In residential architecture, project success hinges on having a collaborative client relationship. This Flower Hill, NY project highlights this well.

outdoor architect new york

In fact, this truly remarkable success story in residential architecture occurred right in our backyard–in Flower Hill, New York!

In this interview with Sussan, she details exactly what went so right with the Flower Hill project. Those with an upcoming home design + build project may benefit from knowing about what made this client so special to us.

You can listen to the full interview below:

Jon (00:00):

Going to be interviewing Sussan Lari president of Sussan Lari Architect. And just as a quick overview of what Sussan Lari Architect does and who they are, and the value that they bring to this space. Um, Sussan Lari Architect, aims to design and help build functional, comfortable, and beautifully designed spaces for modern living. Sussan architect prides themselves on maintaining a mindful collaboration with all of their clients while also accomplishing their clients’s goals with thin budget and on schedule. So Sussan is with us today, Sussan, thank you so much for being with us. Um, today we’re going to be reviewing and talking about a very beautiful, very interesting project, uh, that we’re calling the Flower Hill project. And what we want to do today is really cover a bit about the client, a bit of a backstory on the project, what the client wanted themselves and what your design and implementation was. And obviously walking through the end product of this particular project as well. So why don’t begin at the very beginning, Sussan, and, uh, why don’t we kick off talking about when this project began and who for

Sussan Lari (01:29):

Good afternoon, John, this project is, um, a new house. It was the design and construction of a new house in, uh, Flower Hill, an area in Long Island that is not too far from, uh, Manhattan. And because of that, it’s one of the favorite neighborhoods for many, um, people who work in Manhattan with a direct, uh, train line, uh, to the city. And because of that, it’s a very popular, uh, neighborhood. Um, it’s beautifully. The, the entire community of Flower Hill is beautifully designed with, you know, three line trees. And, um, it’s a gorgeous neighborhood and is right in the heart of, in Nassau county, in, in Long Island. And, but it is not too big. It’s not a large neighborhood and it’s also, and also the properties in this area, uh, are not very large. The largest size property typically is about an acre.

Sussan Lari (02:48):

And, but the majority of the, so we can, it’s like a suburban, um, you know, it’s a suburb of New York. So, um, we, um, my, our, my clients, uh, both lived husband and wife are both professional, both in the world of finance and incredibly busy individuals professionals. And they both lived, um, of course they lived together in, um, in Manhattan and this was their first move to outside of Manhattan, to Long Island. They had two children. And so they picked the neighborhood, they purchased the property and then they began to look for architect and because the wife was very, uh, busy, actually working, had to go to work. Husband worked from home, um, financial software designer. So he worked from home. So he had the time and, um, availability to search for an architect. And I think the responsibility of searching for architect and designing the, uh, the house and be involved in the construction was husband’s responsibility.

Sussan Lari (04:13):

And that’s how it, the project began. So I receive an email from them, from him actually, uh, in early 2014, we’re talking about eight years ago that this project that they’re looking, they purchased the property and they’re looking for an architect and they wanted to know if I’d be able to meet with them over a weekend. And of course it happened and I met with him and what I really was incredibly impressed with him. We spend a good one and a half hour, two hours, um, that, uh, Saturday in actually wintertime. And I was, uh, I think I was more impressed with him that he was with me. Um, I, I don’t come across clients that are so prepared and so ready to, you know, to do this work. And he, um, he has done a lot of research. He know what he wanted, and I think he looked through our website and I think through Houzz.

Sussan Lari (05:31):

And, um, basically his point of view was that I wanna build this house that fit within the neighborhood, but then I don’t want it to look like other houses in the neighborhood. And that’s a subject that last time you and I talked in length about it. So how, what, how do we do that? And it, this project is an excellent example of how you do a modern architecture, but make it fit in a neighborhood that it’s the entire language of design of the neighborhood, or the majority of the houses in the neighborhood are very, very classic of like architecture of kind of large size houses. I would say, you know, the size of the properties are about one acre here. And so houses are kind of very visible from street. One acre is really not that large. And it’s, you know, you cannot hide to the house.

