If there’s a common thread that runs through this year’s trio of inductees into Builder’s Wm. S. Marvin Hall of Fame for Design Excellence, along with the fact that they consistently deliver outstanding homes, it is that they consider each project an exceptional challenge. Joe Bohm, president and CEO of Horizon Builders, the first custom builder inducted in the five-year history of the program, calls it “getting our heads into the project.” The second-generation principals at BAR Architects, another 2009 inductee, have forged a five-decade legacy on what they term “niche” projects that, regardless of scope or scale and what’s come before them, receive a custom and contextual approach. And the success of architect Robert Hidey to time and again distinguish the homes of his merchant builder clients by ferreting out what will resonate with buyers of each particular home or neighborhood leaves no mystery as to why his work looks, lives, and sells better than almost anyone else’s. It’s a shared philosophy and practice that satisfies curiosity, exposes every detail, fosters collaboration, and ultimately results in better-designed and better-built buildings. And it’s why these three are the newest inductees into the Hall of Fame.
Robert Hidey, AIA Robert Hidey Architects
Robert Hidey knows Los Angeles. Not the one you think you know from the movies or television, but the real one. The L.A. of low-sloped clay tile roofs, courtyards, and deep, covered porches designed by architects who understood the form and function of those features. Hidey grew up in a neighborhood like that, and his experience serves as a foundation of respect for historic context, an appreciation for practicality, and a reminder that housing can (and should) be simple and special.
His trail of award-winning designs speaks to his talent as an architect, but the fact that he has delivered such exceptional design work within the production housing realm makes his accomplishments even more remarkable. Awards aren’t the goal, of course.
Hidey measures his success by that of his builder clients. “If they come back, we’re successful,” he says. And they do, with some having collaborated with the firm on more than 50 projects. The secret: On each project, for each house, Hidey seeks out what he calls practical solutions that have been overlooked or are unexpected. It may be something as simple as extra storage in a home for first-time buyers or as game-changing as detached housing at 18 units per acre, which he introduced to the Southern California market to huge market acceptance.
Hidey also leverages his respect for the past as a reference, not as a substitute for innovation. While drawn to reliable forms and materials, he gets it that modern lifestyles demand open floor plans and multiuse spaces—and still figures out a way to make them look comfortable and inviting from the street. “We design dwellings that are contextual, and that’s one of the reasons they’ve held up so well.”
Look up “diversity” in the dictionary, and you might see BAR (pronounced “B-A-R”) Architects listed as a synonym. With roots in housing—a practice area that still accounts, in various forms, for about half of the firm’s current workload—its portfolio is a smorgasbord of award-winning and time-tested architecture: wineries, resort communities, entertainment facilities, corporate offices, retail shops, and schools, among other building types, not to mention a diverse range of housing that runs from custom homes to luxury high-rise senior housing in Japan’s urban centers to affordable housing located throughout towns and cities in Northern California.
So how does a firm as diverse as BAR unify its approach? “What we really respond to is the unique context and goals of every project,” says Paula Krugmeier, AIA, LEED AP, a principal and 20-year veteran with the firm. That approach has resulted in architecture that transcends trends and borders on timelessness. “I think you can look through the 40-year history of this firm and see that the buildings still look fresh for years after they were built,” says principal David Israel, AIA, expressing one measure of success for the firm. “[The buildings] affect people in the long term in a positive way.”
Increasingly, BAR Architects’ diverse expertise attracts mixed-use and transit-oriented work, including the revitalization and re-envisioning of outdated office parks. BAR is interested in a version of the social networking phenomenon that creates highly connected communities with various types of buildings in close proximity that foster sustainability and livability. “The discipline of knowing a variety of market sectors allows us to understand how different uses need to and can work together,” says Krugmeier. “Good design integrates multiple factors: site, context, building use, and sustainability woven together with the overall goals of the client and community.”
At Horizon Builders, Joe Bohm is the business guy and his partner, George Fritz, is the builder guy. But despite backgrounds in accounting and construction, respectively, and respect for their particular strengths, the two share a curiosity that has driven their custom home business to the pinnacle of the housing industry.
“We both prefer to involve ourselves intimately with each project, looking at every detail,” says Bohm. It’s an approach not to be confused with design (“You wouldn’t want us to design anything,” says Bohm), but rather to execute the intent of the design—a role that architects appreciate and recommend to their homeowner clients. Not only does Horizon Builders rely on architect referrals for nearly all of its work, it thrives on the relationship. “It’s fun working with creative and smart people,” says Bohm, who strives to avoid the battle lines often drawn in an ad-hoc design-build scenario. “Once they realize we’re here to help them, they trust us.”
Architects and owners also appreciate the company’s commitment to building science and high-performance housing, a dedication born out of personal passion and self-preservation. “Every one of our projects has to be perfect to maintain our reputation,” says Bohm, a pressure he and his partner relish. Fritz is the building science guru of the two. In addition to his own continuing education in the subject, he’s hired forensic experts to improve his building practices, and he now hosts seminars on building science for architects. “I’m not strong in design, but I know how to build things,” he says. “We figure out the best way to build the desired details. That’s the line between drawing it and doing it.”
Marvin Windows Loses Longtime Leader
Wm. S. Marvin’s dedication to design led to establishment of the Hall of Fame for Design Excellence.
William Sibley “Bill” Marvin, the longtime president of Marvin Windows and Doors, died Aug. 31 at his home in Warroad, Minn.
Marvin, who was born Aug. 25, 1917, began his career at what was then Marvin Lumber and Cedar Co. in 1939. He was the eighth employee at the firm, which soon began making custom wood and door frames.
According to the company, Bill Marvin “later pushed to expand the offering to complete windows and doors,” creating Marvin Windows and Doors and becoming its president and chairman in 1960. “Under his leadership, the company grew every year except 1961, when the Warroad factory burned to the ground.”
“Bill Marvin had the vision to see that you could create a national market for custom millwork,” said Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood, the publisher of Builder. “He found a way to reach a thousand markets of one before it was fashionable. He found a way to bring affordable custom millwork into the hands of builders nationwide. He probably created the pre-eminent custom millwork brand in the industry, one synonymous with architectural style.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.