“A well-done house can be so much more than the sum of its parts. A great environment impacts how we live and enjoy family life. That’s usually the primary reason that our clients want to build a home in the first place. But a fine house will outlast all of us and take on a life of its own.” — Chip Gardner
Design focus: Most architects come out of school with a preference for modern things, and that was certainly the case with me. Over the years, though, my interests have evolved. I still love clean lines and strong, simple order, but I’ve become more appreciative of the fine craftsmanship in older homes. Because much of our residential work has been in the older neighborhoods of town, we’ve become adept at the styles that were prominent when those areas were first developed: Tudor Revival, French Revival, Arts and Crafts, etc.
I’ve been blessed to have worked with lots of great clients that remain friends. If I had to choose, the home my wife and I built for our family a few years ago is the most special (right). It was an unlikely undertaking at the low point of the recession, and it took a great deal of will from both of us to make it happen. We’ve since sold it, but are already planning our next one.
I want to design a hunting camp and lodge—something along the lines of the old Adirondack lodges and wonderful stone Civilian Conservation Corps buildings from the 1920s and 30s. It would be rustic, but very refined and elegant at the same time. It would have resort appeal with spectacular mountain views and acreage and, of course, an unlimited construction budget. As long as I’m dreaming, it would be nice to have as much time as I want to develop the design.
Green building and energy efficiency. Some of the products and technologies have come a long way in recent years, so there’s no longer any need to compromise on aesthetics or absorb initial costs that can really never be recouped. You don’t have to be an idealist to recognize the value in some of these ideas now—they are finally making actual market sense.
Responsibilities of an architect?
Clients come to an architect for direction. An important part of that is guiding them toward the right kinds of design decisions. A project that is good for the community (something high quality, thoughtfully situated, and attuned to the neighborhood) is also usually what provides the best value for the individual owner. I really believe we’re helping to improve our community by the kind of projects we build and that our impact will last for years to come.
What inspires you?
It’s very rewarding to overcome all of the challenges of construction and see something completed that you’re proud to have played a role in creating, that you think is special. In a small way you can feel that you’ve made a positive impact on the world.
Favorite lunch? I’m sort of a regular at Demetri’s in Homewood, along with most of my extended family. My parents and brothers all try to meet there for lunch on Fridays, and sometimes a nephew or niece will join us. I like it not so much for the barbeque, but for the Greek dishes. My favorite is the Chicken Kabobs with a side Greek salad.
Favorite vacation? Our family went to Provo island in Turks and Caicos for a snorkeling and scuba diving vacation. We stayed in a remote little house and had a car to explore the island. The highlight of the trip was totally unscripted: We rented a little skiff with a small outboard motor and headed up an undeveloped side of the island, jumping in the water whenever something looked interesting. The water is unbelievably clear there and we got into all sorts of up-close adventures with a nurse shark, giant manta ray, numerous barracuda and every reef fish imaginable—all in only 6 feet of water. It was a great family day!
Hobby? I have far too many. One of my favorites is playing music with my 17-year-old son, David. We keep a music room with lots of instruments in our home: Guitars, piano, drums, and bass. I’ve played a little of everything over the years and David has picked up drums and is now learning guitar. Surprisingly, he and his friends like a lot of the same old 1970s standards I used to play growing up, so it’s a lot of fun!
Gardner Architects LLC, Chip Gardner
Address: 1901 Cahaba Road, Birmingham, Alabama 35223
Produced by Cathy Still McGowin • photography by Art Meripol