The Southern Architect

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5 Lessons I Learned From A. Hays Town

A. Hays Town was a renowned and legendary southern Architect from Baton Rouge, LA. He also just happened to be the man who gave me my first job in architecture and would become my friend and professional mentor. My office was next door to his and we would often work late into the night, as well as many weekends at his home on Stanford Ave. in Baton Rouge. Much of what I know today, I can trace directly back to Mr. Town. He demanded a great deal from me, but I learned something new every day with Mr. Town. Some of those lessons will stay with me forever.

5 Lessons I Learned From A. Hays Town

1. Building A Home Is Personal For Clients, And Should Be Rewarding

Mr. Town was not necessarily the most gregarious of people. In fact, he rarely lavished praise on anyone. But he valued his relationships with clients above almost anything else. To him, the relationship was more than architect to owner. It was from Mr. Town that I learned designing and building a home is a shared life experience – intimate, real and palpable. I experience real joy in seeing my designs inspire and I take great pride in broadening the imaginations and creative horizons of my clients. Mr. Town gave his clients more than a design and a home, he gave them an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives. I strive to do the same.

2. Color Is Key…

Mr. Town had a wonderful sense of color. Unlike a lot of architects, he would consider the intensity of a whitewash or the color of a shutter well before ever breaking ground on a new home. Color was never an afterthought for Mr. Town. To this day, I still mix our own colors and stains – making subtle adjustments most would barely notice. I’ve even found myself instructing one of our long-time painters to match the color of a clump of mud. Once, after trying to explain a particular shade of color I used on a home years ago, one of our painters bent over and pointed at a stain on his pants. “This is the paint we used on that house Mr. Al.” He was right.

3. …And So Is Proportion & Scale

Above everything else, Mr. Town taught me good design begins and ends with proportion and scale. Windows, doors, porches, everything, must always be in perfect proportion to the structure. It sounds obvious, but it’s much more often done wrong than right. When done perfectly, a layperson will invariably be attracted to it, but not know why. Our eyes are attracted to perfect proportion, and our brains connect to proper scale. But designers who truly understand real proportion and scale are few and far between.

When it came to getting it right, Mr. Town would tell me to “draw it where it looks good and then dimension it on your plans.” Today, 99% of architects dimension first on a computer and then draw it. You can’t design proportion and scale on a computer – it interrupts the direct relationship from your brain to your heart to your hand. Putting graphite to paper is the only way to feel it, to know it. Proper proportion and scale is either right, or its wrong. There is no in between.


Mr. Town and Al pose for a Christmas photo


A. Hays Town at work

4. Details Make The Difference

Often after arriving at Mr. Town’s home, he would excitedly take me into a room and ask me if I noticed something different. Mr. Town had a habit of constantly changing the smallest details in his home. Sometimes it was a subtle change in the paint color, other times he had moved a lamp or added a small side table. Mr. Town saw things that others just couldn’t see. He wanted to know if I could do the same and if I understood the importance of every detail in a design.

The difference between a great design and a good design is in the details, no matter how small. In our homes, we ensure materials and products marry perfectly with the house down to the smallest detail – its style, scale and proportion. No detail was ever too small for Mr. Town, nor is it for me, nor should it be for any architect.

5. Furniture Completes The Architecture

And not just furniture – art, appliances, lighting and other elements of a home that most architects simply leave to the owners or an interior designer. Not Mr. Town. He obsessed over finding the perfect chair, table and lamp for every room. Rugs, window treatments, appliances and faucets – nothing escaped Mr. Town’s discerning eye. Though, not quite as demonstratively as Mr. Town once did, I do the same thing today. Because of Mr. Town, I carry on the love of fine antique furniture and how the right choice completes a house. I know a great and valuable piece of art when I see one.

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