Jerry Spangler Talks Latest Trends in Community and Home Design

Jerry Spangler recently talked with Martin Sniderman, an Atlanta-based business blogger, about the latest trends in community and home design, what projects TSW is currently involved with, and recent challenges facing architects.

Checking in with: Jerry Spangler, founding principal of Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates
Neighborhood News

1) What are you working on these days?

TSW’s (Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh) architectural studio is working on a number of exciting projects. They include a very contemporary – but very folksy – community church project in Woodstock, Ga. This project has let me explore interesting challenges, such as creating non-traditional activity spaces, an exterior look that appeals to young and old, and being as green as it can be – and doing it all within a tight budget.

Then there’s a “Lake House” meeting-hall facility at Lake Carolina, outside of Columbia, SC. And we’re also working on a new series of plan-book home designs (construction plans you can purchase via the internet) that respond to today’s new residential realities…and a couple of custom-designed homes in the Atlanta region.

We’ve been focusing on refining our designs for very affordable homes that offer great living spaces in a variety of sizes. We call these homes our “Simplicity Series,” that get back to the basics of simple, traditional-American homes.

2) What are the latest trends in the world of community and home design? We hear that the era of cul-de-sac subdivisions and the “McMansion” is over. What’s the story here?

The typical subdivision just isn’t offering today’s homebuyer the sense of place that traditionally designed developments do. More and more, folks want options other than having to jump into their cars to go get a morning coffee or evening meal. Communities such as Tributary (a 1,475-acre master-planned community southwest of Atlanta), or Brock Built’s in-town communities on the west side, are walkable and have retail nearby – along with beautiful homes, pocket parks, and other amenities.

We are currently helping the developers of both communities inject even more affordable home design options into their neighborhoods. The trends in these homes, by necessity, are affordability and efficiency. The “hot” size range is around 2,200 square feet, and the price point that is moving this product is in the low $300,000s.

These are starter homes targeted to young families. But these buyers still want certain basics, like an open, airy living/”retreat zone,” properly-sized master bedrooms (most with five fixture layouts), porches and outdoor rooms. These homes are not supersized and fussy. Rather, their vibe is fresh and fun; simple ,classic American homes featuring flowing rooms, tall windows with simple casings, and bold color concepts – all elements that are incorporated in our Simplicity Series” home designs.

Another product in the $300K price-point range that we see moving is well-designed active adult homes. Windsong Properties in Cherokee County is building attractive, compact master-bedroom-on-main-floor homes this summer – and they are selling.

3) Tell us about your home and its design. You did it youself?

Yes, and it is an architect’s dream and nightmare all in one! And my wife Elizabeth is an interior designer (a really good one) who has added some great ideas. So it has been a fun and crazy process.

We wanted both our children to have room to grow up in, so we started looking at our options. We found an opportunity build on a nice wooded site in our intown westside community.

In 2008, TSW had three or four projects in the Caribbean (this work kept us busy while things were slowing at home), and the house displays some island influences – I tell my daughter Natalie the design is a simple West-Indies Farmhouse.

I love farmhouses, by the way. They are somehow grand and casual at the same time.

The farmhouse concept fits our family’s lifestyle, and the inherent simplicity of the farmhouse model lets one reshape it in ways appropriate to 2010. This house is intentionally ambiguous: to me it is a contemporary design, while others see it as traditional. The most important thing is that my kids think it is very cool.

4) What’s the biggest challenge facing the architectural profession these days?

The first challenge is just finding enough work to keep your staff together and motivated. We have a number of talented designers at TSW, and I don’t want to lose any of them.

A second challenge is being relevant and truly creative in today’s complex times. TSW’s New Urbanist focus – creating neighborhoods and communities, and not just stand-alone buildings – gives us a mission we believe is relevant, which fuels creativity. As TSW’s architectural director, I find that this framework helps our buildings be meaningful.

5) What else would you like us to know about you and/or your work?

When I turn the computer off, and pick up the soft pencil and start drawing, I always realize how much I need and enjoy designing.

6) How do you spend your leisure time?

Reading Patrick O’Brian novels, riding bikes with my family, and an occasional (very occasional) game of golf. I would have given anything to be at The Open Championship at St. Andrews this summer.