Q&A with Purple Cherry Architects’ Lead Interior Designers

Annie Kersey

Tell us about yourself!
In short, I am a born and raised Annapolitan, Syracuse University graduate, military wife, gym owner, health food addict, Dalmatian mom, and home renovation lover.

Tell us about your design journey. How did you get started and how did you get here?
I fell in love with art and painting at an early age and knew I wanted to pursue a creative career. I still escape to the canvas and paintbrush when time allows. However, I discovered architecture in high school and pursued a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree with a minor in Interior Design because I craved structure in my career. After falling in love with the world of residential architecture, I found myself most drawn to interior architecture, millwork, and styling, ultimately guiding me towards my passion for interior design.

How would you describe your design ethos?
My design ethos prioritizes comfort and needs with an eye-catching aesthetic! My goal is that each and every space invites you in warmly, but always has a WOW moment.

Annie’s “Coastal Grandmother” mood board illustrates the trend inspired by the houses of Nancy Meyers movies.

How do you work with a client to define their needs? What questions do you ask to determine the final look and feel of a space?
I work through my clients’ patterns of living, identifying what didn’t work for them in the past as well as what did, studying wish lists, and viewing concept imagery. Ultimately, I try to form a true personal connection in the early meetings. Sometimes you can learn just as much or even more about a person through casual conversation than you can from a list of questions or a perfect formula.

The more comfortable our connection becomes, the more a client can open up about their vision and desires. Our homes are incredibly personal spaces, and it is important to recognize that my part in that process is also personal. I ask questions such as: Where do you imagine unwinding at the end of your workday? Where will everyone gather when you’re hosting? Do the accessories and art feel personal or curated?

There’s an infinite number of questions that can come out throughout the full design process.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, either personally or professionally?
Doors will open for those bold enough to knock. It is easy to get caught up in the doubts of the “age=experience mindset” or count yourself out prior to even giving yourself a chance. You will miss every opportunity you don’t take, so chase your goals with fearless pursuit – your passion, drive, and talent will speak for themselves.

What inspires you?
Inspiration for me is not static; I’m always finding new pieces and moments that I find inspiring. I find a lot of design inspiration in a unique and reinvented take on an everyday element such as painted patterns on wood flooring or an antique chest restored into a bathroom vanity.

Annie’s Industrial Chic mood board illustrates
the design aesthetic she enjoys in her own home.

Which design “rule” or idea do you refer to over and over?
Balance weight: you must carefully mix heavier pieces with pieces that feel lighter in weight. For example, pair a plinth base swivel chair with a sculptural open side table or layer a jute rug with a hide. Balance will create a sense of both calm and cohesion in a room.

Any tried-and-true design advice?
The scale of lighting pieces is critical. Too often, people will select pieces that are too small. Lighting makes a huge visual and environmental impact on space.

In your opinion, what’s the one thing that will never go out of style?
It’s too hard to list just one! So, here’s a few: a warm neutral palette, marble, white bedding, and monochromatic styling.

What are five things you can’t live without right now?
Sharpie pens, CrossFit, Starbucks iced coconut milk lattes, my iPad, and my dog Remy.

Alex Epstein

Tell us about yourself!
I am originally from the suburbs of Baltimore, splitting my summers between the Delaware beaches and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I grew up surrounded by family heirlooms and and my mother’s exuberant flair for maximalism, where “more is more” was never enough! I have a love of bright colors and patterns and strive to bring the same joy into each of my projects.

Tell us about your design journey. How did you get started and how did you get here?
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from The Art Institute, I took an internship at a small boutique firm in Baltimore where I was inspired by the historic homes of Roland Park, the preservation of their unique qualities, and the endeavor to be true to their traditional origins.

From there, I held roles in the merchandising of showrooms and retail stores and ultimately transitioned to a corporate role, designing for a high-end furniture and fabric vendor. It was during this time that I fell in love with the design process and couldn’t get enough of it! Being surrounded by luxury textiles, avant-garde wallpaper, and more furniture frames to select from than I knew what to do with, I realized my passion was for residential design, where I could bring my knowledge of pattern layering, mixing of scale, and love of color to my clients’ homes.

How would you describe your design ethos?
More is more, is more!

Alex’s Maximalism mood board illustrates
the design aesthetic she enjoys in her own home.

How do you work with a client to define their needs? What questions do you ask to determine the final look and feel of a space?
I first want to understand how my clients plan to use each space – do they love to entertain? Or do they enjoy spending time with family conversing or gathering around a large screen to watch the game? How do they live their daily life, are they the type of family that wants to snuggle with their pet on the sofa, or are they lovers of red wine? These are all aspects that will inform how furniture should be laid out, the size and scale of each piece, and the fabric selections.

I am a firm believer that it is so important to balance comfort with design details. Although I enjoy encouraging my clients to go above and beyond in their design decisions, I want to make sure that they are not afraid to actually use the space either. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, either personally or professionally?
Life if not a dress rehearsal. You have to work hard for what you want, go after your dreams, and learn from your mistakes.

