We had the good fortune of connecting with Sara and Andrew Barnes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sara and Andrew, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
To answer this question we have to step back to define success to us. We like to think of design success as envisioning places where people thrive, while meeting and exceeding the parameters of each client’s project and business goals. We can toot our own horn and market all day long, but our work is – in the end – what says the most about our success. It speaks to our personality and values as a company. Although we have only been operating for a handful of years, we already have numerous repeat clients. That is a signal to us that we are doing something right. We think of it pretty simply: just question the status quo. In retail and commercial projects of the scale we work on, so many of the existing buildings out there are quite mundane. We are proud to create compelling architectural solutions that our clients resonate with and that set them apart from the crowd. We are committed to going beyond the normative solutions to create distinctive and elegant buildings that serve their occupants.
What should our readers know about your business?
What do we want people to know about us? We are fun! We will be your friends as well as your architects. Unless you don’t want that, in which case we will be only your architects. We are proud that all of our work has naturally generated from relationships and recommendations or repeat clients. We were busy from day one, without having to do any marketing. For many years prior to starting Agent, we’ve both been engaged in the community, through professional and community organizations, which has led to great relationships and project work. Andrew likes to talk about the idea of not going into volunteering or community involvement with the goal of trying to drum up work; instead, it is best to get involved with the things you’re genuinely passionate about, and you’ll end up connecting with people who share those passions. That generates organic relationships, not a forced “Business development strategy” or transactional relationships. We’ve enjoyed working with people that we truly respect.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Since we both have very different distinct personalities and like different things, we will answer this question separately! Andrew: This is an entirely different question now during the age of COVID. I am going to forget about COVID for a few blissful moments and give my recommendations as if we could freely socialize. We would have to hit up the main cultural destinations. We would start in Klyde Warren Park, and I would explain to them how important that park is for the City, how it showed that highways really do separate neighborhoods, and how powerful it has been to stitch them back together with the deck park. By providing quality human-oriented space (versus auto-oriented), it attracted masses of people and has been wildly successful, and is probably partly to credit for Uptown’s great growth. From KWP, we would walk to the Nasher, the Meyerson, and the Winspear. We would enjoy the gardens under the canopy at the Opera House. Deep Ellum holds a special place in my heart, as it is where I lived for a few years when I first moved to Dallas. In a city that felt so perfectly groomed and image conscious, It was the only part of Dallas where I really felt at home. It reminded me the most of my favorite areas of Kansas City, my hometown, because of the fusion of art, old buildings, and music. We would go to the Armory for the best Old Fashioned in town, the “Bonnie & Clyde.” I’d also want to stop at the Anvil Pub for old times’ sake. I was a regular at half price food Tuesdays and Texas Beer Wednesdays for years. A perfect neighborhood bar. In my neighborhood of the Cedars, we would go to Full City Rooster for their coffee. Unfortunately I can’t handle caffeine, but I love that local coffee shop, so I usually get some herbal tea and enjoy the local scene. If it was late enough in the day, we could then walk around the block to Lee Harvey’s, the greatest dive bar in town. One time, I took a friend there who lived in Uptown. He observed my Lone Star and my other friend’s High Life and remarked, “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t drink craft beer!” He was obviously inspired, and ordered a Schlitz. The magic of Lee Harvey’s. Sara: One of my favorite spots is Lake Cliff Park. It is quiet and peaceful – a welcome getaway. It’s the perfect spot to pop up a hammock and read. For a hot beverage, I love nearby Potpourri Boulangerie tea house in Oak Cliff. It lets you make the feeling of tea time at your grandma’s house a regular event – truly a tiny gem. Other favorites: Roti Grill’s garlic naan, Bangkok City Thai’s (on Bryan) avocado Thai curry, Weekend Coffee’s hot cocoa, Tofu Banh Mi from Sandwich Hag, the Dirty Bird off-menu dessert pizza from Cane Rosso, Hawaiian Classic Poke from Pokeworks. Since we live in the urban center, we’ve been excited to see the development of more outdoor spaces in Dallas. We’ve been severely lacking in this area! We love walking through downtown and hopping from park to plaza. A typical route would be: City Hall plaza, the new AT&T plaza, Main St Park, Pacific Plaza Park, Klyde Warren park, Ron Kirk pedestrian bridge, and ending up watching the sunset at the Trinity River levee….probably stopping for a taco at La Ventana on the way. The best views of downtown are from the west, IMO, and the warm rays reflecting off the buildings in the evening make it that much better.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Andrew: I had always wanted to be an architect, but it was my uncle Brian Barnes – a principal at Entos Design in Dallas – who was kind enough to host me in his office for a few days while I was in high school so I could experience the practice of architecture in the real world. This experience served to confirm my inclination, and I set out on the journey towards being an architect. After we graduated from Kansas State, it was the middle of the recession and employment at architecture firms was very hard to come by. I am extremely grateful to Callison for bringing me on board in the Commercial design studio of the Dallas office. I am also extremely grateful for my subsequent employers, Graham Greene and Joe McCall at Oglesby Greene Architects. I learned so much from both of them, from detailed knowledge on building products, construction details, code and zoning, etc., to the ways of running a practice, to the importance of understanding one’s personal ethos that guides one’s behavior as an architect. I am grateful for my time at Oglesby Greene, and to be a part of a long and distinguished lineage of Dallas architects who have worked there and gone on to start their own practices (Max Levy, David Farrell(of GFF), Ron Wommack, Cliff Welch, Greg Ibanez, Thad Reeves). Somewhere along the way I got hold of the book Architect Entrepreneur by Eric Reinholt. At that point I wasn’t actively thinking about starting a firm; it was more of a distant fantasy. But, reading that book, the vision began to materialize and seem more possible, as it de-mystified many of the aspects of running a practice which had previously seemed opaque to me. I was left with a sense that this was something that was in fact possible for me. I am grateful for the confidence it instilled in me. Of course, I could have all the confidence in the world but it wouldn’t matter if no one wanted to pay us to design buildings! Agent is extremely indebted to our first clients, Purdon Groves (Sherry and Houston Clark), and Madison Partners (Jon Hetzel & Larry Vineyard) for believing in our young practice and giving us an opportunity to design their projects. Sara: My first shoutout has to go to my parents for not shunning my decision to go into design in a family of engineers! Secondly, to my classmate Ross Ullrich for connecting me to get my first-ever internship in college (with the City of Houston), when there were no jobs during the recession. Next, to Brigitte Preston and Anne Kniffen, for hiring my fresh face, right out of college and giving me the opportunity to grow thereafter. My lauckgroup crew, where I worked for 8 years after graduating, which will forever be a collection of lifelong friends and mentors. Other friends and lady entrepreneurs like Robyn Brown of Bold Idea and Aimee Gardner of Surgwise, who are an inspiration to me. (Aimee bought me my first entrepreneurial book.) To Kelly Mitchell and Sean Garman of Mitchell Garman Architects who were so generous when we started out in sharing their wisdom and methods. To our larger community of fellow architects and designers who have encouraged and supported us immensely over the years.
Texas Brand Bank images are by Justin Miers