…A growing number of homes are including geothermal technology to address heating and cooling requirements. Rather than the traditional, noisy condenser units (the boxy air conditioning units you typically see on roofs and inside yards), the geothermal system takes advantage of the consistent temperatures deep within the ground. Small pipes are installed hundreds of feet into the earth, allowing thermal energy to be added to or removed from the home. This is a wonderful example of working with the environment, rather than against it.
As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Laney.
Anthony is an architect and designer devoted to bringing out the best in creative teams and adventurous clients. He is a co-founder and partner at Laney LA, an architecture firm dedicated to inspiring creative culture in Los Angeles, which he launched with his wife Krista in 2014. Laney LA is the recipient of a coveted AIA LA residential architecture merit award, in recognition of their thoughtful approach to contemporary home design. You can check out more of his work @laneylainc.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Well, as a kid, my parents attempted a DIY home renovation. I loved skateboarding through the open-stud walls and though my mother felt otherwise, I found it very exciting to see a big blue tarp protecting our roofless house from the rain. The renovation lasted several years and my family literally lived in all the chaos and creativity that comes with an overly ambitious homemade design project.
Seeing my parents’ fearlessness, I felt inspired to combine my mother’s craftiness (and patience) with my father’s technical curiosity — — — ultimately making my way to the school of architecture at USC. Besides falling in love with the rigors of the design process, I fell in love with a freshman architecture student, who I would later convince to date and marry me. Krista and I became an inseparable design duo. Together, we traveled the globe, sharing a passion for experiencing the world’s greatest architecture and meeting the architects behind it all. (My personal highlights include meeting Alvaro Siza in Porto, Portugal and Oscar Niemeyer in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.)
Our education led to early work opportunities: Krista worked in Berlin while I was attracted to the firms responsible for creating the best homes on the California coast. I was especially captivated by the work of Marmol-Radziner and their collaborations with Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Though my contributions to these teams were modest, these experiences solidified my passion for inventive and critical residential design.
Though Krista and I loved the firms that defined our early careers, we felt a growing conviction to create a new type of studio. In 2014, without a single client, we launched Laney LA in our dusty, dimly lit garage. What we lacked in experience, we overcame with fearlessness and passion. Though our early projects were humorously humble, our clients sensed our sincerity and continued to provide a steady stream of referrals.
Since 2014, we’ve moved locations several times and have welcomed many more designers to the team. I think what binds us all together is our shared commitment to what we call the “Rookie’s Advantage.” Design thinking requires that we pursue a steep learning curve. It’s that scary and thrilling journey of growth that I find so rewarding.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Well, a lot of craziness can occur during the early years of a family business.
While we were still operating out of our garage, we received the opportunity to design a pool and cabana for one of LA’s most iconic hockey players, the captain of the LA Kings. Compared to the bathroom renovations we were doing at the time, this was extremely exciting.
We produced countless designs with such focused intensity, that I failed to identify a minor scheduling conflict. The day before our client flew from Europe to Los Angeles for our first design meeting, my wife Krista went into labor with our second son. I think Krista would agree those 24 hours were intense. Rather than doing the responsible thing (rescheduling the meeting), I was sure we would squeeze it all in. Krista delivered a healthy baby boy then gave me permission to leave the hospital for a couple of hours. I met my team in the parking lot, grabbed our drawings and scaled models, and nervously presented to my local hockey hero and his wife.
Again, I think the clients sensed our passion. We got the gig.
Though the design would evolve significantly, this project has become one of the trophies of our portfolio. The “disappearing pool” is one of the clearest examples of the way technology can bring unparalleled flexibility to the home.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Since launching our studio, we’ve always wanted to make an impact on Los Angeles. But LA is a big place.
Our “tipping point” came in year two, when we started focusing on smaller pockets of LA. Rather than pursuing projects in any zip code, we became radically focused on Manhattan Beach. Rather than making a positive impression on three clients with fifteen miles in between them, we decided to focus our resources and our concentration. We started to notice a significant trend: the clients that hired us were introduced to our studio from multiple referral sources. In other words, hearing a recommendation from one neighbor is not enough to convince someone to hire a young architect. They need to hear from at least three neighbors, drive-by multiple construction sites, and follow us on social media. Then, they hire us.