What inspires you?
Everything inspires me… it could be an outfit of someone walking down the street, the décor of a beautiful restaurant, the way the light hits the side of a building, or a piece of artwork from a local artist.

Which design “rule” or idea do you refer to over and over?
There are no rules. Design a space that makes you happy and that you want to live in everyday! I make an effort to design each space specifically to the needs of the client, balancing design and function. Each space should feel curated, lived in, and welcoming – just like your favorite pair of denim. To achieve this feeling, I like to balance the new with the old.

Any tried-and-true design advice?
You can never have too many pieces of “legged” furniture in a space, and always watch the size and scale of your furniture!

Alex’s Hunt Country vision board showcases the rustic sophistication many of our clients seek in their mountain or horse farm properties.

In your opinion, what’s the one thing that will never go out of style?
I truly think that blue and white décor will never go out of style. Think blue and white ginger jars, a classic navy blue sofa, and the crispness of fresh white linens. Blue and white have been a staple in the design industry for years and will continue to be for years to come. This aesthetic does not fit a “trend” that will stamp in time when a space was designed, but rather will always be classic and timeless.

What are five things you can’t live without right now?
Dirty martinis, my poodle puppy Jonathan, my monthly subscription to Elle Décor and Veranda, my iPad, and the smell of the air just before it snows.

Hidden Gems

When you were a child, did you ever wish there was a secret room or passageway in your house? Perhaps a place where you could sneak away from your parents telling you to clean your room or walk the dog? Or maybe you envisioned a special place where you could spend time with your friends or curl up read a book. The concept of a “hidden gem” space is quite appealing.  

In all of our custom home designs, we seek to create a residence that is not only functional, but also includes beautiful spaces – or hidden gems – that create an “ah ha!” moment, spaces that take your breath away. Here are a few examples of our hidden gems.

In our Aqua Terra residence, built by Pyramid Builders, the Owner’s office is beautifully appointed with a raised fireplace, glass top conference table, brilliantly backlit built-ins, and miraculous views of Harness Creek.  While the built-in cabinet may look like simple shelving, it is actually a hidden door leading to a secret room. Pyramid Builders, who engineered and hand fabricated the door in their woodshop, gave us further insight into its creation: “As with any hidden door, the key to success is minimizing the size of the reveals and utilizing proper hardware. In order to achieve the seamless design, the door was constructed of a 2 ¼” flush flat panel door with Rixon pivot hinges that was then clad with wood panels that match the size, proportions and detailing of the adjoining built-ins. Behind the hidden door is another door with a lock for security.” Truly a space where beauty meets function.⁠⁠

In our Eastern Shore Grandeur estate, built by GYC Group, the secret might be a little more noticeable, but just as fun nonetheless. The residence’s two-story custom bar, complete with Douglas fir trusses, white horizontal nickel gap, and Denison Lanterns from Currey and Company, includes a secret passageway accessible only from behind the bar. The passageway leads to a two-foot-wide brick staircase that descends quickly, creating drama as it takes you to a basement containing an extraordinary 20’ by 40’ brick barrel-vaulted wine room and wine cellar. A hidden gem, indeed.

Incorporating these whimsical details – or “surprise and delight” moments – into our custom home designs is something that we take great joy in. We’d love to hear what your vision is for your own hidden gem!

Written by Ashley Babaian, Associate
A graduate of The Catholic University of America School of Architecture and Planning, Ashley concentrated her studies on Sacred Architecture. In addition to her love for residential architecture work, she also focuses on Purposeful Architecture, Purple Cherry’s non-profit division, where she specializes in designing environments for individuals with special needs. Passionate and energetic, Ashley is also committed to her community, serving as a board member of the Hospice of the Chesapeake’s Chesapeake Kids program. She actively volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Habitat for Humanity Choptank, and the Anne Arundel County SPCA.

A Video Game Even Adults Will Love

Even if you don’t consider yourself a high-tech person, you have likely played a video game or two in your lifetime. From Pacman to Mario’s World to one of my ultimate favorites, GoldenEye 007, video games are available in a variety of different types of platforms and interaction models. You may ask, what do video games have to do with architecture, or even architects and interior designers in general? There are some interesting correlations.

Thanks to advances in technology, we – and our clients – have the ability to walk around and through 3D models of our design before construction has even begun, much like being in a video game centered around a custom home! The technology that makes this possible is Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM is the holistic process of creating and managing information for a built asset. Based on an intelligent model and enabled by a cloud platform, BIM integrates structured, multi-disciplinary data to produce a digital representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.

At Purple Cherry Architects, we use a BIM software program called Revit, which is possibly the most-utilized BIM software on the market. This software allows us to create 3D, parametric models, and share these models directly with our consulting engineers. Revit gives us the ability to cut a building in half, spin it around, peel down the roof and even see inside the home. The model is truly a “smart model”.

