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When did you know you wanted to design houses?
My childhood piano teacher lived in an antebellum mansion in South Carolina with deep shaded porches, ivy-covered damp brick garden walls, slate paths and centuries-old oak trees. I was enchanted by the power of the place. I waited for my lessons on her porch and waited to be picked up later in the iris garden. It was a home.
I realized that people could create such a place by building with thought and intention and by providing a canvas for the landscape and the passage of time. There was an oversized, well-proportioned tall front door with a screen that made a creaking sound when opened.
The front parlor had wide wood plank floors and smelled of dew and fresh-cut flowers, and the kitchen of well-used oiled pans from decades of cooking and living a well-loved life. Beyond was a wide and spiraling stair rising four stories. On one side was a parlor with two grand pianos, and on the other was a summer porch with louvered screens and a series of tall French doors.
To this day, I still remember the smell of her English boxwood and iris garden. The house engaged all of the senses. So I've been searching for the meaning of "home" nearly my entire life.
What inspires your designs?
Always, the landscape and culture of a place. I am a modernist but not at the expense of abandoning regional influences. I feel strongly that modern design should reinterpret and extend the vernacular lineage of a place.
I am also inspired by the visual power and beauty of ancient ruins. I'd like to think of buildings we design today as the most beautiful and evocative ruins centuries from now if we do them right. So all designers should think about the passage of time.
Which iconic architect would you have loved to work with?
Where in the world do you want to go next?
I'd like to spend two weeks traveling on the back roads of Carolina and Georgia in spring, photographing barns, eating peach pie, smelling the air, taking it slow, stopping at used-book stores in small towns and then return to Virginia on the western route via the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've lived in this region all of my life, and I'm still discovering it. It's my place.
What's the most important thing on your desk?
A pencil and trace paper.
All projects begin with sketches. Drawing is the conduit for ideas, and the hand is the extension of the mind's eye. The computer is only used for production after the design is conceived. I will never give up drawing.
If you could change one thing about home design, what would it be?
To make people realize bigger is not better. Quality is more important than quantity. You only need a single large and tall principal room with southeastern sunlight for daily life, and the rest can be relatively small.
Who are your favorite artists?
I greatly admire the work of Josef Albers, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, North Carolina sculptor Thomas Sayre, Richmond painter Duane Keiser and photographer William Christenberry. Currently I have started admiring the realist work of an emerging Connecticut landscape painter, Jan Blencowe. I think any house without art or books inside is a house without a soul.
Best thing about being a designer:
To understand on a deeper level the landscape and the site, to meet many people with very different backgrounds and help them, to learn by doing, to be a creative problem solver and to hopefully leave something useful behind long after I am gone.
Your ideal client is ...
My current one, a young and inspired couple with an amazing site and the willingness to slow down and let us all attempt to get it right.
Another Designer Sketch: Architect Jean Dufresne | Find a designer