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“Here’s A Little Secret About Architects…”

Architect Jeff Pelletier chats with GRAY about his start in the industry and his firm’s game-changing pivot.

By Shawn Williams

portrait of architect Jeff Pelletier, AIA, CPHC white background white lamp shade plant black shirt dark hair beard mustache

A self-proclaimed lover of superlatives, architect Jeff Pelletier, AIA, CPHC, lives for his collection of the “best, most craziest” stories.

He believes it’s these stories that have helped drive his professional ambitions and his approach to design overall. “It should take a long time to give a tour of your new space because you’re wrapped up in telling the most amazing stories behind how it came together,” he says.

Pelletier is the managing principal of Board & Vellum, a Seattle-based multi-disciplinary design firm that he founded in 2011. The studio has won several awards including being named a GRAY Awards finalist in 2021, and their work has been published in GRAY and many other publications.

We’ve been following the studio’s inspired work for years. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Pelletier about how it all started and how it’s going.

backyard patio with ads fire pit wood fence and bench seating model glass shed live work space
A relaxing backyard oasis designed by Board & Vellum features a hot tub, fire pit, and sauna. A backyard shed houses a reading room, sleeping loft, and bathroom. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

I’ve read in many of your interviews over the years that you’ve known you wanted to be an architect since you were a small child. How did you know? What were the tell-tale signs that architecture, not to mention launching your own studio, were in your future?

I grew up in an old mill town in Massachusetts as the youngest child of five kids. I’m 26 years younger than my oldest sibling, so, effectively, I grew up as an only child with older parents. It left me plenty of time to build with LEGO bricks and dream of awesome things. My mother was also quite ill throughout my childhood, so I was very aware of time being finite. It helped fuel some of my ambition and made the decision of whether to start a firm pretty easy because I’ve always thought there’s no time like the present.

So, how did you get from building with LEGO bricks… wait, let me rephrase that since I know that LEGO bricks are still a big part of your creative life…. What happened between Massachusetts and Seattle?

After graduating from Cornell University, I moved to New York City and worked at a large firm designing corporate interiors. NYC wasn’t for me, so my husband and I made our way to Seattle in 2001 to set down roots in his hometown. I ended up working at a smaller firm designing custom residential projects, which I realized I loved. When I later shifted back to a larger firm to develop my multifamily and commercial skills, I found I loved that, too. I discovered my passion truly is to be a generalist architect.

After working for a decade or so, I developed the itch to try things my own way and decided to start a firm. I made an obsessively detailed plan and launched right into it. Through seemingly endless blogging, networking, and some good old-fashioned luck, here we are over a decade later.

modern farmhouse kitchen blue cabinets farmhouse sink, wood window frames, pendant lights, hexagon tile backsplash blue backsplash subzero wolf appliances glass cabinet fronts
In the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, cerulean painted cabinets give off a beachy vibe, while bright white counters, tile, and upper cabinets keep the Board & Vellum-designed kitchen feeling bright and crisp. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

Was it in your detailed plans to launch as a multidisciplinary studio or was it an evolution?

Here’s a little secret about architects: we have to know a little bit about everything, and that leads us to think that we can do a little bit of everything. As an architect designing custom residential projects, I know how to pick interior finishes and so, initially, I bristled at the idea of hiring an in-house interior designer. The reality, though, is that just because I know a good amount about interior design and landscape architecture, it isn’t what I do. People who specialize in those fields bring so much more to the table. Adding them to the mix simply makes projects so much better. I can’t say it enough. And when clients witness how the collaborative design process creates holistic, beautiful projects, they get very excited. Our integrated approach is one of the things clients love the most about us.

modern open kitchen floorplan white cabinets blue island globe pendant lights, leather counter stools, wood flooring, great room with leather furniture staircase behind kitchen
With the kitchen moved to the center of the home in this remodel in Seattle's Blue Ridge neighborhood, the hub of the home is flanked by a living room space on one side, with dining on the other. A pass-through above the kitchen counter offers a peek to the hall and front entry beyond. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

indoor outdoor space bifold patio doors open up from the kitchen to outdoor patio with modern white furniture, wood siding, white siding, upholstered stools, modern kitchen with blue island white subway tile leather bar stools globe light fixtures
A large folding glass door opens the kitchen to a large view deck, allowing gatherings to flow easily between interior and exterior spaces. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

Have you ever experienced an aha moment or game changer?