Sussan Lari (06:39):

So it’s very obvious you see it. And one, after the other houses of either cut stone or brick and some, you know, would the traditional style would architecture. And so he didn’t like any of them. And, um, I dunno how he kind of made these assumptions that we, you know, we would be the right architect because I will be, I understand how to do the modern architecture with some level of connection to classical language of design. He didn’t like ultra modern houses. And he also understood that an ultra modern house not gonna work in that neighborhood. So that is, that needs certain level of intelligence sensitivity, a better understanding. He didn’t wanna be an eye sore in the community. So it was a perfect, really connection between action between me and my firm as a professional and designers and he as the client and he made himself available.

Sussan Lari (08:03):

So at the beginning, uh, so it worked very well. And then he started to send, he, he worked, he worked so much on this kind of concept of what the hell should be, that he thought you could design it. And he started to draw, he had some software as a software designer, so he knew he knew computer so well. And he started to send me these images and the floor plans that he did. I want my house to look like that. But fortunately not like other architect, he didn’t send any, you know, elevations that said, I want my house to look like he didn’t send a picture of a house. He sent plan floor plan, how intelligent that is. And I said, okay, so this, this is gonna work. So we are gonna do it. It’s gonna be challenging, but is worth the challenge. And so we were hired, uh, at one point, uh, again, um, I could, when I think about our last conversation, I said, if people, you know, quite, quite often, one of the reason people do not hire me, um, is because I tell them the truth. So this was one of the case. They ask me how long it’s gonna take, if they could get approval to demolish the house and build the foundation. And we then design it afterward. I said, it’s not gonna work like that. Apparently I know their architect told them, yes, we could do that. And so they decided not to hire me and six months after they call me back. So the 2014 that we talked about, it didn’t happen.

Sussan Lari (09:52):

I was not hired. And then they came back to me toward the end of 2014 and they said, okay, no, we are hiring you. And so the project start, I tell you also another, uh, briefly to pinpoint the connection between the conversation you and I have now on one particular project and how much could be related to the previous conversation. We had the second meeting, um, I met, uh, his wife and his wife, very, um, kind of another incredibly intelligent woman professional to the point, but she was kind of questioning, why am I designing also all the interior aspects of the house? Because they could go and hire a designer or a kitchen company will do the kitchen design. Why am I charging them to design the kitchen or why? You know, it’s like, because they, you know, people do not necessarily think about these aspects of design and the interconnection between all different part of the house that has to work together.

Sussan Lari (11:20):

And the previous architect told them, oh, you’re wasting your money. If you pay the architect to design your kitchen, go to a kitchen store and they will design the kitchen for you for free. So why are you wasting your time? Naturally people who are, you know, the client is thinking at the starting point, this is my budget. That’s how much I wanna spend to build a house. And that’s how much I put the budget to design it. And then why do I pay this much more to design the kitchen? So at the beginning of every stage of introduction of our clients and us, we have to go through all these step by step and tell them it’s okay. If you design your kitchen, don’t worry. It’s like the kitchen people who charging you, they don’t tell you, they charge extra by charging to, to sell they’re selling the product.

Sussan Lari (12:17):

They’re not designing. It’s two different thing. So it was that process of in a way, educating the truth about our field and our profession. It happened at the very early stage and, you know, somebody else’s word resonated with them, uh, and they hired somebody else. And after six months I received a call and we got, you know, they fired the other architect and I had my firm. And that was the beginning of the process of design. But the fascinating, uh, collaboration, the fascination of the collaboration is that how do we work with clients that knows what he wants and it’s, and is intelligent enough that you could not just find nonsense to convince him one word, the other, because you’re not gonna buy it. And that, you know, I love that because it was incredibly challenging. You know, he made me to, to think about every aspect I already do, but, but the presence of somebody who also challenge you on, you know, the health of the material, I love that.

Sussan Lari (13:49):

And that was at the time when, um, AIA was beginning to, uh, have lectures about in the AIA convention, yearly convention lectures about, um, the health of materials, construction material was a perfect kind of timing to, to start looking at, um, all the, um, you know, it’s like you go back and you review all the different materials and are they natural RRN day? What is healthy about them? What’s unhealthy about them. So basically what he wanted, um, he called modern classics. And then to him as modern classic was that in every component of the house, we will have, um, a modern design, not to ornate in terms of the volume and design, not to ornate, but at the same time, um, not blah to have certain level of charm, um, detailing, um, kind of visual interest.

