Q&A With BVA Principal Ellen Hatton

We at Barnes Vanze are congratulating BVA Principal Ellen Hatton, who just began a term as Committee Chair of the DC Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), a committee within the American Institute of Architects (AIA) that focuses on the custom residential practice. We asked Ellen what her new post entails, and about her work designing custom homes in general:

How long have you been a CRAN member, and how many of you are out there in the tri-state area?
CRAN is basically a peer group for architects who have a custom residential practice, where we can share ideas, gain knowledge, and network together. I attended my first CRAN event at the AIA national convention last June, and was inspired by the energy of the shared experience in the room. I joined my local DC committee, and when the former committee chair announced his departure, I volunteered to fill the vacancy. The committee is fairly small (six of us), but anyone in the AIA can attend a CRAN event, so we’ve had as many as 150 attendees at a single local event.

Ellen, third from left, at a recent CRAN planning meeting 

What are your priorities for programming and events in 2019?
At our recent kick-off meeting for 2019, the steering committee discussed focusing on building and zoning codes—“Confusion and Compliance.” With recent changes to the DC Zoning Ordinance, and ongoing complexities with the building code (including interacting with DCRA), it’s something that we feel our members would be interested in and learn from. We’re exploring some panel discussions and case studies that use real-life examples to illustrate the challenges of the current regulatory environment.

What are the biggest issues facing residential architects that may not be relevant in the commercial space?
I think the personal nature of our projects is both the biggest challenge and biggest reward of residential work. Decisions that have such an intimate and daily impact on someone’s life can sometimes lead to a less linear and more iterative and drawn-out process; there can be second-guessing and backtracking (on everyone’s part!) but when it all comes together in the end, there’s such an emotional payoff for both client and architect.

As a residential architect, what brings you the greatest joy in designing homes?
I enjoy when the process really becomes a partnership with the client, and the satisfaction of providing a result that’s beautiful, comfortable, and purposeful. I also get a kick out of the design freedom of residential work, in that many clients are willing to let us “play” a little bit to really explore how we can get to the best solution for them.

Do you have a favorite architectural style for homes in this region?
Although we haven’t done a lot of it here, my favorite architectural style in general is Arts and Crafts; I find the detailing and craftsmanship to be really inviting.

Ellen helped design this Arts-and-Crafts inspired home in DC

What kind of jobs are you working on right now?
On my desk right now is a spectacular new house that is just starting construction here in DC, as well as a small kitchen addition for a repeat client whom I first worked with about a dozen years ago, and an out-of-town project on a waterfront compound up in Maine that has been a really fun adventure!

Ellen’s sketch of a cottage renovation in Maine, overlaid on a current photograph as it exists now