Frederick Stelle, Michael Lomont, and Viola Rouhani are the trio behind the Bridgehampton based architectural firm, Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects. Founding partner Stelle, brings with him 40 years of experience, including designing educational campuses, art facilities, and private residences.
However, what makes this team truly unique is its strong advocation for sustainability. Stelle is a long-time conservationist as a trustee of the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Lomont is a strong supporter of the Peconic Land Trust, and Rouhani is dedicated to showcasing local surroundings.
With previous work abroad in Switzerland, Spain, and China, S.L.R. currently executes projects in the rural Northeast, Manhattan, Florida, the Gulf Coast, and Antigua. Members of the American Institute of Architects Peconic Chapter, with Rouhani on the executive committee, S.L.R. stays true to its vision in its work.
What is your company philosophy?
ROUHANI: We believe in a low-key, non-invasive, and low maintenance approach to both design and construction. We’re inspired by natural forms and materials, and we strive to create environments that respect and celebrate the beauty and fragility of the natural landscape. Our philosophy is to create timeless, sustainable buildings that reduce the impact of new architecture on the environment. Our process is a collaborative, inquisitive, and rigorous one.
What’s the story behind your coming together?
ROUHANI: After several years of working in the city, Fred Stelle moved east and started the firm. In those days, Stelle was not only doing design, but also had a small construction company associated with the practice. He was one of the few architects out here who was exploring modern, sustainable buildings, something he had been doing since the start of his career.
About 10 years later, Michael Lomont moved to the area from Washington, D.C. He shared many of the same interests, and upon coming to work for Stelle, quickly became an indispensable part of the operation. Lomont also has a background in construction as well as a strong interest in modern work.
I came here from the Bay Area, via NYC. I come from a strong design background, having previously worked on a range of institutional and commercial projects. Once out here, I was immediately encouraged by others that the only like-minded person to consider working with on the East End was Fred Stelle.
It was a natural fit, and Lomont and I became studio mates. It was not long before Stelle recognized how integral we were in carrying the vision, design, and construction forward, and the partnership was formed. Although we each hail from different backgrounds, we all have similar strengths including our approach to design and how to manage an office. This is especially true in developing and retaining a talented and capable staff.
What made you decide to move from NYC to the East End?
STELLE: Growing up and working on farms, living on a dirt road and in a rural environment informed my love of the outdoors and the relationship of structures to it. Ancestors, who were whalers, fed my love of the sea and made the coastal environment a compelling place for me to work and live. The natural beauty of the waters, the land, and the bounty of food and experiences from both confirmed my belief in our responsibility for its stewardship.
The final draw was the opportunity to work on projects of modest scale and duration, personal in use, and interacting with the landscape.
How has partnering with each other helped you grow professionally?
ROUHANI: We believe that our broad and varied professional experience has been an underlying component of our continued success. Lomont is a committed modernist with more than 25 years of design and construction experience, including founding and managing the design/build division of SLR. Myself, having worked for both large and small design firms, came with a lot of collaborative experience, not only in terms of working with other designers, but consultants and clients alike.
We have learned from each other, and we rely on each other as sounding boards for every aspect of the practice. We often have differing points of views, which forces us to think outside of ourselves. The result has helped us and our firm grow.
Why did each of you get into the industry?
STELLE: The farming life is a hands-on one and architecture is a natural progression from maintaining our environment to planning and crafting it. There never was a moment where I said, “Aha! That’s what I want to do.”
It simply evolved from my education: the love of literature and works in art and architecture, designing and building small objects, renovating and building structures with my family and friends to an understanding and innate sense of the way structures should be and should not be! Like many big decisions in my life, it happened because it felt almost inevitably right.
ROUHANI: I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an architect. It may sound cliché, but combined interests in art and math led me here. I’ve always been a creative person, but I also like the rigor that real constraints impose on design.
At some point early in my career, I considered switching to a less restrictive design-oriented field, but quickly realized how much I would miss the constant problem solving and variety of things I get to think about. On any given day, I might be figuring out the best place to site a building, interpreting codes, negotiating a contract, picking out floor finishes, and still finding time to sketch by hand.
LOMONT: I have always been involved in building things. [I worked] in construction and carpentry nearly all of my summers and before I decided to go to graduate school, architecture and design seemed like a natural progression.
What makes your company so successful as a unit?
ROUHANI: Even though our backgrounds are varied, the three of us share a very similar mindset when it comes to design and process. This was pretty clear early on and quickly developed naturally. While we are not always all involved in the same project at any given time, the work is seamless. We have a real studio environment, and everyone in the office is part of this effort.
We encourage everybody at all experience levels to contribute to the success of a project. We expect everyone to be vested and feel ownership in the work that we do. Everyone has different strengths but overall, running a well-balanced office where everyone shares ideas and mentors each other has been ideal.
What would you say your signature approach is?
ROUHANI: We pride ourselves on not being signature architects. Each project deserves its own solution. While there may be consistency in terms of the sensibility of our design and the attention to detail in our projects, we always take our first cues from the setting, the program, and the client’s needs. First and foremost is respecting the land and the environment, looking for sustainable approaches, and crafting solutions that have an inevitable quality.
We start the design process without any preconceived ideas. We are very conscious of not wanting the architecture to compete with the environment in any way, and instead see our buildings as an opportunity to create a sustainable place from which clients, their families, friends, and guests may enjoy the surroundings.
Describe the difference in approaching an architectural project vs. an interior design one?
ROUHANI: The overall process is very much the same. When we start designing a structure, we immediately consider the interiors and furnishings. An interior project needs to have a similar design rigor to be successful. In each case we are telling a story that has to do with this site, this climate, and this person, family, etc. The interior work is simply happening at a different scale.
Working with our own interior design division, headed by Eleanor Donnelly, is always a pleasure, because we are all on the same page from the start. She is very much in tune with the overall design concept at hand, reinforcing it down to the smallest detail.
How does the East End inspire the firm?
ROUHANI: The East End is a continuous source of inspiration. It inspires us to celebrate its natural beauty by sustaining what’s here. It inspires us to be responsible and forward thinking in terms of specifying systems, many of them now mandated by code, such as the low nitrogen septic systems, to try to reverse some of the damage that is occurring to the water. Ultimately, we are all here because of the unique place in the world this is, and we are inspired to do our part to keep it that way. We aim to tread lightly. We seek collaborators, landscape architects, and others who share a similar mindset.
Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects is located at 48 Foster Avenue, PO Box 3002 in Bridgehampton. Visit www.stelleco.com for more information or call 631-537-0019.