Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Good morning and a warning- you are in for a serious treat and design overload. Think your senses can handle it? I first found out about this award winning duo, quite by chance,  looking thorough a house magazine and fell in love on paper with a house that Fairfax and Sammons designed. I marveled at the exquisite architecture which to my untrained eye was so spot on and architecturally correct. The house looked like it had been there forever, the way it was perched so perfectly on that hill surrounded by an elegant and mature landscape. I had to read to confirm that it was in fact new construction...I was very impressed. This had me intrigued as we too had just started building and it was our goal to create a home that would make you ponder whether it was new or had been there awhile. I looked them up and in fact fell in love with their entire body of work. Traditional for the most part and just brilliant. Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons head the namesake firm along with thirty employees which opened its doors in 1992.  Incidentally Anne and Richard are married which I think is so neat!

I would choose this boutique firm in a heartbeat as their style appeals to me a great deal and represents fine and classical architecture for today's living. They have offices in both New York and Palm Beach but their work has taken them all over the globe. Their work has been published, as you can imagine in just about every important design magazine and publication. You can see from this post that their impressive body of work runs the gamut from English arts and crafts, Revival and Palladian to a British colonial seaside residence. They are well versed in so many fabulous styles, which is just one reason I think their firm truly sets them apart. They are full service meaning they are there from the first moment pen is set to paper to create your dream/vision all the way to the crowning touches in the interior design.

I was very fortunate to have been able to interview this uber talented duo and it was such an immense pleasure! I am inspired even more by their philosophy regarding design and now that I have gotten to know them a bit, know they are very deserving of the many awards that they have been bestowed upon them.  On top of getting this wonderful interview they have also graciously donated a signed copy of their incredibly popular design book, American Houses!  If you don't already own this book you are in for a serious treat and a feast for the eyes! So without further ado here is the interview.....

To be eligible to win the book, all you have to do is leave a comment here stating what your favorite home or interior space is from this post. That's it! I will announce the winner on Thursdays post! Enjoy...

Thank you Anne and Richard for this wonderful interview and fantastic giveaway!

What is the earliest inspiration that each of you can remember that sparked your interest in architecture? Anne: I went to high school in Honolulu in a David Adler designed villa based on one of Florence called La Pietra. It profoundly affected me to be exposed to great architecture at an early age. Richard: going to undergraduate school in Granville, Ohio exposed me to Greek Revival architecture- its charm and simplicity, achieved with very modest materials, really struck a chord with me.

 Did your upbringings, family homes, or environments have any influence on your ideas and in shaping your thoughts regarding architecture?
Anne: We moved around quite a bit when I was young, and lived in many different sorts of houses - Colonial Revival, Mid-Century Modern, etc. and ended up in Honolulu where the lines between inside and outside are decidedly blurred.
Richard: I worked as a stage carpenter in college, building sets for plays. We would build a perfect 18th century house set in a few weeks time and it opened my eyes to the magic you can create through design. I also discovered architectural proportioning systems in architecture school, which is the key to everything.

 In what part of the country do you do most of your work and how are the architectural wish lists different between, let’s say, the north and the south?
Most of our work is in the Northeast, with Florida running a close second but we've designed houses from California to Hong Kong, there is really no limit. Each owner and locale is unique, so it’s hard to say what the differences are.

 How would you best describe your firm’s design philosophy and does your firm have a "signature style"?
If I were to say, what sets us apart is the passion and excellence that Richard and I bring to the design process as well as being sure that our clients know that they come first. For instance, we have an owner who is generally only available on weekends and major holidays and we always accommodate meeting with him, whether it’s Thanksgiving or whatever. We've never taken our success, or our clients, for granted.

 What are three basic principles of architecture that are non-negotiable in your eyes?
Well, there are those Vitruvian principles of firmness, commodity and delight... which still hold true today. Firmness defines sturdiness and construction integrity, commodity ensures that the structure fits the needs of the owner and delight provides for pride of ownership, whether it’s for the present owner or the next.

 Do each of you have a personal favorite style?

