For Birmingham Architect Jeffrey Dungan, Work Is About Much More Than Drawing Houses

Jeffrey Dungan is an architect, but any image of him hunched over the drafting board, pencil in hand, wouldn’t entirely tell the whole picture of his practice. The Birmingham, Alabama–based creative, who runs his eponymous firm out of the English Village neighborhood of the city, takes a hands-on (and not always so serious) approach. On any given day he might be wandering his office to brainstorm with his team, inspecting the work on a job site, or strumming his guitar to get the creative juices flowing. His resulting work is an alluring mix of the Southern style absorbed during his Alabama childhood, the classical principles learned in his studies, and a thoroughly modern attention to comfort. With several awards under his belt, it’s clear his approach is working. AD PRO shadows the architect for a busy day.

Top: A home by architect Jeffrey Dungan, photographed by John Coulter. Above: Dungan at work.

Photo: William Abranowicz

6:15 A.M.

I wake up, like I do most days, with the sun. Spend a little time meditating and being thankful before getting too much into the day. I find things I have been thinking about, like designs and decisions that were foggy before, appear much clearer in the morning.

6:25 A.M.

A little morning inspiration via my Instagram feed; people designing and making beautiful things all over the world is fascinating to me and gets my creative juices going.

6:35 A.M.

I respond to a few email notes and texts that I missed the day before or needed time to consider before responding. I many times begin the day in bed before rolling out and sometimes I say the bed is my morning office. It’s a retreat to me; After years doing houses for others,I finally did my own house. The bedroom is on the top floor and feels a little like a treehouse haven looking out over the city

6:50 A.M.

Head to the gym—I love working out in the morning. It gives me energy that flows through the morning into the afternoon, boosts my creativity, and uplifts my attitude with endorphins. Well, that and coffee, of course.….

Dungan’s office.

Photo: William Abranowicz

8:15 A.M.

I head to my office in English Village and get a cappuccino from the bakery across the street. Sometimes, when I can’t resist, I’ll get a boiled egg and a freshly baked croissant with ham and cheese—being healthy all of the time is no fun anyway.

8:25 A.M.

Once in the office, I take a quick look at the day with my office manager (proposals and paperwork, a few signatures), then head back into the studio to check on my people and projects. My management style is what I call “walking around.” I try to catch people doing something right; usually, there is plenty of that to enjoy. Our studio is a pretty open space, so communication is not at all difficult. We have a staff of about 15, though, so it’s fairly cozy. I will frequently shout out to associates as I remember random things I meant to follow up on with the different projects. I spend an hour or two in the studio at a big, oval, onyx table that we affectionately call “the egg,” where I meet informally with the project architects and interior designers. Some communications are brief, and others get more involved and have to be tabled until later.

Dungan looking over plans with another architect in his office.

Photo: Lindsey Trammel

10:30 A.M.

Conference call with Monique Gibson in New York to discuss a design we are working on in Alys Beach, Florida. We go over the latest interior elevations and plan changes from the last meeting with Monique and her staff. It’s always amazing to me how people think and communicate in different ways so every project has its own shorthand language.

11:30 A.M.

I head out to a job site meeting on a project not far from the office. The construction is nearing an end, and Atlanta-based interior designer Beth Webb and her team are doing the install. I love working on site with talented artisans and the creative process in a hands-on and, sometimes, dusty and gritty way—it’s not always about drawing things, and I love the visceral part of what we do. Without the artisans, it would never happen. Grant Trick, my favorite brilliant upholsterer and design guru, is now framing details on the banquette.

Dungan on-site at a current project.

Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Dungan

An Alys Beach kitchen by Dungan.

Photo: Jean Allsopp

12:50 P.M.

Once back at the office, I catch up with my girlfriend Lindsey, who works and travels with me as a personal assistant. She has printed the latest layouts for our book with Rizzoli. We have a call to go over edits and the last round of changes. I had no idea how much effort goes into this type of project, but it is exciting and humbling at the same time.

1:45 P.M.

Finally get into my drafting room for my favorite activity: drawing a house. This one is on a ranch in the Rocky Mountains outside Denver. The clients are from Philadelphia, and Barbara Gisel Interiors will handle the interiors, so it is a very different environment to design to. I draw each project by hand first and become very inherently in tune with it and the clients before we move forward into construction drawings on the computer. A good day is when I get a few hours listening to music and to be with pencil and paper drafting away.

Dungan’s drafting room.

Photo: Christopher Paul Luker

3:35 P.M.

Check on my daughters with some text messages after school and then have a brief call with the talented and hilarious Joe Lucas and developer Matt Morrison on a project in the Manhattan Beach area of Los Angeles. We go over the client’s comments and changes to the interior architecture to get the most efficient plan without losing the elegance.

4:00 P.M.

Every few weeks we have a group gathering for lunch or an afternoon break with some food and coffee to go over a recent site visit or some travel pictures together. It’s fun and we get some great ideas and inspiration from it all. Today we are all scrolling through one of our designers’ recent trip to Brussels and Bruges, Belgium, to visit her family. The architecture and design aesthetic of that country has recently been a powerful influence on me. The interiors are spare but warm and simple with great materials.

A Dugan-designed living room.

Photo: Emily J. Followill

5:00 P.M.

Back to my office, return some emails and look over new samples of wood stains and white/lime washes with my lead interior designer Michelle Cone. After a few minutes I pick up a guitar I keep in the corner behind my desk and play for a few minutes; it’s a wonderful distraction and a highly effective blood pressure medicine. I make a cocktail at my Art Deco mirrored bar cart (Bullet rye with a splash of ginger ale on the rocks) and get back to drawing the mountain project while listening to a playlist of Wilco, Ryan Adams, and the National.

6:30 P.M.

Lindsey and I head to dinner with some former clients who have become great friends. Chef Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill is a jewel. I like to sit on the bar side rather than the dining room. It has dark charcoal tones but not too dark; it’s cozy but quite social; and they take great care of us. It’s really perfection (as evidenced by James Beard Awards) but never fancy or stuffy.

9:00 P.M.

Winding down the day, we often will play a game of backgammon—which Lindsey usually wins, so after that, I’ll play some chess on the computer. I don’t know why it is so relaxing to me, but it is fun to play against people from all over. It definitely keeps me on my toes. After that, it’s off to get some much-needed beauty rest so I’m ready to do it all over again.