A lot can happen in 25 years. You can grow a family. Grow a business. Grow a head of gray hair.
This year is Jones Pierce’s twenty-fifth anniversary, and we’ve grown considerably since 1998. Our big milestone has me reflecting on what our business was like when we first started it and how we’ve moved through two-plus rather dynamic decades to become the architectural firm we are today.
If you know me personally or know our business at all, I still hope you can pick up something new — even inspiring — from this brief recap covering 25 years.
First, Let’s Go Way, Way Back
My interest in architecture began at a young age when I explored the world of design through encyclopedias (remember those?) and many trips to the library. When I discovered the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, my mind opened to the possibilities of overlapping spaces in open plans, the juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal planes and multi‐level interior spaces. This was when my lifelong love affair with spatial organization and manipulation was born.
Following my graduation from Auburn University’s School of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1985, I worked for some of Atlanta’s most prominent commercial interior design and architectural firms.
Fast Forward to Late 1997
In 1997, I was in my mid-30s and working for a large architectural firm in Atlanta. I’d been an architect for more than 10 years and was being considered to become an associate at a local firm. This was a turning point for me. Because once you become an associate of a firm, getting the promotion and pay benefits that go with it, there’s an expectation you’ll be there for the long term.
I’d thought about going out on my own before, but I had a lot to consider. My wife was pregnant with our second child, and we were in the midst of a home renovation.
I was being pulled two ways. Do I take a leap of faith and go on my own or stay at the firm?
I was at a point in my career when I had to make a choice to continue in the corporate world of architecture and start climbing the “management ladder” with strings attached — or take a leap of faith and start my own firm. This coincided with a serendipitous situation where a demanding client wanted me to design a house, but I had no extra time to do it. Knowing a former college colleague who was on his own doing residential design, I asked him (Bryan Jones) if he would be willing to assist.
This collaboration led to discussions about helping Bryan with a commercial project and a business partnership. And the rest is history.
Early Days of Jones Pierce
Initially, Jones Pierce was a three-person firm with a part-time bookkeeper. Soon, we added a fourth employee. Some of our earliest work paired us with commercial building owners who wanted to renovate and rebrand properties. With my commercial architecture background, this was a natural fit for me — and so was the follow-on work, which included a corporate office project for Pope and Land Enterprises. Then, what I’d consider to be my first big job for Jones Pierce, was for World Travel Partners in Peachtree City. (Learn more about these two projects here and here.)
We were off to the races!
First Five Years
Our business started growing as more and more projects came in. Bryan focused on the residential part of the business, and I ran the commercial side. (It’s how we’re aligned today.)
Word spread about Jones Pierce, and we hired more people to keep up with the demand. It was exciting to be part of a growing firm. And knowing we were building a solid reputation felt good, too.
When Disaster Strikes
In 2007-2008, everything went to *&%!. The financial crisis hit our country, our region and our business. Projects were losing funding right and left. Our team was up to about a dozen people by then, and we had to downsize to four. Thankfully, we were hired for the Monastery project (shown above), which helped sustain us through these years.
Within a few years, things were beginning to stabilize, thankfully. Work started coming in. Multifamily housing was in demand, and that need helped feed the commercial side of our business. Once again, we began doing renovation work related to renewed interest in intown Atlanta. People would buy investment properties, either homes or commercial structures, and want to renovate or expand single-family homes or convert buildings into lofts for offices or individuals.
It was a renaissance of sorts, and we were in the thick of it. Working on revitalization projects was fulfilling, even when the projects came with their inherent challenges — zoning, historical preservation and the like. But we loved doing this type of work back then and still enjoy it today.
Our company grew steadily from about 2017 to 2020, and so did our portfolio. And we welcomed a few more people to join the Jones Pierce team.
COVID-19’s Impact – the Good, the Bad
We all know what happened in spring 2020. Some (but not all) of the projects we’d been working on slowed down due to funding or other pandemic-related reasons. But the residential side of our business picked up with more people spending 24 hours a day at home and wanting to refresh or expand their surroundings or finally build the lake house they’d been dreaming about.
The then-governor of Georgia declared construction and related businesses an essential service, so, overall, our business didn’t suffer too greatly. I only worked from home for a month, and then I was back in the office.
Jones Pierce Architects Today
Today, our business is on solid footing. Both sides of our company are growing. I’m thankful our business is diversified, project-wise, as we didn’t take a huge hit from the pandemic.
Speaking for the commercial side of Jones Pierce, in a typical year, about 30% of the work we do is multifamily housing (apartments, townhomes and such). About 15% comes from new construction, and 10% is interior design work. That leaves about 45% for a mix of projects that include work on offices, restaurants, institutions and nonprofits.
What’s important for us to do today as business owners and architects isn’t all that different than it was over the past two-plus decades:
- We take our fiduciary responsibility seriously. We work diligently to manage the financial side of our business and also the monies our residential and commercial clients use for their projects.
- We challenge and motivate our team and are inspired by them. Meet our fantastic team.
- We do great work but never think too highly of ourselves. There’s always something to learn, no matter how experienced you are.
- We advise clients and share our expertise as we explain how our services can help them. And we listen a lot, too. Ours is a client-focused business, after all.
- We interact with a wide variety of stakeholders. From neighborhood associations to assorted zoning review boards and city departments, we interface with people who grant approval for residential and commercial projects. Gaining buy-in is a big part of what we do on the commercial side of Jones Pierce’s business.
- We treat our partners as VIPs. We work with a whole host of people — engineers, construction managers, general contractors and more. We can’t do what we do without their expertise; we value these partnerships.
- We still get excited about the work we do. There’s always some new material, technology, approach or client need that keeps us on our toes.
- We’re patient and know how to persevere. Some of our projects, especially commercial ones, can take multiple years. There are fits and starts and go-back-to-square-one moments. On a bad day, these delays can make you want to punch a wall. On other days, we sigh and say, Que sera, sera.
I think about the future of Jones Pierce a lot these days. I know at some point, I’ll step back and let others lead. I love to travel and spend time with my family. And I’m a grandfather now. But for now, it’s business as usual.
Even though I can’t say for sure what our company will be like five years from now, let alone 25, I know its future is bright. I’m proud of what Bryan, our team and I built and are grateful for Jones Pierce’s regional reputation. I think my 12-year-old self would think my life is pretty cool.
If you have any fun memories of working with me or the Jones Pierce team over the years, email me or message me on LinkedIn or Facebook. Or tell me when I see you, as I’d love to add your thoughts to my mental scrapbook!
Happy twenty-fifth anniversary to us! Here’s to what comes next …