BY ATHENA McKENZIE
Spruce gets the inside story from Adam Fryatt, owner of MDRN Built, who brings a contemporary sensibility to his local residential projects.
Growing up on a farm in Vanderhoof in the interior of British Columbia, Adam Fryatt’s first exposure to design was utilitarian and simplistic — buildings were meant to satisfy basic needs and provide shelter. While that functionality still underlies his approach to design, Fryatt developed a serious passion for modern architecture when working and studying in Vancouver in his 20s.
“I had a great mentor in Patrick Powers of Powers Construction, and one of my first jobs for him was renovating the Livingspace showroom, where I ended up getting a job doing deliveries and installations,” Fryatt says.
“This is where I first got really exposed to architecture and design — going into all of
these spectacular homes that were designed by architects. I got to see what real design was,
and I was hooked.”
Fryatt earned an Environmental Design degree at UBC as part of its Architecture program with the intention of becoming an architect himself. A stint at a desk job, however, made him realize that he also really loved the physical aspects of building things and putting it all together.
Now in his mid-30s, his company MDRN Built integrates his design and construction backgrounds, and specializes in designing, managing and building modern home projects.
What are the advantages of the design-build approach?
It’s very comprehensive. Design-build companies work as both contractor and designer, not just the builder. The process involves working with the homeowner from the initial conception all the way through to the finished project. When I start drawing, I’m thinking about the composition and the layering and how things are going to work together down the process; for example, how are we going to get two materials to interface? Thinking about these finer details early on is more of an architect quality. We also do all the stuff a construction company would do, with my own staff and employees, and taking care of all of the sub-trades and all of the billing. It’s an integrated set-up where you can get it all in one stop.
How does the process work with the homeowner?
I like to meet with the client to get a sense of what they are trying to achieve: What are the goals, concerns, fears? And then we go through the program list: What do you want in your house in terms of spaces? What are the important spaces? How do you want to feel? Some people want big and open, some want to feel cozy and secluded, and don’t want to live in a cathedral…. Obviously, we have to talk about style. I always go with the assumption that if you are talking to me, you’re interested in something more contemporary and modern. I often ask people to create a list or put sticky notes all over their existing house about the things they like or don’t like. Some get super specific, like the toilet paper is on the wrong side or they don’t like seeing it when they open the door; or notes on the fridge saying they want a concealed fridge. It’s a great exercise to get the really fine detail.
Where can design go wrong?
Nothing bothers me more than a bunch of windows that look like they’re shot at a wall with a gun. It can work sometimes, if all the windows are the same size and it’s a randomized mosaic. But when it’s a bunch of windows and they’re all different sizes and none of them seem to have any relationship to each other, to me that just says the designer was only worried about how those windows functioned to the inside of the house. They weren’t thinking about the expression to the outside. I try to do both at the same time.
What are the elements of contemporary design that you favour?
It changes over time. I like clean lines. With some designers, I find things are over designed — it goes beyond the realm of attainable. It can be very interesting, like articulated facades and lots of different types of transparency and screening, and moving parts; and I love those elements but it’s not feasible for the average homeowner. I like thinking about efficiency in design as well.
Good design comes from having restraints, I find. This is why working in the urban context is good because you have restraints already built in. So working within your restraints for something that is concise and fairly simple but has strong, almost graphic qualities. I would say that’s something I like about contemporary design.
What advice do you have for a homeowner looking for a builder?
You need to find someone who shares your passion. If you want something unique and tailored to your own life, you have to find someone to work with who is going to share your enthusiasm and bring their own to it.