For Andrew Curtis, LEED AP, and Sophie Robitaille, RLA, ASLA, a Philadelphia renovation was the ultimate test of their relationship. The husband-and-wife team weren't married at the time, and this was their first collaborative project for a client. They had remodeled their own home, working as Robitaille+Curtis Architecture+Landscape, but “having a client is an entirely different thing from doing your own house,” Curtis says. The couple also had to balance the project's demands with the pressures of their day jobs: Curtis is a designer with Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, and Robitaille, a landscape architect, is an associate at OLIN.
Not only did their personal partnership survive and prosper, but the remodel proved successful as well. The client had purchased an overgrown, vacant lot perpendicular to her 19th-century townhouse in the city's Fitler Square area. The resulting, oddly shaped site forms an L, with front and rear entrances on two separate streets. She initially wanted just a kitchen renovation, but after discussing the project with Curtis and Robitaille she realized a larger-scale remodel was needed. “The client made it clear from the start that she really wanted the house to open up to the outdoors,” Curtis explains.
He and Robitaille combined their talents to reconfigure and expand the home. They finished the basement and enlarged the first-floor dining room, linking it to a newly added kitchen, powder room, and casual dining area in the corner of the site. The addition's bluestone floors continue out to a rear patio the couple created to enhance the relationship between inside and out. From there, a path of the same stone connects to a new garden shed clad in black-stained cedar. “The shed acts as a threshold and a gateway into the private realm of the garden,” Robitaille says. A clear-stained cedar fence and carefully placed trees supply additional privacy from the neighboring buildings, making the rear yard equally suited for solitary gardening or larger-scale entertaining.
At the front of the site, a 1960s renovation had set up a layered entry sequence that Curtis, Robitaille, and the client admired. They kept the basic idea—a gated walkway leading to a pair of Charleston-style side gardens and the home's front door—and enhanced it with new plantings and hardscaping.
By paying as much attention to the exterior experience as the interior one, the pair turned an awkward property into a logical, graceful procession of spaces.
Although it added extra hours to their workday, designer Andrew Curtis and landscape architect Sophie Robitaille agree that doing the Fitler Square renovation helped them tremendously. “It was a learning experience from all perspectives,” Robitaille says. She and Curtis, who met in graduate school at the University of Oregon, welcomed the chance to integrate their individual skills. “We definitely design together,” she explains. “It's not like I'm doing the gardening and he does the building.”
Luckily, their employers—OLIN (Robitaille) and Atkin Olshin Schade Architects (Curtis)—were supportive. In fact, the client initially contacted the couple at the suggestion of Tony Atkin, FAIA, a founding principal at Atkin Olshin Schade. Curtis and Robitaille are currently working on high-profile institutional projects with their firms. They've also taken on other independent work, such as remodeling the home next door to their own. They did find time toward the end of the Fitler Square project to get married, and have since collaborated on an especially lovely creation: baby daughter Chloé.
Bill Mackey, RA, and his wife, Rachel Yaseen, are true urbanists. The Tucson, Ariz., residents don't own a car, preferring instead to walk or to get around on bicycles or via a golf cart—which, apparently, is street-legal there.
“The only lots left to build on in San Francisco are these impossible lots that nobody can build on,” says architect Craig Steely. Well, almost nobody.