Homes begin with foundation and framing, and eventually those two words take on a new figurative meaning when people become families—hanging pictures on the walls, building trust, stacking up memories. We take a perfectly smooth, stained door jamb and mark it up with the heights of our children and we leave our hand prints in the freshly poured concrete, as if to say, we were here, this place was ours.
For Raluca Vandergrift, Owner of iNCEP Design, those treasured traces are what transforms a house into a home. They are important details to note about how one lives a life. Growing up in Romania, Raluca’s extended family lived under one roof and sometimes proximity can lend certain tools.
“They helped me learn how to fix and build things, like a bed for my Cabbage Patch doll,” said Raluca. Later, when her family moved to Italy, then Greece, Raluca learned how beauty could be built into buildings. "My parents' friends were artists and architects, so that artistic sensibility was always a part of my world.”
When she was eight years old, Raluca and her family moved to America.
“We arrived in New York City with two suitcases and $200,” she said. Eventually, she landed in Missoula to enroll in UM’s Wildlife Biology Program. While an undergrad, she met her husband, Peter. They both loved Missoula so much that they decided to call it home. After college, Raluca worked a series of software jobs but became bored. When she found the architecture program at MSU-Bozeman, she saw how her hard science skills could mesh with the artistic sensibility that she inherited from her parents.
After graduating from MSU, Raluca returned to Missoula and began work as an architect. With some sweat equity, she launched her own business.
“I wanted the flexibility to make my family a priority while still working,” said Raluca. “I started with one project, which led to the next. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing.”
Family undoubtedly informs Raluca’s design process.
“I love getting to know the owners [of a home]. When I visit for the first time, I don’t want everything all clean and tidy. I want to see how they really live and work. What are their dreams? What do they want out of life? I want to emulate their personal style,” said Raluca.
Raluca especially enjoys starting with older structures and incorporating modern elements. One of her favorite projects was transforming a steel silo into a comfy getaway.
“It came with unique challenges,” said Raluca. “How do you adapt materials, like sheetrock, to a rounded frame? Who in the area could pour a circular foundation? But, we were also able to repurpose a cement sink and install in-floor heating. It had that juxtaposition I like so much between the old and the new.”
Whether Raluca is updating a home that was built to last, or designing new spaces to include pieces from the past, family is at the center of her style and expertise. “I love knowing that when the next family moves in, they could get a glimpse of how the previous owners lived. It’s a beautiful project when we can keep the structure and leave the story.”
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