This means that as we draw a wall, it is packed with information such as the structure size and type and the finished materials. When doors and windows are “dropped in”, they can easily generate schedules that are directly coordinated with the model. As we continue to develop the model, it gives us the ability to cut sections, create enlarged plans, and develop reflective ceiling plans, all within the same file. This cuts repetitive work, reduces room for error, and eliminates exhaustive coordination efforts, making our work much more efficient.

Now for the fun part. A partner software program called Enscape allows us to walk around our 3D models, just like we’re playing GoldenEye 007. We can also send the model to our clients so they can explore it on their own time, at their own computer, at any time of day. Being able to visualize spaces, massing, and relationships in 3D is something that our clients find extraordinarily helpful. Additionally, the tool allows us to virtually put ourselves inside these spaces to make sure that the implementation of our design intent is exactly what we and our clients envisioned.

As much as Revit and Enscape helps our clients visualize their new home, it’s also a tremendous tool for contractors. When a builder can easily spin around and walk through the model, it reduces the need to ask questions that they can easily finds answers to themselves, which reduces billable time and results in cost savings for the client.

To explore this further, I encourage you to view the 3D model images and videos of our custom home designs on our On the Boards page. If you are considering designing a new home, or even renovating an existing home, the use of Revit and Enscape will help make the design process more visually clear, more efficient, and overall, more fun! Just like GoldenEye 007.

Written by Doug Kuchta, Associate
With an architect father and a childhood home often under construction, Doug has always been intrigued by the technical aspects of how structures are built. A graduate of Morgan State University School of Architecture, Doug’s experience includes both commercial and residential projects. Always ready to roll up his sleeves, Doug finds it gratifying to utilize architectural concepts that solve challenging design situations and result in something beautiful, balanced, and purposeful.

Inside the Project Team: Consultants

Many clients who come to an architect for a custom home are doing so for the first time. The process of conceiving a design, creating construction documents, and building the house can seem daunting and unfamiliar to many people. One aspect of design that some clients might be unfamiliar with is the architect’s use of consultants such as civil and structural engineers or landscape architects.

The construction of a building, even a relatively small one such as a single-family house, is a complex process that is subject to a variety of laws, regulations, and building codes, and requires a high degree of expertise across a breadth of knowledge. An architect helps to control this complexity by working alongside consultants who have specialized knowledge in one or more subject fields necessary to bring the project to completion. A bit like the conductor of an orchestra, the architect relies on consultants’ professional knowledge within their field of expertise, and coordinates the work of all members of the design team to ensure that each specialist’s work fits together to create a successful project!

While the requirements for each project are different, the most frequent consultants for an architect to work with on custom residential projects are civil engineers, structural engineers, and landscape architects.

Civil engineering for residential architecture deals primarily with the disturbance of the earth. This can take several forms, such as excavations for foundations or basements, site grading to ensure proper drainage, creation of structures such as rain gardens or cisterns to control and manage rainfall and runoff after storms, and the design and installation of septic systems. In some areas, such as the Critical Area of the Chesapeake Bay (all land within 1,000 feet of the shoreline of tidal or nontidal waters), extensive regulations govern the amount of disturbance allowed, the amount of lot coverage or impervious surface allowed on a lot, and the amount of forest coverage than can be removed. Placement of septic systems and wells, where required, must also conform to health department and other regulations. Civil engineers work with architects to design all of these systems, as well as connections to underground utilities such as public water, sewer, and natural gas.

Structural engineering addresses the design of structural members such as beams, columns, and foundations. Engineers calculate the loads from the structure’s own weight as well as applied loads such as snow, wind, or people and furnishings within the structure. Requirements for the strength of members and the amount of deflection that is acceptable are set by building code and the architect, and the engineer designs the structural system to meet the project requirements. While the structural engineer’s work is usually covered up and hidden from view in the completed building, properly designed structural systems ensure the house’s safety, longevity, and performance.

Landscape architects work closely with the architect and the civil engineer, since their work also addresses the site. The landscape architect is responsible for the design of the outdoor elements of a project, which might include plant selection and layout, the design of hardscape areas such as patios, walks, and site stairs, and designing other outdoor amenities such as swimming pools, piers, or tennis courts. They have expertise in plants that grow well in the project’s climate, and can recommend planting methods, bed preparation, and maintenance programs to help ensure successful growth.

As a microcosm of our specialized world, the design and construction field benefits from teams of professionals bringing their expertise together to address the multitude of factors that contribute to the successful realization of a projects. Engineers and landscape architects apply their talents and experience across a variety of fields to architectural projects, helping to achieve the best outcome for each project!

Written by Alan Cook, LEED AP, Associate
Alan’s architectural designs are infused with an interdisciplinary perspective gained over two decades in the field. His broad experience and passion for environmental design, historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and commercial projects enhance every residential commission. To help clients create beautiful homes that exceed expectations, Alan relishes the complexities that translate aspirations and vision into a unified result. A graduate of the University of Colorado, Alan also holds a Master of Architecture from Syracuse University School of Architecture. He has worked with Purple Cherry since 2014. Outside of the office, Alan serves on the board of Girls on The Run Greater Chesapeake.

Architecture & Interiors