A classic old home is an opportunity and a challenge. South Pasadena architect Lisa Henderson knows honoring the past and incorporating the present requires understanding what the house is telling you.
BY: Nadino Ono
Photos: Courtesy of Harvest Architecture
“I listen to the house.” That’s how South Pasadena-based architect Lisa Henderson begins work on a new project. She is the owner of Harvest Architecture, which specializes in updating older homes to meet the needs of today’s families. Many of the homes on which she works are up to 100 years old and often historic.
She explains her approach, “It’s really about looking at the house and thinking about, whoever did this, whoever the architect or the builder was at the time, what would they do if they were here, what would they do if they were to understand this [time] a little bit more.” It’s important that the work she does is “honoring the house and guiding the people that live there to be a good caretaker for the house for the time that they’re in it.”
But adapting older homes for today’s needs is sometimes tricky as many older homes don’t have walk-in closets, family rooms with home theatre systems or kitchens large enough to accommodate all the appliances many of us take for granted. “That’s where I sort of try to teach our clients, proportion,” says Henderson. “I’ll look at the floor plan with them and say, ‘Okay regardless of what size this is, just look at the square, the rectangle here. This is the tone of your house.’”
Sometimes she is able to seamlessly incorporate the old with the new, recalling a project she worked on in Bungalow Heaven, “They had some people to come over to the house and they didn’t know they had done a remodel, and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, how did you find an impeccably, pristine, original kitchen?’ It had everything with it (including a dishwasher, not available in original Craftsman kitchens), but it was good because they were, in a way, fooled.”
When first working with clients, Henderson notices everything about the house and family, whether they have kids in sports, entertain on a regular basis, and how much stuff they have. This allows her to better design a space that fits both their needs and their lifestyle. “I find this works really well, I always give them what they ask for, but I actually give them what they need, because people don’t necessarily know what they need.”
Henderson is a native of Winnipeg, Canada and studied interior design at the University of Manitoba. She came to Southern California on a whim because she had a friend attending school here. “I was planning on staying here for six months and that was 23 years ago.” She first stayed on Orange Grove Boulevard and the abundance of trees reminded her of Winnipeg, which made her feel more at home. She worked several jobs before entering the graduate program at the prestigious SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), which is known for its cutting-edge and modern design sense.
To help finance her graduate studies, she worked part-time jobs during school and in the summer. One of those jobs was working for a Pasadena forensic architect. She became part of the team that help make the case to declare Bungalow Heaven the City of Pasadena’s first Landmark District (it has since been listed by the United States Department of Interior in the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Resources). This was her introduction to historic and older homes.
The juxtaposition between her studies and job doesn’t escape her, “I was always at school doing this high-tech stuff, super contemporary, and then doing my part time job and summer jobs doing all the old building stuff. So I found that mix of those was kind of interesting.” Several years later, she helped lead the team to have the Historic Highlands neighborhood just north of Bungalow Heaven recognized as a Landmark District.
After graduating from SCI-Arc, she worked for a major commercial architecture firm until she had her first child. That’s when she decided to open up her own firm and return to the world of preserving and updating older homes. Today, Harvest Architecture is a four-person office with clients across the Los Angeles metro area “who share our commitment to historic structures and modern living.” An added bonus of having her own firm is that it allows her to volunteer at her children’s schools and in the community.
She finds that being a mother has also helped her in her design sense because she knows what young families may need in the future, “I can see that point of view and put both of those hats on and be like, ‘You’re going to wash your toddler’s hair and you’ll be bending over and then you’re going to be doing this thing at this age,’ I find that that, coupled with my interior design background, brings a lot more personal connection to our projects.” And she does hear again and again that she wasn’t hired because she is a woman or a mother, but after the fact, they were glad they picked her because she was able to bring her perspective to the process.
But for Henderson and her team, it all goes back to being true to the original house and how it can be updated to suit the needs of her clients. “We’re going to follow the language of the house and we’re going to do it in a really sensitive way, so we’re going to get you what you want, but we’re going to do it in a way that we’re listening to the house.”
1510 Oxley St., Ste. A
South Pasadena, CA 91030