Our Design Community is a series where we talk with different firms within the Winnipeg design community about their approach to design and what made them fall in love with their work.
In this feature we are chatting with Dov and Sarah Secter and Bree Bergen at Secter Architecture + Design, a multifaceted design team with an impressive roster of impactful architectural projects.
Please introduce yourselves!
Dov: My name is Dov Secter. Principal of Secter Architecture and Design, an architecture firm that works predominantly on residential architecture. We’re a custom boutique design firm where we take the client's unique needs and criteria and blend them with our architectural aesthetic to create a custom designed project.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Secter, Dov’s wife. I'm the Director of Operations at Secter and manage all the back end financial business and social media. I direct and stage all the photoshoots, so I decide on the vision for the spaces we're shooting and staging. In addition to that, Secter Art Consulting is an art advisory practice where I advise residential and corporate clients on art acquisition. I provide a very wide range of art services to meet basically any art need. Dov and I also work together with clients for art placement of their existing collection and acquire new artwork in the new spaces that he's designing.
Bree: My name is Bree Bergen, I have been working for Dov and Sarah for about five years as an architect. My background was in visual art, and then I went back to school for architecture.
Dov and Sarah, what is it like being business partners in addition to life partners? How do you work together and what is your process? Do you collaborate on a lot of projects?
D: It's an absolute pleasure to work with Sarah. My parents were both architects who worked side by side. At the end of the day, because of the honesty in the relationship, they were able to critique each other in a way that was sometimes brutally honest, but also helped make the work better. Sarah and I respect each other's space, but we also will speak up when we see there's something that could be better. Sarah makes the firm better in so many ways.
S: We've been around now 12 years in our practice. As we've grown together, we both support each other in what we do, but having that separation and our distinct roles is really helpful to our success.
It sounds like you guys have figured out a perfect balance. You said you've been working together for 12 years. How long have you two been together?
D: We've been working together longer, but then we established our own firm. We turned it more formally into our own firm 12 years ago, and we've been together for 18 or 19 years.
Featured: Bocci 73
Sarah, you have a background in teaching. How did you go from teaching to Art Consulting? What’s your favourite part of art consulting?
S: After graduating from art history, I worked in galleries for a number of years in Winnipeg and Toronto. Then I did a degree in education and taught for 5-7 years. As Dov’s practice grew, there was more of an opportunity and need for me to become more involved with Secter.
The art consulting practice started off with my friends and family always asking me for advice when it came to their art needs. Then I started doing it for Dov’s clients more formally. I've also worked in the architecture and interior design world for so long with Dov, that I have this design sense through osmosis. Some interior designers or people buying art through a design firm might just recommend something that goes with the couch, but not know so much about art. I feel lucky that I've been able to have that formal art background when it comes to design.
Art is so personal and it’s so great that you have that background and get to curate such meaningful spaces. Dov, how did you become interested in Architecture & Design? What is your favourite part of the job?
D: I grew up in a family of architects. My father always got me to help on his different projects, from building a model for one of his houses or brainstorming an idea, which are things that I do with my children now. I always had a love of creating things ingrained in me early. For years, I didn’t want to go into architecture simply because my parents did. But I interned with an architect when I lived in Israel, and I fell back in love with the art of architecture and I really haven't looked back since.
I love to sit down with a pencil and a ruler, trace paper and design a home or even work out a problem with a space. Spatial planning is the most fun part of my job, when things come together, and you come up with the concepts. Then down the road, when the house is built and the furniture is going in, you look back to that sketch and you can see your ideas come to life. Sometimes that initial sketch to finish houses could be anywhere from a year and a half to a few years. So sometimes it's a slow wait for the completion of the space, but when you get it right, it feels great.
I can definitely relate to working in marketing, you have these big ideas but you’ve got to have a lot of patience and perseverance in seeing it come to life.
B: I would echo Dov in terms of watching things come to life, the creative process. I love the problem solving aspect of how projects come together and working through details on site with our builders and subcontractors.
Which of your projects have you been most inspired by lately? What's your favorite project you've ever worked on?
D: We joke that it's like choosing your favorite child. But I would say rather than having a particular project that I love, it's more about a specific moment at every project. One house we did a catwalk that had a glass floor, glass railings and lit with LED lighting. It was a centerpiece of the house. Another house we did a secret room with behind panel doors where you slide a painting to the side, there's a keypad and you enter into this gorgeous room. Sometimes it's just the furniture and a really well thought out space with the way the sunlight comes in. We have one client that calls us every few months and tells us how much they love living in their house because of the natural light. And that's always a lovely thing.
Uncharted territory is the best. Sarah?
S: Every project I do has its own challenges and its own rewards. My clients come to me and know that they want something beautiful, but they also want something that also has a deeper meaning. I love being able to educate my clients on the artistic processes and the art market. My most rewarding projects are those where I do commissioned artwork, when the perfect piece of art doesn't yet exist. We go through the process of getting the artists of choice to create a custom piece just for that client. It’s so rewarding, because it is a piece made just for them. I’m liaising between the artists, clients and designers and creating something really special.