Though it’s become a common cliche in the business world, I believe finding your niche helped us find our tipping point
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Choosing only one is difficult.
If gratitude is my focus, then I need to give a shout out to an early mentor, Darren Hoch.
When my in-laws (and several other responsible influences) were skeptical of the idea of starting a business, this mentor encouraged me to take the leap. In fact, he planted the idea.
One day, as I was happily working as a young architect, he tapped me on the shoulder and said “you’re not running on all cylinders. You are built to start your own business.” He taught me how to write a business plan (mostly a risk mitigation plan), and he helped me overcome the perfectionist thinking that many creatives confront. Rather than overthinking everything, this mentor helped me keep some momentum. He gave me assignments such as “build a website in 24 hours” and “contact ten people everyday and tell them you’re open for business.”
Over time, our relationship has evolved. Though he continues to be a mentor, he’s also become a friend and a client. I would encourage all young professionals to pursue mentorship. It can transform your career.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I love podcasts and I love audiobooks, so again, it feels hard to choose. I’m the guy who’s guilty of incessantly pitching their family and friends on new audiobook and podcast discoveries. Some of my recent favorites include the Revisionist History and EntreLeadership podcasts as well as the book Captain Class by Sam Walker.
However, when it comes to a “deep impact on my thinking,” I must admit that that designation belongs to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
The creative design process so often includes an almost tangible experience of “resistance.” Resistance can be defined as those invisible forces that feel as though they are obstructing creative progress: distractions and difficulties, critics and uncertainty.
The War of Art has given me a clear understanding of the difference between the amateur and the professional. The amateur waits for inspiration, often giving into the “resistance.” The professional wakes up early every morning and puts in the effort, regardless of mood, weather, or convenience. The professional will be ready, whenever inspiration chooses to visit.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My wife and I sometimes laugh about the possibility of me getting my first tattoo with the saying “Ora et Labora.” It’s Latin for “Pray and Work.” Apparently, that’s all we do.
It’s the balance between contemplation and action. It’s the acknowledgment of things that are within my control, as well as the things that are outside of it.
I love to work, and I am guilty of doing it obsessively. But in my brighter moments, I also acknowledge the futility of work apart from a greater purpose or transcendent strength.
For me, the existence of a material world does not contradict the possibility of a spiritual realm. Nor does the existence of a spiritual world warrant a disregard for the physical world. Like two oars in a boat, both are needed for this journey of life. Prayer and work; they go hand in hand.
As a designer, I am constantly in search of inspiration. This process requires both a humble recognition that inspiration comes from outside me, as well as the commitment to labor in pursuit of it.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.
For homes of the future, the most compelling new trends surround the theme of health. This includes health for our body and our mind, as well as our communities and environment.
Our clients are bringing nature into their homes, often creating private courtyards that allow the home to “breath” with passive ventilation, without sacrificing privacy. Some of our clients are even installing 16’ trees inside double-height spaces.
We are also seeing a strong trend to include “spa-like” items within homes. We are installing saunas, hot and cold plunges, massage rooms, dedicated yoga rooms, and other small luxuries focused on wellbeing. When backyards don’t have space for a full-sized pool, we are installing “spools” (spa + pool) to allow a quick plunge.
We’re seeing the pendulum move away from the completely open floor plan. Homeowners are realizing that a degree of separation is useful and that it’s not always advantageous to have multiple conversations ringing in the same room. More thought is given towards acoustic isolation, which contributes to homes feeling more calm and tranquil.
Indoor sports courts are now replacing the home theater as the amenity of choice in the basements. These home courts allow families to engage in an athletic activity despite the air quality outside.
Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?
Yes. A growing number of homes are including geothermal technology to address heating and cooling requirements. Rather than the traditional, noisy condenser units (the boxy air conditioning units you typically see on roofs and inside yards), the geothermal system takes advantage of the consistent temperatures deep within the ground. Small pipes are installed hundreds of feet into the earth, allowing thermal energy to be added to or removed from the home. This is a wonderful example of working with the environment, rather than against it.
Taking this even farther, some of our homes are intentionally relying exclusively on passive ventilation. Rather than using air conditioning, we are installing high-performance insulation within the roof and wall cavities, which protects the home from the more extreme temperatures outside. Because warm air rises, we use tall ceilings to capture and vent the unwanted hot air.
