In his new book, Renewing Tradition (Rizzoli), New York-based architect Eric J. Smith showcases his ability to renovate classic homes so that they function brilliantly for today, as well as design brand-new homes that resonate with the grace and refinement of the best of the past. The 11 homes across the country featured in his book range from grand estates to rustic cabins, but all share Smith's thoughtful handling of site, function, and style. Here, he shares some of the wisdom he's learned during his 30-year career crafting beautiful places to live.
Classically inspired buildings create comfort through the logic of their design, the inherent solidness of their construction, and the presence of detail that is familiar and enriching. These structures were built to last. And, in the homes we design for our clients, they still are.
I saw that designing classical-style architecture was a way to “buy time.” In our homes, this happens through architectural detailing and the materials we use. Reclaiming old timbers or antique rooms, or buying a mature tree for the grounds of a house are ways to acquire history.
By weaving old elements, antique or reclaimed, into a building, we evoke the ageless. With such elements, time seems to slow down. It is another way, we “buy time” for our clients.
I think that architectural education too often overlooks the fact that clients commission buildings—clients are everything to a project. A client’s tastes and desires are like site and program—critical givens that I embrace as an architect.
I have never felt it was my place to force my ideas onto clients. I believe when I’m hired to design a home, the clients trust me to realize the house of their dreams, not mine.
Architects are the creative force of buildings; we see ourselves as the people who “make” the project happen. But the reality is that the by-product of any architect’s work is, well ... a set of drawings. They have a lot of information on them, but they are just drawings on paper — that is our “deliverable.” It falls to literally hundreds of other skilled people working with us to turn those drawings into a tangible structure.