Member Q&A with Pablo Serna

So I read on your website bio that you have eight kids. 8. You have 8 kids?? You look like you’re 35 years old. How do you have eight kids? I come from a family with four kids and to me that was hectic. 

I think I had the easy part, right?  Cecilia and I have been married for 31 years.  We met in college and fell in love early and started an army!  Our plan is to have enough places to visit when we retire and as many grand kids to corrupt.  After a few kids, eight really isn't that many. Fortunately, we work well as a team. My older kiddos can cook, do their own laundry, and take the trash out.  Maybe we were just the right folks for a big family. It is always exciting at the "ranch" as we call it.

I’ve met two of your kids. You bring them in to the office after school sometimes, right? Are those your youngest? 

Yes, Carlos and Sophia are numbers seven and eight.  They attend the Cathedral School of St. Mary near the Capitol.  All of our kids have attended St. Mary's. It is one of the oldest schools in Texas, having started in 1866.

I know you have a dog and you also just got a new puppy. Congratulations! Tell us about the puppy. 

Dakota is a shepherd and rottweiler mix.  He was being fostered by one of my clients and we made an instant connection.  He is an awesome pup and is quickly making a nest in Carlos' room.

Is it more work to have a young kids or a puppy?

Puppies.  Dakota is chewing on things and is still working on the potty thing.  I was fortunate to have my own business, so I took my kids to work a lot.  I was able to work from home or at various job sites. Early on in my career, when I was working for a firm, we had a wonderful older lady watch our kids.  We still keep in touch with Raquel. She lives in Houston now. She was an incredible cook and taught my older kids how to cook and clean. She was a blessing in our lives.

So on a more serious note, you’re an architect? Can you tell us about what you do?

Residential architecture mostly.  I do some light commercial work, occasionally planning (as a team member).  About 80 percent of my work are kitchens and baths and master suite remodels, and accessory dwelling unit (ADU) renovations.  The next 20 percent are custom homes and commercial tenant finish-out. Austin is a hot market for remodeling work. East Austin, in particular.  I work with Realtors and new homeowners to gut older homes, repair structural problems, and renovate houses to open up space that was originally made up of a lot of small spaces.  Remodeling has to be one of the greenest things we can do for the environment. Austin has a great Green Building program. There are incentives to put solar arrays on your roof, switch over to WaterSense plumbing fixtures, replace old windows with Energy Star-rated retrofits.  The list goes on. 


Have you worked on any projects around Austin that we might have seen?

Most of the residential work I do is for private clients.  However, I did some public work as a project manager when I started out for BLGY and Jessen Architects.  Schools mainly, Zavala Elementary, a police substation in North Austin, nearby I worked on Blanco High School.  Probably the most interesting job I worked on were the public bathrooms for the Spectroscopic Telescope Visitor's Center in the Fort Davis Mountains.  I was part of the design team and they gave me the bathrooms!


If you could only work on passion projects, what kind of architecture would you do?

I like to think that I am doing that now.  I really like houses. When I was younger, I would watch Hometime, the New Yankee Workshop, and This Old House on PBS.  This was before HGTV.  I still like to watch HGTV, especially Chip and Joanna Gaines from nearby Waco, TX.  Houses are deeply personal and you form a special relationship with the clients. I left a really good job and a good salary to start my own practice.  It has been nearly 20 years and I still get excited every time I start a new project.


If you could take the credit for designing any building or project — regardless of when it was actually built — what would it be?

The Usonian houses by Frank Lloyd Wright (one of my heroes) is his contribution toward the belief that really good design can lift people up.  As Wright became increasingly more popular in the 1950's, he wanted “every man” to have a better home. We still recycle old home plans and many subdivisions have only two or three options.  Wright was also concerned about affordable homes. He correctly predicted that housing costs would go up and leave most of us dealing with poorly designed housing and limited options. The Usonian concept was that a modular house was intended to be bought in phases and added onto as the family grew and their financial means improved.

Poorly planned and inadequate spaces is what keeps me busy.  I have seen repeated design problems from stock housing plans that could have been avoided.  Just the idea that a family room should be connected to the kitchen and dining seems obvious.  Many homes are disconnected and suffer from poor planning. Wright was .. right!

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Is architecture the type of profession you do in an office or are you onsite a lot? Is it 50/50?

Remodeling does take me out of the office quite a bit.  I have recently started to build my own projects. There is a shortage of qualified general contractors in the Austin area.  In order to help my clients see their projects built, I started offering construction management services. I had a lot of respect for builders before, but now, I really appreciate how they can manage all those trades, deal with the wwner, and occasionally deal with an architect!

It seems like the way you use Createscape is that you’ll join for a few months and then take a few months off. During those off-months, are you mostly working on location? Or do you have a job that’s maybe in a different part of Texas and you need a desk closer to that site?

It is a moving target.  I really like the area we are in.  It feels creative and everyone here seems to be a part of the vibrant fabric that is East Austin.  While I could work from home, working here just feels good.


So it seems pretty convenient for what you do to have a flexible coworking membership that you can pause based on your schedule. Does that sound right?

That has worked well for me.  I love that Keller and you guys have made improvements to the place.  It is a special place and I feel like I found a good space to do my work.

Thanks Pablo!