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Hunt always wanted to create space

Architect at Large has successfully designed itself a small space in the market.

November 1, 2013
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As a preschooler, Jefferey Hunt drew up floor plans for his mom between chocolate milk breaks and naps in his kindergarten class. Today, he is in his third year of operating his firm, Architect at Large, on Wealthy Street SE in Grand Rapids.

“I’m one of those lucky people who, as far back as I can remember, have known what I wanted to do when I grew up. I think my mom still has some outrageous floor plans I drew in kindergarten. I’ve always had an interest in creating space,” he said.

Hunt has been a registered architect for 10 years but has been designing projects for 15. He earned his architectural degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., after receiving a two-year degree in architectural technology from Ferris State University.

After graduating, Gary Gerber, one of Hunt’s professors at FSU, brought him here. After a year of working with Gerber, Hunt joined Richard Craig at Craig Architects in 1999. Hunt designed for Craig for 11 years until the Great Recession threw the largest monkey wrench in 70 years into the construction and design industry.

“We just didn’t have enough work in the office in 2010 for two architects. Richard did an amazing and generous job of keeping me on as long as he could, but eventually he needed to let me go because of a lack of work,” said Hunt.

“But within a couple of weeks after leaving his office, I started getting phone calls from people who wanted to know if I was still practicing and a couple of them had a few jobs. So I had a choice to either take those opportunities and see where it led me or try to find a job with somebody else.”

A visit to his firm’s website, architectatlarge.net, tells you he took the former option, and it showcases some of Hunt’s work. Much of it is in the medical field, which includes the Women’s Health Center of West Michigan in Mid Towne Village, part of the Medical Mile along Michigan Street NE. The Mid Towne Surgery Center is another of his designs, as is the Metro Health Outpatient Clinic in Allendale. Hunt drew up the Women’s Health Center while he was at Craig Architects and called it his biggest and most notable design to date. 

He also has designed retail, such as Kentwood Pharmacy and Crown Jewel Spa and Salon. He also has drawn up plans for single-family and multi-family residential structures that range from cottages along Lake Michigan to the conversion of the former Union High School into the Union Square condominium building on Broadway Avenue on the northwest side.

“When anybody asks me what kind of projects I do, my stock answer is, ‘Whatever I think I can do a good job at.’ So I really do love to design a diverse amount,” he said.

“Frankly, one of my favorite things about what I do is I get to learn so much about how the world works. How an OBGYN does a job is completely different than how a podiatrist does a job. I like to learn all those things so I can design an exam room, an office or a surgical suite that fits them and is not just one size fits all,” he added.

“I do a lot of health care. Part of it, as I was getting started, was pure chance or opportunity. But I do feel like I have a passion for health care.”

Hunt said the attention-grabbing name of his firm, Architect at Large, grew slowly out of many conversations he had with clients and is representative of how he sees himself and his work.

“The name ‘at large’ is attached to other professions — editor at large, writer at large, political positions at large — and usually those positions have more freedom in how people go about their process and what they do with what they do. That kind of fits with my idea of how I like to practice architecture and the idea that the usual way of doing things isn’t always the best way of doing things,” he said.

“My goal is to treat every project individually and as the client is going to be using it. That can be everything from how we design it, to the relationship we have, to how I contract with each individual client. I don’t have a specific way of doing things every time. I like to meet with clients and get a sense of their personality and how they want to do their project. Ultimately, it’s not mine, it’s theirs.”

Architect at Large is a small firm, and Hunt likes it that way. He relies on Kevin Sellers and Dan Chase to help him with projects. Sellers is the firm’s full-time project manager, and Chase is a part-time architect. Sellers worked with Hunt at Craig Architects.

Recently, the trio designed a new Metro Health outpatient surgery center on Cascade Road as well as remodeling Metro’s emergency room. The firm also designed the walkway shade canopy at John Ball Zoo and the multi-story expansion of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

“Things are looking good. I feel very blessed with the work that we have. I’m just like everybody else: I’m just trying to find that next project. The recession is proof that you can go from being real busy to no work at all for you or your staff,” said Hunt.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I hope to continue to stay nimble — to be able to roll with how the world is rolling, and part of that is to focus on what clients want. If I can make their life better on a day-to-day basis, then I feel that’s what’s going to keep me working.

“I don’t have any plans to grow as fast as I can and be a 500-person firm. Part of what I enjoy and how I practice architecture requires that I stay small and involved in every project. If I grow too big, I can’t do that.”

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