(almost) ALMOST FAMOUS: Architects Working Under the Radar / Cathleen Curtin



Ever since meeting Cathleen Curtin (CA, AIA) in 2004, I have closely watched as her list of accomplishments steadily increases, and am pleased by her success.  And have often wondered where and how does she find the time and energy to keep producing noteworthy projects in the Washington metropolitan area, as well as in California.  Just the thought of packing a week-end bag causes me no small amount of anxiety, much less trying to manage projects on both coasts.  I have to hand it to her, cause she seems to do it quite well, all the while charming and gracious in SOHO chic apparel and perfectly groomed.  Alas, tonight's essay promised by Ms Curtin was not possible because of a heavy work schedule these past months, and I had to console myself with a short interview yesterday.  Still, it went quite well, and we are quite lucky to have had the time together.  I am sure that you will all enjoy our all too brief discussion, as well as find it refreshingly candid.


Shane:  You somehow manage to juggle multiple projects, without collapsing or turning into a monster.  How do you manage to stay calm and focused, traits which several of your clients have commented on?

Cathleen:  Each day must start with love + calm followed by excitement in starting the day. The pup and I dash off on our daily morning walks for fun + balance in nature where I sort out the day. ... What can change here, this will do better there. I love moving the puzzle pieces of form + function around to explore the interchange, finding the best solution.

Shane:  What makes a good project; is it client, designer, timing, circumstances, or just plain luck??

Cathleen:  A good designer has to be the catalyst by which clients realize their dreams and as that catalyst I am there to exceed their imagination. My value is is listening and translating my client’s vision into a style that is exceedingly beautiful and livable with all the comforts of home.  Everyone has a wish to transform their environments and I have the eye, the tenacity and the esprit de joie to make it happen and champagne never hurts!

Shane:  Some in your field are faulted for being arrogant, egotistical, and more concerned with the trophy house, or trophy museum; do you worry about staying relevant, appearing avante-garde?  What tempers the urge, if any, to pull out all the stops on any give project?

Cathleen:  Having studied under Robert Stern and Michael Graves I have learned quality, balance and proportion matter greatly and that classical forms with our American freshness to be uplifting for so many.  I have clients now living in an Arlington bungalow that I worked on 7 yrs ago. The kids have left,  and now we are turning the house back to the adults.  We are embarking on a creative journey.  I often find inspiration within their home, every clients home, and their way of life . . . it is all around us. My goal is to create a new and invigorating space in which they find comfort and refuge.  The style of individual projects may differ, yet the underlying concern with appropriateness, both in design and function, is a driving force behind what I do.

Shane:  Do you look at the work of other architects for inspiration?  How did you get started in this field?

Cathleen:  I believe I was inspired by my parents who were serial renovators. And now, shelter magazines, and trips to the museums are a large part of my dream-life.  Then, travel, gardens and fabulous trips to New York and Paris.  Our own DC has always inspired me towards the next new beautiful thought.   Art and architectural history abound with the beauty of the ages, so why not imbue others’ lives with this beauty.  The Pantheon, Roman ruins, as well as the creations of Robert Stern and Michael Graves inspire me to reach greater heights, and so I do just that.

PS:  More about Cathleen Curtin, RA AIA, can be found at her website,  (www.cathleencurtinarchitects.com)


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