“When I was young I had aspirations to be an architect,” says Jon Berndsen. Looking at the exactingly detailed houses in the Atlanta-based custom builder’s portfolio, one isn’t surprised. And while Berndsen veered off the design path after high school—he studied engineering, building science, and business at Auburn University—he nevertheless has done much to further the cause and raise the quality of architecture in his region. Having developed the capability of building the most elaborate and authentic of traditional houses, Berndsen’s company routinely partners with the region’s foremost traditional architects. “I can assemble an elite team of craftsmen,” Berndsen says. “We’re able to build homes that become landmarks in the community.”
Berndsen serves the architectural community directly as well, as a cofounder and board member of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art’s southeast chapter. Along with building tours and a design awards program, the organization sponsors educational lectures and seminars for design professionals. “Very few architecture programs in the country teach classical design, and there’s a hunger for it,” especially among young graduate architects. “They didn’t have a place to learn it,” says Berndsen, who organizes seminars on adapting new technology to the traditional milieu. “Just because it’s a classical design doesn’t mean it has to be 19th-century efficiencies,” he says.
That statement reflects Berndsen’s approach to his day job as well, in which, he says, “we’re modernizing the classical structures without making them look modernized. Anyone can build a house and install classical trim, but it takes a huge commitment to do it to the level of detail that we do.” It’s a process that joins a deep understanding of building science, exhaustive attention to detail, and an extensive community of tradespeople trained in some rapidly vanishing arts. “It’s hard to come by,” Berndsen says. “There aren’t that many talented, experienced craftsmen out there anymore. Having those people on our team is what really sets us apart.”