For over two decades, Maura Abernethy has been specializing in residential architecture in San Francisco. Maura has extensive experience in designing, fabricating and collaborating with local artisans.
Prior to forming Studio VARA with Christopher Roach, she ran her own successful design firm for eight years called MFAdesign, also in San Francisco. We sat down with Maura to discuss her influences throughout out her career, new projects she’s working on in 2018, and advice she’d give to her younger self.
Take us back to the beginning. How was Studio Vara conceived?
In 2011 my partner Christopher Roach and I joined forces to build our practice and officially launched Studio VARA in 2013. We met in 1999 in San Francisco while working for Mark Horton Architecture. Chris and I see our practice as another project which we are constantly designing and improving and challenging.
What is your approach when taking on new projects?
Our approach is a holistic and complete approach to design. For us the architecture and the interiors are inextricably linked and should be part of a seamless whole, so that the flow from outside to inside to outside is a seamless, natural, and elegant part of one’s experience of a home. To achieve this, the exterior architecture has to work as a kind of interface between the interiors and the site, and there is an inevitable push and pull between those different forces that actually informs how we both work together on the design of a project. While the interior spaces inform the shape and envelope of the building in their demand for specific spatial arrangements, proportions, adjacencies, access to daylight, or connection to outdoor spaces, the external forces of site constraints, solar orientation, views and privacy, the arrangement of outdoor spaces, and the surrounding context push back and inform the overall shape of the building and its formal and material expression.
Our ultimate goal is for an exquisitely designed building that is well executed and one that satisfies our clients’ needs, aesthetically, programmatically, and financially. For our clients, creating a home for their family is a deeply personal experience that we are invited to participate in, and the design must come from a thoughtful and sympathetic approach that translates their desires through the design process and brings a vision to life.
How did you end up in San Francisco and what do you think its effects have been on you and your work?
I am originally from Los Angeles, and after stints in LA, Europe, Boston and NYC, my husband and I decided to to make our way back to California to San Francisco. The appreciation of design in the Bay Area and a deep understanding that excellent design can have a profound effect on all of our lives has been incredibly inspiring. The example that Apple has set on its commitment to design has been one of the greatest inspirations for me.
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline for 2018?
We are working on a wide variety of custom residences, as well as a mix of some commercial TI work and low income housing work. A very broad spectrum of work which makes the design dialogue in the office quite exciting.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Excellent design requires an incredible amount of focus, work, care and constantly pushing oneself; there are no shortcuts it is a marathon, never give up. Excellent design also requires and benefits from collaboration, learn to work and design with others as a team because the creation of worthwhile work is a duet.