Two Minutes With // Robert Gurney

Hi everyone, happy First Friday! Today we have a great interview with Robert Gurney, FAIA. Robert Gurney has become one of our favorites. His beautiful use of materials and timeless designs have our full attention; not to mention, he’s a good friend of our program. Today he shares valuable insight on his design process and methods. Take a look at his website for more projects. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the interview.

Images courtesy of Robert Gurney.

VT: The design of your residential projects explores varying levels of scales, from the overall design of a space into the extraordinary detail of stairs, for example. What drives the design intent of each project to create schemes with a sense of unity?

RG: The site drives all of the projects; this is our starting point. If we have a beautiful rural or suburban site, the building tends to be more focused and integrated physically with the site, not visually. The projects that are more urban projects – apartments, and row-houses (which often don’t have beautiful vistas) – tend to be more inwardly focused. These projects have more of an emphasis on the materials and the detailing, and how it all goes together. On projects that have larger sites and beautiful views we sometimes lose sight of the detailing. With that said, we strive to bring the same level of detail into all of our projects. In urban projects, a rooftop deck or a terrace above a garage can easily integration with the outside; it can really be strong. Experience with differently scaled projects and varied locations contribute to the success of each new project.

VT: You mention how your projects are designed to be timeless. What is your definition of timelessness, and what advice can you offer young designers who aim to create impactful, memorable, and timeless spaces?

RG: I think an important part of this is the materials we use. Whether it’s the exterior of the building or the interior of the building, we use a lot of natural wood, natural stone, steel, and glass; we try to stay away from a lot of color. Color typically comes from the material. Also, color can come through finishes and things that are changeable, but the things that you are not going to change are millwork, flooring, cabinetry, etc. Not only do we try to implement materials that are natural and familiar, but ones that what we think will look good in ten, fifteen, or fifty years. A beautiful stone wall is going to look beautiful in two hundred years. It’s also how you respond to the context both in terms of scale and back again to materials, and how you sit the building on the site. These contribute to the buildings timelessness, and how it will stand the test of time.

VT: The uses of natural elements are expressed beautifully within your portfolio. Are your uses for natural elements project specific, or do you have an underlying philosophy as a designer that can be found from project to project?

RG: I try not to use the same materials over and over again, but if you find a beautiful material, repetition isn’t a good reason to not use it. Sometimes clients will see a certain project and a material that you use, and they want to use it in their project. There are some projects that have a lot of mahogany and maple, and other projects that have a lot of white oak and walnut; this reflects how we pair materials. We are using a lot of natural materials while trying to mix it up as much as we can; at the same time, I’m not sure that we fall into the idea that everything you do has to be the newest, latest thing. I would rather do what I am comfortable with, and do it well. There’s an interesting balance between materials that we know work well and stand the test of time, and the incorporation of new materials. In terms of sustainability, we try to make sure all of the woods that we use are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, and use reconstituted or LEED certified materials; we are really sensitive to this.