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Lux Interiors and Design Colorado | DesignTV Interview with Senior Principal, Seth Hmielowski

Z Group Architect Senior Principal, Seth Hmielowski, had the privilege of speaking with Terri Glassman, publisher of Luxe Interiors and Design Colorado, about our firms story, the unique approach to our design process, the amazing Z Group Team, industry design challenges, and some of our exciting upcoming projects.


Terri Glassman:

Thank you for tuning in to Luxe Local. I'm Terri Glassman, the publisher of Lux Interiors and Design Colorado. The concept behind Lux local programming is to showcase the industry's leading professionals we have, right here, in Colorado. Today, we are thrilled to spotlight Z Group Architects, the longest standing architectural firm in Aspen, Colorado. Seth Hmielowski is an owner and Senior Principal Architect at Z Group. Welcome, Seth.


Seth Hmielowski:

Hey, Terri. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.


Glassman:

Well, you have a beautiful setting. This looks wonderful.


Hmielowski:

I'm actually in a home. It's a house that we completed a little earlier this year. This client of ours has become a good friend and has allowed us to come in and shoot on location.


South 7th Street Residence. Photography by Mark Waldron, Studio 27.


Glassman:

Wonderful, wonderful. Well, can you start us off by just giving us a little background about yourself and the history of your firm?


Hmielowski:

Yeah, sure. I moved from Massachusetts, outside of Boston, back in 1997 and I actually joined this firm then, so I'm going on 25-26 at this point. It is the longest standing firm. The lineage started with a gentleman called Sam Caudill. He is an Aspen favorite. He since passed, but he started this firm in 1952 as Caudill Associates. And then along the way, Jim Gustafson joined in about 1980 and they changed the name to Caudill Gustafson.



I joined the firm in 1997, like I mentioned, and became a principal in 2007 and right around then is when we changed the name to Z-Group Architects. And basically we were looking to shift away from some of the past projects that the company was doing back then. It was mostly libraries and commercial work and wanted to concentrate on the high end single family homes.



And then along the way as Jim Gustafson was starting to transition out of the company, Scott McHale and Randy Henry joined as principals in 2020 and then this year we started interior design department brought on Hannah Warner as our director of interior design. So we've done a lot of work over the year. So it's much to celebrate this year.



Glassman:

Sounds like you have a lot going on this year.


Hmielowski:

Oh yeah!


Glassman:

Well, maybe, can you share with us the unique design process that a client experiences when they work with Z Group?


Hmielowski:

Sure. And that's one of the things that we really worked hard on this year, about something that we're changing.


In architecture, we live in this world of conceptual design, schematic design development, construction documents. And as a client who hasn't designed to build a home, those don't really mean a whole lot. So we wanted to revamp how we communicate with our clients and have them understand what this process is about and when I mentioned those other ones, it's really industry standard. We want to reach out and connect to the clients a little bit better and so help them understand this process. And so we've broken those down to three parts and that's Conception, Creation, and Completion. And so within those, all of it has to do with communication along the way.


Our biggest thing that we see where we maybe the ball is dropped along the way. It's just not communicating correctly with the client and then making assumptions that the client knows what we're doing. There's a lot going on, these are sophisticated projects.


Strata House. Photography by Dallas & Harris Photography.


So keeping that line of communication open from the very beginning all the way to the end is extremely important. And so when I think about or when I talk about conception, it's understanding our client, connecting with the client, creating that relationship. Our projects go for two to four years. So when you're starting in with someone, it's long term. Right? And so you really got to connect with that client, understand what their needs are, what they want, and engage at a higher level and really drill down to what they actually want in the home, not just like, I want five bedrooms. You want to really get to know them how they really live, what they want to feel, what they want to experience, what they want their guests to feel and experience and sense when they come in. Those are the things that we really try to obtain before we even start putting pen to paper. Once we start doing that, the design starts to develop and it engages the client to be more involved and you're pulling ideas from them as well as taking their imagery that they're giving you and just regurgitating it.


And then you get into Creation. Creation is basically, it's pulling together all these drawings and you're pulling together a team. So you have, and as I mentioned, it's very sophisticated process with these larger homes, we have a huge team, Mechanical Engineers, Structural Engineers, so forth, so on. So we pull that together and we're communicating with the client and documenting everything that we've extracted from them at the very beginning.


