By BECKY GILLETTE
Cleveland native Bentley Tibbs, AIA, grew up in Cleveland and spent a lot of his childhood on the family farm 20 miles away called Hushpuckena. He and his brothers still have the farm, but Tibbs lives and works in Dallas, Texas, where he is a prominent single-family home architect.
After high school, Tibbs started out at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., pursuing a history degree. Then he spent a year at Delta State University trying to figure out what he wanted to do. After that he ended up at Texas A&M where he finished his history degree and also a degree in architecture. He went on to get obtained a graduate degree in architecture there, too.
Tibbs said the support of his parents, Pat Tibbs and the late Dr. Robert Clinton Tibbs, gave him experiences that helped form him into the architect he is today.
“I was lucky enough for my parents to be able to send me to Italy for about six months while I was in graduate school,” Tibbs said. “Being able to experiences all of that history, seeing some buildings hundreds of years old and others that were very modern, was just incredible. I was able to see all those different layers of history and combine them into a modern sensibility. Having grown up in the Delta also had a huge influence on my work. It was one of those fertile parts of my education to grow up in the Delta.”
He also considers himself incredibly lucky that after architecture graduate school he landed a job with Frank Welch.
“Frank, who passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 90, was a big deal in Texas,” Tibbs said. “Frank had a legacy and a national reputation. I was really lucky to get a job in that office. He was kind of the father of Texas regionalism. Frank was pretty modern, but steeped in the Texas vernacular of what a house should look like, the iconic style of what we think of as a house. I worked for him for about five years doing all single-family residential work. Then I went out on my own. Frank was really supportive the whole time. He was a wonderful mentor.”
Generally smaller communities don’t have a lot of demand for architecture services for single-family homes. That is why Dallas has been a good fit for Tibbs. The Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex is the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the country.
“Dallas is a good environment,” Tibbs said.
He sees architectural design as being as much about its environment as it is about its client. “The dirt has as much of an opinion as the client does, and you have to listen to both of them,” he said.
It can be a challenge to make sure you are on the same page with clients when designing a home for them. Usually when he first meets with clients, they come with this big folder of “dream house” pictures they have saved for years.
“I usually try to meet them at the site where the building will go,” Tibbs said. “I ask them not to show me any pictures. Sometimes they get frustrated or confused. I explain I want to initially respond to their words, to how they see their lives in this building. I want to respond to the voice of the site, as well as to the words of the client, and not the pictures they have in a folder. The pictures they have are important, but they are important later on. Once we find the language of the voice of the building and plan based on what they think they want, it will take four to six months to complete the drawings. The idea is we find their house together.”
He sees his job as helping clients find something that makes their lives better, and is beautiful at the same time.
“When I ask about the character instead of the look of their house, they start understanding what they want and begin to realize a house is more than just a pretty box you can live in,” he said. “It really becomes an extension of their lives. After the drawings are ready, then I get into how they store socks in closet, and how they store their knives and spices. It is everything that has to be thought of.”
The typical house he designs is from 4,000 to 6,000 square feet. All his designs are drawn by hand. He does drawings for as many profiles as he can identify in the building. A typical house will have 25 to 30 sheets of drawings that are 30 by 42 inches.
“After the drawings, I help them find a contractor, and during construction I’m there because clients are going to change their minds and they should be able to,” Tibbs said. “I’m there to help them make thoughtful decisions about the things they want to change. I get to know the clients really well, and they get to know me really well. From start to move in, it can be 2.5 years.”
Tibbs said his work stems from an understanding of modernism and a respect for the spatial, formal and cultural aspects of other historical periods.
“By dismissing decorative motifs and allowing beauty to be a more natural by-product, architecture can be free to express an exuberant luxury that would otherwise be hidden,” he said. “Architectural projects, whether commercial or residential, benefit from the confident detailing of a thoroughly modern framework of straightforward materials and a rich use and refined composition of color and natural light. The elements of the designs are choreographed to bring a serenity to those who live in or visit the spaces. Soothing but never boring, the work takes possession of its site and expresses a quiet energy through every hour of every season.”
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