Sussan Lari (15:12):

So, and so we started the design. Um, their site was a pie shape, like a pizza and the starting the, the larger side of the pizza was the street. So you have so much of, uh, you know, you drive by and you see a lot of this property and you think it’s a gigantic property, but then it keep going to the end to a point, a single point. So naturally we wanted to have a volume that are segmented and there are different segments of the volume. And he also loved that concept and he wanted that concept.

Sussan Lari (15:59):

So, and because he was thinking about modern, living, he also understood that it’s not necessary to have family room. And then, and, you know, he understood, for example, that entrance hall doesn’t need to be large. I, in total agreement, why do we need a gigantic entrance hall? If we have limited square footage to use for the public area, why do we have a gigantic entrance hall and a tiny family room or den or whatever you call. So it’s very common in, in, in this area to have large entrance hall, because entrance hall is a symbol of that’s the first thing people see you walk into the house and you immediately, your judgment is, wow, that’s a big house because it has a big entrance, right? So I totally was in agreement with him. And at the same time, because we were making a very elongated kind of floor plan, three main components.

Sussan Lari (17:25):

So we had also two entries, one entry for kind of quote, unquote, formal entry to the house and the other one everyday entry to the house, which is like modern entrance. And, and this quote entry would be, I wanted both entry to have the equal importance. I, I, I don’t, I don’t believe that entry to our homes should be one big and important for guests and one small, tiny and important from the site for us, that we live in the house. And I’m thinking we are the one who paid for the house to start with is our home. Why do we have to go from the side, a tiny entry and a less important one? And the big one for guest? Think about it.

Sussan Lari (18:28):

So he agreed that both entries should be at the front and, um, the modern entry closer to the driveway. So we could just park the car on the driveway and just run into the house. And these were the challenges that I always have with my other clients to reinterpret every aspects of the floor plan I didn’t have with this client, think about the joy of not convincing the client, that let’s not have a gigantic entrance hall, and let’s not have, you know, really the, the certain let’s spend our square footage intelligently. So I remember that in our previous conversation, we talked about how we could really create a modern architecture design, um, on elevation and volume using traditional material that I could, you know, say on this job, this is exactly what we did.

Sussan Lari (19:52):

And my client and I worked for a good one year designing this house. It was a true collaboration between him and I. I enjoyed input from him. We had daily conversations, email, and at certain point, I said, okay, now you need to leave me alone because I need to reflect, thank develop. And then we will get together, you know, that worked out. But then we had to get approval from, uh, architecture review board. So it’s okay for client and, uh, an architect to work together and develop something amazing that it satisfies, you know, the architect’s creativity, but also client would love it. Now we have a third component in, in our community in Long Island. We have to have also satisfy the neighbors and we have to satisfy the architecture review committee. And the architecture review committee had to architect on board. And I have to also satisfy those two architects. So we have one aspect is a zoning and the rules and law that’s given, we have the shape of the property is given then program based on what client wants, which is so important is becoming a given factor.

Sussan Lari (21:45):

Then the rest is satisfying. My creativity, clients interest, and, you know, and also the two architect of the, of the architectural review board and the neighbors that come to architectural review board. And that was the biggest hurdle to go through. And, you know, it’s irrelevant, what, what they, they said, and the couple of trouble they had to get it because they felt like it’s too boring. Uh, the design is, um, you know, pedestrian that’s was the word they use pedestrian. And I didn’t know, you could use the word pedestrian in, in design and they did, and I, you know, whatever. So I thought that, um, it’s, uh, it’s okay. As long as I have the approval, I’m not concerned, um, client gonna live here, they’re not gonna live in this house. And, um, got it approved. But then, um, the unbelievable challenge was that there were, we had few challenges.

Sussan Lari (23:04):

We wanted the house to be connected to the ground. That was my, my, I wanted, I was insisting on that in, uh, in our area, in this area, the houses are all raised on a platform. It’s like, you’re putting the house on a, on pedestal. Typically they’re about two feet of the ground and in some neighborhood even higher, um, I think the concept is that, you know, it’s, we wanna, we don’t want the snow to come in, assume if there’s a flood, but also we wanna see it. We want to be able to see it. If it’s too close to the ground, we are not gonna be able to see it from street. And then, okay, what this does is disconnect the house to the lot from lot.

