Online only: Read more from our interview with Kelsey Birchenall
Kelsey Birchenall, Longfellow Design Build
Within the last two years, Kelsey Birchenall has gone from designing office spaces as a corporate design intern in New York to designing houses as an architectural designer for Longfellow Design Build on Cape Cod. It was during a trip to the Cape, where she has vacationed her entire life, in the summer of 2016 when the 24-year-old Delaware native discovered Longfellow and their new Chatham showroom. “I thought, ‘This is cool!’” she recalls. Birchenall decided to leave her phone number, and the rest is history. “It’s been great,” she says of working for the firm. “I enjoy making people’s lives easier through design.” Interview by Haley Cote
CCH: What lead you to pursue a career in architecture?
KB: I’ve always loved spaces and, as a child, little nooks and crannies, places to decorate and make my own. When I was little I was always making things—painting, drawing. I knew I wanted to do something that incorporated art and design in a practical way. In high school I went to the Pratt [Institute] PreCollege and studied interior design for a summer, and I realized that I liked it. Architecture was something I considered later on. I got into urban design when I was in college [at Pratt Institute, where she majored in interior design], so it was a culmination of interior and exterior design that lead me into architectural work.
CCH: What is your approach to architectural design?
KB: Here on the Cape, it’s a family lifestyle, so it’s important to know how an interior functions for, in most cases, a second home for people with a lot of family members. Growing up with a second home here, I know what a lot of people on the Cape are looking for. For example, they don’t need a bedroom where someone’s going to stay for a year; they need a bedroom for someone who’s going to stay there a few days on vacation. It’s about understanding the user and understanding what they need. When I was in school, I studied specific users and how they would use interior space. That’s helped me a lot in knowing how to analyze a person’s life and how they’re going to use their space.
CCH: How have you been able to achieve the success you’ve had so early on in your career?
KB: Through hard work—working hard for the client, for the company, and for myself—and by not being afraid to move, because I always saw myself staying in New York. I love being here, so I figured why not take a chance?
CCH: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now career-wise?
KB: I don’t have a set goal as to where I’ll be in 10 years, but I’d like to venture into other areas of architecture and design, such as hospitality and commercial work. I would like to be able to take everything I’ve learned so far and continue to strengthen my skills and be part of a design team.
CCH: When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time on the Cape?
KB: I love being outside—I’ll go hiking, go to the beach. I’m a big foodie, so I love exploring new restaurants. Everyone I work with is so fun, so we’ll do a lot of activities together. We love positive energy here—everything is teamwork, and we try to convey that to our clients. We get along really well, and I think that’s been important.
CCH: If you could design a space for any celebrity, who would it be, and why?
KB: My dream celebrity client would probably be chef Rene Redzepi, who opened the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. I’m a big foodie, and I love the whole experience of fine dining. I want to be able to take a chef’s vision and create a space around that. I’ve read a lot about his cooking methodologies, and I am fascinated by the processes he uses. I think architecture and food can really complement each other.
CCH: What words of advice do you have for fellow young professionals looking to succeed in the local home building and design industry?
KB: Don’t let your ego get in the way of your design work. You have to think about the client first. Use your vision—it can totally open up someone else’s—but don’t necessarily push it on people. It’s a balancing act.