Fascinated by art growing up, Jeffrey Dungan learned how to communicate ideas, emotions and feelings through his work at a young age. Today, he is able to apply these same practices as the principal architect at Jeffrey Dungan Architects. We were grateful to talk to Jeffrey and learn all about his design process, his tips to achieve a timeless home design, and his sources of inspiration, from English Arts and Crafts architecture to mid century modernists and nature. Learn just how Jeffrey masters storied yet timeless design in today’s interview!
01 / We love following along with your work! Can you tell us a little about your background and what led you to start Jeffrey Dungan Architects?
The main thing that got me into this was a fascination with art. I also loved as a young child even, to draw, to me it seemed to be a natural thing to do. I was even as a teen fascinated with modern art and communicating ideas, emotions, feelings through imagination and pencil or paint. I studied architecture later in college and found it also to be a fascinating thing that you could take an idea and draw it out and then it could be constructed in a way that you later could walk around inside what used to be inside of you. That still sounds fascinating to me.
02 / How would you describe your firm’s style and aesthetic?
I avoid these questions – if I said it was traditional, that could mean Tudor, English, French, Italian- and yet some of those historic influences are present in our work. If I said it was modern, that could be partly true, but I would not think that to be a fitting label. With those caveats in place – I would say our work is always trying to create something that is timeless and authentic to a particular place and people – and created to be of a lasting and enduring character – in quality of material, and in aesthetic.
03 / You continue to be a fresh voice in the industry, bringing a modern approach to classical architecture. How do you continue to be inspired to design, and where is your inspiration driven from?
I love all kinds of architecture, honestly there is so much that I continue to find interesting and/or elegant. I am not a strictly classical architect – although I do hold to many classical tenets in my process, chief among those being the use of restraint. At the beginning of my career I became fairly obsessed with English Arts and Crafts architecture from Lutyens to Voysey. Counterintuitively perhaps, the work of mid century modernists such as Kahn, Lautner, Scarpa and Barragan resonates with me. Finally, I am incredibly moved by nature as the chief form giver and guide – and in all of our work, the site is paramount.
04 / Your use of natural materials seems reflective of nature and the beautiful views of the homes you design. What impact does the home’s location and landscape have on your choices architecturally?
I dedicated an entire chapter of my book to this question of the site, context, and landscape. The momentum of the topography in a location and finding not merely the place a house could fit, nor the place the house wants to go – but the place nature would most welcome the house to rest in its bosom. The sun is our light source, it will not be dictated to – so we must understand how it moves across the site and design to it. So how we locate the house has everything to do with these natural conditions, if we are to design a thoughtful place.
05 / Can you walk us through your design process when working on a new project, from concept to completion?
That is a wonderful question, but it would be difficult to answer succinctly since it takes thousands of hours and more than half a year to complete. It starts with the idea – the idea that is the best synthesis of many factors. Mostly understanding the line of contradicting forces such as the site, the client, and finding the most appropriate and simple response. It is surely not the victory of one single person as it takes a village of people to work out all the details and solve the various challenges that arise. In the end, finding and working with talented and accomplished builders who actually make the drawings become a house complete the journey that lasts a couple of years, and is a thrilling one to take.
06 / Do you have a favorite part of the design process?
The beginning, and the end. I love the idea and the conceptual parts, the imagination and ability to see things that don’t yet exist, and then to walk around inside that thing.
07 / Not to pick favorites, but in the spirit of this interview, do you have a defining project that resonates with you from throughout your career?
No, they are all like your children so there are always things you love about each one that are unique to them and special to you. I may have a favorite beach house or two, or a lake house that speaks to me a little more or a mountain house or a house in Canada looking over the ocean – well you can see how I can’t really choose…
08 / One of our favorite things about your work is that it incorporates unique, organic elements in a timeless way. Could you share 3 suggestions on how to achieve a timeless home design for those embarking on a new construction project?
There lots to it I think, but some of the important things are to use great materials and do so in an honest way, a natural way. Steer clear of fads or the latest shiny design object that everyone is using. Do things in a simple way, the simple answer proves one really has understood the question.
09 / Could you walk us through a normal day as an architect?
It’s complicated. It’s fun. A good day, the best day, I actually got to draw for a few hours.
10 / What does your collaboration process look like with interior designers?
I love interiors and spend a lot of my time working out the spaces and pondering how to create certain emotional responses. I have a team of interior designers in my office who I love working with. We also work with some of the very best interior designers across the country. I always learn a few new things from these interactions and collaborations which I take along with me and that is always inspiring. I don’t care who’s idea it is, only that the best ideas make it into the design process.
11 / What are you working on at the moment, and what’s next for Jeffrey Dungan Architects?
We currently have projects from California to Nova Scotia, Costa Rica and England – in places that don’t speak English and use the metric system. I really find the challenges of working in, and understanding the context of, the building traditions of these various and disparate places to be totally exciting. I am almost 57, and could not have imagined having such experiences as we are fortunate to have nor the wonderful people I work with in our studio or the clients who trust us to make magical places for them.
12 / What would be your dream collaboration project?
See above, for I really am living a dream already. I would love to work with interior designers like a John Saladino or a Christian Liaigre (RIP) or landscape or garden with Luciano Giubbilei.
13 / Where is your favorite place to travel and be inspired?
Travel is the best education anyone can receive. Lindsey and I travel for work and fun about 120 days a year so we have worn out some luggage a few times and hope to continue to. We just were in Italy for three weeks last fall with friends and that was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever experienced. I also love Ireland and Scotland and the climate and people. London and the Cotswolds are some favorite just adorable places to visit. Barcelona is also a favorite and once we took the entire office there for a week, the food and the work of Antonio Gaudi are otherworldly inspiring.
14 / On a typical weekend, where would we find you recharging or having a bit of fun?
We like to get to the lake or the mountains with friends and clients but I usually draw on the weekends when it is quiet and there are fewer distractions. I also enjoy getting outside to do a little gardening and love to play my guitar. We love to cook and eat and have many wonderful James Beard winning chefs we are friends with here in town so that is always part of our weekends when we are home.
We don’t know about you, but we’re feeling so inspired by all of Jeffrey’s insights! Make sure you’re following along on Instagram to stay up to date with all of his projects, and head to his website to see his breathtaking portfolio. If you missed our previous conversations with Lorraine Pennington, Heather Taylor Home, and Rebecca Atwood, head there to catch up. Thanks so much for following along, and until next time!
Images by Jeffrey Dungan.