River House
Sweeney South Photography River House
J. Carson Looney
Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss J. Carson Looney

Some firms excel at high-end custom homes for wealthy clients; others are skilled at mass-market housing with architectural integrity. Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) does both equally well. “Our goal from day one was diversity in project types,” says J. Carson Looney, one of the founding principals of the 27-year-old firm. “We’ve kept that mission all these years.”

Started by Looney, Frank Ricks, and Richard Kiss (who retired from the firm in 2004), LRK is a do-it-all architecture firm. It does large-scale commercial work, town and land planning, and architectural interiors, but houses (and housing) are paramount to the practice. Houses are a particular passion of Looney, who has made them his primary focus for the past 15 years or more. “I like the relationships and the one-on-one with clients,” he says. “There is a disconnect with larger work, but when you design a house, it’s personal. It really gets my creative juices flowing.”

LRK’s homes are decidedly traditional, exhibiting a balance of scale and proportion. The homes are not overwrought, and they are devoid of pastiche. It’s notable that Looney received a modernist education in architecture school, but developed to develop an eye for traditional forms and detailing through his own research and trial and error. “I drove through desirable neighborhoods and I studied places,” he explains. “I questioned why some feel good and why some feel shoddy.”

Making houses that feel good is what LRK is about, Looney says, whether it’s a million-dollar custom home or a pattern book for a large builder. “We approach both types of projects the same way—through process,” he says. “We identify things that need to be solved and we solve them.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

Solving problems, clients who are appreciative of a design or livability resolve that they didn’t believe could be obtained. Creating true sustainable great places that are valued for decades.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

The past two and a half years. Other than that I suppose time management.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

We listen; to listen and serve. We actually have had lots of sessions and meetings about our mission and goals, but today it boils back down to the basics.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

My library, roll of trash paper, and a 0.5 mechanical pencil.

What software does your firm use?

AutoCAD, and lots of others for graphics, accounting, etc.

Who is your ideal client?

A repeat client. Seriously, it is.

What is your favorite building?

My five-generation family home with all the outbuildings and context of the site, located in middle Tennessee and listed on the National Record of Historic Places. My mother and grandmother were born in the home. I installed the first plumbing in the home in 1990. It’s not just a favorite building, it’s the place I love.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?

For years my wife and both said it would be Hugh Newell Jacobsen, but today I’m not sure and I think I’d interview Jacobsen along with Shope Reno Wharton, Historical Concepts, and Bill Kreager. It would depend upon where the home would be located, the budget, and if they listened to our needs and desires. I’d not be a patron but a client.