Always listen to Mom

Monika Kuhnau once had her sights set on a career of interior design, but her mom had another idea — architecture — which would ultimately help Kuhnau set a path of great success.

And now, at 37, she reflects on making partner at her hometown architectural firm.

“In my junior year (at Aberdeen High School) … I developed a fondness for the TV show ‘Trading Spaces,’ when it was on the air,” Kuhnau said Monday, just five days after she made partner with Harbor Architects LLC in Aberdeen. “And I initially had the plan of going into interior design. But then my mom said, ‘Well, you have the math skills too, so maybe consider (architecture).’ So I actually ended up with a double major when I went away to college.”

The television show, which aired on The Learning Channel, pit two neighbors against each other in a race to redecorate a room in each other’s homes, according to the show’s synopsis.

In 2009, Kuhnau graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from the University of Idaho at its Moscow, Idaho campus. She went on to Idaho’s master’s program in architecture. In 2012, she graduated with a master’s degree in architecture. A few months after her May 2012 graduation, Kuhnau started part-time at Harbor. She explained how, though earned, that it was also a fortuitous meeting.

“Facebook got me my job,” Kuhnau said. “My thesis project, I had taken the Weyerhaeuser site, where the Seaport is now located in Aberdeen. I had done an entire urban development plan, with a downtown core, residential core, all sorts of things to kind of fill that site with a city, almost.”

Kuhnau posted her thesis project on Facebook, and the right people saw it.

“I tagged a couple Aberdeen people on it and said ‘Hey, enjoy this.’ I thought I was going to move far away and find a job. I had intended to move to Portland to see what job opportunities were down there, but I got contacted by Brian Little, who was on the Aberdeen Planning Commission at the time. He asked me to present my project to the planning commission. So I did that. I was introduced to Alan (Gozart) at that meeting and walked away with a job.”

Kuhnau said it was the “right time, right place, all those things.”

The Central Park native is glad to be working on the Harbor.

“One of the nice things about this small office and being the only real architecture firm on the Harbor is that we get to try out all sorts of different types of projects,” Kuhnau said. “We work on residential, we work on commercial, we work on educational and municipal, kind of anything and everything that comes our way here at the office. I think I’ve gotten a lot more experience in a variety of project types that I wouldn’t have gotten if I were in a big city that focused on certain types (of projects).”

Kuhnau said if she were in a big city such as Portland, she probably would not have learned so much.

“I would probably not have developed the skills to work on all aspects and phases of the projects like I do here,” Kuhnau said. “I do initial meetings with clients when they’re just brainstorming ideas. Taking that and turning it into drawings and going through the permitting process, and then even being part of construction administration and monitoring the build with meetings, and then getting to do everything from start to finish. I don’t think I would have that same experience if I were in a big firm.”

Kuhnau said she think the variety of skills she’s learned during her 10 years of working full-time at Harbor will really help her as she goes forward with the next phase of her work.

Kuhnau spoke about the projects she’s most proud of since she started full-time in 2013 with Harbor.

“Back in 2014 I think is when we did that project, working on the Summit Pacific Medical Center in McCleary,” Kuhnau recalled. “That was really the first project that I worked on where we tore down the existing building on site, started from scratch, and gave them a brand new building. Before that, most of the things that I had done were interior renovations of existing buildings or additions. So that was the first fresh build I did. It was really fun to see that come together.”

Kuhnau also talked about the new Domino’s store in Hoquiam.

“More recently, working on the design on the new Domino’s store in Hoquiam. That was a really fun one to do,” Kuhnau said. “Currently we’re working with the city of Cosmopolis on their new municipal building and that’s going to be really cool to see come together.”

Kuhnau is appreciative for the people with whom she works.

“They’ve all been here longer than I have,” Kuhnau said. “(I’m grateful for) the support and what I’ve learned from them over the past 10 years has really helped me.”

Kuhnau had some advice for students who want to pursue architecture and interior design.

“Keep putting those ideas down on paper and explore more,” Kuhnau said. “I think that’s one thing I loved to do when I was kid growing up. Even before I knew architecture and interior design were my paths was I loved to explore houses and construction. When they built a house down the road I was down there and exploring while they weren’t building it.”

Kuhnau said getting to know the spaces and taking notes of what functions well and what doesn’t and then putting those ideas on paper really helps.

Kuhnau also had some advice for people looking to move into their next residence: Think about storage.

“We often leave storage in our spaces as an afterthought, and go ‘where can we store stuff?’ That often leads to not having adequate storage or non-functional storage, because it’s a tiny little corner cabinet in your kitchen. That’s all you have to put your dishes in. Thinking of storage earlier can be a helpful point.”

To no surprise, Kuhnau is “very excited,” to make partner.

“I don’t know if it was ever my goal in college, but finding my home here again after moving back, I think it’s the right step for me. … And I think it’s gonna give me the option to grow more and of course continue learning. You never stop learning in this profession.”

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at