April 1, 2020

Calvin Tsao and Cindy Allen in Conversation on Instagram Live

During this historic time, Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen will be joined by a guest designer every weekday at noon EST for a video chat on Instagram Live. Today, Hall of Fame member Calvin Tsao of Tsao & McKown—the New York firm known for its subtly elegant, contextually driven architecture—called in from his weekender in Rhinebeck, New York, to discuss what life might look like post-COVID-19, Zoom cocktail hours, and the value of emotive design. (Sweetly, his longtime partner, Zack McKown, popped onto Instagram’s live comment sidebar for moral support.)

“I’m actually getting my eight hours of sleep!” Tsao noted ruefully as the conversation kicked off. Fifteen years ago, he and McKown built a 600-square-foot standalone home office to join a cottage of the same size on their 85 acres in Upstate New York. “We thought it would be nice not to be at the main office [in Brooklyn] every day,” he explained—something they are taking full advantage of now. Reduced quarters have taught them the value of small: “Why do we need all this stuff?” Tsao asked. “We need to design better, not more.”

As Tsao sees it, the current crisis will usher in “a new chapter in the way we look at things.” Designers are used to characterizing things in standardized typologies, but in this altered world, “what is contract, what is workplace?” he continued. “Post-virus our eyes will have been opened to new limitations and possibilities. There’s no going back.” Allen agreed, noting the trend has suddenly flipped from “the home in your office to the office in your home.”

As Zoom becomes the new normal—with Tsao dishing that his firm has been using the technology not just for meetings but virtual cocktail parties, too—he was gratified that “finally, tech is serving us in the way I really wanted it to.” While many upcoming design jobs have been postponed or cancelled, his studio is currently working from home, if not at full capacity. (A bright spot on the horizon: This morning Tsao took a call from a Hong Kong client on a new project.)

The architect’s mantra was that while problem-solving is important, whimsy and “touching the heart” are equally as valid in design. “Making things with emotion, I think it’s something we sometimes overlook,” he explained.

A final show-and-tell portion showcased a prized possession: a tiny wooden house with billowing timber chimney smoke made by Jonah Meyer of Hudson furniture maker, Sawkille Co. As the chat rolled on, the comments rolled in. Hi from France, Jordan, San Antonio, Israel, Taiwan, India, Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Turkey, Chile, Pakistan, Miami, Mumbai, Kosovo, Jakarta, Belarus, Scotland, Milan, Barcelona, Malaysia, Lebanon, Moscow, Vancouver, Germany, Thailand, Iran, Columbia, Ghana, New York, Manchester, Australia. The list we reproduce here in full as far as we could catch them—a reminder of the breadth of our shared community.

> See our full coverage of COVID-19 and its impact on the A&D industry

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