Our Buzz Written

By Marco Perrella

Marco Perella

Mom says it started at a very young age. You don’t argue with mom. Keeping perfectly between the lines while coloring, keeping shoe laces perfectly flat, drawing new graphics for K2 skis in 6th grade or pimping out the stingray bike a certain way. It didn’t matter, it was all about personal expression and tweaking things. That mindset has never changed or waivered personally or with our business. Today, we might look at this as OCD, but for me, it’s always been about personalizing, customizing or trying to figure what can be done better or improved upon. That is where we get our buzz.

It started with Tinker toys, Lincoln logs, Erector sets and Legos (when there were only 3 shapes!) I always liked working with my mind and hands to create interesting things. Nothing in that concept has really changed to this day. We just have much larger and heavier materials and more tools to play with. An evolution that will never stop.

Execution. I am fortunate that as much as I love the creative side of anything doing with design, I enjoy the construction side as well. For our company, this stimulates the designs as we are a design/build company. We never want to design something that cannot be built or has no respect for the costs to do it. But we also never want to duplicate, go cut and paste or cookie cutter. Those are no-nos, and for us, boredom would set in very quickly regardless of any financial gain. I know how much I enjoy creating unique designs, so I always appreciate the client who feels the same way and shows a sense of pride in ownership and provides respect for what we always attempt to deliver. We are often more excited than the client as a project progresses because fortunately, our visualizing skills allow us to see that what we are doing is meeting or exceeding the little picture we have in our heads, of what it will be like when done. 3D presentations could change that but for now, the time has kept that off the table. More often than not, our excitement is contagious. It’s a win-win for everybody. Throughout our construction processes, there is a constant form of internal evaluation, as we also try to look beyond what we are immediately doing and what we might want to do the next time.

Turn back the time machine. I totally fell into this industry by chance. It was 1987 and I was heading up to the Uncle of my future sister in law, where she was going to babysit, and she mentioned Uncle Jerry wanted to get a pool. High rent hood, where Farrah Fawcett even had a home so of course, I said: “maybe I can give him some ideas”.

I was fresh out of school (where I had studied design and had taken three basic Landscape Architecture classes I really enjoyed) and working at the cabinet shop of the construction company I worked for during summers back home. I pulled from what I had learned and presented the concept sketch you see here.

Uncle Jerry loved the concept and then asked “will you build it for me?” The birth of Marcodesigns. I pulled out the rapidographs and started drawing. I was excited because I was going to have the opportunity for self-expression, that had been hardwired in from a young age.

This was way back when we could engineer the decks and most structures on our own here in California. Pre-internet meant there was more time spent studying spans, loads, and structural connections to design a deck that would be 10 ft in the air hanging off a retaining wall. I was thinking I was an engineer without knowing they existed.

I was most excited that I was given creative freedom! Oh MAN this would be fun “customizing” this place. This was when clear redwood existed in abundance and we could go hand select vertical grain stock to mill, as we wished. So, of course we wanted to trick out the fence posts, gazebo finial and since only Malibu and Nightscaping LV lights existed, why not make our own bollard lights to match? Would we today? No, but at that time there was plenty of room for improvements, and sometimes the only way to get what you wanted was on your own.

And then the fun began…. Time to build. Bring the drawings to life. All we wanted to do was make sure our client had one of a kind details. That was our buzz. Remember this was before digital cameras etc., so that old stack of photos is all we have in the archives to share.

Interesting enough, that job was the last time we created working drawings for any of our projects and have since only built from a site plan we create. More about that in a bit.

I recall finishing, and many guys I had met in the trade during the build commented: “your first job is what most of us wait ten years for and hope we get lucky to do!”. What I knew is that I had just gone through a construction education that was priceless. Now fear set in. What would the next job be like? Would they all be a step-down, or with the same detail and scale? We had a great buzz going and didn’t want it to fade off.

Here we are thirty plus years later and the journey has been long and just as exciting as when we started. Why? Every project has had its own elements that we could have stuck with the status quo or “typ”, but what fun is that? Don’t let the buzz fade, has meant always looking for new ways to present the same materials in different ways and keep taking or introducing new materials. Those materials have changed with time. There was a period 20-30 years ago when we saw a lot of brick with homes and we were doing gated entries, pillars, planters, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, structures etc., with brick.

I was lucky to have found masons who had learned their craft in Colorado, where brickwork was everywhere. That meant we could constantly challenge them with details we wanted. Don would always ask when he was pricing something for me “regular pillar or a Marco pillar$? Shadow lines, reveals, direction changes etc. Let’s make these unique and with our own fingerprint on them. Push, never duplicate. Buzz on.

Brick faded out and when we saw concrete applications starting to expand beyond seeded flatwork and typical situations, it was time to try and run with that. Off to Fu Tung Cheng’s to see what was going on and learn how to do it. First, starting with counter applications before evolving into fireplace surrounds, benches etc.

And that evolution continues with GFRC today, as we continue to apply what we learn about it daily, to new applications and uses. Keep the buzz going. Last week we started to explore GFRC coping made to order.

The last few years we have found steel and its uses in our sights, and this has been another area to push on into. Without a doubt, the pavilion and firepit work shared by Tributary members has been the main stimulus for this as again and again we are exposed to its creative uses which set the last few brain cells into motion. (I promise I will not self-engineer any superstructures though.)

We have been able to do our buildouts from a site plan for only two reasons: being hands-on and from working with an old school master craftsman for most of 25 years plus. As each job starts, he asks for the master plan and says “another from the head?” “yep, take a quick look inside my ear here”. The goals are reviewed, the materials and finishes discussed then the evolution begins again. For him, the stimulation is much the same, push and keep pushing. We like to say, we are only as good as our solutions.

Equally important, as our passion to keep evolving and playing with material uses, is working with like-minded professionals and artisans who think beyond production, and are just as excited to take a step out of the comfort zone to try something new. For that we are blessed, to have found others who like to brainstorm and swap ideas in search of the next buzz.

Here we are running into 2019 with year three of Tributary Revelation, who continues to throw gas on the fire. Buzz level up two notches. There is no time for cruise control. All focus is on harvesting the energy, vast creativeness and unlimited technical knowledge that this group represents, offers and shares. Constant stimulation for which I am thankful beyond words. That is the push, to keep us thinking forward and evolving to keep that buzz on high.

— Marco Perrella of Marco Design Group