From Conception to Completion
Upon first glance of any Karen Otis-designed home or other space, it is immediately clear that you are about to encounter something memorable – a feast for the senses, if you will. In fact, no matter what one’s personal style, preferences, or tastes happen to be, it’s likely that anyone would be awed, and perhaps even moved by the experience. Much of this reaction stems from the truly interesting and rarely seen touches Otis manages to infuse into each of her creations.
“I attempt to redefine the most mundane spaces or objects,” Otis continues. “We become so accustomed to objects in our everyday world that we no longer see them. We walk through a door or gate and hardly take notice. I try to draw our eyes and our senses back to it, whether by giving it a new form or material, to see it renewed.”
Otis’s goal with this approach, she says, “is to create spaces that engage the viewer or visitor – to enhance and deepen their experience. That experience,” she adds, “is as important as the aesthetic result – how a handrail feels to the touch, how it is shaped for the human hand, how a view if framed for a person’s height, how the home or space reveals itself to us as we walk through it.”
For Otis, every project consists of several components – from a client’s lifestyle and the site up on which she’s working, to considerations of the way in which the client intends to use the space. The end result is a strength and unity in design that is evident in each instance of Otis’s work.
Even throughout the four years Otis was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, she interned at various architectural firms before pursuing her master's degree at the prestigious Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-ARC).
Although she prefers not to state an overriding design style, it is clear that Otis’s designs tend toward the contemporary. It is here, within this loose framework, that her designs can and do take flight.
“I strive to blur the predefined edges between inside and outside,” comments Otis. “By firmly defining these boundaries, we tend to feel confined and out of touch with the natural environment. I attempt to lessen that distinction, to blend the organic and inorganic, the interior and exterior, the manmade and natural. This reconnects us to the natural and spiritual world, thus elevating our human experience.”
Otis’s designs are quite obviously imbued with something far beyond common architecture. There is an integrity of purpose to them, a subtle aesthetic philosophy made tangible – an indescribable style that defies categorization.
In one home, for example, Otis has woven a tapestry of quartzite throughout – on the walkway that extends into the home, on the façade of the top roof piece, in a Japanese garden, and then inside, behind the walls at different niches on the vertical surfaces of the home. In the same home, many of the components are separated. The sink stands as a separate sculptural piece, the staircase dissolves as tread is separated from riser, and handrail hovers above. In a very real sense, the details Otis weaves throughout her works seem to serve to slow time, as the eye takes in nuances and subtleties in a way it has rarely experienced.
Otis cites Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn among her influences, but insists her designs are guided much more by the relationship that occurs with her clients.
“Regardless of how strong an idea is, it is always important to me to remember that I am not creating a piece for my portfolio; I am creating my client’s dream home. I believe that the space should give depth, beauty, and meaning to the most simple, most mundane tasks. If it doesn’t, then it is just a piece of construction that is going to be out of style in a year and has no depth or meaning to it.”
Otis comments that today’s children will be “the clients of the future,” and as such, is committed to helping them view the world “in broader terms.” It all goes back to her personal belief that architecture, like other artistic endeavors, should contribute to and deepen the human experience. In fact, Otis is driven by her belief that architecture should help celebrate the idea that there is a higher purpose in life.
“For me, architecture goes beyond each individual project,” says Otis. “It is a lifelong kind of study, an exploration of the whole notion of architecture, and one that I enjoy tremendously. If I, in my small way, through my work, can help enrich people’s day-to-day experience here, and perhaps bring more beauty into their lives, then I will have created architecture with true meaning and timeless spirit.