Designer Friday: An ASPIRE Exclusive Interview With Andrew Cogar

This week’s #DesignerFriday is the iconic architecture firm Historical Concepts’ own Andrew Cogar. In a chat with Andrew Joseph, Cogar talks about finding dream homes on Netflix, lessons learned in the army, and what it means to be unique.

Afternoon delight! A poolside garden breathes life into this stunning luxury home.

Andrew Joseph: What is the last book you read?
Andrew Cogar: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. An unapologetic architecture and design geek, I am fascinated by all of the elements of design, and that includes the design of our firm and how the creative design process can be harnessed and maximized amongst a group of over 40 different, highly creative individuals. This book was recommended to me by one of my colleagues and it greatly influenced how we go about our own design process. We are very focused on how we design our projects and also on how we communicate (both internally and externally) so that we are working in a meaningful, thoughtful, and deliberate way. I found Ed Catmull’s honesty and candor about Pixar’s process to be an extremely helpful guide to our own pursuit of design excellence and ensuring that, as our practice evolves, we are honoring the values and culture upon which the firm was founded almost four decades ago.

AJ: If you could live in any home in a movie or television series, what would it be?
AC: Choosing a movie or television series I would live in is easy—“The Crown” is my clear favorite! The show has so many incredible sets and homes that it’s hard to choose just one. But what may be surprising is that none of the palaces, castles or royal homes are my favorites. Although they are all visually stunning, my eye is drawn to the more accessible and charming spaces.

My first choice is the converted garage/carriage house loft of Antony Armstrong Jones (Princess Margaret’s love interest in Season 2). The spaces are sparse but gorgeously styled with incredible materials and textures—wood, iron, and plaster. The windows are wonderful in scale, proportion, and modern industrial detailing. And the stairway/ladder leading to the loft is modern and classic all at the same time. It would be my ideal London home, hands down.

My second choice would be to live in the flat occupied by Mike and Eileen Parker (one of Queen Elizabeth’s antagonists in Season 2). While the circumstances around these characters are far from upbeat, I found myself watching the scenes featured in their kitchen and living room several times because all I could focus on was the amazing island, freestanding shelves, and glass cabinetry. Can you tell I’m an architect?

AJ: If you weren’t an architect, you’d be a ….?
AC: That’s hard to say. I knew from a very young age that I was interested in architecture. Like most of the people in our firm, I have always loved to draw and create and this lead to a variety of early interests ranging from art, graphic design, photography, engineering, and architecture. I had some great art and science teachers that fostered these interests into passions and as I started looking at colleges, I was drawn to schools that had opportunities in all of these areas. I received an ROTC scholarship and ultimately chose to go to the University of Miami, which had an excellent architecture school as well as a great art program and engineering program. As luck would have it, architecture turned out to be the perfect blend of all of my early interests and passions and the University of Miami has a strong program—it’s one of the few architecture schools that encouraged students to explore design in classical architecture as well as regional vernacular traditions (as opposed to a pure modern focus found at most architecture schools). This, added to the program’s focus on architectural design within the context of community and urban scale, solidified my career decision and even added urban planning into the mix. It’s been a solid foundation and I love that I now get to go “back to college,” so to speak, since my colleagues at the firm and I regularly sponsor and lead upper-level studio classes on campus.

Light, texture and a canine companion make this breezeway into a work of art.

AJ: What’s the weirdest thing a client has ever asked you?
AC: I would like to think that nothing is “weird” but instead “unique.” We are problem solvers, after all! We recently had a client ask us to design a completely new home as if it was a functioning, historic bed-and-breakfast. The client even developed a complete historical narrative of the family that owned the property and the three generations that shaped the bed-and-breakfast to what it is today. This fictitious narrative could have been (and still may be) the seed to a great romance novel. But it served as the framework for the architectural creation and development of the home. It allowed us to layer in several different architectural styles and details, illustrating a generational and additive evolution of the home, turning a simple six-room, two-story East Hampton colonial farmhouse into an 8 bedroom, early 20th century East Hampton Inn. This framework of the narrative also proved highly effective in how the house functions, entertaining friends and family all summer long with the ability to come and go as they please while being able to enjoy their hosts’ hospitality in the well-appointed common rooms evocative of plush lobbies and cozy parlors found in early Victorian hotels. The clients’ guests have all remarked how comfortable and “at-home” they feel in the house and how intuitively the house is laid out. From that aspect the home feels very modern, adding to the narrative for future generations. We are very excited to be able to share the full story of this unique home (along with incredible photos of the indoor and outdoor spaces styled by the interior designer-client!) in our upcoming book due out from Rizzoli in Spring 2021.

