Azar Residence
Richard Leo Johnson/Atlantic Archives Azar Residence
Jim Strickland
Courtesy Historical Concepts Jim Strickland

Historical Concepts started life as a modest design/build firm that produced more than 200 homes in the metro-Atlanta region. Even then, the firm’s goal was a simple one. “Our mission was to do houses that look as good as those done 200 years ago,” says firm founder James L. Strickland. Mission accomplished.

Founded in 1982, the firm soon morphed into an exclusively design-focused architectural practice. Today, it does town planning for large developers and engages in traditional placemaking, but its bailiwick is superbly designed custom homes of the highest order. And it’s still unapologetically devoted to the long-standing principles of traditional architecture and planning.

“There is a reason everyone admires places like Annapolis, Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans,” says Strickland, referring to the historic East Coast cities. Strickland, who received his master’s in architecture from Yale University in 1972, says these place are compelling because the architecture is human scale and feel-good.

This is the type of work the firm pursues. More than simply “working” in a style, Historical is focused on the basics that make architecture great, an equation that is made up of equal parts scale, proportion, and details. The result is a long list of great homes in areas such as the resort community of Watercolor, Fla., (near Seaside), Ketchum, Idaho, and the Cayman Islands.

Strickland attributes the firm’s success to the leadership and skills of its partners Terry Pylant, Aaron Daily, AIA, Andrew Cogar, AIA, Kevin Clark, AIA, LEED AP, and Todd Strickland, but the fresh design energy, he says, comes from the “young-turk” designers who have been “hand-picked from the nation’s top traditional architecture programs.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

Terry Pylant: Designing a home that will have a positive affect on the people who live in it for many years.

Jim Strickland: Walking through a just-completed home with a satisfied client, discovering and enjoying the intricacies that were once just small drawings on a piece of paper.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

TP: Because each project becomes something personal, something that you put your heart into day after day, it is those few drawings that end up in a file, never built, that are the most disappointing.

JS: Unachieved design potential: when you work so hard to see that every little detail is just right, it can be extremely frustrating when a “good enough” attitude leads to poor execution.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

Our goal is to create places of exceptional quality that are treasured for generations. Our mission is to enrich the built environment with the time-honored principles of traditional architecture and planning.

Our design philosophy embraces classical scale and proportion, vernacular ideology, and historical precedent.

We specialize in the lost art of traditional placemaking.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

TP: Our hands, working pencil on tissue.

andrew cogar: SketchUp (3D modeling), the one tool that allows the client to see something as we see it.

JS: A pencil, drawing board, and comfortable chair.

What software does your firm use?

Andrew Cogar: AutoCAD, SketchUp, InDesign, and who can overlook Outlook—e-mail has forever changed the way we do business. Distance is less of a factor than ever.

Who is your ideal client?

TP: Repeat clients are wonderful, as there is a history and understanding of the client’s taste.

JS: Someone who cares about architecture and is detail-oriented.

AC: The ideal clients are those who share our passion for quality in design and are honest enough with themselves to know their program and their limits.

What is your favorite building?

JS: I can’t pick just one.

AC: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. This is showcased as a home, not as a presidential museum. I’d call it the “underdog of presidential homes.” You can really see how the plantation home evolved over time into a Greek Revival mansion, and understanding “generational architecture” is something we consider as key to achieving our design goals.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?

TP: Another member of our firm (and I would expect a huge discount on fees!).

JS: Any one of my partners.

AC: Being based in Atlanta has given me an appreciation for the work of Neel Reid, an unsung hero and trailblazer of early 20th century, traditional architecture. He had the intelligence to fully grasp the orders but was whimsical enough to be inventive and have fun at the same time.