Thinking through that process of our three phases, it not only works for a house that's just ground up, a lot of times we think about single family homes and luxury design as a house that you start from scratch, whether you're removing a home from the existing site or you have a raw piece of land, but actually you can get even more creative as a renovation. And what we've done is taking we took a house that was very dated, this mix of Victorian Era design and brought it into a more contemporary flavor. And that process with Conception, Creation, and Completion was even more important on this particular project because you are working with existing parameters. You're trying to work with an existing home and the involvement that it takes as a designer, especially during the construction phase of it, the completion phase of it, is paramount that we are there on site to make sure that our ideas, our design is fitting within there.


Hallam House Renovation before and after. Photography by Mark Waldron, Studio 27.


Glassman:

So, that is quite a process and very unique. And outside of that piece and the amazing team that you have, what else do you feel distinguishes Z Group Architects from other firms that we might see?


Hmielowski:

Good question. This is one of the things that we've been working on as a team in the office.

It's understanding, connecting with our clients. And the way we view it is everyone should be experiencing their best life. Right? And like, OK, what does that mean? It's different for each individual. All of our clients are unique with unique needs, wants. And, you know, if they're looking to experience their best life, how can we help them with the architecture and it's different across the board. It could be creating a space of solitude. Creating an expansive space for entertaining and bringing guests in and being social and so it's understanding those clients at a higher level and doing a deeper dive with connecting with them and understanding what we can do for them.


And, you know, if we can create a space that is healing and a refuge. And going beyond what's just the volume like you see the volume behind me here. It's like, OK, that looks nice, but what do you smell? What do you want your guests to come in to feel, in sense, smell, hear, all those things? You are just like it's more than just the architecture. It it's beyond that. And that's what we're trying to get to with our clients.


Glassman:

You know, it's like I think as an architect and interior design firm that all of those little tiny details matter so much. And I don't know some homeowners may be very well aware of those key little factors and some may not. So it's nice to have a little bit of guidance there. Ya know.


Hmielowski:

It is interesting because you'll get someone who comes in and will say "This is what I want." and then after you start drilling into it some more, they start to become pretty personal questions and you realize some of those things they really don't want. And there are things that they hadn't thought about that they do want.


Glassman:

Well, and on that note, as you're working on these amazing projects, what do you see as maybe a big challenge right now in the industry?


Hmielowski:

Probably the biggest challenge that I see can also be an opportunity and what we're finding on more of a technical basis is that local codes are changing due to our energy needs and the energy crisis. It's forcing us to take a hard look on being more sustainable and environmentally friendly with what we do. And our homes have tons of glass, bringing lots of light in, we want to open us these giant doors and have this connectivity with the environment-which is all great. But that also creates a challenge on the energy side of things. So that's our challenge there-How do we maintain these design concepts that push the envelope but meet the codes?


Dulcinea. Photography by Dallas & Harris Photography and Gibeon Photography.


But that's also where I see the opportunity is. It is forcing the designers and architects to get real and really start to understand that we need to be more environmentally friendly on how we do our designs. So I think it's a blessing. It's tough, but I think it's forcing everyone to go in the right direction. And for some of our clients, it may not be one of their wish list things, but we then make it exciting for them. Look this is what we're doing that's even better than you last home that going to be more environmentally friendly and like I said it's an opportunity as well.


Glassman:

What projects to do have right now that are in the works or just completed? Hmielowski:

Well, as I mentioned, the place that I'm in here. This is an 8,500 square foot home and it's got all the works right down to a golf simulator. Talking about experiencing your best life, our clients he's a big golfer and he golfs year around from his basements. So it's the little things like that I think our clients really enjoy. And this place has a full spa as well, so there's portions of this home that can be healing, relaxing and also entertaining as well. But, we've got quite a bit on the books and there's more to come, for sure.


South 7th Street Residence. Photography by Mark Waldron, Studio 27.


Glassman:

So Seth, where are your projects located?


Hmielowski:

Good question. We work all over Colorado, also international. We've done projects and homes in Mexico, we're working on a home in Belize, We've done projects in Russia and Japan in the past. Most of our single-family homes are based in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, which is our local valley here. But we do work all over depending on our clients.


Glassman:

Well you do have amazing projects and also a very impressive team. Thank you so much for sharing and taking time to visit today. And to our audience thank you for joining and we look forward to seeing you next time on Luxe Local Colorado.


Hmielowski:

Thank you very much.


Glassman:

Thank you.






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