Architect Chef Dishes Out Design Masterpieces

Architect Chef Dishes Out Design Masterpieces

By John Filippelli

NEW YORK If someone is indeed in the kitchen with Dinah, chances are it's Howard L. Zimmerman, AIA, NCARB. You see, Zimmerman president of Howard Zimmerman, Architects, P.C., based here is not only a high-end architect, he's also a chef. And, he uses his expertise in both areas to create efficient, "cookable" kitchens for burgeoning culinary clients.

But lest one think that this "Architect Chef" sells the sizzle and not the steak, Zimmerman is quick to point out that his "signature design dish" is creating spaces with high-end finishes, materials and appliances geared toward enhancing the kitchen's efficiency all while offering personalized service to the client.

He explains: "With kitchens, I know where things should go and I design it as if it were my own kitchen. I know where drawers, pots and pans and appliances should be in relationship to the command center of the sink, the stove and the refrigerator."

After all, he questions, "How can anyone cook in an inefficient kitchen, where everything is in the wrong place, even though it may look great?"

Catering both literally and figuratively to high-end apartment owners, Zimmerman notes that he has spent the past 20 years specializing in updating existing co-op and condominium kitchens that were previously in dire need of restoration.
A major part of accomplishing this, he adds, is offering sound advice with regard to location conditions, building maintenance and historical preservation.

But, he advises: "[The key to success is to] listen to your client, know the space for which you will design and put yourself in it. Above all, honor your client's wishes but also let your design background take over."

His designs are so cook-friendly, the biggest "problem" his clients might face would be determining whether he's taken better care of their kitchens or their appetites.

Key ingredients
Cooking up creative kitchen creations for his clients calls for Zimmerman to adhere to a strict recipe, he notes one chock full of top-of-the-line ingredients, including high-end appliances and materials blended with a personalized customer service touch. He cites his staff of 18 employees which includes architects, technicians and structural engineers as a primary reason for the firm's success.

"We are trained in spatial relationships, and this is something that allows us do to what we are passionate about, which is good design," he comments. "In order to be successful, a firm should offer legitimate enthusiasm for each project, as well as personalized involvement with the client."

He adds: "[More than anything], I love doing kitchens and bathrooms, and I think there is a certain heart involved in doing them."

Zimmerman also points out that the biggest connection between his cuisine and design themes is the manner in which he combines texture, color and presentation.

"My architectural training teaches me about form, function and spatial planning," he reports. "As a designer, you need more of a palette and an understanding as to what that palette color scheme should be for the design. As a cook, you need to know what the specifics should be in terms of the proximity of counter surfaces, sinks and food preparation areas, as well as the refrigerator location and its accessibility."

Heating up
From the moment he consults with a new client, Zimmerman begins an arduous design process based on the refinement of design ideas. "We begin by just sketching with yellow tracing paper and felt-tip pens and pencils and throwing out ideas and overlaying. It's really the old-fashioned way of designing," he relates.

But, he quickly points out, this process "is how we really try to develop intimacy and a personalized relationship with each client. We start with the schematic and we discuss where to place the refrigerator, as well as where the entrance will be, where the service entrance is, whether there will be a bathroom or mud room, and also circulation," he remarks. "All of those elements have to be factored into [the design concept] in order to develop some sort of coherent spatial plan that will turn into a kitchen."

Although the sketches are free-hand, loose-line sketches, Zimmerman adds that this technique allows him to gain better insight into what a client likes and dislikes.

"We will present a couple of design concepts, and the client could like certain ones, or certain aspects, but not others. It becomes a constant refinement," he explains.

"Once they decide that they like the circulation and the other elements, then you start getting into the nuts and bolts of the design as to where we're going to have drawers and cabinets placed and also what the overhead cabinets are going to look like," he adds.

Aiding in the process, Zimmerman notes, is the use of CAD software, which enables the firm to produce additional construction documents.

"To go from the initial schematic design to the final design development could be weeks of design refinement and meetings between ourselves and the client," he reports.

But, all of theses design techniques are meaningless, Zimmerman adds, if he does not get the true response he seeks.

"Basically, I try to raise their level of enthusiasm. Normally, they don't know what they are getting into when they hire me because I'm going to try and take it to a higher level than they anticipated. I want to be infectious with my enthusiasm."

He concludes: "Maybe they've never really cooked before and all they really wanted was a pretty kitchen when they came to us. [I can assure you}, by the time I get through with them, they will be cooking in a great kitchen."

Main course
For Zimmerman, one such project that reflects this sentiment is an apartment his firm remodeled after a devastating fire damaged the existing kitchen.

"The owner wanted to create a more professional kitchen. Therefore, we knocked out the pre-existing maid's room and turned the maid's bathroom into a guest powder room. By doing this, it doubled the size of the kitchen," he explains.
For functionality, the space features a Sub-Zero refrigerator and wine cooler, Wolf electric wall ovens, microwave and warming drawer and a Bosch dishwasher.

"Previously, it was just a glorified L-shaped galley kitchen, but now it features a central island where people can easily congregate while the host is busy preparing dinner for all of his guests," he describes.

In fact, he concludes that the new layout creates such an interactive cooking environment that although guests used to be separated from the host while he was cooking, they now all can participate in the food preparation.

Just desserts
Considering that he has developed a following of some 20 "tasters" and friends who travel anywhere at any time to taste his latest culinary creation, Zimmerman knows that word-of-mouth is the strongest type of marketing that can be used to generate business for his firm.

"We have [a portfolio of projects to show prospective clients], but we are primarily a word-of-mouth architectural firm. Basically, people have seen our work [and come to us], or clients that we have worked with previously refer us to someone they know," he explains.

For that reason, Zimmerman admits that he doesn't proactively market the firm. However, he adds that he regularly finds additional business through the work the firm does for landlords, developers, owners and real estate lawyers in the area.

"Through the network of people we work with, someone will inevitably mention that they just bought an apartment and ask if we can [do the design work] for them," he continues.

And, for Zimmerman, these are the precise words that tickle his taste buds. After all, it gives him the perfect chance to get a new kitchen project cooking.

"I'm living out my design fantasy each time I create a kitchen for someone because I design it as if it were mine," he concludes.rough referrals, bolstered by advertising in local papers and the firm's association with local charities, she concludes.

Howard L. Zimmerman Architects

Location: New York, NY
Principles: Howard L. Zimmerman
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. 5:30 p.m.; consultations by appointment (flexible)
Number of employees: 18
Specialties: Co-ops and condominium kitchen renovations
Business Philosophy: "To meld aesthetics and function into a beautiful and work-friendly space."