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Meet Pella's Partners: An Interview With I/O Design Office

Posted on August 15, 2022 in Pella Windows & Doors of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin

At Pella, we forge strong bonds with the architecture and interior design offices we partner with. If they need quality windows and doors for their projects, our partners know they can trust Pella to provide high-end products and even better service.

We sat down with one such partner, I/O Design Office, to highlight one of their recent designs: the Buffalo Modern Project.

I/O Design: Resolving a Conflict of Elements

Standing in the middle of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Douglas was awestruck. Just 12 years old, he’d stumbled upon a model of “Fallingwater” designed by architectural legend, Frank Lloyd Wright. 

“I remember thinking it wasn’t like any other house I’d seen before. It had a river running right through it,” Douglas recalls. “As a 12-year-old little guy, it blew my mind.” 

For Nicole, it was the nuances of interior design that caught her interest, including color, texture, and furniture design and layout. In a classic case of serendipity, after she graduated from college, she was hired at the same firm where Douglas worked.

Douglas and Nicole were partnered up frequently, tackling projects around the country. Together, they developed a design process that was more holistic than the typical residential design process for the industry.

“Douglas and I believe that architecture and interior design are one instead of two separate things, and should be treated as such,” Nicole explains.

Over the next 10 years, Douglas and Nicole worked on their process of harmonizing these seemingly-opposed elements. They tested it, refined it and saw exceptional results. Eventually, their clients were telling them that they should start their own firm. 

Lucky for us, they listened.

Q: Do you think it sets I/O Design apart from the competition that you see architecture and interior design as one?

D: Yes. With this process, you don’t have competing visions. We’re always on the same page, which eliminates friction that can be problematic for a project. We incorporate interior considerations at the earliest stages of the design, which allows us to get the space sized just right for the client. 

Another thing that sets us apart is our approach to working with clients. We work collaboratively, guiding and facilitating the ideation process rather than insisting on our own vision. When you get everybody working together like that, there are these synergies that happen. And that’s what we’re looking for: serendipity... 

Q: What projects do you enjoy working on the most? 

N: Design-wise, modern design is our specialty. We’ve done many other things, but modern design is where our passion lies.

D: Our ideal project would probably be a new home, between $1.5 and $3 million. That’s the sweet spot for us because it gives us the scope in which we can deliver our best work. After we finish the schematic design, we get to use our visualization skills to help the client understand exactly what they’re going to get. 

Visualization was a process Nicole and I started developing when we first began working together. We helped develop a workflow with various software applications, as well as a process of creating a model. This way, clients could see what they were getting earlier on. In many ways, the model is our testing ground.

Q: What do you love most about the work you do? 

N: We have the same answer–our clients. 

D: We’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of wonderful people, collaborating with them from the beginning until the very end when they move in. 

When we collaborate, our goal is to get our clients to set aside all the technical concerns and to play with ideas without judgment, and say, “Well what if we did this?” Or, “What if that happens?” That’s where the magic comes through. 

We want our clients to know that this is a safe place to have ideas. We try to show them that it’s okay to joke around and have fun. One of the comments we always got at our old office was that our clients were always having a good time and laughing throughout the process.

Q: So, the Buffalo Modern Project–who was your client and what were your goals? 

Windows with lake view

N: Our clients, Jim and Maureen, came to us with a vision of a mountain modern home. Jim was a builder in Texas for 35 years–he had a lot of experience working with other designers on high-end homes. So, for this project, collaboration was huge. 

D: Our process is usually to give the general direction of design and let the client lead. Jim was amazing at taking a concept or idea and value engineering it and making it work. On every part of the project, he’d say, “Show me your best ideas on this, what have you guys got?”

We’d use that same collaboration model and play around with ideas. One of the most important features of the home came from Maureen early on–the sloped roof over the great room and kitchen! And there were plenty of times when Jim would reject an idea, and we’d just pivot and say “Okay let’s try this.”

It was a great experience. We’re still friends to this day.

Q: Why did they choose to work with your firm instead of another?

D: I previously managed a project in Buffalo for a wonderful couple. Jim was driving around and caught a glimpse of the home and its unusual architecture – and, Jim being Jim, he drove up and asked them about it. He said, “I love this house, I want something cool like this, design-wise.” And they gave him the phone number of our new office.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the design and construction process for this project? Were there any key moments that happened during the process?

Architect Contemporary Windows

D: The biggest moment happened early on, and it comes back to the “serendipity” that we try to encourage. 

Jim and Maureen had a 60-acre parcel of land with a very long lakefront, and the conventional wisdom was to build right up next to the lake. But the more Nicole and I talked about it, the more we knew that the house had to be designed simply. It couldn’t be something with 54 corners like the lake spot might require. 

So one day, we all went out to look at the rest of the site. Jim took us in his suburban and off-roaded all over this parcel of land. At one point, I looked up and saw this undulating landscape in front of us, with a peninsula, beautiful trees and the lake behind it. I had him stop and we all got out of the car to look at it. 

I said, “This is a stunning vista, right here.” We were way off from the lake, but Jim said, “You know what, I think you’re right.” 

Later, while they were excavating that area, they hit some old foundation debris. It turns out, a house from the 1800s had been built right there! It was crazy to realize that we weren’t the first ones to see the beauty in that location. That was a big moment.

Q: So in terms of the products you chose for the Buffalo Modern Project, what drew you to Pella’s contemporary-style windows?

Architect Contemporary Windows

D: To highlight that spectacular view, we chose these big pieces of glass for the custom windows that Pella designed to match the pitch of the roofline. That was really the focal point of the whole home. Pella’s sash and frame profiles are clean and simple–it was a wonderful fit [for the contemporary design]. 

N: The hardware that Pella installed was amazing, too! 

Q: What was the end result of the project and how was it received by your clients?

N: Oh, they were thrilled. One of the most important things for us is building great working relationships with our clients. To this day, the client is very welcoming. They told Douglas several times how much they love their house. 

D: Jim tells me some days he wakes up and has to pinch himself. He sends me pictures at 7 a.m. of the sun rising from his living room.

Q: I/O Design Office has partnered with Pella for a long time, even before you started your own firm. What would you say keeps you coming back?

D: Early in my career, we were using high-end windows that were very expensive. We wanted to get back to this idea of designing a quality home for a reasonable price, and Pella allowed us to do both. 

The high level of service that Pella provides is also a big deal. For example, Marc and the people from Pella’s local branch did an amazing job with this one client…Very little went right during the design and construction process of this house. But, those clients will tell you that the one aspect that went really well was windows. Even after, when the client decided to change out the color of their hardware, Pella was quick to accommodate them and change it all out in one day. 

N: Adding to that, Douglas and I are big on relationships–if we have a good working relationship with people, it’s easy to choose to work with them again. We really enjoy working with the team members at Pella. 

To find out more about Douglas, Nicole, and I/O Design Office, visit their website.

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