Surprise! I’m Starting a Residential Studio

I really enjoyed the 20+ years I spent working with people (who typically became my friends) to design their dream houses. Of all the things that changed when I left my last firm and slid on over to BOKA Powell, the only thing I’ve really missed was working on residential projects. You might not know this about me but I generally like people and the best part of doing residential work is the time spent going through the process with the people who have hired me to go on this journey with them. A couple of weeks ago, after thinking about it for slightly longer, I decided to approach a few key individuals in my office and introduce the idea of allowing me to take on residential projects … which is kind of a big deal for a firm of 120 people that focuses on commercial work.

With almost no discussion, the response when I brought it up to my inner circle was an instant “Yes”, almost it as if it was ridiculous that I would need to ask the question. But since it is a large firm, there is certainly a process one has to go through when introducing new ideas – you simply can’t go off on your own and do whatever you want (even though they generally tell me that I can do exactly that). So at our annual Leadership Retreat – which took place last week – I presented my case for why I thought starting a residential studio would be a good idea to the Leadership Council, a group made up of 17 of the most serious of individuals in my office. As I worked through my logic and watched the faces of the people listening, I thought “This seems to be going okay, everybody appears to still be listening …”  and the response was

“Why didn’t we do this immediately when you joined the firm?”

So I’ll take that as a yes.

So as of today, I am officially back in the market as an architect that does residential work and I couldn’t happier about it. The next steps for me are to simply let people know that I will start taking on new projects because after being out of the market for 14 months, those jets have cooled a bit – which is actually the point of today’s post. Consider this my … re-coming out party? I’m not sure that’s right but it’ll do for now.

I do have some practical challenges ahead of me, most of which is securing evidence that I’ve actually been working as a residential architect for almost 2 decades. The bad news is that I don’t actually own any of the professional photography from any of the projects I have worked on since 2003 … which is truly bad news. While the AIA code of ethics requires my past employers/companies should make all of that information available to me, I don’t really see that happening without offering up a pound of flesh in the exchange.

But there is some good news as I have this here website which is generally dedicated to a handful of the projects I’ve done and documented, all in fairly spectacular detail, since Jan 2010.

So what happens next? Well, there are a lot of people in our office with residential experience – not to mention that I have a past employee with me who moved over to BOKA Powell shortly after I joined. Once we decided that this was an area of expertise in the office and we let people know that we would start pursuing residential projects, people seemed to come out of the woodwork to let me know that they would like to work on these sorts of projects. What makes this particularly interesting is that we have licensed interior designers, specification writers, and people who excel at construction administration who are all clamoring to do residential work.

I have long advocated that residential architecture is a personality-based niche within the field of architecture. If the people I have worked with only wanted a house that didn’t leak, I’m not sure that they would have landed on working with me. The fact that I love working with people so much that I get excited for the meetings and conversations that we’ll have generally makes for a more engaging and memorable experience, and despite the fact that I now work in a medium-large firm, the teams that will work on these residential projects are still going to be small – probably just me and one other person for the immediate future. Meaning, if you contact the office to inquire about a residential project, your call will come to me.

One of the really great things about the field of architecture is that you can generally shape your career however you see fit. I love what I am doing now and when I had a conversation with the partners in the firm and simply mentioned that if I could add residential work to our office, I would literally have the perfect job – they gave me the green light to move forward. Of course, that was the easy part – I have been out of the residential game for the last 14 months and now I have to reinsert myself into the marketplace, and if there are any positive lessons to come out of this COVID situation, is that I can work on any project remotely, so my marketplace covers a pretty large area.

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