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Living and working in New York, the practice of the architect Sarah Jacoby combines a love for creative restorations and designing with influences in space and light stemming from her childhood in Venice, California. Jacoby has realized nearly 100 projects, private and public alike, since launching her eponymous firm Sarah Jacoby Architect in 2014,
Jacoby has recently transformed a former school into a Brownstone-like residence, a dynamic lobby space in Chelsea, and a modern saltbox home built from the ground-up in Bridgehampton. Passionate about resolving seemingly impossible architectural obstacles to create beautiful, effortless spaces, she spoke with Whitewall about her process and what she’s working on next, including a book on the horizon.
WHITEWALL: When did you first become interested in working in architecture and how did your degree in History and Science play into a Master’s in architecture?
SARAH JACOBY: I always loved buildings and urbanscapes, and moving from the visual diversity of Los Angeles to the historic consistency of Cambridge Massachusetts was a bit of a shock. During a semester abroad in Spain, and in its wildness from the Alhambra, to La Sagrada Familia, to the Guggenheim Bilbao, I realized that architecture might be where I wanted to land. History and Science was very accommodating in letting me research the software that Frank Gehry was using at that time (Catia) and write and think about buildings and techniques to design, as well as how it landed in our imagination and physical spaces.
WW: Your portfolio is pretty extensive in that it includes both new construction and renovations of existing spaces as well as commercial, residential, and public projects. Given the wide variety of your work, what does your process look like?
SJ: I would say educating my clients is usually step one, and establishing expectations! Whether you’ve just purchased a home, an apartment in need of a major renovation, or a plot of land, you’re likely feeling rattled (and poorer!). Whether [it’s]s trying to get a loan, working with a stressful co-op board or realtor, or a bidding war, homeowners usually meet with their architects at a very vulnerable, confusing time when everything is still fairly abstract. While I pride myself on implementing bespoke, innovative designs, I like to make sure my clients know the physical, material, and legal parameters in which we need to work within.
WW: Can you tell us about some of your more recent projects, like the former-school-turned-brownstone and the apartment in Brooklyn?
SJ: The former school was a fun project. The existing space was so peculiar, you could tell that someone tried to fit an apartment within existing conditions that had never been planned to be lived in by people! We had to remove lots of walls, and also work around the peculiarities of the layout to maximize the usable space, but in the end, our clients felt totally at home in this bright and airy space on a beautiful tree-lined street.
Recently, we’ve completed a lobby for an apartment building in Chelsea, which we’re super proud of. The original layout was one of the saddest hallways you could imagine with dim light, carpet, and dark, heavy shades. We turned it into a little minimalist oasis, and used some beautiful recycled wood materials for a bench, and created an entirely new ADA-compliant mailbox for the building.
We also just finished a sweet apartment renovation in Brooklyn for a young couple living in a gorgeous brownstone. The priority was to move the location of the kitchen to open up the footprint and add a bedroom, which during the pandemic, doubled as a home office. We were able to preserve some historic features, like original fireplaces that make the space feel very New York.
WW: The modern saltbox home you designed in Bridgehampton opted for an “environmentally efficient” cedar exterior and utilized natural materials like reclaimed pine. Can you tell us about these material choices and their benefits?
SJ: I am always thinking about how my projects can be as efficient and sustainable as possible. The Bridgehampton project was high-performance both with the materials we used and the actual design of the house. Saltbox architecture dates back to the 17th century and was meant to withstand the harsh weather conditions of Long Island and New England. The elongated sloped roofs allowed snow to melt quickly and also mitigate the impacts of strong winds.
I think the Modern Saltbox was an effective project in demonstrating how environmentally friendly and innovative design can be one in the same. Good architecture should take into consideration the local context and embed itself into that landscape or setting in a symbiotic way.
WW: Your studio statement mentions a passion for resolving architectural problems. What has been your most challenging project or predicament to date?
SJ: There is a seemingly limitless number of problems that can arise in architecture, so every day usually comes with a new set of problems. Things that come to mind tend to be decidedly unsexy: how to add a bathroom while negotiating existing conditions in terms of waste pipe slope.
Ultimately, I think all are about making the spaces beautiful and feel effortless while behind the walls tends to be a real puzzle of infrastructure, and with so many decisions homeowners need to make, having someone who knows so well what questions will pop up is always appreciated by clients.
WW: From what we’ve seen, each of your projects is visually unique, presumably tailored to the space and the clients’ preferences. That being said, are there any must-have elements or details that you will always include in a space?
SJ: My secret passions don’t always end up in my projects, but when they do, it’s always so fun to see them come to life! Two of my current obsessions are curved walls and glass blocks, which you don’t see so often these days… Actually, one of the contractors I recently worked with knew how much I loved curved walls, and added one into a project we were working on—free of charge no less! So, anyone in the market for an apartment in need of curves and glass boxes, I am here!
WW: What are you working on next?
SJ: We almost always have a wide mix of apartment and brownstone renovations in the city, but we’ve also got houses outside the city that we’re gutting, an expansive home renovation in California, and a few new ground-up projects. During the pandemic, I got certified to work in a few new places, like Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, so you’ll be seeing a few projects in those geographies soon.
I am also working on my first book project: a sort of “how-to” guide to how to work with an architect. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I went out on my own almost 10 years ago, so it’s been really fun to realize this publication.