Sussan Lari (24:10):

So you are not able to really walk out from every door in the house, to the garden. So disconnect the house from the garden, from a natural movement between you as your inside, you’re gonna walk out and you have to get through the steps. If you’re older, you have to think five times before going out, <laugh> you go shopping and come, you have to five step up. If you don’t wanna go through garage. And you know, garage is kind of overrated a little bit because the six, seven months of the year, you don’t put your car in the garage. If the weather is good, travel in California, you never do. I dunno in Wyoming in your area, but in New York, you know, you wanna park the car right out and walking, right.

Sussan Lari (25:07):

Children playing in the backyard. You wanna be able to just open the door, go sit, you know, and read and enjoy the kids. So when the house is elevated and there’s not much connection, the only exception of the doors will be the main entrance door, bedroom door, which goes through a garage through, you know, laundry room into the house, which typically that’s the houses that are being designed here. So he understood the importance of connection from in out. So that was one criteria for us. The other criteria we wanted that when you get to the entry from entry, you could just have another door opposite of the door, to the backyard. So you could go from one door, go inside, open another door, go back to the backyard. He was think, and that was excellent way of having a summer gathering. So people don’t have to come to the house and walk through all your living room and you know, all other room and go through a labyrinth to have a door out.

Sussan Lari (26:29):

So that was a perfect way to go out. And then, um, we were talking about the connection between in and out is that I think, you know, he, this client was a perfect client to design a house that every aspect of the house that matters to me matter to them connection of the house, to the land mattered. Then, to look differently from the traditional layout and have a layout that is so non-traditional, that is so perfectly worked with our day to day life. That’s what we did on this project to be able to, um, listen to this. It was fascinating. He wanted, he wanted to have his dining room. You know, dining rooms are totally useless unless, you know, you do have, you know, gathering every day or, you know, it’s just being used once in a while, when you have larger gathering, otherwise you eat, you know, in the family room, kitchen in the breakfast room. So he understood that. So he said, I wanna have a dining room that looked like a piano bar in Manhattan.

Sussan Lari (28:01):

So a dining room that looks like a piano bar in Manhattan basically means we are gonna have a dining room, but we’re gonna make sure we put a bar in the, in, in the dining room area could be used as a counter for serving, and also large enough to have a piano. And that’s exactly what we did. And where do we put the dining room? So right. I’m walking in you–when you walk into a house is if the movement think about it, you, you walk into the house, the main entry, and then from there you have a kind of gallery go to different rooms, but you never really walk into the entry and go to see the dining room we did on this project. We did, and it perfectly worked. Dining room in their house is being used more than any other house beside breakfast room.

Sussan Lari (29:05):

So we didn’t waste the room at all. And then he wanted to have, uh, to be able to have a connection between in and out. So that was so important. So we have very large size windows and he wanted to have a sunken living room. I think, honestly, everything he wanted, he eventually got. And that was, to me, this is really a successful creative design to make everything work. Client is incredibly happy. I am happy because I did something totally different than my other project. I love that for a creative architect, that’s kind of a dream project. It connected to the land. And it’s’s a beautiful house at the very end to look at, from street, as well as the backyard. He wanted to have a vegetable garden. He wanted to have a trail. So this is kind of, I think I shared with you last time, or maybe not, um, if the project, if the property is large enough.

Sussan Lari (30:25):

So I think we could consider one acre is large enough that we should be able to use every part of the garden or the land and walk in the land. So we could do a loop. We could walk around the property and then it’s, let’s say a trail. We create a trail. And then depending on the size of the property, this trail, it, this would forces you first of all, to just use every corner of the garden design in such a way that every corner could be offering you a different view of the house, offering you different areas to sit down and enjoy the garden.

Sussan Lari (31:17):

We had a kind of comfy theater in the backyard. Think about the, the smaller size of the pie in the backyard is where the backyard is. The majority of the property is the front is where people see it, and that’s not gonna be a, you know, a private garden. So we had to do the private garden in the back. So we used every inch of that property. We had a swimming pool that offers a, a kind of lapping, uh, lap pool for swim, for swim, and then a square section of it for, um, volleyball, because, you know, um, the wife, um, the lady of the house love to play volleyball in the pool.

