LAURA BLAU, 59, of Bella Vista, is principal of BluPath Design, an architecture-and-design firm she co-founded with her husband, Paul Thompson, in 2003. The firm specializes in designing simple, elegant and sustainable spaces. The granddaughter of a prominent Connecticut builder and architect, Blau was a painter and sculptor before she became an architect herself in 1995.
Q: What distinguishes your design method from others?
A: I try not to dictate design to clients. I listen to their needs, but generally they're attracted to green, clean design. I'm interested in sensual, tactile surfaces, fixtures, the feel that encompasses all senses and not just the visual. I'm also an expert in near-zero-energy design and a passive-house consultant.
Q: A passive house?
A: It has to do with Energy Star, a program started by the Department of Energy to encourage efficiency in products, but it also applies to houses and buildings. You make a more efficient envelope, walls, windows, roof and insulation. A passive house is Energy Star on steroids. It takes all those things, maximizes them and they amplify each other. My staff is taking a two-week training course on passive house.
Q: Have you designed any passive houses?
A: I've done six in the past few years, but none got built - some because nobody could get a construction loan, and one client [didn't grasp] the value proposition of reduced energy costs. I did a feasibility study for Penn and I'm a consultant to an architect working on a custom home in Bucks County.
Q: Notable projects?
A: My home won a 2006 Commonwealth Sustainable Design Award. We have a solar hot-water-collection system that provides all our domestic hot water and supplements our radiant floors. We have great day lighting and use natural materials. We also did the first solar PV panels on a historic house in Society Hill and shepherded that through L&I and the Historical Commission.
Q: The biz model?
A: In addition to consulting and designing, we also do city service work. I'm working for the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. to upgrade day-care centers across the city.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge running the biz?
A: I need to network but also need to manage staff.
A: I have a part-time bookkeeper, one independent contractor/partner and two part-time intern architects.
Q: What's next?
A: We'll be pitching passive house to developers. At the end of this month, I'll have three people trained in passive house. I want to focus on real energy-efficient building design.