I feel like I have a book of game changers to pull from, as each year seems to throw more fun surprises at us!

However, by far, my favorite game changer was when one of our clients fired their landscape architecture consultant and wanted Board & Vellum to be their landscape architect instead. It was wonderful in theory, but we didn’t have landscape architects on our team. That said, we’d recently mapped out a 5-year plan that included adding landscape architecture services. So instead of implementing it in five years, we leaped at the opportunity and added it in five weeks. And now that we have a fully integrated team of architects, interior designers, and landscape architects, I cannot imagine designing any other way. It has fundamentally changed how we design our projects, and it is, frankly, just so much more fun having a multidisciplinary team in-house.

We had a residential project in the office recently where the client was wondering why there were three people in the design meeting: an architect, an interior designer, and a landscape architect. After our presentation, the client was excited by some new ideas and had questions. Our team started sketching right there in the meeting and doing this whole, “Ooh, what about this?” routine that was getting really energetic and even a little silly. Half an hour later, we were all in tears laughing (we don't take ourselves too seriously here), but had a completely amazing concept melding the ideas of three distinct disciplines. The happy client repeatedly noted that this just wouldn’t have been possible were it only an architect presenting a concept or two.

modern architect designed exterior entrance to office cowering space tall glass windows, wood framed glass door, concrete walkways, wall mural, open garage door, twinkling lights installation
At Seven Starlings Workloft, Board & Vellum created an open air workspace with a folding window wall. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

architecture interiors at coworking space with booth seating in blue and red fabric, light wood, wood slat ceiling and designer sconces
Comfortable booths tucked under the mezzanine at Seven Starlings Workloft benefit from a beautiful-yet-calm accent wall of acoustic felt. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

Favorite example of a multidisciplinary project?

We all love the Lucille apartment project, Lucille on Roosevelt [in Seattle], as it captures everything we do as a firm. The ground floor is a wonderfully seamless indoor/outdoor experience, and all of our in-house disciplines had their hands in how it works. You can’t tell where landscape architecture, architecture, and interior design start or stop.

I’m absolutely passionate about the ground floor of mixed-use buildings and the opportunity they have to make our neighborhoods special. The space where a building meets the sidewalk is my favorite spot to design. The ground floor at the Lucille really exemplifies how wonderful that space can be when approached thoughtfully. Think about meeting a friend for brunch and waiting for a table next to a cozy fire pit, with beautiful plants nearby, some music playing, twinkling lights above, and an interesting space all around you. That’s what we created at the Lucille. Designing spaces like that is why I get up in the morning.

Modern design luxury rooftop garden at dusk, handmade stools, builtin bench seating, lush garden scape
Board & Vellum designed the penthouse at the Lucille on Roosevelt apartments in Seattle to open up to a lush rooftop garden. Situated just below the rooftop level, the clubroom amenity space is flooded with light from its penthouse, offering direct access to the roof deck via a statement staircase. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.
outdoor rooftop garden patio with custom designed wood slat seating, outdoor fireplace, and lush landscaping
A linear gas fire pit sits off-center in the seating area, allowing residents to adjust their distance to the warmth, and gather in large or small groups. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

modern workspace lounge twinkling hanging lights, wood clad fireplace horizontal gas fireplace leather bench wood siding tile floors indoor outdoor seating
Large glazed doors lift up, opening the passageway of the Lucille and allowing fresh air to flow through. Infrared heaters, a linear fireplace, and a custom light installation by Graypants evoke the feeling of sitting by a campfire in the woods with the night sky twinkling above. Photographed by Andrew Giammarco.

Have things changed for you since the pandemic?

The big surprise for us was how the pandemic sped up the integration of our projects, especially between our landscape and interior design studios. We’d all been stuck inside for two years, using our spaces more than ever, and analyzing what isn't working for us anymore. Even if you didn't need to remodel your home extensively (requiring an architect), people realized they wanted to sharpen up the interiors, or that they longed for great outdoor spaces. This is a niche our teams are primed to tackle. Our ability to work so seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces, and customizing our services to our clients' needs, is core to who we are at Board & Vellum.

Thank you, Jeff. We appreciate all that you and your team at Board & Vellum do to raise the standard of design and quality of living in our neighborhoods.


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