By Gina Dostler
Laguna resident and architect Robert A. McGraw wraps the city around his life and work, designing beautiful homes and commercial buildings from his ocean view office since 1987. He has served on the city’s Design Review Board, Heritage Committee and functioned as the architecture advisory consultant for the gated community Three Arch Bay in South Laguna. His own works include home improvements, historic restoration and original designs. This year, an award from the popular home design website Houzz made him the current favorite.
Q: Are you happy you won the 2014 Houzz Award?
A: Of course. It’s a survey and analysis of 16 million monthly users so it means my work has been well received. We are very happy to be honored in this way by Houzz and its followers. The website is actually really handy. I started looking at it a couple of years ago. It allows people to research an enormous amount of pictures related to the home and place the ones they like in their ideabook, making a one-stop-shop compilation of designs and items for the home.
Q: How does that help you as an architect?
A: I got calls from people who visited the site and liked my photographs. It really helped that we have a broad spectrum from Tuscan style new homes to modern remodels. When I can view their files with their permission, I really get an understanding of what they want. I also started to hear how for the last 10 years the renovation of a home has changed hands to the lady of the house, leaving her in charge of researching and making choices for the designs. Houzz provides the perfect tool for this. Some of the photographs on the site even have prices included, which helps construct a budget.
Q: Your designs are beautiful. Which style is your personal favorite?
A: Contemporary. I love it and grew up with it. It’s a more honest style and lends itself to density, a way to design on smaller lots, which for Laguna is perfect. Classical style blends symmetry in its floor plan yet requires a large amount of space. An ocean view is the important feature for homes in Laguna, yet lots are as small as 20’ x 55’ wide. Contemporary gives me the freedom to design an easier way to make symmetry work for these smaller sites. For instance the entrance might be constructed on the level above the living area so an ocean view can greet anyone walking through the door versus the more classical style of first floor entry.
Q: How would you describe your work?
A: It is functional, comfortable, inspiring and affordable. I believe quality is never an accident and is always the result of high intentions, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It is contemporary decoration, still a lot of functionality but very beautiful; a new out-shoot of architecture. If someone wants a classical style house, we try to stay reasonably true to the history of the architecture, for instance utilizing a lentil over the door, but creating it with faux stone.
Q: You also design commercial. Anything in the works?
A: We are redoing the well-known Royal Hawaiian restaurant. The owners are working to bring a very established L.A. restaurant chain into the mix. For the design, we are making it smaller, giving up quite a bit of square footage. Right now nothing opens in front of the building. But we are going to eliminate the current mezzanine dining area and open up the whole front building with a folding door system. We’ll change the entrance a little bit and level out all the floors. It’ll take about six to eight months for completion once the design is approved.
Q: Designing in Laguna can be very challenging.
A: Yes. Laguna is intense. There was a study done of nine cities and Laguna was the most contentious. The neighbors have a great deal of say with what gets built. There is a Design Review Board to make sure everything meets code and protects the village atmosphere of the city. When designing, you have to be aware of privacy, cannot block the view, adhere to maximum heights and other guidelines. I currently have a design that is for a very contemporary house in South Laguna and is in the review process waiting for approval. So there are many factors that play into creating and designing homes.