Design Life

Designer Elisa Winter Holben of Winter Holben Architecture & Design on Owning a Multidisciplinary Firm

“We have found that our firm attracts like-minded clients who believe in the importance of exploring ideas, creating design that improves lives, and valuing different design backgrounds that contribute ideas for a better end result.”

MH+D asks Winter Holben to tell us more.

Q. Why create a firm like Winter Holben with your husband, Brandon?
In today’s ever-changing world, where the lines between design disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred, the combination of different perspectives, ideas, and knowledge is imperative to creating the most beneficial and responsible solutions for the built environment. Our careers started about the same time as our relationship. It wasn’t long before we noticed how this impacted our designs, eventually leading us to want to create a firm that handles diverse layers of design.

Q. Early in your career you made scientific illustrations. How did you make the leap into design for the built environment?
My career started with a science and art degree, creating detailed scientific illustrations, but eventually progressed toward graphic design, environmental graphic design, and ultimately to full-experience design for the built environment. After receiving his degree, Brandon began his career in architecture and worked at various firms on a wide range of projects from residential and multifamily housing to commercial and mixed-use buildings and even industrial buildings at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Undoubtedly—over the 15-plus years we were together before we created our firm—the discussions, feedback, and learning we had from each other’s work made us both more knowledgeable and better designers.

Q. Do you have any role models, books, or mentors that have influenced the firm’s ideology?
A pivotal experience for us both personally and professionally was visiting the Eames House (also known as Case Study House Number 8) in California. We always greatly admired the work of Charles and Ray Eames, but actually stepping into the home and lifestyle they built was truly inspirational. We immediately knew we wanted a life like that, a life where design thinking, and inspiration, surrounded us in every way and where any type of design, from furniture to film was possible. Imagining ourselves having that type of lifestyle, I think, put us on a path to manifest it. The Eameses also believed that innovative approaches to building and fabrication can make good design accessible to everyone, which has inspired us to make sure that any project we work on, no matter the size of the budget, is of the highest design quality.

Q. What was the first major project you and Brandon collaborated on?
The design of 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Brandon was the project architect leading the design at the firm he was working at during that time, and I was working on my own (initially founding Winter Holben Design) and designed the integrated branding and wayfinding. Endless conversations and ideas about the design of the building and entire space were had over dinner, in the car, and drinking coffee or cocktails, and the end result, was very rewarding in many ways. The project also won an AIA NH design award.

Q. How have things changed at the firm since the pandemic?Has your approach to design changed?
Currently we are helping clients adjust their spaces in response to the pandemic—thinking not only about safety but also about the emotional aspect of adapting to a new way of experiencing the places they need and love. We are very grateful for and dedicated to the diversity of design we do from our small firm here in Kittery, where we also live and are raising our two children; that is our design life.

MH+D is proud to partner with acclaimed architectural photographer Trent Bell on his architecture, design, and photography podcast. To hear Bell’s conversation with Elisa and Brandon, please visit