Designer Friday: Paul McCLean

Founded in 2000, Ireland-born Paul McClean’s forward-thinking McClean Design creates many of the most coveted contemporary homes in the world. Now, his debut book from Rizolli, released in April, is a definitive guide to crafting contemporary homes, with inside looks at the designer’s process. Often implementing glass and water into his projects, McClean’s fluid designs are recognized for their ingenuity, and have made him the most sought after modern architect in California. Meet Paul in our Designer Friday interview below, check out his gorgeous new book, “McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House,” and get a preview of his work below!

paul mclean book creating the temporary house“McClean Design: Creating the Contemporary House” is available now through Rizzoli. Photo courtesy of Rizzoli.

Andrew Joseph: What modern design trend makes you cringe?
Paul McCLean: Can trying too hard be described as a design trend? I find that originality for its own sake can be cringeworthy. Really good design simplifies to the minimal practical solution and then injects a little poetry.

Andrew: What might the design world look like in 10 years?
Paul: I think we will continue to see an increasing focus on renewables in both energy and materials. We should also see more construction components fabricated off site and a ramping up of prefab and 3D printed structures in general. I do hope this will lead to faster and more diverse construction, in many ways our industry is not much different than it was one hundred years ago in terms of process and methods.

Andrew: Who is a contemporary inspiration in your field?
Paul: There are so many that it’s incredibly hard to choose but for me, the work of Seattle firm Olson Kundig always is an inspiration in the way that they create Contemporary Homes rooted to the local vernacular of the Pacific Northwest.

paul mclean exteriorBold and balconied, this California by McClean residence brilliantly uses the open spaces its unorthodox layout creates.

Andrew: Are there qualities in potential clients that you identify that make you know you have to run away?
Paul: I think that for a project to work, everyone involved has to be open-minded and realistic. From a practical perspective, we try to help our potential clients understand what the projects we do actually cost ahead of agreeing to work with them. They also need to be open-minded with regards to the eventual outcome; there are so many factors involved that will influence the design and many only become apparent through the process. If a person insists that the design looks a certain way and that it can be built for half the usual local costs, we are probably not a good fit.

Andrew: Style (or design) icon?
Paul: Zaha Hadid for her enormous influence on the design world through amazing work and sheer force of personality.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Paul: Open, light, transparent.

paul mclean designUsing a shallow pool as a divider, McClean employs glass and water for outward-facing elements of his designs, adding to a sense of illusion and infinity.

Andrew: How do you define beauty?
Paul: That is such a thoughtful question. Beauty is such an ephemeral and abstract idea but we know it when we see it, right? I think beauty evolves out of proportion and the relationship of individual components to one another and that we react to them at an emotional level.

Andrew: Who is your ideal client?
Paul: A person who comes to us and wants to engage in a conversation about design. They challenge us to work in new ways.


About The Designer | I grew up in Ireland where I attended the Dublin Institute of Technology graduating with honors in architecture in 1994. During my time at university I traveled extensively and worked for award winning architectural practices in London, Dublin and Sydney, Australia. I also had an opportunity to work with the Monument Service of Ireland sketching and surveying many of the historic castles and monasteries dotted throughout the Irish landscape. In addition, I spent a year working with a firm in Dublin on museums and art galleries in the national capital. After graduation, I arrived in Southern California and worked for various local architectural firms before establishing McClean Design in 2000. I feel that we have been very fortunate these last few years and have managed to complete many new homes. I have always enjoyed working with different people and am constantly amazed by the different and varied backgrounds of our clients. I have been able to establish lasting relationships with high quality builders and other design professionals helping to ensure that our entire team is committed to realizing the dreams and aspirations of our clients. Design is more than a job for me. It is what I wanted to do as a little boy and which I am lucky enough to be able to practice today and hopefully for a very long time. Paul McClean is a member of the American Institute of Architects and is a licensed architect in the state of California, Hawaii and Nevada.


Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here

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