EcoHome checks in with Dallas-based architect Kelly Mitchell, winner of a 2010 EcoHome Design Award for her first sustainable home, the LEED-Platinum Labron Residence.

Architect Kelly Mitchell with her business partner and husband, Sean Garman.
Architect Kelly Mitchell with her business partner and husband, Sean Garman.

How long has your company been in existence and what types of projects do you design?
My partner, Sean Garman, and I completed our first project, a speculative duplex, in 2006, while we were both working for other firms. In spring of 2007, I decided to go out on my own. I kept our company name of Mitchell Garman Architects, even though it’s just me. It implies the option and opportunity to collaborate on projects, which we do quite often. Since 2007, I have designed several restaurants, several residential remodels, and a ground-up house.

Was it difficult to open your own business with the recession looming?
Actually, I was fortunate enough to start up right before the recession and business was very steady until it hit.

How did you get into green design?
I’ve always believed that green, sustainable design is the right thing to do, but never had an opportunity to practice it at my previous jobs. When I met the clients for the Labron Residence, they initiated the conversation about sustainability and stated their goal of receiving LEED certification. During the process, I studied the subject and received my LEED-AP Homes accreditation. Sean, on the other hand, has been working in the realm of sustainable design for years and was one of the country’s first LEED-APs.

What are the challenges of designing a third-party-certified green home?
I think the biggest challenge is for the contractor, who has to be on board and in communication with the home provider (in the case of LEED) and their inspection team.  All site visits have to be coordinated with the construction schedule. The paperwork, of course, is a challenge, as well.

The Labron Residence in suburban Dallas was designed as a modernist take on a treehouse.
Charles Davis Smith The Labron Residence in suburban Dallas was designed as a modernist take on a treehouse.

I think the biggest challenge for me was knowing the checklist and keeping up with the new technical aspects of construction and mechanical systems. The architectural design itself doesn’t change much; smart, sustainable design is our mantra on any residential project. What do your customers most want in a green home?
Efficiency, the use of sustainable materials, and lower utility bills.

How do you strike a balance between clients’ hopes for a sustainable, energy-efficient home and the realities of their budget?
The average client really wants to make smart decisions and to be given options. Money spent upfront versus payback in time is important to them, so a lot of decisions are made by looking at these comparisons.

What is the state of the sustainable architecture market in the Dallas area?
It’s getting better and better. I think the more that the public realizes that a green home doesn’t have to be straw-bale or made from tires, the more they realize that it’s attainable and smart. I think most people, if they are educated about it, really want what’s best for themselves and the environment.

How would you describe your design style?
My style is definitely contemporary with an emphasis on simple lines, efficient layouts, and warm materials.

What are some of your favorite green building products?
Enviroglas terrazzo surfaces made from recycled porcelain products and glass. 
Johns Manville JM Spider Custom Insulation System.
Coverings Etc. surfacing products are beautiful as well as sustainable. 
Varia Ecoresin from 3Form; the panels are great to use for doors, privacy screens, room dividers, you name it!