Who would be a dream client? A dream style home to design? And finally, a dream location on which to build this dream home?
Anne: I'm a tropical climate lover, so my personal favorite would be a client who wants to build a house with natural ventilation and has an intimate relationship with the natural environment. I also love to use water in design, so a pool or a series of pools that are integrated with the design of the house is also desirous.

 What has significantly changed in architecture in the last 20 years? As an example, it seems kitchens have become serious focal points as have master baths. You hear about the increasing popularity of his and her baths; have you seen this or other significant trends in your own firm?
Stylistically, I think there is more of an acceptance and expectation that residential design will be based on traditional models. When we were in architecture school in the 1980's, our professors told us we would never be able to have a career in traditional house design...... and that has proven false. Houses have, of course, gotten bigger, and we don't necessarily think this is a good trend.

What is one major trend you are seeing in residential architecture today?
Owners are more sophisticated about what they are asking for when they come to us. Increased travel and exposure to architecture and design has educated all of us in the past 20 years.

 Is Frank Lloyd Wright overrated?
Anne: Hah, that's funny. FLW was essentially an architect who owed a lot to the arts and crafts movement but gained a reputation for the Prairie Style. The American post- war suburb has been blighted with this style as it trickled down to the developer level. In contrast, the housing stock of the Colonial Revival era is much more aesthetically pleasing, at least to my eye.

 How has the current economy affected or impacted the architectural world, particularly the higher end of the industry?
Anne: We've seen pricing come down in the construction industry, both in construction
and the subcontract sectors such as millwork. Many builders are just barely hanging on, and are working at very low margins, which is neither healthy nor sustainable over time. The market for high-end design services has not abated as those with the means to do so, will continue to want uncompromising design.

 Have you ever traveled out of the country specifically to visit a specific architectural wonder because you were so inspired by it?
Anne: Richard and I were blessed with a sound architectural history component to our education, and we share a passion for historic architecture. We spent our youth visiting old colonial houses in Virginia while we were in school at the University there, and we continue to make architecture a focus of our leisure travel. For instance, we went to Rajasthan and saw the Taj Mahal - it reminds you of the power of design that can speak through the time.

 Anne, this is for you - Why do you think there are so few women architects?
Anne: My architecture class was made up of 50% women, so it is a bit of a mystery to me why there are so few women in the field. My thought is that women are not as visible in the industry because they are not heading up their own firms right now, however I do see a trend in many firms, such as Robert Stern's office, in promoting younger women to partner level. I think it’s an excellent career choice for women, you have to be super organized and it helps if you can multitask easily, which I think comes easily to women. Women are natural team players and aren't necessarily looking to “own” a project but instead take pleasure in being a good team member. It’s inevitable that there will be a steady trend of more women in the profession in the future, but it will take time.

What is the average-sized home that your firm designs? Does your firm also do renovations or just new construction?
Anne: We like all sorts of projects in the office, and all sorts of sizes. We design both new residences as well as renovations and additions. We are also very good urban designers, which a lot of people don't know about. We designed a crescent in Poundbury, Prince Charles's new town in Dorset,, England for instance.

 What project management services does your firm provide? Is it full service? Anne: We are a full-service firm, taking the project from the initial schematic design to
final punchlist and post-construction completion. 

 How long is the process from start to finish on average for a residential
Anne: That's a bit hard to generalize, but it is best thought of as a year to a multi-year
endeavor. There are ways to speed it up, but keeping in mind the three variables - time, quality and cost - if you compress the process, you will be compromising at least one. If you want to substantially speed it up, you can keep the time and quality, but it will cost more.

 Is your firm getting involved with green or sustainable design? If so, do you foresee this becoming the big trend that some are saying it is destined to become?
Not to blow our own horn too much, but the greatest approach an owner and architect can take to the art of building is to build with good, durable materials, in a time-honored way.

 How important is finding the property and studying that land prior to designing the home on which it will be built?
The saddest thing for us is to visit a site, after an owner has purchased it, and discover that it has some fatal flaws. This has happened on numerous occasions, such as a site that's sited towards the north in the northeast, or if there is a large mountain that shades the site starting in the early afternoon, being too close to a noisy highway, or near train tracks; there is only so much one can do to mitigate the negative impact of these factors on a site. 

