Whether she’s creating indoor-outdoor rooms or ensuring that homes can withstand wildfires, Abeer Sweis focuses on how built and natural environments intersect. She and her husband, Jeff Kloss, own design-build firm SweisKloss in Santa Monica, California. We talked with Sweis, who’s part of our Trade Program, about building homes that work with, not against, the world around us.

What are the hallmarks of your firm? 
A lot of it is about indoor-outdoor flow and living. We design the entire site to support that, not just the home. It’s about using glass and light, giving great views, using natural materials as much as possible and creating different areas outside in which to rest, eat or read.

Favorite building products?
We really like systems that screen with greenery, like vertical gardens and roof gardens. 

We’re also always trying to find materials that are inviting and durable and, in some cases, fire-resistant. There are porcelain floor tiles that have a nonslip textured version for outside. Fire-treated woods are low-maintenance and durable. 

What makes a home fire-resistant?
Add defensible space around the home — in other words, room to slow down the fire before it gets to the building by using pavers and gravel and other things that won’t burn. Then consider the building envelope and use fire-resistant materials from roof to foundation, like concrete or stucco. And don’t attach anything to the home that invites the fire closer, such as wood pergolas or wood stairs. Pools and spas are a great thing, because the fire department can use that water.

Is resiliency mainly for the West Coast?
Regardless of whether you’re in New Orleans or Atlanta or California, we’re going to see more natural disasters. They’re not going away. We definitely have to plan for them and, as professionals, look for ways we can assist and make things better. 

How can professionals help?
Educate yourself and educate clients, whether it’s about materials, codes or finishes. Understand what’s available and how you can use it to make a building stronger. You want things that will last and that are low-maintenance. Also, execution is crucial; the materials have to be put together correctly. Every single joint has to be 100 percent sealed so embers can’t get in. 

Any other thoughts?
Building for resiliency is a huge effort on everyone’s part. It’s about going above and beyond. If we all do that, we’ll end up with much better buildings and a healthier planet.