The B&D Interview: Steven Dewan, Senior Principal of Bassenian Lagoni

Dewan explains Bassenian Lagoni’s approach to design and gives his thoughts on what may be coming in future projects

Builder and Developer: Tell us about your background with architecture and interior design.

Steven Dewan: Since its founding in Orange County, Bassenian Lagoni has always combined architectural innovation with creative land planning to earn an enduring leadership position in the industry we serve. Each day our team is energized by the quest to seek new ways to work with developers and builders to execute a vision for a place of value. We design towns, neighborhoods and homes as different and distinct as their residents and owners.

I joined the firm in 1987 but my interest in housing began long before. I grew up in Orange County, not really understanding that this area was the hotbed of housing innovation, yet surrounded by it nonetheless. While majoring in architecture in college, I studied abroad year in Europe with a focus on housing. Denmark presented some really interesting housing concepts, different from what I knew, but applicable to the work our firm does every day. My upbringing, education and interest combined to lead me to Bassenian Lagoni and to this industry.

B&D: What are some new trends that Bassenian Lagoni has been incorporating into their latest projects?

SD: Let’s start with the most obvious – the face of the home – and the movement toward a less historical aesthetic that we call transitional design. To our way of working, transitional design melds time-honored classical forms with today’s clean lines, materials and functions. The concern is less about style and more about purposeful details. For example, on a traditional home we apply a false shutter at a window opening. On a transitional/contemporary home, we integrate an eyebrow or trellis but with a specific purpose — to help control the sun.

Erasing the barrier between indoors and outdoors isn’t exactly new, but off-the-shelf door systems are making this trend more prevalent in housing at all price points. Similarly, we’re combining windows to create walls of glass when vanishing door systems aren’t an option. Natural light changes a living environment in the best possible way so increasingly we’re finding new and different ways bring it in.

We’re eliminating a lot of the controlled small spaces in favor of larger, more flexible living areas, which expand the horizontal perspective. Increasingly, we’re designing multiple informal living zones in a home. Similarly, volume is back and expands the vertical experience.

B&D: How did Bassenian Lagoni approach the design of Rancho Mission Viejo? What were the biggest influences?

SD: Rancho Mission Viejo has a rich ranch history that informs the community of today. A strong set of design principles guide development and they include a progressive attitude about floor plan and elevation design. There are strong elements that reinforce connectivity within site plans — walking trails, courtyards and public/privates spaces – so residents feel like a part of the community.

In all community development, context and environmental influences are becoming important drivers. We work with our builder clients to understand the story of the land, to design neighborhoods and homes appropriate to that site. Solar and environmental orientation also inform our planning and design to ensure we’re sensitively integrating into the surroundings.

B&D: What creates interest when designing the interiors of a residential house?

SD: Functionality is still the design driver – floor plans must be able to function and furnish efficiently. Elements that enhance this outcome are how light works its way into the home, the seamless flow of interior and exterior spaces and volume. One of the best tools in interior space planning is volume, opening up living zones horizontally and vertically. We’re also designing ceilings to create definition between spaces without adding walls. For example, a floating coffer – often added over a kitchen island – helps to define the space by putting a twist on the old coffered ceiling. Kitchen islands can help define and separate the working and living functions in much the way and they are showing up in new shapes, with multiple levels, with seating on three sides, or with contiguous materials for the waterfall effect or all of the above.

B&D: Looking ahead, what do you think will change about the architecture and interior design industry?

SD: The biggest challenge for our industry is affordability and how we as the new home industry come together to solve a pervasive problem. We’ve been building homes the same way for so long and we’re just starting to explore new materials and methods. The goal is a scalable solution that keeps home ownership attainable.

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