Tichenor & Thorp Architects

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Trade Tales: Study Abroad

What are the pitfalls of taking on an international project? Top designers share tricks and tips on executing a stress-free job overseas.

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Blocking and Tackling
“After one bout of particularly bruising (yet strangely civil) talks in Melbourne, I found myself holed up in my hotel room, nursing a drink and absent-mindedly watching an Australian football match. The players would completely demolish their opponents, then help them back up in a gentlemanly fashion. I remember thinking, “Ah, so that’s how they negotiate!” It was considerably easier to function on the job site after that.” —Brian Tichenor, Tichenor & Thorp

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Culture Studies
“Spend time researching the level of formality with which to conduct business. There is a custom when finalizing a deal in China, for example, that includes a very formal dinner banquet and multiple-step signing ceremony, during which seating arrangements are
all determined by seniority. Other areas to explore include the pace at which construction occurs, typical vendor fee structures, the implications of that country’s taxing system, historical preservation standards, and differences in architectural vernacular.” —Caleb Anderson, Drake/Anderson

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Talent Show
A key element of success is to maximize the talents of local workers. By touring projects that my contractors are proud of, I can quickly assess their skills, strengths and work habits. For instance, on a project in Mexico, everyone we worked with was highly skilled in plasterwork, tile installation, ironwork and stone, but had no visceral understanding of woodwork, plumbing or carpeting. In Sweden, they saw no reason for the broad selection of tile and paint options that Americans take for granted—there were very few choices (Benjamin Moore’s 150 whites would be anathema to them) and only a limited selection of lamps, traditional lighting fixtures or comfortable upholstery.” —Marshall Watson, Marshall Watson Interiors

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Material Differences
“One of the most interesting things about working abroad is being exposed to different materials and new craft and construction techniques. Some materials that we take for granted can be fundamentally different or used in different ways abroad. For example, we have often used marine-grade or veneer plywood for exposed finishes like walls and desktops in the United States, but we have discovered that the plywood is not produced with the same degree of quality and variety in many parts of the world. Conversely, in another country you might gain access to materials and craft that are prohibitively expensive here, such as carpentry, metal fabrication, masonry or concrete.” —Kirsten R. Murray, Olson Kundig

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Best-Laid Plans
“Precise planning ensures the project will run as smoothly as possible and that there are fewer surprises. This begins with obtaining the most accurate measurements, finding great vendors, ensuring all of the items selected for the project are made of materials that are accepted by the country in question (one recent example we came across was that coral could not be sent to the Bahamas), and factoring in timing and additional costs for shipping and customs.” —Amy Lau, Amy Lau Design

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Paint Pains
“When we did a project in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a few years ago, picking out paint colors was by far the most difficult part. The light is always different depending on the location, but it was such an intense difference between New York and Cabo San Lucas that I had to keep going for brighter and more saturated colors—and even made several extra trips to get the colors just right.” —Mia Jung, Ike Kligerman Barkley

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Fat Tax
“As an owner of properties in Normandy and Paris, I have found it helpful to have a thorough knowledge of tax law. Surprisingly, not all renovations are tax-deductible; building materials, appliances, fixtures, and lighting used in home renovations, as well as all labor, are also highly taxed. Plus, when shipping personal property from the U.S. to France as a non-resident, the value of the entire shipment is taxed upon arrival. Depending on what one ships, this can be a huge amount! On another note, if you’re looking for local tradespeople, ask your real estate agent; they usually have the best resources.” —Charles Spada, Charles Spada Interiors

Trade Tales: Study Abroad
Away Team
“When working internationally, you have to spend time upfront researching and securing the best local sources: quality painters, curtain makers and upholsterers. You can always ship goods, but it is rarely feasible to send a team of craftspeople. Don’t wait until you are on the ground, either. Start your research early to build the best possible resources; I look to my staff, as well as peers who have worked in the area before. One solid resource often yields others—a carpenter will refer a painter who will refer a mason, and so on.” —Bunny Williams, Bunny Williams Interior Design

Photography Marshall Watson: Mark Bradley Miller; Kirsten R. Murray: Rafael Soldi; Brian Tichenor: Roger Davies; Amy Lau: Mark Seliger; Mia Jung: Courtesy of Ike Kligerman Barkley; Charles Spada: Raymond Forbes

This article originally appeared in the Business of Home Summer 2018, Issue 8.

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