Sussan Lari (32:15):

They have a sun deck. Then part of the pool, we have a pool house that is a tiny little, little structure in the backyard. That is same level as the pool patio. And it has large doors that you could completely open. And you could sit and talk to people who are in the pool. We have seats in the pool, but people could sit in the pool and like a bar converse with the people inside of the pool house. I think my clients traveled a lot on vacations and everything. He liked everywhere. He went, he took a picture. That’s what I want. This is kind of no. He said that he, he went to Dartmouth has an amazing library, probably one of the most beautiful libraries at, in that timeline. You know, when my daughter, we were looking for college for my daughter, she and I went college hunting.

Sussan Lari (33:31):

And in one of the trips to Dartmouth, um, we went to the library and fell in love with the library in Dartmouth. I remember sitting on, on, on the chairs, um, and said, this is, this is the place that you should go, sign up. This is this perfect. And she also loved it, but she didn’t get admitted. So we moved on. So, um, and she wanted to have an area for the, on the second floor for the, for the girls to be able to sit on chairs that are identical to dark, more library chairs, put their feet up on the ledge of a window and a gigantic window overlooking the backyard. And they will be able to do their studies, think about that job, that level of detail, that how much this man understood the importance of life, how we spend our time, how we use our spaces, sitting on a chair, putting your at the ledge of the window. So means the height of the window has to be just proper. Just perfect. To be able to put your there, look out. So means that the chair should be in very close proximity to the window to look out, loved the idea. So imagine how many list of wish list we had. I had that I had to work with.

Sussan Lari (35:27):

He said, I want the live, the living, the, the dining room to be two story. And I look up and on the upper level is the library. And I could see up, I could see the connection between up and down. He got it. So, that was an awesome project. Truly awesome.

Jon (35:54):

You’re so articulate in explaining the holistic interconnectivity all the way through, from the very beginning. When you get the email from the client saying, I think I want to pursue something together all the way through to the very end. And I, I appreciate once again, the philosophy that you maintain that allows your client to enjoy a space that is designed around their life, rather than trying to shoehorn, uh, someone’s lifestyle into an end design. And I, I love the way I have to say something here as well. That really is very impressive. You didn’t really highlight this because I, you know, I know you you’re, you’re not that type of person to highlight this, but this person, this client, they had a contract with a previous architect. They then fired that architect who was giving them conflicting advice. Wasn’t actually moving things forward in the way that they needed to.

Jon (37:06):

And I think that’s a challenge that many people have, uh, they will go out and they will try to start a relationship with an architect and they will try to, Hey, can we get what we want, you know, from this relationship and can we work together? And I think the missing pieces at the end of the day are not around zoning laws and all of that administrative side, right? It’s you, it’s about your understanding of being able to understand what the client actually wants, what the client needs and how to achieve that and to, you know, provide the, the guidance that you, that you deliver. So I, if you’re listening to this today and you feel something inside of you, when you hear Sussan talk, when you, when you hear about this journey of going from an idea that sparked in a software developer’s mind, right?

Jon (38:00):

A software designer’s mind all the way through to a beautiful end product that allows the, the client to live every nuance of their dream every single day. Imagine the joy, imagine the, the harmony of life that this, that this family now enjoys. If as you listen to this, you, you feel interested in taking the conversation yourself with Sussan. My recommendation would be to go to It’s S U S S a N L a R and reach out to her directly via the website. There’s some phone numbers there as well. Give her a call, uh, talk to her office. Uh, you will be in the best of hands again, Sussan, thank you so much for being with us today. I really appreciate the amazing journey that you took us on today. Uh, thank you again,

Sussan Lari (39:00):

My pleasure Jon.

This New York architecture project was as exciting as it was challenging, but we think the results speak for themselves:

Residential Home Design – Flower Hill, NY (Exterior)

Residential Home Design – Flower Hill, NY (Interior)

Ready to build a home that will nurture your personal and professional needs for many years to come?

Contact us today to speak with Sussan Lari and her team, today!