Local architect Kevin Harris wants your “dream home” to be your “forever home.”
And in his new book, “The Forever Home,” the 60-year-old expert on residential design and renovation explains just how to make that happen.
“The Forever Home,” Harris says, is the “home you’ve always dreamed of — one that fits so well, it becomes a part of your identity, a place that nurtures your spirit and houses your most precious earthly belongings … You may leave to visit other beautiful places, but whenever you return, you know you are truly home.”
Whether building a new home or renovating an old one, the purpose of “The Forever Home” is to advise the homeowner throughout the process so they know what to expect. Aside from detailed drawings and tips from Harris, the book features photos by award-winning architectural photographer Chipper Hatter, formerly of Baton Rouge, now living in Carlsbad, California.
“The idea of everyone having their own home kicked in big time after World War II,” says Harris, who received his undergraduate degree in architecture at LSU and his master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. “Today, about 20 percent of houses are built using an architect; some say 2 percent. What we do as architects is set the style example.”
After a fellowship in Scotland and working in Jackson, Mississippi, and Boston architectural firms, Harris returned home to Baton Rouge in 1982 and taught at LSU for 10 years before opening his own firm in 1994, specializing in residential design.
“I love houses!” says Harris, who confesses to being a student of the internationally renowned Louisiana architect A. Hays Town. “When I taught at LSU, I was the only professor who made his students go meet Hays. He was magical, charismatic.
“What I really love about architecture is that it tells the story of a culture,” Harris continues. “I get to invent things; it’s the last bastion of creativity … You don’t want to repeat history, but preserve it. I take what I’ve learned from the past and incorporate it into my work.”
The Baton Rouge native says he was supposed to follow in the footsteps of his dad, Dr. Francis Harris. That changed when his dad’s cousin, Roy Guderian, lived with the family while renovating their home when Kevin was a little boy. Striking out on his own after working with legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, “Uncle Roy” offered to do work for family members to build up his portfolio. Dr. Harris took him up on the offer and Kevin was glued to his side throughout the entire process.
“I was his shadow,” says Harris. “I’d draw next to him … The construction process was fascinating to me.”
Always drawing as a kid, Harris says he would give his creations to any adult who showed their appreciation. He likens that experience to what he does now — he draws plans for his clients and watches as their faces light up when he presents them with their forever home.
Most of today’s houses are designed first and then put into a location.
Harris says his hierarchy is just the opposite. His order of things is: neighborhood, site, floor plan then style.
“Each project is very different,” says Harris, “Everybody lives a little differently, and your house should fit the way you live. The last thing I look at is style; that’s where all the flourish comes in.”
Harris’ book offers the questions homeowners need to ask themselves throughout the project, which is composed of teams. As he explains, every project has two teams — the design team, of which the architect is the leader, and the construction team, led by the contractor. “The third team is the owner,” adds Harris.
“There’s lots of communication before and after the construction starts,” he says. “There are thousands of decisions you make in building a house.”
Before finalizing the drawing, Harris meets with a landscape architect, then with the interior designer. “I’ll modify my plan in conjunction with them,” he says of the collaborative process.
The homeowner also needs to realize there are going to be issues throughout the design and construction. It’s in managing those problems where an architect earns his keep.
“Cost is a four-letter word,” says Harris. “You might be able to do something yourself to save money but, more often than not, by the time you learn from your mistakes, whatever savings there were have been negated. Using skilled people, you pay a little more, but you only pay once.”
This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. July 17 to correct Roy Guderian’s name.