When an Architect is More than an Architect

By Brian Wiersema, Contributing Writer, The San Diego Union

[Third in a Series]

Test yourself. What's the secret to creating beautiful, functional, custom-designed homes in Rancho Santa Fe? (a) Inspiration (b) Planning (c) Service (d) All of the Above The answer, says architect Don Edson, is (d) All of the Above. "Making your dream home a reality is a thorough process of putting inspiration and planning together with service, service, service," he said.

In practice since 1973, Edson says community's distinctive residential character enjoys an international reputation because architectural firms are expected to get more completely involved with homes here. "We are brought into the picture much sooner. We stay with the project much longer," said Edson. "People get a fuller range of professional help from construction budgeting to lot selection to picking out the right wall colors and furniture. Clients should feel that their desires are articulated in every facet of custom construction." He calls it Total Service Quality.

Edson's, firm, Don Edson Architect A.I.A. & Associates, has designed and built custom residential throughout California and in New Mexico, Texas, and Connecticut. He says people everywhere are looking for one basic outcome: harmony of design where everything works together. "They want more than blueprints," said Edson. "They want a complete, coordinated living environment."

His planning process begins with a client wish list. Clients talk. Edson listens. He asks a lot of questions. From ideas on home needs to livability, a design style evolves. That style is the glue that holds the project together. "The overriding factor is that each house has a feel and specific style you can hang a name on," said Edson.

For example, the Richard and Liz Bartell Edson design home among the eucalyptus groves on Las Planideras is a 9,200 square foot Spanish colonial ranch house. "It works," said Edson, "because all of the landscaping, the interior finishing, and the decoration all work together." Edson took a personal hand in both exterior and interior design features. Bartell interviewed (11) architects. With three young children she says she was looking for top design talent and all the architectural planning and construction help she could get. "Clients today shop as much for service as they do for design," said Edson. "They see the service first and judge you on that before the final product takes shape."

Edson, a graduate of a six-year architectural program at the University of Cincinnati, began working in high-end custom residential years ago when Rancho Santa Fe was transforming from a second-home community to one of primary residence. People like married physicians Brent and Sarita Eastman wanted to live here, but they found that second homes on the resale market were expensive and lacking in the quality they wanted.

Edson helped guide them to the custom "fit" they wanted and to long-term value. Result: "No disappointments," said Dr. Sarita Eastman. "Edson paid attention to what we told him about what our family needed, and he delivered." Their home on La Garcia was completed in January 1983. It's a U-Shaped, single story traditional California ranch home of used brick and wood. For a year, Edson met with the Eastman's in detailed planning sessions. They began with almost no design preconceptions. Their home took shape from their living requirements. Edson calls it "building from the inside out." "We didn't want space that wasn't functional," said Dr. Eastman. "And with three children and two busy careers, we wanted an interior that brought us all together for some good, quality home time."

One of Edson's larger Ranch projects is a 14,000 square foot early 19th century French Chateau-style country manor home in Rancho Del Lago. It was built for a couple retired from the dairy cattle industry and who were, for the most park, out-of-state during its construction-an absenteeism unusual in custom construction. Added construction review by the architect was just one of their requirements. The two-story imported slate roof chateau is the couple's third custom-built home and represents a consolidation and settling down of their lifestyle. They wanted a home with multiple functions, including entertaining and hosting their visiting children and, yes, possibly both at the same time. What they got were twin kitchen and dining room combinations-one set for family, one set for guests-and two homes in one. The second story, with its own entrance elevator, is self-contained; and grandchildren can make noise and be themselves without disrupting the couple's first story residential peace and quiet. "Service" said Edson, "is giving people what they want."

The building took shape in schematic designs and detailed document development with lots of changes. Edson uses a lot of tracing paper. He says it's obviously easier and less expensive to make changes on paper. When concepts are talked through and agreed upon, Edson builds a scale model about two feet high. That model is brought to the site and tests decisions, including how and where the home should be placed on-site. Then a full scale "footprint" is laid out using stakes and string. Modifications are made as needed for view, sun and room access.

During construction, the fine-tuning continues. Edson calls it "a funneling of detail." Additionally, Edson creates supplemental drawings throughout the building process to amplify original concepts on the finder points of detailed finishing in doors, stairways, fireplaces, kitchen counters. "Communication among our client and our craftsmen is continuous," said Edson. "That means regularly scheduled planning meetings, site meetings, and meetings with design consultants. Today, you have to stay involved long after others feel their work is done. "I think clients respect that. And more and more they expect that."