What are one or two of the biggest mistakes you see in today's residential architectural practices? How much time do you have? All kidding aside, and setting aside the issues we have with the developer-driven housing market, the key issue we have with other architects’ work is the lack of literacy in standard traditional design, and that extends into the simple detailing of materials. For example, one architect, whose work we respect, set stone columns directly onto a stone terrace without taking into consideration how that stone would interact with water on the terrace. Less than a year after completion, water was wicking up the column, and creating deterioration in the stone. The traditional method is to create a stone stooling out of a more durable stone, such as Istrian stone, that resists water absorption. If you have a passion for classical architecture, it’s not always about the sheer aesthetics; that passion must extend into the details. Unfortunately the education of an architect today does not cover these issues, and it’s left up to the individual to continuously observe and learn throughout one's lifetime.

 Do you have a favorite material that you like to see in construction, say...brick, stone, clapboard or another material?
We prefer the time-tested materials, used in ways that enhance their beauty and durability.

 What country in your opinion has the most magnificent and inspirational
We haven't been to them all, but Italy has to be up there in the major Pantheon of best countries for architecture. It’s all there.

 Will we ever see periods of architectural splendor as we did during the Renaissance, Beaux-Arts, Gothic, and Baroque periods, or does the prohibitive costs of materials, labor and scarcity of land make this impossible to recreate ever again on that same grand scale?
That's a good question... and one that's difficult to speculate upon. It takes a perfect combination of an educated and sophisticated client to create the demand, coupled with a sizable budget as well as the right talent to create and execute; I wouldn't rule it out. Certainly, in the Dark Ages the Renaissance couldn't have been predicted!

 What is in your opinion, the single most treasured architectural wonder of the world?
Great questions! The Taj Mahal comes rather close.

And now the icing on the cake.....may I present the fabulous work of Fairfax and Sammons!

This fabulous British Colonial is positively regal!
Love this hallway and that floor!!
Love the colors and tones in this fabulous library
Love banquette seating, don't you? The red gives it such a lively pop.
Fabulous and decadent dining
Stunning in its soft tones...love the floor
Creamy splendor!
Gorgeous country kitchen, picture perfect
How beautiful is this dining room?
This is a bedroom after my own heart......
Fabulous high in the sky two story library
Love and appreciate the details here on the moldings and paneling
Stunning transitional space
Beautiful brick wall detailing
This is a Gothic Revival restoration....fabulous
Beautiful family room/great room...gorgeous detailing
Stately Federal house style home
A room with a view indeed! Love the way that window is cased
Palladian style home built in Hong Kong
Georgian style residence
Its all in the details.....
Magnificent poolhouse....
What a vision!
English Arts and Crafts
Indoor pool.....
Love this space!
A gorgeous Georgian Revival addition
The old is made to look new again....beautiful!
What a gracious entry....love the door and the chinoiserie!
This is what I would refer to as a breathtaking room
Elegance abounds
Absolutely sumptuous master suite
Fit for a king.....decadent master bathroom
Spectacular new Jeffersonian residence, so stately!
Arts and Crafts stone cottage
The materials used give this room such integrity, don't you agree?
Such a refined residence, an elegant Georgian Arts and Crafts home
Love this fabulous and elegant kitchen
This is such a rich looking dining room, love the dark green paneling
Fabulous pool house
Charming shingle style renovation
Such a grand but welcoming foyer
What perfection.....a vision in white
Love these windows and the volume of this beautiful space
What a picture perfect setting
The grandeur of this room is spellbinding!
Talk about knowing how to situate a home!
This is classic architecture at its finest
This is one magnificent loggia
This space is absolutely dreamy!!!! I am in love with everything about this room
How grand is this!
All I can say is "wow"
Love the electric mix of styles here
Always loved the character a washed brick interior wall gives a home

That is a mighty impressive body of work! Many thanks again Anne and Richard. Your work is truly awe inspiring. To be eligible to win the signed book giveaway, just leave a comment here stating your favorite image above. I will announce the winner on Thurs.morning. Have a wonderful day!