October 27, 2015

Q&A with Architect Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig!

Kevin Lichten of New York-based architecture and design firm, Lichten Craig, answers our questions on the firm's recent projects and the importance of historic preservation!

by New York Spaces

Pool in townhouse basement designed by Lichten Craig. Photo by Peter Margonelli.
Modern Townhouse by Lichten Craig. Photo by Peter Margonelli.

NYS: You are a founding partner of Architecture and design firm, Lichten Craig. What do you specialize in?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: The short answer is residential architecture and interiors, cultural projects, and historic preservation. The long answer is that we like to work with clients who will use, live in, and love our buildings. We seek out clients who are as passionate about their surroundings as we are. They also want their buildings and surroundings to last for generations.

NYS: As an architect, do you frequently collaborate on interiors with different designers? If so, which designers have you recently collaborated with and on what types of projects?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: Our firm offers both architectural and interior design services. Joan Craig and I are co-partners of our firm, and we have offices in New York and Chicago. She leads the firm's interior design branch. We have seven designers in our practice and Joan and I have worked on projects together for almost 20 years. She is also an architect, so we make a terrific team. With such a long working history, we can finish each other's sentences and readily connect and extend each other's design ideas. That being said, I often collaborate with other designers, too. All of our residential projects, which is the lion's share of our practice, include interior designers. We have recently worked with Nina Campbell, Celerie Kemble, Robert Stilin, David Mann, Pembrooke and Ives, Adrienne Neff, Katie Ridder, Jessica Shaw, Sandra Nunnerley, and Michelle Gerson. We just started a project with Anne Chasen, a new, young designer whom we love. Besides residential projects, we've done wonderful work with Nina Campbell on a private men's club.

Phillips Exeter Academy Library by
Louis Kahn. Photo by Steve Rosenthal.

NYS: What influences your design aesthetic and how do we see them in your architecture?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: My mother is English, and we would go to England every other summer growing up. The eccentricity of English architecture has stuck with me. I love the offbeat, the quirky, the exaggerated, the whimsical, the sudden scale change—all of the characteristics that define British style. My mother says I became an architect because she changed my diaper in the baptistery at Lincoln Cathedral in the northeast of England—one of the greatest buildings in the world.

NYS: What architects have shaped your viewpoint and why?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: First I have to say that the greatest influence on me was studying with Bill Jordy at Brown and Vince Scully at Yale, two of the most brilliant architectural historians of the twentieth century. After that, the usual suspects; Lutyens, David Adler, Frances Elkins, Louis Kahn, William Street, Robert Adam, HH Richardson, and my absolute favorite Bertram Goodhue.

NYS: I understand you have worked on various types of projects including synagogues, clubs, churches, family homes, and organizations. What are some of the most memorable projects you have worked on and why?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: I love working on townhouses. We've done quite a few. Each townhouse is different whereas apartments are often similar. To live in a house in New York is extraordinary, to stroll out in the garden in your bathrobe with morning coffee, to be able to have a 20 foot Christmas tree—it's just such a rewarding way to live. Of course, churches are such important symbols in their communities. To help them last another century is to help the community as well. We've been working at a church in Poughkeepsie for twenty years. At one point, because of cost, we considered taking down a deteriorated sandstone steeple, but it was a beacon for the entire city. We and the client were able not only to save the steeple, but also restore it. It was a triumph for the community.

Lichten Craig

NYS: Why is historic preservation so important to you?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: When you experience a historic building deeply, study its materials and details as well as its symbolic role in the community, you realize what a gift previous generations have given you. You feel the obligation to pass this gift on to the next generation. It's a great honor and source of satisfaction to have the skills to bring this about.

NYS: I understand you are also a vice chairman of the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation. What does this job consist of?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: We support the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, a city agency. We help them by funding summer interns, paying for neighborhood, street, and individual building markers describing landmarks, sponsor public events to highlight the Commission's work—things like that. It's my little bit of public service.

NYS: What projects have you worked on recently that involve historic preservation?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: The clubs are often historic buildings. We've been at work on the Woman's Athletic Club of Chicago for years and recently have been helping the New York Yacht Club. We are also working on churches throughout the tri-state area, and we are currently restoring a 17,000 square foot house in Lattingtown by the residential master architect Harrie Lindberg. It's spectacular. When you tear apart and put back together a house, you feel as if you are working alongside the original architect. You see his hand everywhere.

NYS: You are an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Are you seeing a rising interest in preservation amongst your students?

Lichten Craig

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: Not really. Columbia has a separate degree program for preservation within the architecture school. I don't see those students much. Occasionally I'll have a student in a joint degree program and they bring a much richer appreciation of materials and details.

NYS: How do you have time for anything other than work?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: Well, you still have to eat and I like to cook. And if you're eating, then you're drinking. Wine is central to life. I also like to ride my bike in the summer and have a beautiful titanium racing bike that I treat like my baby. Winter's coming and I like to ski. One of my sons lives in Japan and we're talking about skiing in Hokkaido where they describe the snow as "champagne powder."

NYS: What has been one of your most favorite projects to date and why?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: We restored an 11,000 square foot modernist townhouse on the Upper East Side and dug out the garden, put in a swimming pool below ground in the basement, and then put the garden back on top.

Lichten Craig

NYS: What are you working on now?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: I'm still working on the huge house in Lattingtown, a few apartments, an amazing restoration of an apartment in the Osborne opposite Carnegie Hall, an apartment in Palm Beach, a townhouse in Chicago, a house in Jackson Hole, a triplex on the east side with a beautiful spiral stair, and a golf and tennis pavilion at a historic residential club in upstate New York.

NYS: What would be your dream project?

Kevin Lichten of Lichten Craig: I'd actually like to design the base lodge at a ski resort in Idaho.

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