Interview: “Best of Chicago” Award-winning Morgante Wilson Architects - Co-Principal, Fred Wilson
Interview: “Best of Chicago” Award-winning Residential Architectural Firm's Co-Principal, Fred Wilson on Working with Clients
As architects, being interviewed is always an interesting experience, as it gives us a chance to reflect on why we opened our doors, what we’re good at – and even, what we wish we could change. If you’d like to know what we think but don’t always say – and what keep us up at night – read on!
You were recently honored with the “Best of Chicago” Reader’s Choice Award by CS + Modern Luxury. That’s a nice way to celebrate your thirtieth year in business!
It sure is. There’s a big party in our future – not only is the firm celebrating our thirtieth anniversary as architects in Chicago, but Elissa and I are celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary, too.
Aside from being led by a husband-and-wife team, what do you think separates Morgante-Wilson from other firms?
We really mean it when we say our interior design and architecture clients are the most important thing. Everyone says that, but for us, it’s really important that we become teammates with our clients. We really want to capture their dreams, not just fulfill their needs for space. We’re good listeners, and we understand what a solemn responsibility it is to create a client’s dream home. We continually convey that to our staff. Elissa and I get excited about that, and I think it becomes infectious.
How much of that is due to you and Elissa working side by side?
A lot of it, actually. When you hire us, you get two partners on your project, which is kind of unusual – and in our case, really good. That’s because we come at design from two different ends. I’m more formal, historical, and process-oriented. Elissa is more organic and atmospheric in terms of what a residential project’s unique vibe should be. We don’t do the same thing - I come up with the initial idea and how a house will look on the outside, plus its layout and room adjacencies. Then Elissa merges in and begins to create the experience of what the space feels like and what it looks like on the inside – the colors, textures, and materials. Together, we join two distinct perspectives to make every project richer than it would have been with just one of us on board. We critique each other all the time. We respect each other’s talents. And we form a real synergy between architecture and interior design because we work together from the get-go.
What should clients know about working with an architect?
If you’re going to hire us, you have to trust us and not inhibit the process. There’s never a right or wrong way to do architecture and design – there are always several ways to approach a problem, and you have to be able to sort of flow through it. If you can trust that you and your architect are partners, and are in this together, you can enjoy it. I love going to meetings. I love talking with you, joking around, hearing about your kids, and learning about you. If you let me in and trust me, we can dig deeper and make the whole experience more meaningful.
Tell us one thing you love clients to do.
We love it when clients say thank you. It’s a really nice thing to do. We’re working with clients right now who are pushing us really hard – which is totally okay with us, because at the end of every conversation they thank us for the effort. They appreciate what we do, which makes us want to do even more for them.
Is there anything you wish clients would do less of?
That’s a tricky one. But to be honest, it goes back to trust. We know you can stay up all night looking at faucets on Pinterest. Or, you can trust us to show you the three faucets we’ve know will look best in your bathroom and pick one of them. That’s one of the reasons you hired us – let us weed through all the designs we know won’t look so great so we can present you the three choices we know will look fantastic.
What else can clients do to make the most of working with you?
Make time for the process so you can really engage in it and enjoy it. Make time to go on a date with your spouse to review plans, or decide questions, before you come to our meetings. Some clients just want us to call them when everything’s done and tell them their house is ready. We can do that, but then the experience isn’t as deep – for them or for us. We need to be challenged a little.
Speaking of challenges, what are you most looking forward to over the next thirty years?
Not working as hard, to be honest! We’re at the point where we can decide which projects we want to take on. We love working for friends, and repeat clients, and anyone who really gets it – people who understand everything we’ve just talked about, and really want to celebrate architecture. Elissa and I love to travel, and we love being with each other, but I don’t see us ever not doing architecture. It’s in our DNA, and we’ll probably be doing it forever.
Since we plan to be around for a while, give us a call to see how we might help you design the home of your dreams!
Fred Wilson, AIA
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