What's an "Interior Architecture Designer"?: an Interview with Interior Architecture Designer Patrick Tennant / by The Tim Barber Ltd. Team

Tim Barber Ltd.’s interior architecture designer,  Patrick Tennant . Photo by Evan Koester.

Tim Barber Ltd.’s interior architecture designer, Patrick Tennant. Photo by Evan Koester.

Tim Barber Ltd. is a residential architecture studio and has been for the past 24 years. Nevertheless, prospective clients occasionally call to inquire whether we can give their home a “face lift”, ranging from picking out wall colors and papers to sourcing furnishings and decor.

Technically, we can do that, and up until 2012 (when we pared down both our name and operations from Tim Barber Ltd. Architecture & Interior Design to Tim Barber Ltd. Architecture) we occasionally did do interiors-only projects; however, nowadays, we typically don’t.

“We’re architects,” explains principal architect Tim Barber. “While we believe that architecture covers ‘soup-to-nuts’ in creating structures, putting the finishing, purely ‘cosmetic’ touches on those structures is typically the role of our interior design collaborators.”

As I reiterated this sentiment to one such caller, I sensed confusion brewing on the other end of the line. After a short pause, they countered, “…But it says on your website that you have an in-house interior designer.” 

Well, almost.

“We’re a fully integrated design team, and within that team, we have a secret weapon: a dedicated interior architecture designer,” Tim reveals.

But how are they different from an interior designer?

“Interior architecture designers specialize in creating the useful and decorative elements permanently attached to your home that you can’t take with you if you move, like built-ins, or the molding, millwork, paneling, beams, tile, stone, plumbing, and floors,” explains Patrick Tennant, Tim Barber Ltd.’s interior architecture designer. Many of the interior designers that we work with focus on curating a home’s more easily changeable and/or portable aesthetic features, like paint colors, wallpaper, furniture, decor, and soft goods. 

“A good project needs both,” Tim notes.

Unlike some interior designers, Patrick is also deeply engrossed in design ideation early in a project’s timeline. 

“I’m on the design team, getting to know our clients from almost day one, but clients get to know me only in Design Development (the third phase of our architectural design process),” Patrick continues.

“I’m synthesizing all this information about them ahead of time so that when my turn comes, the transition from the project managers to me is seamless and the integrity of the design intent remains intact. My portion of actual design time is typically much shorter than the project managers’ time. They may be on a job for two years, for every single phase, whereas I’m designing for only three or four months out of that time.”

Patrick returns at the end (during construction) when we’re ready to begin interior finishes and need to coordinate with the interior designers, who are sometimes just starting their work.

“Interior architecture designers specialize in creating the useful and decorative elements permanently attached to your home that you can't take with you if you move.”

“Patrick is resourceful, artistic, a good listener, and a dynamic, effective team player,” Tim praises, echoing appreciations I’ve heard many times throughout our office. And it’s true: Patrick is a boon to both our clients and team.

“The architects think on a macro level. Devoting someone to only interior architecture design allows them to stay focused on the big picture. I think that’s part of why Tim created my position, and why we’re so successful as a team. Contractors, engineers, and other collaborators frequently tell us that we have the most detailed drawing sets they’ve ever seen, and we achieve that because of how we’re structured,” explains Patrick,  who scrupulously sources a wide array of surfaces, fixtures, and features for each project, and then documents the final choices in extremely detailed appliance, finish, plumbing, and tile and stone schedules.

“There are lots of moving parts involved in designing and building a house, so the more information we provide and the better we organize it, the greater everyone’s understanding of a design is. When both the people working on a home and the people who will live in that home are on the same page, we can accomplish a lot, quickly.”  

In addition to creating schedules and interior architectural details, Patrick provides another rarified service: hand-drawn elevations and renderings.

“Our team and consultants read architectural drawings every day, but it’s important for us to remember that our clients generally don’t. Illustrations can give clients a sense of their future home’s volume, and also an understanding of the detailing, or what things are in front of others. For example, I shade my elevations (which are an entirely different format from architecture elevations) to show elements in front of or behind another, which helps show depth,” a technique Patrick developed during an earlier foray into theatrical set design. 

“As a set designer, you’re a story-teller, creating environments that function for characters and convey who they are to the audience. I recognized that my theatrical design skills translated beautifully into residential design, because architects, interior designers, and interior architecture designers are also – in very similar ways – telling stories about people who live or work in particular spaces. It’s our job to be attuned to who our clients are and how they live, and to translate those stories into livable designs.”   

Elevations of a breakfast area and built-in kitchen work station for an in-progress project, designed and rendered by  Patrick Tennant , 2018.

Elevations of a breakfast area and built-in kitchen work station for an in-progress project, designed and rendered by Patrick Tennant, 2018.

Elevations and floor plan of a powder room from an in-progress project, designed and rendered by  Patrick Tennant , 2018.

Elevations and floor plan of a powder room from an in-progress project, designed and rendered by Patrick Tennant, 2018.

A highly skilled artist, Patrick often plays a critical role in helping clients visualize their stories using hand-drawn renderings. 

“If and how we create renderings depends on the client. Some want photorealistic digital renderings, which are fine; however, hand-drawn perspectives, which I do, bring a human element to the table.  It’s a romantic document that communicates an idea and feeling,” Patrick stresses, noting that some clients find the ephemerality of hand-drawn renderings significantly less scary than the lifelikeness of digital renderings – especially in the early stages of design, when clients aren’t quite ready to commit to a particular scheme.  

“Renderings sometimes help clients make decisions because they realize, ‘Wow, that’s my house!’ It’s emotional.  They’re so much more than just quick pen and pencil sketches,” Patrick explains.  

For the clients who request them, Patrick’s renderings are often the missing pieces that help make complete sense of the plans and elevations.  They are detailed enough to convey ideas about a space, but sparse enough that clients can envision their own colors and furnishings in the room.  Plus, some clients just really enjoy the drawings for what they are: art. 

Patrick’s renderings are proudly displayed throughout our Los Angeles studio and are the first thing that our visitors notice (and emphatically admire). They have become emblematic of the artistry we bring to every project. And yet, while Patrick’s artistic style is easily evident in his renderings, his hand in designing our projects is purposefully indistinct in our final product.  

“We provide a custom, white glove service, so I never do the same thing twice. I’m constantly coming up with something new and working across a spectrum of styles,” Patrick describes his process.

In our studio, project managers’ combined expertise spans a wide array of architectural styles, materials, and functions.  As an interior architecture designer, Patrick must be up-to-date with technical specifications as diverse as conversion varnish and reverse osmosis water filters, while also having a mastery of almost every single style in Southern Californian (and even, national) residential architecture vernacular, an impressive feat that he repeatedly achieves. 

“As a studio, we are extremely versatile in our work, which on one hand, is hard because few people can look at pictures of our projects and immediately recognize that stylistically, ‘That’s a Tim Barber Ltd. house’,” Patrick notes.  But it’s also really valuable in the sense that clients who hire Tim Barber Ltd. know that they aren’t getting a portfolio project, but rather, a superbly designed home that is uniquely their house, in their style.

“My role as an interior architecture designer, and our job as a studio, is ultimately to give our clients the very best version of their ideas,” Patrick explains. Tim concludes, “That’s what distinguishes our firm. Our interior architecture combines useful, enigmatic, and durable buildings with interior fixtures and finishes that are meaningful and personal. Custom truly means custom.”

Do you have any questions for Patrick or another member of our team? Are there other roles or processes that you’d like us to clarify? Drop us a line in the comments below!