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YP Corner: Interview with Kelly Mitchell, AIA
Ever wonder what members of the Dallas AIA Board of Directors do and how they got there? I recently had the chance to have coffee with Kelly Mitchell, AIA, Director of Advocacy, to talk design, work-life balance, and career advice for young architects.
What first made you want to get into architecture?
That’s a good question because I went to college not sure of what I wanted to do. I always loved math and art--I painted as a kid--so architecture seemed the perfect marriage of the two. After my first semester of college, I sat down with my counselor and went through career options. Before long it became apparent that I was drawn to all things architecture. So, I left his office, went straight to the enrollment office, and I never looked back!
What drew you to restaurant and hospitality design, and specifically residential?
I worked for a well-established small firm when I got out of school. They did everything from hotels to fire stations to healthcare. It was a great start for me because I was exposed to all aspects of architecture… Not only how to plan a project, but how to draw it and to get it built. But I knew I wanted experience with more custom materials and design, so I decided to find a place where I could work on smaller projects and work directly with contractors and craftsmen. The scale of the project, almost more than the project type, is really what drew me to restaurant and residential design.
Who was your favorite architect when you started your career, and who is your favorite designer now?
I’ll always be a big fan of Renzo Piano (in fact we named our cat after him!), but now I really admire Tom Kundig. His attention to detail, materials, and the mechanics of how things work… I can’t get enough of it!
What drives you to keep going in architecture? What gets you up in the morning?
I love design and I like being able to orchestrate the relationship between clients, consultants, and contractors. Plus, I have to say, I love seeing our stuff built.
What does being a “citizen architect” mean to you, and how can we all strive to do that?
On a high level, that can mean leveraging the resources the AIA offers to change things for the better. One thing I did to learn what was going on in our city was to join the AIA Dallas Public Policy Committee. I’ve learned a lot about how the city functions and how we as architects can influence policies and make a difference. Now that we, as an organization, are more well known at City Hall, politicians and leaders have begun looking to us for opinions on issues.
As Director of Advocacy on the AIA Dallas Board of Directors, what does your role entail?
All of the committees I work with focus on representing the AIA Dallas Chapter to the public and engaging the community. So from the Tour of Homes to Education Outreach, I serve as those committee’s liaison to the Board. As a Board, we are trying to promote transparency among the chapter.
As an accomplished female architect, what advice do you have for women young professionals beginning their careers in design?
Don’t be afraid to try different things, whether it be project types or firm sizes. It may take a while to find your niche and that’s okay. Work hard, but also make time for yourself. Take your vacation time! Do not waste it. The world will not fall apart while you are gone.
How would you describe your design style?
I would consider myself in the “less is more” camp, and certainly modern. I’m detail-oriented, for sure, but for the most part, I think simple is best. Things may not be that easy to put together, but I want the design to look like it was effortless. I believe in keeping a simple material palette and using those throughout. I try to stay away from ‘trendy’… Timelessness is a goal.
As a small business owner I’m sure it’s tough balancing work and life--how do you do it?
It is, as I have a hard time turning work off in my head. Since Sean (my husband) has joined me, it’s helped. He’s much better about turning things off and walking away, and he encourages me to do the same. As far as work/life balance, I think we do a pretty good job at it. We get out of town and travel as often as we can.
As a big traveler outside of work--where is your favorite place in the world to visit?
It’s usually wherever we’ve been to last! Most recently was Italy; we went to Umbria and Puglia, in the “heel” of the boot. It was very interesting and different from other parts of Italy I’ve visited. But I’d have to say my favorite places are a little more exotic. About five years ago we went to Vietnam. It’s very beautiful, and such a different culture than what we’re used to. I’m one that likes to explore and do things that take me out of my comfort zone.
Licensed architect and founding partner of Mitchell Garman Architects, Kelly’s design foundation is high-end hospitality. After graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oklahoma, she gained experience with a variety of building types, ranging from hospitals to hotels to houses. In 1997 she chose to focus her talents on restaurant and hospitality design.
In 2006 she launched her own firm to notoriety and critical acclaim. Her celebrated designs of neighborhood restaurants have received accolades from D Magazine, Texas Monthly, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and New York Times, among others. Her visionary ideas and attention to detail at residential design have also been rewarded. The Labron Residence received awards from ED+C (Environmental Design + Construction) Excellence in Design and EcoHome Design Awards and has been featured in Design Bureau Magazine and Luxe Interiors + Design. Premiere residences were featured on the Dallas AIA Tour of Homes in 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2016.
Kelly also sits on various committees and boards of numerous local organizations, including the Dallas Chapter of AIA, the Texas Society of Architects, and the North Texas chapter of Docomomo. She strives to be a citizen architect of the community. Travelling is her number one passion, while playing tennis is a close second.