Artful Architecture: Susan Hirschberg
Being creative, eager to please and hardworking are three qualities that embody architect Susan Hirschberg, partner and owner of RH Design Build, Oshkosh.
“I love creating and giving clients options,” Hirschberg, age 49, said. “I also enjoy translating client ideas and wishes into spaces.”
With a BA in Industrial Technology from University of Wisconsin – Platteville and a Master of Architecture from University of Illinois – Chicago, Hirschberg has embraced her passion to plan beautiful rooms, homes, buildings and offices. She enjoys travelling for design inspiration, too.
“Any larger city recharges me,” she said. “I like to go to restaurants and look at every detail and see if there is inspiration I can pull from different areas of public spaces. I’m constantly taking photos.”
Wife to Jason and mother of two – Harry is 12, Elsa, 9 – Hirschberg is familiar with the challenges of work/life balance. Besides her company obligations, she’s involved with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), The Paine Art Center and Gardens Board of Trustees, Leisure Hour Arts Club and Winnegamie Home Builders Association (WHBA).
“My architectural mentor that I worked with, Laura Hochuli of Vinci | Hamp in Chicago, was a working mother that balanced work and home life beautifully,” she said, which is something she aspires to. “She came in early and would leave by 3. She was wonderful at staying on task and accomplishing so much during the day. She had it figured out.” Hirschberg met with Women magazine at one of her client builds to share more of her story.
Women: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from originally? What is your background?
Susan: I grew up in a small town west of Madison: Dodgeville, Wisconsin. I’m the youngest of four. Dodgeville is the home of Lands’ End. I
worked in different departments at Lands’ End and eventually ended up in Facility Planning doing space planning for the different office buildings. I feel that sparked my interest in design and architecture.
W: Tell me a little more about your personal life and family.
Susan: My husband Jason and I have been together for over 20 years and married for 17. We lived in Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee before moving to Oshkosh in 2006. My husband is an attorney in sole practice in Oshkosh. We had our son, Harry, while Jason was in law school in Milwaukee. That was difficult for me to go back to work 6 weeks after having Harry. Our daughter, Elsa, was born in 2009 before the movie Frozen came out. I remember taking her to preschool and hearing the new movie Frozen was about Queen Elsa. Let’s just say my daughter is not a fan of the movie. When I call out her name in public places, young children look to see who she is.
W: Elsa is such a pretty name. Why do you think she isn’t a fan of the movie?
Susan: It’s just because people assume she’s a fan of the movie and I don’t think she likes the attention.
W: Besides travelling, what else inspires you?
Susan: I can’t work without music.
W: What kinds of music?
Susan: Coldplay. I just attended a U2 concert. Really I like all music. But I don’t like rap.
W: What brought you to RH Design Build? What role do you play?
Susan: My business partner, Dennis Ruedinger, and I worked on several projects together. We both had businesses on our own but collaborated a lot. We both were getting very busy and decided to join forces in 2014 to help each other. I’m the design side of the business and Dennis is the construction or build side. We have a wonderful team that we work with. Right now in our business we have a sort of dream team leaving us hesitant to add anyone else for fear of disrupting the amazing cultural synergy at RH.
W: What would you want readers to know about the work done at your business?
Susan: RH Design Build is a boutique operation. A majority of our work is in residential design and construction which takes us into the most intimate and private parts of our clients’ worlds. We are in the relationship business. It takes a great deal of trust for someone to allow us into their home.
W: Tell me about your role as president of the board of trustees at the Paine Art Center. What does that involve? What made you want to serve as president?
Susan: Being president of the Paine is a wonderful honor. I served as vice president for two presidents that made a lot of changes at the Paine. This has been a little intimidating because I have such amazing shoes to fill. As president I have been called on to conduct board meetings and involving myself with all the different committees of the Paine. Aaron Sherer has been a wonderful director and has made the transition from vice president to president go smoothly. My involvement with the Paine arose when we moved to Oshkosh and the Paine decided to remodel and make an addition to the existing carriage house. This remodel fed directly into my historic renovation background and I was hooked for life. This connection has made the Paine an integral part of my life here in Oshkosh, making it seem natural to serve as president.
W: What is the Leisure Hour Arts Club about?
Susan: It’s an arts club that was formed in 1886. It was founded by six devotees of art who then voted in the head of the Art Department of the
Oshkosh State Normal School to direct the club. You have to be nominated to join. We meet five times a year for two hours. There are speakers for the first half and then we have tea. There are eight items you serve with tea, from cucumber sandwiches to tartlets.
W: What kind of art do you like? Who is your favorite artist and why?
Susan: I really like all art. My favorite artists are Caravaggio, Gerhard Richter and architect Renzo Piano. Caravaggio’s works are realistic and
haunting. I really enjoy Richter’s technique of painting realistic paintings and blurring it. Renzo Piano creates beautifully simple architecture.
W: What’s your favorite part of your day?
Susan: I have two parts. If I have the energy to get up early before anyone and have some time to either walk or meditate I feel completely
energized. The second favorite part of my day is going home to see my family.
W: What kind of meditation do you do?
Susan: I have the Breathe app on my phone.
W: Do you have any self-care routines?
Susan: A tall iced mocha every afternoon and I try to work out a couple of days a week.
W: Do you have any significant projects planned for 2018?
Susan: Every project we are working on is significant. There are several remodeling projects and several new build projects.
W: Besides your architectural mentor Laura, do you have any other role models?
Susan: My mother taught me empathy. Growing up my mother would gently ask me how I would feel if different situations happened to me.
W: What are your “words to live by”?
Susan: These change daily. I have several favorites. “What we think, we become.” –Buddha
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
W: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Susan: I get my greatest satisfaction by making a client thrilled with the end result of their project. It is more compensation than money to me.