Black Watch
Brian Vanden Brink Black Watch
Bernard Wharton
Patrick Lau Bernard Wharton

In a profession whose appetite for the new sometimes verges on attention deficit disorder, Shope Reno Wharton Architecture stakes out an unusually conciliatory position toward the past. Yet the firm’s work, rendered with consummate fluency in the idioms of classically based 19th-century architecture, also is finely tailored to its contemporary cultural milieu. A still-evolving development of historical styles, especially Shingle style, it presents an authentic alternative to the repli-kitsch traditionalism of plan books and spec developers.

Shingle style emerged during the late 19th century in summer homes for the Gilded Age industrial aristocracy, and it remains an effective strategy for gracefully enclosing large volumes of living space. A big canvas invites bold strokes, and Shope Reno Wharton houses show an enormous range and control of proportion. Skilled manipulations of scale lend traditional details—such as the massive, bracketed porch columns of Wharton’s own house—a contemporary inflection that is as striking in its own way as its minimalist counterpart.

More subtle but equally assured is the firm’s handling of space planning, natural lighting, indoor-outdoor connections, and energy efficiency, all of which reflect the century that separates their work from its historical precedents. Founding partner Bernard Wharton (partners Robert S. Reno, AIA, and Allan Shope, AIA, left the firm in 1984 and 2006, respectively) explains the approach as a mirror of his own inclinations. “I’m a modernist at heart,” he says, “but I’m clothed in a traditional skin.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

The most gratifying aspect of residential design is the personal relationships that we have with our clients. The interactive process creates unique and enduring homes reflective of their owners and locations.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

Currently, we find the ever-increasing matrix of regulatory and code-related issues frustrating.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

Our firm goal is to give every project 100 percent effort to achieve great design and personalized service. We design buildings to last a long time (the ultimate green!), incorporating traditional sensibilities and a modern design approach. Our projects can be both green and beautiful.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

Attitude and communication. Positive attitude is key to tackling any issue in design or construction. Good communication is key to managing client expectations.

What software does your firm use?

AutoCAD, SketchUp, 3D Studio Viz, and 3ds Max.

Who is your ideal client?

Our ideal client is active in the design process and feels that their home is the best one we ever did.

What is your favorite building?

The buildings that we are working on are always our favorites.

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

Although we have tremendous respect for many other architects, it would be hard to name one. We appreciate thoughtful, beautiful design, whether it is cutting-edge modernism or traditional classicism. Buildings that are timeless and age well have the most meaning.