Kip Dawkins

Simplicity isn’t easy. Simplicity is hard work.

But, especially in these trying times, people crave it.

Business, technology, and design thought leader John Maeda tells us, “simplicity subtracts the obvious and adds the meaningful.”

The rigor it takes to eliminate the nonessential, to let light, and beauty, and balance, and warmth tell their own story is not so much about design as it is about design thinking. Design thinking--as an essential strategic value that can help you focus your business holistically on generating two-way value for customers and your firm--will be at the core of our Builder 100 conference, Nov. 2-4, at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Dana Point. Register here.

The way Sekisui House architects, engineers, builds, and finishes a home is genuinely by design, by design thinking that springs from a seminal point of focus. That focus, the most human of experiences, is happiness. In a post-COVID-19 world, it’s what people gravitate toward as they search for protection, sanctuary, and a place to relax one’s guard.

Happiness contains contentment and comfort, a sense of prospering, well-being, belonging, security, joy, peace-of-mind, a flow, and varying levels of humor and excitement. And balance. Balance is key. Happiness in a home is impossible, for instance, if people are not connected, indoors and out, with their environment, with nature, with life just beyond the borders. A Japanese term, Satoyama, expresses this essential interdependency of outdoor nature and indoor happiness.

This is the “meaningful” Maeda refers to when he talks of simplicity’s action and requirements.

For Tara Young and her team at San Diego-based interior design firm Ryan Young, simplicity needed to be found in translation, first by stripping away layers of cultural difference, and then by revealing a blend, a balance of East-meets-West in interior finishes and feeling.

Young is president of Ryan Young, the National City, Calif.-based interior design consultancy brought in to team up with Japan-based interior designers at Sekisui House on Chowa, Living In Balance, our 2020 BUILDER Concept project. For Young, the East meets West challenge meant she and her team needed to check both ego and assumptions “at the door,” concerning both the development process and outcomes. That way, they could enter a whole new way to approach this desired effect for the family living in the home, happiness.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” says Young. “Our normal m.o. is to go in and make a presentation, gather comments and suggestions from the client, incorporate them, and then simply get going on the work. In this case, our Sekisui House partners approached the project from a more deliberate, more personal vantage point. Our presentation meeting—normally a 3-hour session—involved deep discussion of both philosophy and details, and went from breakfast, through lunch, to dinner, about 10 or 12 hours. And that was just for starters.”

Young says initial challenges included semantic ones, around precise definitions and interpretations of design terms, and the fact that the Sekisui House team, prior to this project, had been intimately involved in making all of the detailed decisions. These efforts at the beginning of the project allowed for a truly synergistic result in the Chowa home.

“There was a lot of patience and a lot of respect on all sides of the collaboration,” says Young. Speaking of the very balanced effort of the parties in the collaboration, Young says, “At moments, we all were left to wonder, ‘who’s doing the design here?’ But the teams, in spite of the time zones and geography, and culture, and business practice differences, came together, and we had so much fun.”

As much fun as the Ryan Young team had in the partnership, decisions and understandings took some effort given the tight time-frame for the completion of the home for the exhibitions in Las Vegas and the dual design mission—to make the project look and feel Japan-influenced, and yet fit for an upscale Las Vegas professional family. Meeting these objectives required a high level of creative and managerial finesse.

At the end of the day, just the way they say that “if you want innovation, take a really hard problem and set a deadline,” it was constraint that led to getting the job done. The teams came together in designing a beautiful and innovative home, on deadline.

Young feels that Chowa’s particular approach to indoor-outdoor living in balance went far toward achieving the level of respect her team aimed for in the East-meets-West design challenge.

Kip Dawkins

“That connection, thanks to the Japanese chief architect Hirokazu Miyachi’s clearview design and the resulting flood of natural light across the great room, helped us bring the rugged Las Vegas Valley’s natural beauty inside the walls,” she says. “Otherwise, the blend of natural materials, the warmth of the wood ceilings and beams and the accentuation of clean lines, we think, got at the simplicity we were shooting for,” says Young. “For the Las Vegas market, of course, we did need to introduce some new materials and a contemporary feel, but we were able to do it without a lot of accessories, thanks to the beauty of the design.”

Without starting from a design thinking mentality that focuses on a most simple and profound promise--happiness--and without a disciplined practice of collaboration, the unique feeling one gets as one moves through the home’s 5,700 two-story floor-plan, that East-Meets-West idea would be just talk.

In this case, it was all action, right down to the final days before our BUILDER photo shoot late last year.

“Mr. Miyachi and I were discussing our different views regarding these gorgeous fabric panels we’d designed for the floor-to-ceiling window areas,” Young reminisces. “He has so much expertise and yet is so open minded. We’d discuss each one, and in some cases, my point about the need to soften the feeling prevailed and we kept it up, and in some, his argument for the plain glass connection with outdoors won, and we took it down. It worked out about 50-50. We ended up laughing about it as we finished in agreement.”

Simplicity may not be easy. But it always rewards the effort to get there.