Furman + Keil Architects

In the competitive world of construction, it’s refreshing to find people who aren’t focused on increasing the size of their company or expanding internationally, but rather perfecting the art of their business.  That’s exactly what you get when you encounter Gary Furman and Philip Keil of Furman + Keil Architects (FKA). The firm consists of two principles and five additional architects who view collaboration as the fundamental standard of their business.

Keil, who worked in Paris and Chicago designing commercial space, came back to his hometown of Austin to work in residential design. “I realized that big, international commercial architecture was interesting,” Keil says. “But, the intimacy of working in the smaller residential world caught my interest.”  He joined Furman’s firm in 1999 four years after it was founded, and was made a partner in 2005.

Keil and Furman agree that client interaction and being close to the project site are the most important parts of the business. Whether they are building a house or an office, they want to work across the table from the end-users and get to know them to create something special for their clients, as opposed to something generic.

The Austin Way

When asked what sets his firm apart from the competition, Keil replies that the best Austin architecture firms, as a whole, are set apart from the rest in their aesthetics and styles. “There’s a non-competitive, supportive environment among the creative industries in Austin,” he explains. “That’s one of the reasons Austin has been a mecca for music, arts and design over the last couple of decades and that carries over to our firm.”

FKA is a well-established and respected name among Austin’s architectural community. One of the most successful house tours in the country is the AIA Austin Homes Tour, where more than 4,000 people come out to view open houses. Over the years, the firm has showcased eight houses at this huge event.

Two of FKA’s projects have been certified LEED. The Greater Texas Foundation is classified as LEED Gold, and is the first LEED certified building in Bryan, Texas. It was also chosen as “building of the week” by the american-architects website.  A more unusual case is a LEED-rated house – The Llano Ranch home – that earned a silver rating. It’s not uncommon to find LEED-certified buildings or multifamily homes, but a single-family LEED-certified home is rare.

Although LEED has stringent requirements, Austin has its own green board. The Austin Energy Green Building Program was the nation’s first green building program and is now the nation’s most successful sustainable building program. Many of the houses completed by FKA have followed the Austin rating as a rubric and most of its recent houses have received the highest five-star rating from the program.

Waterfront Design

In 2012, FKA completed a beautifully restored lake house in Austin named Cove House. The home sits on a small peninsula and features large, encircling windows that take advantage of the breathtaking waterfront views surrounding the home on three sides. According to Keil, when the architects first laid eyes on the house, it was dark and unattractive with no life to it. “It didn’t respond well to the site,” he comments.

The easiest route would have been to tear the existing house down, but since it had been built in the 1980s, when shore frontage regulations were less stringent, it became imperative to make it a remodel instead. Otherwise, new construction would have been subject to modern-day setback regulations which would have limited the buildable area to an insufficient size.

The house was essentially taken down to the studs, but the location of the walls, the shape of the roof and the size of the house needed to remain the same.  “It gave us interesting constraints to work with,” Keil notes. It took eight months to design Cove House and an additional 17 months to complete the construction process, a relatively long time due to its unique challenges.

The firm reconfigured the home to maximize and complement the water and land around it. What was once a large, cavernous living room – extremely overscaled with nearly black-colored walls – became one of the home’s most inviting spaces. FKA lowered the ceiling and split the room in two, allowing half of it to remain the living room and making the other half an enclosed patio overlooking the water. Both rooms boast spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows. “It really changed the character,” Keil notes. “It flows better, and has a more gracious relationship with the outside.”

Some highlights to the new house include upgraded finishes such as white oak hardwood flooring for a blonder, lighter finish and Loewen-brand windows. Inside, the windows are framed with mahogany wood and on the outside feature copper cladding. An exterior tan-colored stucco finish provides a neutral backdrop to feature the warm materials such as the wooden eaves and copper windows.

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