Just how did I get here?
Let’s go back 15 years (well almost) to the summer of 2002. I had just graduated from the University of Cincinnati and moved to Columbus, Ohio. I was ready to grace some lucky firm with my acceptance of a job offer…except the offers didn’t come, and I got my first lesson on how the economy can influence our profession.
I found one firm in the city that gave me a second interview and after three months of begging Mike Fitzpatrick (still a mentor) and his firm of Architectural Alliance took pity on me. I was thrilled to have my first job, but I had no idea what an opportunity it would be for me.
The folks at Architectural Alliance are truly exceptional. On day one they strap the weights to your legs, push you in the deep end and see how well you swim. It was glorious. It wasn’t long before I was managing projects, which followed by designing and leading. The work was never overly critical or blessed to be in a national rag, but it was always well thought out, well proportioned and with good detailing. It cannot emphasize enough how important my five years there were to my career and who I am as an architect today.
Architectural Alliance did have one thing going against them (in my eyes) …they were in Columbus, Ohio. My wife and I enjoyed living in Ohio, but always aspired to head South to sunnier and warmer climates, an idea that was aided by her parents retiring to Florida. In 2007, after years of trying to get a teaching job in Ohio my wife came to Jacksonville, Florida to attend a job fair. In two hours, she had three job offers and was on the phone with me wanting to know how serious I was about moving. A month later I had three job offers of my own. We put the house on the market, packed up the dogs and moved to Jacksonville.
I took a position at the award-winning firm of Ebert Norman Brady Architects. Great group, but an environment very different than what I had grown accustomed to in Ohio. I was hired to work on hotel projects, but as the great recession started to take hold and those projects were put on hold. I found myself working on a house (something I hadn’t done in years) and Jacksonville’s Animal Control Building. The recession gained strength and the work was moving towards all military…I don’t care for military work.
In the Spring of 2008 I passed my licensing exams and became a licensed architect in Ohio and Florida. I had also started conversations with a professional whom I had met when I was interviewing and we decided to open a new firm. That summer the doors to Cote Renard Architecture were opened…in 2008…a killer time to open a new practice…I know.
Those first few years were difficult to say the least. There were pay cuts and missed pay days, but we paid the bills and kept the doors open. The slow times did allow me to focus on the few clients I had to build my brand, all while building a business on the many lessons I learned in Ohio. I found myself back in the world of residential architecture (a place I hadn’t been in since I interned in college). We made it through the storm and times were getting better.
One day an interior designer I work with told me about a client she thought would be a good fit for me. They wanted a Modern Oceanfront home, but upon visiting my website they saw only more traditional work. (lesson – always update your website) So, over a weekend I redesigned a beach house I was working on to give it a “modern” flare. The design didn’t get me in the door there, but it opened so many other opportunities moving forward. I redesigned several other houses and before long I was getting commissions that were Modern or Contemporary in nature, one of which was given a Jacksonville AIA award of Excellence by Peter Gluck (super cool honor).
Modern Beach House Design
AIA JAcksonville Design Excellence
Cote Renard went strong for seven years, but a 50/50 partnership is hard to maintain. Goals change as life does and in the fall of 2015 we decided to cease doing business together. I learned a lot in those seven years, I wouldn’t be where I am today without that time.
In 2015 I had another opportunity fall into my lap. I had designed a home that was by no means conventional for this area of the country. We had a builder, but he quickly wore out his welcome and one day they asked me to get my builders license to build their home. This was always a model I had interest in, so it only took a couple days for me to agree to do, contingent on getting licensed. It took about two months to become a register builder in Duval County, in July 2015 I started my first build.
I firmly believe every architect should build at least one project for a client in their career…the earlier the better. I cannot emphasize enough how much you learn by building something that you have designed. If nothing else, you’ll appreciate the builders you work with more.
This year (2016) I have operated out of Renard Architecture (just Renard) and dig Architecture (the building company). Renard Architecture is slowly finding its footing and dig completed its first build in July. Both companies see great opportunities on the horizons…optimism is a great thing.
So, what have I learned from then until now? Seize the day, take every opportunity you can get. Push yourself beyond your comfort levels to get to where you want to be. But hell, everyone will tell you that. In truth, so much of our profession is about being in the right place at the right time, with the willingness to jump.
“We forward in this generation, triumphantly” – Bob Marley
Be sure to see how the rest of the architalks gang responded:
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