REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
Thursday, September 20, 2018
REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
by Meryem Aksoy
He has always kept his passion to create custom residential designs while he was working on large-scale commercial projects. In 1997, he established his own architectural firm which would become the Purser Architectural. Purser Architectural has been specialized in designing custom homes, multi-family residences, commercial storefronts, mixed-use community buildings, with the idea of differentiating each structure according to clients' demands. I talked with Architect Don Purser about his career, some basics of residential projects, and Purser Architectural.
Donald, how did you decide to pursue a career in architecture? What inspired you?
Photo : Don Purser, Founder and Owner of Purser Architectural
My passion for architecture dates back to my childhood. At age 6, I watched my architect neighbor work at his drafting table. I was inspired then, as I am now, by the idea that something I dream up in my head could someday stand, in real life, on the earth. In high school, a teacher announced an opening for an architecture internship at a local company. Of course, almost every student in the class expressed interest. But my teacher, apparently sensing that I was the only one with a true, dedicated interest in architecture, held back all of the other applications and turned mine in alone! I started running blueprints my junior year, but a year later I was trusted to design the Angelo State Campus Security Building despite only being a high school senior. To my knowledge, it never fell down!
Before we start talking about Purser Architectural, could you tell us about yourself? Who is Donald Purser?
I graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in Architecture in 1974. I moved to Houston to be with my wonderful wife, and like many in Southeast Texas, ended up working for large companies somehow tied to the military or oil and gas industry. Most of these companies were heavy on the engineering, but I stayed focused on design. My most notable role was heading up the Marine Division at Brown & Root, where we designed buildings for offshore platforms.
How did you decide to establish your own firm? Could you tell us about Purser Architectural and your team?
Throughout my time working on large scale commercial projects, my passion always remained firmly rooted in the creative, personal side of architecture: Custom Residential Design. I wanted more control over the types of projects I worked on, and also wanted more personal interaction with clients. To me, the best, if not only, way to achieve that was to start my own firm. I established my first partnership in 1980, and went solo in 1997, forming what would become the Purser Architectural we know today.
I have some incredible draftsman who have worked with me, on-site and/or remotely, for decades now, but it was not until about 4 years ago I hired my first full-time in-house designer, Guillermo Sahagun. I brought on another designer, Francisco Lopez, about a year later, and the three of us form our full service, in-house design team. We have an excellent office manager, Rose Castaneda, and a recently graduated architect/draftsman, Yessica Guillen, who also works on site with us full time. Our team is small, but handpicked to deliver the client experience and unmatched final product that has kept Purser Architectural thriving primarily on referrals and vendor relationships for over 20 years now.
What type of projects does Purser Architectural specialize in? What type of services do you offer to your clients?
We offer a full suite of architectural design services, including single- and multi-family residential, residential remodels, architectural control &review, commercial build-outs, and commercial design, ranging from office buildings, office parks, wedding venues, restaurants/breweries, religious buildings, medical offices, and more. While our portfolio contains projects of which I am extremely proud in each of those categories, the custom residential design is our core specialty and remains the project type we are known for. No joke - I recently overheard a real estate agent exclaim during a walkthrough “Oh I hope to have a Don Purser home some day!” I never thought the word “home” preceded by my own name would be a household term, but hearing the phrase definitely conveys where our specialty lies at Purser Architectural.
Could you tell us about your consultation process? How do you decide to the right project?
Each client is unique, so therefore each consultation process is different! I have to pry information out of some clients, while others show up to the office with notebooks full of notes and pictures they have been collecting for the last ten years. Basically, I view each project is a puzzle, and my task in a consultation is to talk through a client’s wish list in a way that allows me to establish what all of the pieces actually are for that particular client’s puzzle. From there, I can work on taking a client’s ideas and putting them into the graphical form on paper, and then fitting them all into the parameters of the project, such as size, site space, and so on.
How could you define your architectural approach?
“Keep it personal!” Designing a building for a client, especially a house, is an extremely personal thing. The way I see it, I am taking a person’s dream and molding it into something that allows them to actually LIVE their dream. I believe in a lot of face time - as much as it takes - and thinking about a project as if it were going to be MY house, or MY business. I do things to gain context like personally visiting each new job site before I sit down to draw it, and sketching buildings by hand instead of a computer. The more I can personally connect with a client and their project as it will exist in the real world, the more successful I am at translating a dream into reality.
What is your signature on your projects? What are you paying attention to make your projects unique?
With every client and project being unique, I don’t (and can’t!) inject a single “signature” into every project. What does shine through with anything I design is my belief that a building, without anything in it, should still look beautiful. My goal is to create a home that excites, inspires, and energizes the viewer even without so much as a window dressing being present! By taking the “pieces of the puzzle” approach, I like to entwine individual design elements together into a “whole” that is beautiful from EVERY angle, instead of just going for the “beautiful kitchen” or the “beautiful master bath.” Every projection the eye sees - front to back, up to down - should be beautiful. You can ask any of my builders, and they will tell you my houses are probably the most complicated…but they will also tell you they are the best.
You have lots of completed and in-progress projects. Could you tell us about them? Which one is your favorite? What was the story of this project?
As you said, there are many, which makes it hard to pick favorites. What excites me the most are the ones where I get to weave in elements that really reflect the clients’ personalities, passions, and hobbies. The sort of things that are going to keep them excited about their living or workspace and enrich their lives on a daily basis. A few of my favorite examples of this include the Anabellum plantation replica with a widow’s walk for my client’s skeet shooting, and another home where I designed a massive aviary to house my client’s worldwide racing pigeon sales business. I’ve done some interesting panic rooms, some including storage for months of hunkering down or impenetrable escape routes to the roof, and all kinds of man-caves featuring bowling alleys, golf simulators, and speakeasy-style poker rooms. Years ago, for my own children, I designed play-lofts above their bedrooms, accessible only by a ladder built into their bedroom wall. I recently did something similar, but for a family with SIX children! That one had six bedrooms, six lofts, and a third floor dedicated LEGO room.
What would you recommend to clients who want to work with an architect to build or renovate their home?
The old cliché, “A picture speaks a thousand words” really is key here. Somehow, we have to get your dream out of your head and on to my paper, so the more specific and illustrative we can get during a consultation, the better.
What is the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give to young architects?
I will never forget working on a project in a college architecture course. It was going to be perfect. I was laser-focused and precise, but incidentally slow and stiff. All of a sudden, my professor grabbed my arm and violently dragged it back and forth over the paper, leaving chaotic, haphazard marks all over it. While doing this he barked, “LOOSEN….UP!!!!” It stuck with me. The engineers are there to make sure the building specs are precise to ensure safety and functionality. As an architect, I am still an artist and I can’t do my best if I lose sight of that. From a business perspective, I advise you to learn to say no! Or if you can’t, hire someone who can say no for you. Just like you are not right for every client, every client will not be right for you.
What is coming up next for you?
I recently designed a modern farmhouse style lake house on Lake Granbury, and the lake bug has officially bitten me. We’d love to expand into the DFW/Grandbury market and do more vacation homes.
Anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?
Architecture has been and continues to be an incredibly rewarding career. Constantly meeting different people, with different lifestyles, and different wishes for me to grant is never boring. I enjoy what I do and thank each and every client, past, present, and future, for allowing me to make MY dream a reality.
Thank you Don.