challenge with the site or possibly the budget can inspire creative development. I feel that there’s always more than one good solution, and sometimes one needs to allow that exploration to happen.
“Storytelling is a way to reflect upon functionality and also evaluate whether an element or feature is appropriate. In Central Oregon, the colors are constantly changing and contribute to many of our stories.”
–Wendy von Kalinowski, Founder, Studio von Kalinowski Design
whj: Why is hand-sketching central to your process?
Even in today’s world of computer-drawn renderings, my clients like my hand-drawn sketches because they have a certain romantic quality and imagination. I want to invoke emotion into a home, not as an object, but as a living space. I can capture the quality of light or texture that awakens the senses and connects one’s relationship to their environment, be it a richness or a serenity, a comfort or an inspiration. I think of the emotive quality that Ansel Adams’ photographs of Yosemite Valley have. The depth and awe that is visible in his black and white photographs is the same breathlessness I aspire to achieve for my clients.
I’ve always looked at design as an art form, and hand-sketching allows me to ask the question, “How does this space feel?” Using my hand straight to paper is the purest connection to my mind. My clients are attracted to this illustrative form of communication, as well as the process. Every line I draw has purpose. The drawing comes alive and an original identity emerges that becomes the basis of their unique story. Ultimately, the hand sketches are then translated into CAD construction documents.
whj: How do you use storytelling in your designs?
Storytelling is a way to reflect upon functionality and also evaluate whether an element or feature is appropriate. In Central Oregon, the colors are constantly changing and contribute to many of our stories. One house we finished was up on a ridge with exposed lava rock, ponderosas, and rusty bark colors. When we did an initial site visit, there was a blackened old tree stump and a hawk flying overhead. The house took on the same undulating angles and colors as the bird’s pinions. It had charred architectural beams that emulated the tree’s burnt remains. We even created bench slabs from felled pines and embedded some of the site’s boulders into the floor.
Everyone’s intent and purpose is different, and that has to be taken into account when creating a home’s story. Respect for budget and time also factors in. Unlike when I designed for corporate and commercial projects, residential clients are part of the story. They bring their own focus and get to share it with their friends and family.
whj: How does nature factor into your work?
Nature is my inspiration because I can appreciate it in its true original beauty without having to make it better. You can’t make nature any better than it is. It also provides a constant reminder to look at the small details and nuances such as textures, light, moss on a tree, shadows from branches, and how light will constantly change the colors in a meadow.
I designed one home where the entry and rear patio were created off of the axis of the path of the rising moon and setting sun. My goal in design is to make it as good as nature. It will never be quite as sublime, but you keep trying and you can come close by creating something that works with that omnipresent beauty.
“I can’t imagine not being creative. I love design of all size and scale, from a kitchen remodel or a piece of furniture, to a custom home. I can’t imagine not having that be a part of me.
–Wendy von Kalinowski, Founder, Studio von Kalinowski Design
whj: What do you strive for as an architect?
To create a place you love to call home. When you go to a hospital or a hotel, you don’t have a choice of what that space feels like. Home should be totally reflective of your choice to be there. It should support and nurture you. My goal is to design homes that have the right plan and the right energy. Your home should flow and have enriching relationships with natural light and the surrounding views, yet feel secure and private. My goal is to make you feel inspired from the inside out.
What matters is that the space is right for you, your family, and your future. I believe we can always improve our design. I routinely challenge myself by asking, “If we did this, would it be better?” I’m constantly problem-solving. I’m fortunate that my husband and business partner, Mark Smeltzer, who is a contractor, has the insight to immediately understand the concept and apply his building expertise during the design phase. His objective critique becomes part of the story that helps effectively construct what I’ve imagined.
whj: What’s the most satisfying part of your work?
Walking through a completed project with a client and seeing their reaction. Another aspect to that is the excitement of seeing the work through fresh eyes, which happens when a client brings a friend through who is seeing it for the first time. We’ve had people call us and tell us, “Our friends don’t want to leave because they love being here,” and, “Every day I wake up and am in awe of my home.”
I’ve been in design for 40 years. There’s always something to design, and I can’t imagine not being creative. I love design of all size and scale, from a kitchen remodel or a piece of furniture, to a custom home. I can’t imagine not having that be a part of me.
For more information, visit studiovkdesign.com.