A sense of place: Kendra Guiffre says good design is site-specific

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April 21, 2010 - Owen, 9, and Piper Guiffre, 7, play in a nook in their kitchen. The area has a loft above the daybed and features a large drawer for toy storage.
Photo by Ashley Twiggs April 21, 2010 - Owen, 9, and Piper Guiffre, 7, play in a nook in their kitchen. The area has a loft above the daybed and features a large drawer for toy storage. Photo by Ashley Twiggs

We asked the founder of Blueply Design how she got into architecture, what she’s working on right now, and where she finds inspiration (did she say “a coffee mug”?).

Why architecture?

Architecture has the ability to bring something special to everyday life, to help us see things in a new light. Beautiful space connects with people and inspires them. I love working with people to help them realize their vision.

Why did you choose to practice in Virginia?

I grew up in Northern Virginia and did my undergraduate architectural study at UVA. We moved away from Virginia for a while, to Texas and California. When my husband and I were ready to start a family, we wanted to come back to Virginia to be close to family and knew Charlottesville would be a great place to live and work.

What was your life like as a child and how did it lead you to design?

My father is an architect. When I was 5, he designed and built a modern house for our family. It really had a huge influence on me. I can even remember visiting the site while it was being constructed.

Tell us about your college studio experience. Was there a stand-out teacher who had a lasting impact on you?

I did my undergraduate at UVA and graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. They were both great experiences with lots of intense hours in the studio. I will always remember Lucia Phinney, my first studio professor, who still teaches at UVA. She had a great architectural presence and taught us the basics of creating space with a limited “kit of parts.” I still value those lessons today.

On process: How does it begin?

With a problem that needs solving, usually the need for more space, or more thoughtful space. Also with the understanding that it is a process. Design doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s a dialogue that continues through each phase of the project.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Guiffre

What inspires you?

Simple good design. Anything from a coffee mug to a chair, to a room or a building. I’m inspired by the thoughtful use of materials, color, light, and space.

How does the site or sense of place inform architecture for you?

It is the start of the design. It informs what opportunities or limitations need to be considered. Architecture should bring something new to the site, while respecting what is already there.

What’s in the studio at the moment?

I am very excited to be collaborating on a new classroom building for the Mountaintop Montessori School with Wolf Ackerman. I am also working on several residential renovations.

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Photo courtesy Kendra Guiffre

How would you assess the state of architecture in our region?

We have some of the most beautiful classical architecture here with Monticello and the Lawn and continual innovative new design. I love the presence of Live Arts on Water Street in contrast to its traditional surroundings. It’s great to live in a place that supports both the old and the new.

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