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For Cathy Knight, having a diverse set of skills is crucial for a good architect. She credits much of the success of Knight Architects in Princeton to just that.
“Much of our work is residential. When I am helping to build or renovate someone’s house, I have to bring a variety of skills to the table,” she says. “Many homeowners start with a general idea of what their needs are, but don’t know how or where to change their house or what part of their house would be best to modify. Would it be more economical to add one story over a garage as opposed to an addition elsewhere? How do zoning regulations, set back rules, floor-area ratio requirements, or wetland restrictions affect their project? These are all areas we can help.”
When I asked Cathy about her favorite kind of project, the answer was simple. “I love to work on projects for people who really care about what their home or business will look like, how it will function. Whether the budget is big or small, the involvement and commitment of the owner matters to me.”
One of Knight’s recent and favorite projects was designing Stumpy’s Hatchet House in West Windsor. The recreational space offers 13 “throwing pits,” where customers take turns hurling their hatchet at a target. The space includes comfortable couches and large farm tables, where people can relax, have snacks and socialize.
“We did a beautiful renovation on Alexander Road for Stumpy’s. The space is large with lots of wood and stonework, a fireplace, and an innovative lighting design. The clients really cared about how the space would look, they had lots of ideas, and it was really fun to work with them. The results were very satisfying.”
Knight’s team have designed other business spaces in Princeton, including Jammin’ Crepes on Nassau Street and LiLLiPiES Bakery in the Princeton Shopping Center. Her residential work varies from contemporary new residences to renovations of historic houses in the center of Princeton.
When she began as an architect, though, the work was different.
“After I graduated from Syracuse University, I worked for a number of larger firms, designing large business, civic and educational projects in Boston and New Haven. After 12 years, I moved with my husband and family to Princeton, and it was at that point that I decided to open my own practice. That was challenging, when I didn’t yet know any of the people in town,” she remembers with a laugh.
But Knight made it work, growing slowly over the years. “I started out doing a lot of residential work, and just kind of stayed with that. We are a comfortable size now with three professional architects and a few part-time administrative people. We can give personal service to our clients and really focus on the details.”
One thing that Cathy is particularly proud of is her system for connecting contractors with her clients. “We know our clients want a competitive bid. We spend a lot of time pre-qualifying contractors and we maintain relationships with quite a few of them. Many people don’t know how to find, vet, or hire a contractor.
“We believe an essential role for the architect is to guide that process to get the best value for the client. We provide bid documents detailing a project and then assist the client in getting formal bids from two or three contractors. At the end of the bid period, the contractors meet with the client and the architect to review the bids. We give the client a spreadsheet so they can go through it and ask questions like ‘your electrical seems high,’ those sorts of things.
“It gives clients an exposure to different contractors and also empowers and educates them in the process. We continue to work with the client and the selected contractor to project completion to be sure the job is done to the client’s specifications and needs. While many architects consider their work complete when they hand over the drawings, our goal is to see the project built.”
Cathy has also observed how social media has changed her business — for the better. “When I first started out, my clients all found me through personal connections. There is still is that of course, reputation will always count, but now, with our web site, houzz.com pages, Facebook, and Instagram, a lot of my clients find and research me online.”
But whether Cathy has gotten a client through a personal referral or website, it’s all work she truly enjoys. “I am very lucky: this is a great community to work in, with clients who care tremendously about their project and how it will look. It is a sophisticated client base and a fun community to practice in!”
Knight Architects LLC, 234 Nassau Street, 2nd Floor West, Princeton, 609-252-0474. www.knightarch.com.