Originally from Montreal, Martine Paquin grew up surrounded by creatives. These early influences eventually led her to a career in architecture. In 2008 she established her own practice in the Bay Area which focuses on modern, sustainable, environmentally friendly interior design.
Here we speak with her about her background, process and how living in the West Coast affects her design thinking.
Tell us a little about your background, when did you decide you wanted to become a designer?
I was born in Montreal, as a child I was naturally an artist and a maker from my parents influences; I did a lot of crafts, drew portraits of my family members and made pottery. My dad was trained as an electrician and my mother an artist. I took all the possible art classes offered in high school while taking extra curricular classes and enjoyed time with my father working on the house. I would go to the hardware store with him, it was like if I was in a candy store, we fixed and built all sort of things. I went to Art College obtaining a Bachelor or Fine Arts in Environmental Design where I was exposed to architecture. Then I decided to put myself through a graduate Architecture program in a foreign language ( English). After working in various great architecture offices, I decided to open my own design practice in San Francisco in 2008. The focus is on modern Interior design, I determined that the detailing and the direct relationship with clients is something I enjoy.
What is your process like when you approach new projects?
Over the years we have developed a process that gathers all the needs for a project without limiting our creativity. There is a lot of listening that happens at the beginning as we gather the wants and the needs. Before problem solving and designing, we study what needs to be done and draft a plan of action. We work as a team internally and get to touch every aspect of the project. The project management has an important role for success, we manage expectations and generate multiple designs. The inspirations typically come out of something unexpected. The Creative phase is the most unknown and the most exciting for me, I love the process and the turmoil it involves internally. After a design is agreed upon, we generate rigorous documentation necessary for construction. This phase is very exciting, I love working with builders, problem solving, making our relationship stronger. Each project enhances our process time after time.
Were there any particular influences early in your career?
As a child, my best friend’s dad was an architect, I was amazed by the tools he used. It made me curious. As a young adult, I traveled to Europe and North Africa, first with a focus on classical architecture and art and then with a deeper interest in recent architecture like the works of Carlo Scarpa or Jean Nouvel. My travels expanded my horizon. After going through school, traveling and practicing design, I realized that creativity is one of the most important parts of my work and I need it everyday.
How does living in the West Coast affect your design practice and your design thinking?
The cultural directness of the East Coast and French influence is what I am used to but I embrace the laid back culture of the West coast. At first I was taken back but then realized that I felt free to carve my own path in this culture and beauty of California. I have been here for 16 years and noticed that surprisingly, the weather climate is similar to Canada but the relationship is different. Instead of living in it, we choose to go to regions and embrace the mountain, valley or coast at a given time and it’s quite a luxury. My choice of designing and building in the Tahoe area makes me feel at home with its snowy winters and hot summers. Both Montreal and San Francisco have a rich design culture that is motivating and abundant with local resources.
What would you consider to be your ideal project?
A place for healing and relaxing. This would be new to me but I can see how interesting it would be to design a holistic birth center or a natural hot spring bath house. I admire Swiss Architect Peter Zumthor; I have experienced multiple Spas in my life but have not yet made it to The Therme Vals, it’s on my bucket list.
What exciting projects do you have coming up in 2016?
I am finishing a fabulous modern 7,000 sq. ft. luxury home in Truckee and we just broke ground for a Residence a few sites away at Martis Camp. On a different spectrum, my first and largest collaboration with Y.A. Studio for an affordable housing project is breaking ground at the SF Transbay terminal. We are looking forward to more commercial work. Spa anyone?
If you were to give your younger self advice in regards to a career in design, what would it be?
Follow your dreams, travel to see the world, have fun and collaborate with good and talented people.