Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Chat With Jeremy Corkern

Mid-century renovation by Bates Corkern Studio.  Interior design by Betsy Brown.  It was a treat to tour this amazing project with Jeremy earlier this month!

One of the best parts of working in the design world is meeting the wonderful, creative individuals who influence the industry.  Architect Jeremy Corkern of Bates Corkern Studio in Birmingham, Alabama is one of the first talents I met in the business, and one of the nicest, too.  It had been a few years since I had seen Jeremy (although it is easy to follow Bates Corkern Studio's projects in House Beautiful, Veranda, and many other magazines) so during a recent trip to Birmingham, it was great fun to chat with Jeremy about architecture, his inspirations, his favorite houses, and his recent work.

MannerOfStyle: What attracted you to pursue architecture?
Jeremy Corkern: I have always been an old soul.  From day one I always had a pencil or crayon in my hand.  My memories as a child always revolve around a house.  My first experience in field was at the age of eight.  We had just moved back to my hometown of Brookhaven, Mississippi.  We remodeled/built a house. From that time forward all I thought about were houses.  Brookhaven is a railroad town.  The founding families created a beautiful place within a pine forest.  The boom of the timber and oil eras (and later the infamous WORLD COM) brought many beautiful houses and stylish people.  You know every Southern boy has to mention his mother.  My mother always had a project or party in the works.  Next, my mentor the late Hays Town took me under his wing at the age of 14.  My father would drive me down to Baton Rouge (2 hours away) on Fridays to spend the weekend with the Master of Louisiana Style.  We would spend hours looking at old houses and meeting with his many loving clients.  Many had waited up to five years to work with him.  A lot of times the meetings involved just him wanting to give his blessing on the placement of a single boxwood.

Greeson House designed by A. Hays Town
I also have to include Bobby McAlpine.  He gave me my first job (outside of my father's sawmill..... those were long HOT Mississippi summers).  He, along with Mr. Town, shaped who I am as an architect and person.  They taught me how to become a client's hands and eyes.  Bobby actually sent my business partner, Paul, and me our first project. 

View of Bobby Mcalpine's signature steel windows
MOS: What architectural styles/periods to you most admire?
J.C.: That is a hard question! My taste in architecture, art, interiors, music and food is schizophrenic! I like everything.... If I had to select a certain period it would be the Regency period. Visiting the city of Bath, England at the age of 14 had an immense influence on me. The order, simplicity, and the modernity of it is still fresh today. My friends all joke about me and my Regency chairs.....
It is hard to say one.... may I give you a top 10 of architects and designers?
Hays Town
David Adler
Myrlin McCullar
Gerrie Bremermann
Interior of a Bobby McAlphine house.
MOS: Tell us about your firm...
J.C.: First let me say that it is not just my firm.  My business partner Paul Bates is not only an incredible architect but my best friend.  We have been lucky to weather the past eleven years with wonderful work and clients that have become great friends.  Also, last but NOT least is Meredith Fuqua.  She is our first, second and third hand (and little sister) in the office.  I honestly do not know how she deals with the two of us, but it works!  What works for us as a whole, I believe, is that we all want to touch peoples' lives and create beautiful things. 
Paul Bates (left), Jeremy Corkern (right), and the newest member of the Bates Corkern Studio team, Meridith Fuqua (seated), focus on interiors that are a perfectly blended mix of high style and comfort.
The Bates Corkern Studio team: Paul Bates, Meredith Fuqua, Jeremy Corkern.
MOS: What is your favorite Southern house?
J.C.: Again, favorite Southern house is a hard one!  There are many for many different reasons.  I hold Hope Farm in Natchez, Mississippi close to my heart.  It was the very first house I ever "toured" as a child (age 6).  It started as a simple Spanish colonial house and evolved over time to have refined Federal and Greek Revival detailing.
Hope Farm, Natchez, Mississippi
Evergreen Plantation is one of my other favorites.  Today it is the most intact plantation in the Southeast.  The house and its grounds have had an incredible influence on what we, as an office, do.  The idea of a house and its landscape acting as one is personified here.  We will go around the world to make an axis work!

