Firing the imagination

HF connected with Paul and Chris as they were gearing up for the spring season…

Meant to be site-sensitive, lived in and beautiful to behold, Paul Wrona and Chris Turner’s landscapes are open air architectural masterpieces. With pallets that range from concrete urban town homes to hipster rooftops and spaciously grand estates, the duo brings innovation and natural solutions to every project. Their recent work includes everything from an outdoor living room with a custom wall mural to a Japanese teahouse-inspired poolside pavilion.

Q:  How did the two of you meet and what are the cornerstones of your working relationship and the Elevate By Design (EBD) brand?

A: We met and became close friends quite quickly at the previous firm we both worked at in 2006. The cornerstone of our working relationship begins with trust. We approached establishing this firm with the mindset that, “this is a marriage.” We need to be honest with ourselves and each other, and always be able to effectively communicate, even in situations that are uncomfortable.

Our core values for EBD are to enrich the lives of others and focus on our client’s needs, not our own. We feel our distinctive approach and conceptualization comes through in all of our designs—regardless, to a degree, of the architectural style. We thoroughly think through our plans and the family/client we are producing them for. It’s personal, and I think that shows in all of our projects. Our brand is high-end, limit pushing, and has simplicity that is never “overdone.” Many times, less is more.

Q: Do you work together on every project or do you divide and conquer?

A: Initially we worked side by side on every single project, which we really appreciated because we both bring contrasting dynamics to the table. This resulted in amazing new relationships with clients, architects and builders and also contributed to our brand and reputation. As we have grown as a company we’ve have had to divide and conquer more but we have our hands on each and every project that leaves the drafting table.

Q: What will the client see when they work with your team? Who’s the perfectionist? The funniest? The most innovative?

A: When a client works with our team, I believe they will see the passion we both have for what we do. I would say we bring a balance to the table when it comes to humour, perfectionism, and innovation. We are able to navigate the triumphant times, as well as the difficult times. We are both pretty relaxed and open-minded. We tend to digest scenarios or opportunities from different lenses and that always results in a well thought-out plan.

Q: Favourite place in the world?

A: Chris: Palm Springs is a favourite domestic place to visit for inspiration. Internationally, I would have to say Tuscany… Being there genuinely inspired me to take control of my life and goals, and go after them.

Paul: Home… Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. Whether it be the beach, lake, mountains, an ancient ruin or a cornfield. My go-to is usually a water destination, because it gives me a sense of peace, but it’s always nice to come home. Ironically home does not have much water.

Q: Most embarrassing on the job moment?

A: Paul: I was walking up to a client/contractor meeting on-site. A group of 10 people were circled up, starting the meeting about 50 feet ahead of me. As I was walking toward the group and acknowledging my slight tardiness, I stepped (fell) into a huge six feet wide and four feet deep, dug for a wooden post. I landed on my feet and wasn’t hurt. How I didn’t see it, I have no idea. The group saw my head poking out of the hole and then welcomed me into the meeting. Shame on the project manager for no caution tape.

Q: What can you never be without on the job?

A: Chris: My air pods. They are so useful in the office, in the car, and even on-site.

Paul: Site shoes or boots. Can’t get my white sneakers dirty.

Q: One of your recent projects was referred to as a delightful mixture of tame and wild: “all things wild—like a pond that mirrors and doubles its surroundings—appear tame, and tame things—like man-made stone walkways— appear wild.” Tell us more.

A: Paul: The juxtaposition of nature and man has always fascinated me. Man creates things that are so thoughtful and planned. A concrete site
wall or a formal stone walkway for instance. These items on their own are very structured or “tame.” Introduce nature, (plants, rain, wind, etc.) and these manmade features become more informal or “wild.” Vines growing up a concrete wall, groundcover creeping over the stone path for instance. I strive to design a balance between these two forces.

Q: A commonplace concept just isn’t going to cut it for many of the homeowners you work for. How so?

A: People come to us to push the boundaries of design and imagine schemes that are fresh and unique. We have developed the reputation that you will not get a recycled design, but something that will inspire and fire the imagination. Every project has its own pallet. Sites are arranged differently, topography differs, and styles are so subjective. The collaboration we do as a group is also something we have found to really allow for contrasting concepts and visualizations to flow. Three designers can study a space and have three completely different ideas. Having an open mind to all ideas—good and bad—really forces us to get below surface impressions and candidly envision ourselves in the space.

Q: Is it the home’s architecture or the client that drives your design?

A: We inevitably want to stay true to the architecture of the home and generate a cohesive and consistent experience from the inside-out. However, at the end of the day, this is the client’s home so, naturally, they can really drive the wish list. We then add our own flavours to procure an end product that genuinely connects all of those dots.

Q: Are fire and water features still popular and what determines their size and importance?

A: Fire and water elements are still incredibly popular. In fact, about four years ago, Paul and I started having dialogue about fire elements. At first, we were custom designing and fabricating each fire piece into a project, which was gratifying but burdensome as we got busier and busier. We yearned for a solution.

We envisioned a product that was very high end, scaled appropriately for larger homes and projects, “looked” custom and felt artistic, and was created by designers, like us. On top of that, we wanted it to have a flame like the ones going into our custom units (typically 2-3 times more flame and half the gas). We wanted something that was plug and play. Meaning, it would show up to the project site with all the pieces necessary to simply connect it to a gas line or propane tank, and be ready to use. We struggled to find anything that fit the bill, so we created our own line. One that we call Nisho.

Nisho is an exciting venture and we have learned more than we could ever have imagined!

Water features are also still alive and well. For both fire and water features, their size and importance vary. Is there a sight line from inside the house to the outside that needs some sort of focal element to draw your eye? Is there a “feeling” we are trying to create in a space that wants the movement and sound of water or a flame? How loud? How soft? All of these are pieces to the puzzle. This is another opportunity to play off the architecture of the house as cues to additional elements.

Q: What sets the mood? Let’s talk about how you and your team create magical spaces on rooftops and small urban spaces. Are there must-have elements?

A: As with any well-designed space, ambiance and the way one experiences it, cannot always be put into words. You just know when you are there in that space, it just feels good. You’re comfortable, relaxed, happy.

Well thought-out lighting design can really accentuate these feelings. Highlighting important elements, soft lighting on strong architectural forms, and using lighting for safety and flow can bring a space to life at night. Really, the mood is set in the details. Making sure that, spatially, everything is where it is supposed to be. The distance between a chair and a wall is comfortable, a span between the fire element and the outdoor couch isn’t too close or too far away. If details like this are not thought through, a space can feel too tight or too open, which can be distracting, and take away from the enjoyment of the space.

To create these spaces successfully, it’s important to put yourself in that place and mindset. How would I want it to feel if I was there on a summer evening with all of my friends having drinks? Where would I be sitting? What would I need and where would that be? It’s figuring out that balance.

Q: Favourite project so far?

A: For me, I think my favourite project has to be our first project that put us on the map in 2013. Paul and I collaborated on a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home. The owner found us by happen-stance on an online forum, and saw we were a young and new company and wanted to be our first big client. This was our first real opportunity to show Denver what we were capable of on our own. Our work pulled architectural cues from the era and the home, but had a new edge to it to bring it into the present. They loved it, and it ended up being featured in a big local magazine a few months later, and the rest is history!

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