The Tsai Family is a whimsical bunch embarking on the design and development of their forever home: a modern haven nestled in South Pasadena. What makes this project especially unique is that the Architect is the Owner, and vice versa. Getting creative with transitional spaces and playful angles, Melissa Tsai has designed her family’s dream home with just as much character as her three boys.

How would you describe your architectural style?

Most would call it modern.

How did your experience in designing commercial spaces shape the design of your own home, if at all?

My commercial experience really pushed me to design spaces that are flexible and serve multiple purposes. I do feel that the developer mindset has influenced how I designed our home. For example, the home office is wide open to the front entry area, but with a slide of a moving wall, all of a sudden you’re in a private ensuite. The way we live is ever change, we have to design our homes to match this modern way of life.

One would think that while designing their dream home, an architect would push the creative limits. What was most important to you during developing the design for the Tsai House?

Thai House designed by Melissa Hon Tsai

Final rendering of the Tsai House design by Melissa Hon Tsai, owner and Architect

There are so many things but one that really drove the direction of the overall design was the context. The neighborhood is quite established with small single story California bungalows built close together on narrow lots. To create privacy between us and our neighbors, there are a few ins-and-outs of the exterior walls to allow for the windows to be placed on the returns. This allows light in but not direct si
ghtlines from the neighboring properties. Other features of the house that were design decisions based on context were the roofline and the deep setback of the second floor.

Did the fact that you are building as owner – architect play into your search for a general contractor? If so, how?

As owner-architect, the GC is a part of my team. One of my criteria was that we had to have chemistry. During the interview process, I felt that Boswell Construction understood my goals and saw my vision. I knew we would work well together.

Thai House and Boswell Construction

April 2016 Tsai House build

Normally, when working with separate client, architect relationships, the work load and decisions making gets dispersed. What has been your experience with driving the project from the client perspective as well as making architectural decision?

Many of my residential clients have never worked with an architect before. In the beginning, I walk them through the process and describe what happens along the way. An architect is not just a designer, we are managers. Other then managing the project, I find myself managing the clients’ expectations as well.

How on earth are you balancing an adorable trio of toddlers, Hon Tsai Inc., and designing and developing your own home simultaneously?

Foreseeing what needs to be done in the future and planning ahead. I use to worked as a project manager when I was in NYC, and that has really taught me to think ahead and prepare for different scenerios. And of course, ask for help.

What would you be doing if you weren’t designing beautiful spaces?

I’d probably be writing children’s books.

We are honored to have embarked on this journey with the Tsai Family, and as we wrap up the project and they begin to move in, we have to echo the comments of the building inspector during the final walk: “This home has more character than I have seen during inspections in the past 30 years, tell the owner thank you for making my job fun again.” Our sentiments exactly!

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