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Designing Mind


Photo by Michael SahadiIt was during a high school trip to France that Karen Beam chose architecture as a career. As a student at Syracuse University, she took another trip abroad—this time to Italy, where she gained a deeper appreciation for traditional design methods. She continues to bring a distinct European perspective to her own practice in Malvern. “One of the best parts of being an architect—besides being creative—is having the ability to fix people’s houses and see how happy they are once the design works for their lifestyles,” she says.

Her approach to architecture: I consider architecture one of the arts, and myself an artist. I find that the best designs reveal themselves through sketching and re-sketching, which is why I still draw out all my projects in pencil on paper. I have a responsibility to design structures that work in tandem with their immediate environments, instead of trying to overpower them. I think it’s the best path toward a sustainable design—first to allow the design to follow the landscape’s cues, next to make an efficient layout avoiding wasted spaces and extra rooms, and then to build the house with as much local and reclaimed material as possible.

Most prized possession: My children. But I keep having to remind myself that they’re not my possessions. I love my Stickley Morris chair that we have by the fireplace in the kitchen. It’s an iconic Arts & Crafts piece—but I love it because it’s so big and comfortable and perfect for reading the Sunday New York Times by the window.

An architect who inspires her: Julia Morgan—who designed several Hearst estates during the 1900s—inspires me with her variety of styles, from classical to rustic, and she often includes an element of whimsy. She was a pioneer woman architect.

Design advice she likes to give: Design your house for yourself, not for “resale.” You can never predict what the next owner will want.

Design elements she likes to incorporate into a space:
I have a love affair with eyebrow dormers, and I seem to find a way to fit them in many of my projects. I guess this would be my signature element. I also love built-in breakfast nooks with big windows, and window benches—the ultimate in cozy.

Favorite design trend of the moment: The sort of recent, not-so-big trend from Sarah Susanka’s books. It really resonates with my tendencies to make the most efficient layout possible, reducing the amount of finished space to just what’s needed, and putting that savings toward some higher-quality finishes.

Favorite rooms to design:
Kitchen, breakfast and mudroom layouts, because I enjoy getting the flow just right and knowing what a big difference it will make in my clients’ daily lives.

Her definition of good taste:
Natural materials and handcrafted details. It’s what makes a home “built to last” and endearing to its occupants—my first two goals in designing any home.

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