AJ: What was your first job?
AC: Because I was an Army ROTC scholarship student, I served four years on active duty as repayment for my scholarship. While I initially viewed this as a temporary hold on the start of my architectural career, it ended up being a critically important beginning. I gained invaluable experience as a project manager, having to constantly problem-solve in real-world, high-stakes settings (both in Bosnia and Iraq). I also had to quickly learn to work with diverse groups of people to achieve a common goal. The lessons learned in these years came to bear quickly once I started my architectural career with Historical Concepts. Almost immediately I was given the opportunity from the firm’s founder, Jim Strickland, to work with builders and craftsmen in the field on two high-profile projects already under construction. Earning the builders’ trust, having to demonstrate my own competence, and being able to advance the firm’s vision on behalf of our clients had many parallels with my experiences in the army, but now with the added bonus of creating through architecture and design!

I was also fortunate that the Army was my first job for the unexpected opportunity to live and travel abroad. While stationed for three years in Bamberg Germany (in the heart of Bavaria) I was able to live in a German town with a German landlord and immerse myself in the German culture. This experience reinforced and exemplified what really makes a town livable and been incredibly informative in our work on major civic and development projects around the country. Living abroad opened my eyes to how architecture, planning, and the built environment not only affect the aesthetics of where we live, but enhance the quality of how we live. These experiences continue to shape me as the architect and planner I am today.

AJ: If you had one more hour in the day what would you do with it?
AC: Spend it with my family, or if I am away from them, then spend time drawing, painting, and sketching. With my travel schedule for work, all family time is precious, so the more the better. But if I had an extra hour to myself, it would be spent drawing. Whenever my mind wanders, or even when I am seeking focus, my hand begins to intuitively doodle architectural vignettes in the margins of every piece of paper I have in front of me. I carry a sketchbook everywhere. I would also like to focus on some Plein air watercolor sketching and painting. The great news for me is that my eight-year-old daughter loves to draw and color as well, so we recently started drawing together and have grand plans to collaborate on a children’s book. She started creating the story narrative and whether or not this ever goes anywhere, it will be time well spent—we both love it!

About The Designer | Andrew Cogar began his architectural career with Historical Concepts in 1999, after serving 3 years of active duty as a Combat Engineer Officer with the United States Army. Little did he know that his assignment overseas would forge such a strong bridge between his education and his future profession. Stationed in Bamberg, Germany, in the heart of Bavaria, Andrew was immersed in old-world urbanism, an environment that affirmed his belief in the new urbanist principles he had learned at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture. Today, he gives back to his alma mater by contributing to a series of courses that give students practical urban design and architecture experience.

Andrew has guided some of the firm’s most prominent custom residential, developer, and civic projects. He was instrumental in establishing Historical Concepts’ New York office, located in the historic St. James Building in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, and has spearheaded the development of the new Historical Concept’s Atlanta office, a new live-work building designed by the firm in the Glenwood Park community scheduled to open next year.

The firm’s work has been featured in a variety of publications including Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, the Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Southern Living, Coastal Living, among many others, and Andrew has also been recognized by the Atlanta design and business community, selected as one of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles “20 Under 40” and the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “40 Under 40” program.

Andrew has a history of leadership with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art on the national level, currently the Co-Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee and formerly serving as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Governance Committee; Andrew is also Trustee Emeritus of the ICAA’s Southeast Chapter. He was a founding member of the Atlanta chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism and is a member of the American Institute of Architects. He is also an active member of the Design Leadership Network and a sought-after speaker on the topic of traditional architecture and design.

Andrew splits his time between Atlanta and New York City.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here

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