At the beginning of an era in which large architectural firms are challenged to compete, these up-and-comers are leading a group of small, nimble firms poised to take on the industry.
Jeremy Perkins of Jeremy W. Perkins Architects
In a time when even luxury homes are increasingly homogeneous, the ultimate status symbol is customization. In Tulsa, Jeremy Perkins is the undisputed rising star of the bespoke dwelling.
“One of the things I always tell a client when they come in is that they won’t ever see this design again,” Perkins said. “You might see small details or certain aspects, but unless you sell the plans, you won’t see it again.”
Perkins is still settling in to his new office, 2200 S. Utica Place Ste. 216, a small, open space filled with clean, white walls and warm details — a crystal chandelier and warm, naturally finished wooden accents — that speak to his aesthetic. His firm of four, including an interior designer, two architecture apprentices and himself, moved into the space six months ago.
He is also still settling into his role as the preferred provider of haute couture homes, which he has filled for nearly seven years.
“The name of the firm, Jeremy W. Perkins, doesn’t really reflect who I am,” Perkins said. “It seems really stuffy.”
The name, he said, was the result of a branding problem.
After receiving his BA in Architecture at Drury, Perkins went to work for Turner and Associates, the firm at which he developed his penchant for upscale housing.
“We did a lot of high-end residential,” he said. “I ran the firm when Stephen [Turner] was sick, and then when he passed away, I bought the assets and gradually changed the name. It was more out of necessity than anything; people thought my name was Jeremy Turner.”
Since taking over, Perkins said he has seen his business grow, even in the current economic situation, a time in which most firms are simply praying for small losses. Part of the reason for Perkins’ success is the nature of his primary clientele; people who are going to spend millions on a home are going to spend that amount whether times or good or not. The other part, Perkins said, is his ability to adapt to a changing market.
“There are going to be people who are always going to build expensive homes, but there may not be as many,” Perkins said. “It shifts. We weren’t doing a lot of remodel or interior work, but that’s what we’ve shifted to so we could become more of a full-service firm. I enjoy that work just as much as designing a new home.”
Perkins said that while his aesthetic is predominately contemporary — clean lines and strong geometry — he likes the challenge of meeting each client’s specifications.
“I enjoy doing contemporary work, but I do everything. I don’t necessarily have a style,” he said. “A lot of what you do is taking what the client wants and then trying to add architectural significance. We designed a home recently where the client, from the beginning, wanted a Mediterranean home. I may have simplified that some, left out some of the intricate detailing to make it a little cleaner, but that client still got what they wanted.”
Perkins said the clients happiness was ultimately his reward.
“I love coming to work,” he said. “It’s rewarding at the end of the deal to have someone come home and enjoy being at home as much as going somewhere else.”
Shelby Navarro of One Architecture
Shelby Navarro is quickly becoming known as the king of green in Tulsa.
His pet project, the NINE duplex, earned a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification, one of only a few in the U.S., and he is widely regarded as an authority on sustainable building practices, as evidenced by his expansive speaking engagements.
Navarro said his passion for all things green is rooted in his childhood.
“I was raised in Verdigris by my grandparents,” he said. “My grandfather had an organic garden on site. We had solar panels on our house in the ‘70s. He built our house and made it all passive solar design. He took me on recycling trips. He taught me to eat the food on the farm. We were raised in that respect everything and use what you’ve got vein.
“My passion has always been creating something that makes people think. Sustainability does that, and so does design that people haven’t seen before.”
Navarro said it was this desire to inspire that lead him to create the NINE project.
“A lot of people are sort of interested in green building, but there’s not really a good example,” he said. “We wanted to make this a showcase and a learning project for a lot of people from architects and engineers down to the person who’s thinking about switching out their light bulbs.
“We had hundreds of people coming through at different times. They could see the different building systems, they could see the geothermal pipes sticking out of the ground, they could see how it was insulated and how we sealed in different ways that aren’t normally done during construction so they could see how they could improve their offices or commercial projects or just how they could improve little things around the house. It went from really basic to really technical.”
Navarro said though there was a good reaction to the project, it went on the market as the economic downtown became a certainty. He treated the circumstance as a rare opportunity to intimately enjoy his own work, as well as evaluate his design.
