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BiS profile: Brian Felder, CEO of Felder & Associates

CEO of Felder & Associates

where did you grow up?

“I grew up in Virginia Beach, Va.”

what college did you attend?

“I graduated from Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Architecture.”

what made you decide to go into this field?

“As a child, it never occurred to me to do anything else but architecture. My earliest recollection in pursuing this career is that I had to write a book report in fifth or sixth grade. I picked the book ‘Masters of Modern Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Corbusier and Walter Gropius.’

“After reading that book, I started drawing a lot of straight lines. My favorite toy, of course, was Legos.”

where else have you worked?

“My first job out of school was at Hansen Architects in Savannah. Paul Hansen was kind enough to offer me a position, and I got to work with great people and meet great contacts. I worked there from 1989 to 1998. Then, in 1998, I started my own firm, Poticny Deering Felder, which, in 2006, merged with another firm and became Greenline Architecture. In 2012, I decided to go out on my own and started this firm, Felder & Associates.”

what year did you start this business?

“I started Felder & Associates in November 2012 with four employees. We’re up to six full-time employees and one intern now.”

what services or products does the business offer?

“Felder & Associates offers architectural interior design and historic preservation services.”

what awards or certifications have you won?

“We have won multiple awards from the Historic Savannah Foundation, including the HSF Award for the United Community Bank on Johnson Square. This project was a partial restoration along with adaptive reuse. Most of our award work has been for adaptive reuse.”

what are your hobbies?

“I enjoy target shooting, bird hunting (quail, turkey, pheasant release), fishing with my kids and canoeing and boating with my wife and kids.”

tell us about your family

“I have been married for 18 years. My wife, Denise, is from Savannah and is employed as a teacher. We met on a blind date and married a couple of years later. We have three children: Joseph, 10, Jack, 12, and Mary Esther, 14.”

what are three interesting facts we didn’t know about you?

“1. I realize the fleeting time I have with my children so I try to do things with them together and individually. I am most happy spending time with my kids.

“2. I have never lived away from the coast.

“3. I enjoy working on projects that are privately owned, where people are invested emotionally.”

what are the biggest business lessons you have learned over the years?

“The biggest lesson I have learned is contrary to the opinions most people have about architects.

“I want my clients to know they’re not coming to me for my vision, I’m supposed to be listening to them. I need to be quiet, look for a common visual language and make sure I understand what they’re saying.

“It’s my job to bring about their vision and turn it into something in the built environment. Being quiet and listening is a big deal. Some think you’re supposed to be an expert and tell the clients what they need, but I don’t agree with that. Humility is a good thing.”

what do you wish you had known back then?

“The biggest lesson is that’s not about me but about my clients. I can only provide satisfaction by delivering what they want. If a client asks for something that I believe is a mistake, I will tell them so, and give them reasons why I feel that way.

“My job is to advise them, but it’s their job to make the decision. Another lesson is not to get excited about a potential project. Until you get a check, it’s not real work.”

why did you decide to start a new business?

“When I started Felder & Associates in 2012, I decided this time around that I wanted to do this for myself. I wanted to work on projects in my own way rather than manage a large firm. … My focus is not about managing other people. Establishing this small firm was a means of returning to the creative work I enjoy.

“I can now work on five or six projects instead of 20, and this smaller scope allows me to get into design and construction aspects as well. For 10 to 15 years my focus was on growing my business, but that didn’t make me happy. I enjoy what I’m doing now.”

what types of projects do you like to do?

“I like to work on commercial projects such as churches and private office facilities, as well as houses. These projects have a linking thread, a personal connection to the owner. I believe there is a need for sensitivity in design to bring about my client’s vision. I like the emotional connection to the work.

“Designing a church is just like designing a single family house, but for 200 people. The emotional connection is just as strong, but you have to broker a solution that everyone can live with in the end.”

what key processes do you use for your projects?

“We have a catch phrase called “adaptive reuse,” which means we are breathing new life into an old building. I do like the contrast of a modern or contemporary addition to an historic building. I don’t care for replicating.”

what are some of your favorite projects?

“One of our new restoration projects is a restaurant, The Grey, at 109 Martin Luther King. This was Savannah’s original Greyhound Bus Depot, designed by George Brown, which opened in 1939. The building was later occupied by an automobile dealership and then a café.

“It had been vacant since 2002. It has sleek lines, a style similar to Art Deco often called Streamline Moderne. The restoration preserved the curved glass window and blue and white facade that made the property a landmark and includes a marquee sign similar to one that once hung on the facade.

“Recently, we were asked to work on a project for the Levy family. This was an interesting residential venture where the client actually pushed us to be more expressive in the design. Needless to say, our creative minds welcomed the challenge and this quickly became one of our favorites to work on.

“This historic Tybee Island property, located beach side of Butler on Eighth Street, has sheltered three generations of the Levy family. The unique design updates included incorporating green and solar passive elements to catch breezes and shield direct sunlight.”