When designing/consulting for your clients, what are some of your key unique ingredients to your process?
D: Relationships are really at the core of every project. The unique way we work out of our home allows our clients to open up about how they live and often our clients become our friends. So we get to know them and understand how they live and the unique parts of their life that they want to incorporate into their homes. Often we work on the conceptual part of a project, present it to a client and everybody comes out of that meeting excited for where it's going, but also feeling like it's something familiar to them. Our ability to do that and get to know them, explain it and have it come out the way we’ve all visualized it is a testament to our relationships and with our builders and suppliers.
S: Something really special about our firm is the intimacy of the way we practice. We get to know our clients in a way that is very unique. Dov and Bree will walk through a client’s existing home to see whether they hang their shirts or fold them. How tall you are, what your elbow height is when you open your oven. Since we practice out of our home, we’ve built our home keeping in mind that we’d be able to show different products to our clients. Our kitchen acts like a show kitchen for different technology.
Totally, you really get to know your clients so intimately, literally by the dimensions of their body to create a space that works uniquely for them, that’s amazing. You mentioned that you try to keep on top of the latest in technology, how does that affect your practice?
D: We often will build VR models of our houses, so our clients can put on a VR headset, and you can actually walk through the spaces and get a sense. Most of the homes we do are deeply automated and have many smart features. Currently, we're doing a really unique lighting system that matches the existing exterior sky light and changes during the day. So some of those technologies are really cutting edge.
What about Winnipeg do you love most?
D: The reason why we love Winnipeg so much loops back to relationships. Our relationship with the design community is really strong. Our connections to our circle of builders, suppliers, manufacturers. There's a really great design community here.
S: In Winnipeg you can really forge a path for yourself and get recognized. It's a nice, small community here.
That's what I find with Winnipeg as well. It's easier to make a name for yourself than it would be in other places and the people here are unparalleled. I feel like the cold brings us all together. Do you have any favourite coffee shops, restaurants or shops in the city?
D: On the corner of our street where we work is the Empty Cup, which we frequent. We also really love Pizzeria Gusto on Academy. I love True North Square and how it's all developed, it’s really exciting for our city! We have Hut K, which is a great place to buy furniture. The new Leaf at Assiniboine Park is really a world class park. Every time I go there I'm surprised that we have it here in this city, it could be anywhere in the world.
You do quite a bit of work on different cottages throughout Manitoba and Ontario, any particular spot that you love to get away to?
S: We have a family cabin in Ontario that we go to. That's very secluded, and it's great for us because there's no cell signal. So it's a way for us to really take a break from work. So it's a good place for all of us to unplug, be tech free, and detox a bit.
D: My father designed the cabin in 1991, and we built most of it with our bare hands. So I learned a lot about construction through working on that cabin initially. That really sparked my love of construction and detailing in doing that at such a young age,
S: Dov actually designed an addition to the cabin as well. It's a labor of love kind of place that we go to.
S: We've forgotten about one member of our team that's really important. Her name is Billy and she's the director of Barketing - our dog.
A critical team member of course! Favourite Hut K item. Do you have one? Do you have many?
D: We are big fans of Bensen and Blu Dot. We ourselves have a couple of U Turn chairs in some fun colors. They're a great piece that can stand on its own or with another pairing. The fabrics that you can get are pretty fun and the self return is wonderful. We’re particularly fans of the Note Side Table, we’ve used them a few times as side side drink tables for a sitting configuration and they're awesome. We also use a ton of the integrated Bocci (Bocci 22) plugs. We have them on probably every single job.
We really love the U Turns too. We have a couple right now in the showroom and people love to sit and spin around in them.
B: We look to you guys for lighting options. I think on every project we've used Menu, Bocci, FLOS or Tom Dixon.
S: I would say lighting as well. You have a great selection. Those AND Button Lights are pretty cute.
If we were to peek into your own home, how would you describe the aesthetic and do you have a favourite room or piece in your home?
D: I'd say it's a comfortable modern. My favorite space would be our story and a half room which has windows on three sides. So you get natural sunlight coming into the space all hours of the day. It's really nice to sit and read a book or, or do some thinking.
S: I might toot Dov’s horn a little bit and say that the kitchen is one of my favorite spaces. We won first place in Best Modern Kitchen for Sub Zero Wolf Global Design Contest back in 2015. I cook a lot, so I'm there many hours a day and It's a super functional, beautiful space.
B: I would say my aesthetic is verging on minimalist if I had to title it. I have a significant art collection, and a few pieces of collectable vintage furniture!
That’s a wrap! Thank you so much for chatting with us. It's been such a pleasure getting to know you a little bit more.