“With the turn in the economy, we took it off the market for a while,” Navarro said. “I thought it would be a good idea to move in to collect some data and do some testing.”
Navarro said the NINE duplex is scheduled to hit the market again this month.
Navarro said the same financial hardship that hurt the NINE project’s chance of selling would ultimately spur a greater movement toward sustainability.
“I think that the gas prices shot up and scared everybody a little bit, but as soon as they went down it was kind of back to business as usual,” he said. “Gas prices are already on their way back up — we hear about PSO raising their rates two or three times a year — so our cheap energy is become less cheap pretty quickly. I think it’s going to move to the forefront in the end.
“There has also been some legislation passed that all public buildings have to be certified either by LEED or Green Globe, so it’s not just a marketing interest or a public interest anymore. I think it’s the right way to do things and I think it’s better for our city as a whole if everyone starts doing things in a more progressive way.”
Carl Szafranski and Jeff Pugh of Szafranski, Pugh and Associates
Carl Szafranski and Jeff Pugh are battling a misconception.
“Today I had a friend on Facebook send me a message that said, ‘Hey, I have a friend who needs a job, do you have any openings in your landscape business?’” Pugh said. “He was looking to lay sod and plant trees.”
“One of the biggest struggles of being a landscape architect is getting the public to understand what a landscape architect is and what it takes to be called a landscape architect,” Szafranski added. “Our job is a creative process. We design; we don’t actually build.”
Szafranski and Pugh are the owners of Szafranski, Pugh and Associates, a landscape architecture firm making a name for itself with its elaborate custom pools and water features, one of which can be seen in the showroom of Jim Norton Toyota.
According to Pugh, the firm had meager beginnings but high aspirations.
“We were at out on the town one night when we were in school,” Pugh said. “We were talking and basically said, ‘What do you think about, some time in the future, getting some school mates together and starting something up to…’”
“Take over the world,” Szafranski interjected.
The firm’s strength, Szafranski said, comes from its principals’ diverse interests.
“One of the reasons I think we decided to join forces is that my love and passion has always been residential, and Jeff’s experience and passion has been municipal, commercial, master planning, campus planning and other things like that,” he said. “We definitely have more experience and exposure in the residential field, but that’s slowly turning, and turning in our favor, to getting some more commercial and municipal work.”
The move toward municipal work comes at an opportune time. Residential work, Pugh said, is becoming harder to procure.
“We’re in an industry that is a luxury,” Pugh said. “When a homeowner builds a new home or remodels a home, what we do is a choice. That’s something that is hard to keep on top of. That is a big hurdle right now. We’re in a time when people are not spending money frivolously, so we have to constantly make sure our name is out there.”
But the investment may save homeowners money in the long run.
“It’s hard to get people to see that, while you may spend several thousand on us initially, we usually pay for ourselves in the end because we can catch a lot of things on paper that are harder to catch on site,” Szafranski said. “If you tell a contractor, ‘I want something there,’ he’ll build it, but he may not always do it right. Then you have to pay him to remove it, and then pay him to construct something new.”
Tulsa’s recent infill and downtown revitalization trend would also seem to present a challenge to a landscape architecture firm due to the miniscule lot sizes, but Pugh saw it as the opposite.
“People want to see nature as much as possible,” he said. “In an area like downtown, which is 90 percent concrete, they are going to want to have their little portion of the world green, and that’s where we come in.”
Pugh pointed out that yards weren’t the only places landscape architects were needed.
“We’re really trying to push a lot of green roofs,” he said. “That technology is up and coming, it’s just going to take some time to catch on.”
“We can also control a lot of the concrete,” Szafranski said. “We are involved in a lot of the color and movement and width of the sidewalks with the goal to make it as peaceful as you can make a downtown area.”
Asked where they see their firm in five years, Szafranski and Pugh responded that they would like to grow, but not too much.
“I don’t think we want to be any bigger than the biggest project we want to do,” Pugh said. “We don’t want to plan cities.”
“You lose intimacy from projects when you get too big,” Szafranski added. “Jeff and I are passionate about what we do. I’m a good landscape architect. I’m not a good boss. To be compensated to create spaces that are enjoyed by other people, that is something really rewarding.”