Architect Chef Dishes Out Design
By John Filippelli
NEW YORK If someone is indeed in the kitchen with Dinah, chances
are it’s Howard L. Zimmerman, AIA, NCARB. You see, Zimmerman
president of Howard Zimmerman, Architects, P.C., based here is not
only a high-end architect, he’s also a chef. And, he uses his
expertise in both areas to create efficient, “cookable” kitchens
for burgeoning culinary clients.
But lest one think that this “Architect Chef” sells the sizzle
and not the steak, Zimmerman is quick to point out that his
“signature design dish” is creating spaces with high-end finishes,
materials and appliances geared toward enhancing the kitchen’s
efficiency all while offering personalized service to the
He explains: “With kitchens, I know where things should go and I
design it as if it were my own kitchen. I know where drawers, pots
and pans and appliances should be in relationship to the command
center of the sink, the stove and the refrigerator.”
After all, he questions, “How can anyone cook in an inefficient
kitchen, where everything is in the wrong place, even though it may
Catering both literally and figuratively to high-end apartment
owners, Zimmerman notes that he has spent the past 20 years
specializing in updating existing co-op and condominium kitchens
that were previously in dire need of restoration.
A major part of accomplishing this, he adds, is offering sound
advice with regard to location conditions, building maintenance and
But, he advises: “[The key to success is to] listen to your
client, know the space for which you will design and put yourself
in it. Above all, honor your client’s wishes but also let your
design background take over.”
His designs are so cook-friendly, the biggest “problem” his
clients might face would be determining whether he’s taken better
care of their kitchens or their appetites.
Cooking up creative kitchen
creations for his clients calls for Zimmerman to adhere to a strict
recipe, he notes one chock full of top-of-the-line ingredients,
including high-end appliances and materials blended with a
personalized customer service touch. He cites his staff of 18
employees which includes architects, technicians and structural
engineers as a primary reason for the firm’s success.
“We are trained in spatial relationships, and this is something
that allows us do to what we are passionate about, which is good
design,” he comments. “In order to be successful, a firm should
offer legitimate enthusiasm for each project, as well as
personalized involvement with the client.”
He adds: “[More than anything], I love doing kitchens and
bathrooms, and I think there is a certain heart involved in doing
Zimmerman also points out that the biggest connection between
his cuisine and design themes is the manner in which he combines
texture, color and presentation.
“My architectural training teaches me about form, function and
spatial planning,” he reports. “As a designer, you need more of a
palette and an understanding as to what that palette color scheme
should be for the design. As a cook, you need to know what the
specifics should be in terms of the proximity of counter surfaces,
sinks and food preparation areas, as well as the refrigerator
location and its accessibility.”
From the moment he consults with a
new client, Zimmerman begins an arduous design process based on the
refinement of design ideas. “We begin by just sketching with yellow
tracing paper and felt-tip pens and pencils and throwing out ideas
and overlaying. It’s really the old-fashioned way of designing,” he
But, he quickly points out, this process “is how we really try
to develop intimacy and a personalized relationship with each
client. We start with the schematic and we discuss where to place
the refrigerator, as well as where the entrance will be, where the
service entrance is, whether there will be a bathroom or mud room,
and also circulation,” he remarks. “All of those elements have to
be factored into [the design concept] in order to develop some sort
of coherent spatial plan that will turn into a kitchen.”
Although the sketches are free-hand, loose-line sketches,
Zimmerman adds that this technique allows him to gain better
insight into what a client likes and dislikes.
“We will present a couple of design concepts, and the client
could like certain ones, or certain aspects, but not others. It
becomes a constant refinement,” he explains.
“Once they decide that they like the circulation and the other
elements, then you start getting into the nuts and bolts of the
design as to where we’re going to have drawers and cabinets placed
and also what the overhead cabinets are going to look like,” he
Aiding in the process, Zimmerman notes, is the use of CAD
software, which enables the firm to produce additional construction
“To go from the initial schematic design to the final design
development could be weeks of design refinement and meetings
between ourselves and the client,” he reports.
But, all of theses design techniques are meaningless, Zimmerman
adds, if he does not get the true response he seeks.
“Basically, I try to raise their level of enthusiasm. Normally,
they don’t know what they are getting into when they hire me
because I’m going to try and take it to a higher level than they
anticipated. I want to be infectious with my enthusiasm.”
He concludes: “Maybe they’ve never really cooked before and all
they really wanted was a pretty kitchen when they came to us. [I
can assure you}, by the time I get through with them, they will be
cooking in a great kitchen.”
For Zimmerman, one such project
that reflects this sentiment is an apartment his firm remodeled
after a devastating fire damaged the existing kitchen.
“The owner wanted to create a more professional kitchen.
Therefore, we knocked out the pre-existing maid’s room and turned
the maid’s bathroom into a guest powder room. By doing this, it
doubled the size of the kitchen,” he explains.
For functionality, the space features a Sub-Zero refrigerator and
wine cooler, Wolf electric wall ovens, microwave and warming drawer
and a Bosch dishwasher.
“Previously, it was just a glorified L-shaped galley kitchen,
but now it features a central island where people can easily
congregate while the host is busy preparing dinner for all of his
guests,” he describes.
In fact, he concludes that the new layout creates such an
interactive cooking environment that although guests used to be
separated from the host while he was cooking, they now all can
participate in the food preparation.
Considering that he has
developed a following of some 20 “tasters” and friends who travel
anywhere at any time to taste his latest culinary creation,
Zimmerman knows that word-of-mouth is the strongest type of
marketing that can be used to generate business for his firm.
“We have [a portfolio of projects to show prospective clients],
but we are primarily a word-of-mouth architectural firm. Basically,
people have seen our work [and come to us], or clients that we have
worked with previously refer us to someone they know,” he
For that reason, Zimmerman admits that he doesn’t proactively
market the firm. However, he adds that he regularly finds
additional business through the work the firm does for landlords,
developers, owners and real estate lawyers in the area.
“Through the network of people we work with, someone will
inevitably mention that they just bought an apartment and ask if we
can [do the design work] for them,” he continues.
And, for Zimmerman, these are the precise words that tickle his
taste buds. After all, it gives him the perfect chance to get a new
kitchen project cooking.
“I’m living out my design fantasy each time I create a kitchen
for someone because I design it as if it were mine,” he
concludes.rough referrals, bolstered by advertising in local papers
and the firm’s association with local charities, she concludes.
Howard L. Zimmerman Architects
Location: New York, NY
Principles: Howard L. Zimmerman
Hours of Operation: 8:00 a.m. 5:30 p.m.;
consultations by appointment (flexible)
Number of employees: 18
Specialties: Co-ops and condominium kitchen
Business Philosophy: “To meld aesthetics and
function into a beautiful and work-friendly space.”