Dawn Zuber, AIA
Photography: Carl Bower

Dawn Zuber, AIA, founded Studio Z Architecture in Plymouth, Mich., in 1997. When she received a call to be the featured architect for this year’s HGTV Urban Oasis Giveaway, she leapt at the opportunity to demystify the architect-client relationship for a television audience that’s likely to hire an architect. It’s also an opportunity she’s cultivated through AIA’s Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), for which she serves as 2016 chair.

Apparently, the people at HGTV found me through my Houzz profile and my website. I was told they were looking for someone who specialized in remodeling and creating houses that fit the way people live these days. I enjoy working with homeowners, explaining the design process, and helping them move through it.

Working with the HGTV team was amazing. It was quite a condensed project. They wanted a very good design, and they got one, but there was a very tight schedule for construction and production that they had to stick to. A house that would normally take four to six months to design? I designed it in one month. I did not have time for a social life and nobody got Christmas gifts, but luckily everyone in my life was understanding. The other tough thing was that I had to keep my work with HGTV a secret until the middle of this year.

Sometimes architects struggle to provide the patient guidance that’s required during the residential design process. On the technical side, it’s especially hard to help clients envision a space that’s not yet real. The house chosen for HGTV Urban Oasis was basically in its original condition from the 1930s. The kitchen was a small alcove off the dining room and the two bedrooms were tiny. It wasn’t at all designed to meet how people live today. If a client can find the right architect, though, anything is possible.

To that end, CRAN was founded to educate the public, and architects, about the value of residential architecture. And the HGTV opportunity was a great way to build on that mission and highlight the value that an architect brings to a project.

Just as selecting the right architect is crucial for a homeowner, picking clients is important, especially when you’re a small business. I’m basically a sole practitioner, so I am involved closely with every one of my clients. It’s necessary that my clients trust my ability to hear, understand, and integrate their requirements into their vision of a home.

Designing someone’s home is such a personal process, and working together becomes a personal relationship of sorts. The goal is to make sure that I am going to be valuable to them, that I’ll be happy with the project at the end, and my clients will be happy with me.