Architect Jessie Carroll on Designing From a Place of Empathy
As a young architect at Whitten Architects and an instructor at the University of Maine at Augusta, Carroll has a wealth of design experience, but it wasn’t until she renovated her own home that she had the opportunity to really test her theories. In her MH+D Inside Out interview, Carroll reveals what her renovation taught her about design and what lessons she passes on to her students.
Q. You recently bought and renovated your first house. Can you tell me about that?
A. When I first bought the house, it looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 1960s. It had green shag carpet and faux wood paneling. The can opener was built into the cabinetry, as was the built-in paper towel holder, and it had glittery flower imprints on the ceilings—it was very “of an era.” It was a very simple renovation because the house knew what it wanted to be, so I respected the character of the home but brought it up to date.
Q. What did you learn from the process?
A. I learn so much from every project I’m involved in. Construction’s messy, and the process is never black and white. Things happen, things come up. And there are always opportunities to improve on the original design. I feel very lucky to have played in my own house that way and tested budget-driven design, and I can bring that knowledge to my clients, too.
Q. What’s an example of something you experimented with?
A. In this house particularly, I wanted to live in something that was small and easy to maintain. I got away with that by having interesting volume. If I didn’t have high ceilings with exposed beams and expansive glass, if I just had big walls and small openings, I would feel like I was living in a small space. In my house now I connect to the landscape. I visually go outside when I’m sitting at my kitchen table or on my couch. I can live smaller but feel that I’m living much bigger.
Q. You also teach an architecture class at the University of Maine. What’s one activity you do with your students?
A. I have them put sticky notes on the board with their preconceptions about architects. A lot of similar comments come up. One is that architects are egocentric, but that’s not how I practice. I design from a place of empathy and listening, especially when I’m working on a residential project. This is someone’s home. My goal is that my clients are ecstatic about their house, and that’s why I do what I do.
Our MH+D Inside Out series features interviews with creators from our community and gets inside some of the top minds in the design industry. Read on for their stories, tips, and sources of inspiration.