To address water efficiency, several of our homes are installing whole-house water filtration systems. Rather than importing bottled water, these systems are designed to remove contaminants and soften the local water supply. This is both healthier for consumption and extends the life of plumbing fixtures. When combined with antimicrobial kitchen countertops, this it yet any way to create a healthier home.
We are also giving much greater consideration of capturing rainwater and preventing stormwater runoff. Underground basins allow rainwater to percolate into the earth, rather than run into the oceans.
There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?
Smart homes take a traditional component of a home, say an air conditioning system, connect it to a network, and enable homeowners to control the system from their mobile device.
Smart home technology is all about connecting and optimizing the dozens of traditional components of a home. Once your doorbell is connected to your phone you can monitor all visitors from any room in the house or any location on earth. Once your lights are connected to a control system, you can automatically turn off all lights at bedtime.
Smart home technology brings automation, convenience, and adaptability to the systems we interact with on a daily basis. These advances in home automation most often impact lighting, heating, cooling entertainment, appliances and security systems.
Most recently, my family has grown to enjoy voice control made available by the Amazon Echo. Even my five-year-old can walk into a room and say “Alexa, turn on the lamp.”
Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?
One of my favorite tech innovations is the disappearing pool. This moveable pool floor system allows you to control the depth of your pool, which includes making it completely disappear. Families can now accommodate different activities within the same space. At the click of a button, a backyard can transform from a dance floor to a splash pad, to a full pool. This flexibility also gives parents peace of mind, knowing that their pools are safe when unused.
We used the Akvo Spiralift system to accomplish a disappearing pool and spa for the family of our hockey client in Manhattan Beach. It’s very rewarding to see the joy (and surprise) that this amenity can bring.
Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?
Yes! Our clients’ pets can now wear smart collars that function as an ID badge — automatically opening and closing the “doggy door.” With big dogs, the door openings are not small. Traditionally, this might pose a security risk. These smart collars prevent unwanted critters from using your pet’s special door.
Also, we are installing special artificial turf that reduces and neutralizes the smells commonly associated with dog runs.
How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?
Yes. Construction materials continue to adapt and improve. Plywood with integrated foil backing is designed to reflect heat and decrease the need for active cooling systems. Several alternatives to wood siding have the benefit of less maintenance and far greater fire resistance. We are also seeing advancements in porcelain tiles, which can serve as a fashionable alternative to wood decks. We’ve even used “wood porcelain” to line the walls and floor on the “disappearing pool.” And storm-rated windows perform much better than their counterparts during a hurricane.
For someone looking to invest in the real estate industry, are there exciting growth opportunities that you think people should look at more carefully?
In our development projects, we are noticing a trend towards a simpler version of luxury. While name-brand fixtures and finishes will always have a place in the market, we are noticing that home buyers are preferring the convenience and simplicity of smart home automation, strong indoor-outdoor connections, and a more minimal, sustainable material palette.
We are also noticing a growing number of multi-generational households. Homes with two primary bedrooms or a detached ADU (accessory dwelling unit) can comfortably accommodate this type of buyer.
On a personal note, I’d love to see alternative uses for the empty office spaces and empty parking lots that have become so visible recently.
Let’s talk a bit about housing availability and affordable housing. Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
Our nation’s housing and the homeless crisis has plagued us for generations. Today, there’s still a lot of debate surrounding the plethora of factors that cause our cities to have such an intense homeless crisis. Studies suggest that high housing costs, growing unemployment, domestic violence, mental health challenges, and substance abuse converge to create heartbreaking and dire situations for our community’s homeless population.
Is there anything that home builders can do to further help address these problems?
Whether you believe in housing first, or services first, we can all bring a measure of empathy and understanding to this challenging situation. Adding to our national housing supply is greatly needed at this time. Though creating dignified and affordable housing does not completely solve our community’s problems, it does help move us in the right direction.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I don’t intend to start a movement, but I would love to invite others to join me as I seek to leverage my resources to create opportunities for others. As an architecture studio, our mission is to Inspire Creative Culture. Sometimes this means funding student housing in Cambodia. Other times it means partnering with heroic not-for-profit agencies like ICAN.org to provide job training for our disabled community. But most often, it means changing the life of one family at a time, by designing a healthy, thoughtful, creative home.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow us on Instagram! @LaneyLAinc
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!