Whether it be in business or personal life, we don’t believe success is ever accidental. Success requires hard work, vision, and commitment. Entering this world with a healthy dash of natural talent surely doesn’t hurt either! A quick scroll through Jeffrey Dungan‘s Instagram feed shows that he embodies every last one of those elements, and a rocking sense of humor to boot. Devoted father, poetic writer, photography aficionado…and did we mention insanely talented architect? These are just a few of the reasons we’re thrilled to bring you today’s interview with Jeffrey! Scroll on for the latest from The Finer Points, our series dedicated to the exploration of great minds.
Jeffrey is the 2018 recipient of the Palladio Award, AKA the only national award for classical architecture, and has designed a number of the world’s most beautiful, thoughtfully-designed homes. While he credits much of his success to luck, we beg to differ.
Jeffrey has been honored with numerous awards beyond the Palladio, including being named the 2017 Southeast Architect of the Year by Veranda magazine and ADAC, as well as being named a Shutze fellow in 2015 by The Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.
In his newly-released book, The Nature of Home: Creating Timeless Houses, Jeffrey shares how a childhood surrounded by the beauty of nature continues to influence his work. He writes, “Always my desire is for the house to merge with earth to form a new expression, one where both the man-made and God-made become one.”
Read on to learn more about Jeffrey’s journey to architecture and what lies on the horizon for Jeffrey Dungan Architects.
Marie Flanigan: We discovered each other on Instagram a few years back and it has been such a joy getting to know you and your work! You design incredibly compelling homes – a task that you make look very easy. The quote that opens your website is so compelling: “In the pursuit of simplicity, I’ve found a lot of complexity must be mastered first.” Can you share the significance behind that thought?
Jeffrey Dungan: So, I love simple, and when people say something is elegant, I find that simplicity is usually in there somewhere. I describe the pursuit of simplicity like a beautiful golf swing – lyrical and sweeping and natural in appearance, gentle and winsome. But if you’ve ever tried to swing a golf club you realize quickly just how far from intuitive that really is. Same for a beautiful dancer or ballerina. So, it is only with much work and practice that something like that becomes or appears to be “easy,” because it’s anything but.
MF: I read that you unearthed a love for drawing and art at a very young age. What was your experience like growing up in rural Alabama and how does that experience continue to influence your work today?
JD: Well, I talk about this in depth in the beginning of my book. We are all formed in some ways by how we grew up. As I began to dig into my own life journey searching for the “whys” of who I came to be and how I came to think as a designer, it was these seminal experiences of being steeped in nature at a young age that deeply influenced who I am today. The drawing always came as a joyful and natural process to me. My mother seized on it and pressed me into art classes as a young teenager and somehow it stuck. I became very fascinated by the mid-century artists, and classical art, as well, and it just put me on a course, I think, that led me eventually to architecture, but art will always be my passion. Creating emotion and, in some ways, mystery.
MF: Can you share a few details about your professional journey? Where did you study and who did you work with before opening Jeffrey Dungan Architects?
JD: So I just happened to be accepted (based largely on my artwork and not grades) into the architecture program at Auburn University. After working for other firms for 10 years after college, I had a desire to try it on my own and find my own way of practicing architecture.
MF: You mention that rooms should elicit emotional and visceral responses from the people who experience them. What 2 – 3 elements do you believe a home must have in order to realize that response?
JD: It really isn’t any one particular thing. I think it’s about making a point to create experiences with a desired outcome of emotion of one kind or another. If you think of creating a home that gives us places where we can feel cozy and intimate, or free and open, or elegant and sophisticated, then you begin to make decisions in a very different way. Human beings are extremely complex things.
MF: How long does it generally take for you to design a home? Do you find that there is a common message or melody weaving through the homes you design regardless of when they were completed?
JD: Well, it takes a long time in some ways, but its not something you really want to rush through. It’s a process and it has to be thoughtful, but it’s not rocket science either. In fact, it’s an art. I hope these places possess some sense of qualities like timelessness and mystery, and an air of things from the past that feel familiar.
MF: How has your stylistic approach/point of view changed over time?
JD: I think experience, for me, is the best teacher. I learned from my clients, from travels, and from being deeply curious for decades about the craft of architecture, design, and psychology. My approach and views are still changing. I believe in not staying in the same mental place. Even if it’s a good one, it can get better. It’s also important to me to have multiple languages you can speak architecturally.
MF: You received the Palladio Award this year (CONGRATULATIONS!) and continue to receive praise from design connoisseurs worldwide. What do you believe makes your work resonate with so many?
JD: I don’t really know, this is for others to say. But it is and has been an encouragement to see our work celebrated by groups like the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture. The Palladio Award was a big surprise. I never considered myself a strict classicist, but I have a different understanding of what the word classical means. To me, it isn’t only about Corinthian columns or architraves and Greek and Roman orders. It has more to do with being part of the momentum of tradition and history of architecture. Creating a human proportion and thoughtfulness and restraint in the work.
MF: We adore your new book! Did you enjoy the book development process? What did that process entail?
JD: I did overall, but it was not a comfortable creative thing to do. I wanted to write it myself because I do love writing, but I am not trained as a writer, so it came out in a stream of consciousness kind of way, and then took a lot of work to form into more coherent and readable words. I began the journey about five years ago, so it wasn’t a brief undertaking, but I am most pleased that it inspires people. I have received notes from people in Russia, Australia, Norway, and Africa about how it affected them. For me, that has made it worth all the effort. Having the work memorialized in a way that will last long after I am gone is poignant and powerful to me.
MF: Are there 3 – 5 key factors that you feel have led to the success of your firm?
JD: I have no idea. I try to do really good work, but am probably the luckiest person I have ever heard of. I have some amazing people that work with me every day, some for 10, maybe 15 and up to 20 years. I believe in people and honoring them. There is an army of people behind all of these projects that make them amazing, it’s not really about me.
MF: What’s next for you and the JDA team?
JD: Well, we are all still learning and getting better. We are now working all over the world, so there are a lot of challenges with how to do that effectively while not losing things in the translations to other languages, construction methods, metric systems, and so forth. But what a neat thing to grapple with and a great challenge to adapt to. I am excited about all the things we are doing, and finding ways to do them better and better. We are having fun! It is an adventure, this life, and a huge and incalculable blessing.
MF: How exciting! We can’t wait to see more from you and wish you all the very best with each and every adventure.