Evergreen Plantation, 2010
MOS: On your website you mention that childhood summers spent in New Orleans enhanced your interest in architecture.  Are there any elements of NOLA style that you integrate into your work?    
J.C.: New Orleans to this day has a hold on me.  Everything about the people, food, music, art, landscape and architecture speak to me!  The integration of public and private spaces are so well resolved here.  Every project we work on uses real and natural materials  We love the reuse of old materials from flooring to beams to brick (even if lime washed).  Honestly, there is not just one element that I can say that we use.... high ceilings, old flooring (brick, stone or wood), French doors and shuttered porches.  We also love to have rooms that have multiple exterior exposures (rooms opening to the outside from more than just one wall). 
Rendering by Bates Corkern Studio
MOS: What is your favorite room or feature to design?
J.C.: The Library would have to be my favorite space to design.  There is nothing more beautiful than a paneled library with french doors or floor to ceiling windows surrounded by books.  A great bar and music also help to make this space magical.... BUT books in any room make me happy.  Books are your escape no matter where you are or who you are.  They are a window to the world.

Library in "Grand Retreat" in Tuscaloosa designed by Bates Corkern Studio
MOS: What are your top rules for creating good architecture?
J.C.: I think rules are meant to be broken..... BUT... I/we are always on a quest for something new. Taking the old and reinterpreting it in a fresh new light.  Many years ago we went on an in depth tour of David Adler's work.  The way he handled the scale of space and its relationship to the outside is still fresh and inventive today.  Keep in mind the David Adler book was my first "real" architecture book given to me at 15.  Many years later it is the go to book for me and many of my peers. 
Secondly, a I enjoy working with a client that guides and listens.
Last, but not least, an understanding of the past and a clear direction of where we are headed.

"Crane Cottage" built in 1916 for Richard Teller Crane, designed by David Adler
"The Reed House" interior designed by Frances Elkins and David Adler
MOS: Which current or upcoming projects are you excited about?
J.C.: We have several wonderful new projects in the works.  One in particular is a project that is ongoing (eight years) Swann Song from our website.  Our most recent project was the conversion of servants quarters to a 21st century office.  The clients have wonderful taste and are always up for adventure.  The walls are composed of individual squares of shagreen that are set within a grid of fumed walnut and bronze panels.   It is our nod to Jean Michel Frank and Frances Elkins
Personally,  I just purchased a wonderful house/labor of love?!? That was built in 1834 named The Shadows.  It is the small town of Lowndesboro, Alabama.  I am learning exactly what our clients go through first hand.
Interior of "Swann Song"in Redmont by Bates Corkern Studio
MOS: We have run into each other several times shopping; are you always in the hunt for your own collections and/or do you design interiors for clients as well?
J.C.: I love to shop.... whether it be for clients or for myself.  I never tire of the hunt!  Early on my parents and grandparents shared their love of collecting with me.  Today the collection runs the gamut from tortoiseshell to Santos to architectural engravings. 
We do a small amount of interiors work, when clients ask us to.  We love working with designers.  Our best projects are those with a designer that has a clear sense of what he/she and client would like to accomplish.

MOS: Which Birmingham interiors shops do you frequent? 
J.C.: Birmingham has many great shops.  I am always on the quest for other great places around the country as well:
Circa Interiors (Birmingham and Charlotte, NC), our dear friend and client Whitney Johnson and her mother are always unearthing new finds that are not only beautiful, but fresh!
Charlotte Woodson.  Shop owner Dinah Torroh has an incredible eye for the unusual and delightful.... I am still putting money in my piggy bank for the 12 foot long walnut slab table with 19th century stone palm tree bases.
Paige Albright Oriental Rugs.  IF Paige does not have what you are looking for, she will hop on the next plane to NYC and find exactly what you want!
White Flowers.... Ethereal space in the heart of Homewood.  From Diptique candles to one of a kind artwork and clothing.  EVERYTHING IS WHITE!  They even carry my mother's handmade paper crosses and artwork. 


NYC (as good as it gets!):  Nial Smith, Treillage, John Rosselli, Sentimento and Todd Romano
CHARLESTON (just right without ANY attitude!):  David Skinner Antiques, John Pope Antiques and Niche Interiors.
NEW ORLEANS (always something just slightly off to make a room):  Balzac, Gerrie Bremermann's, Karla Katz, Mac Maison and artist Amanda Talley.

Be sure to visit Bates Corkern Studio's stunning portfolio at

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