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NAME: Steve Herlong
LOCATION: Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, SC
OCCUPATION: Architect and founder Herlong & Associates
ABOUT THE FIRM: Comprised of five architects and four interior designers, the small firm designs custom homes, specializing in Coastal designs.
BELIEF & PRINCIPLES: Honoring the environment within which a house is built and integrating the outside with the interior space are essential to the firms take on design.

Architect Steve Herlong has been in the industry for an impressive 35-plus years, honing his skill and carving out a niche within island communities in the southern part of the country. And he’s operating from a place of passion and principle: “I believe houses are connected to their environment and a distinctive style belongs to each place,” says Steve.

THE START
After graduating from Clemson University in 1979 with his Bachelor of Arts in Design, Steve Herlong spent 13 years as the president of a successful design-build firm focusing on custom homes. After much success, he took some time out to get re-inspired.

THE ADVENTURE
Steve and his wife Susan boarded ’Rise’, their 37-foot cutter-rigged sailboat, for a three-year sailing adventure throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. The experience left Steve rich with inspiration and an intense understanding of just how profoundly a connection to nature impacts the quality of life. He created Herlong & Associates shortly there after based on these principles and a commitment to high quality design fit for the environment.

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Q & A: Behind the Process
It’s a daunting experience hiring an architect to do something major. Besides the cost, it’s so personal and is just as much a relational decision as it is an aesthetic one. Herlong breaks down the process for us and tells us how he keeps things honest, fair, and fun.

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1. What is the most important factor a client should consider before hiring you?

Gathering clients’ aesthetic vision and understanding their lifestyle and translating that into the design of a home is an exciting part of the process and one that comes naturally to me and our creative team—however, the most important thing is helping clients understand the realistic cost of building the custom home they envision.

A lot of architects and home builders tend to gloss over that reality in the early stages, and I’ve probably lost some clients because I told them the truth of the costs up front. But we can guide clients early on in terms of helping them choose the design details that fit their budget.

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For example, adding any rounded elements such as porches or adding detailed woodwork to the ceilings automatically pushes the cost into a higher price point. We can take clients into completed homes and show them one at a lower price point, one at a medium price point, and one at the higher end to give them a tangible idea of what costs what and help them decide which details they are willing to pay a little more for and which ones they may be able to do without to fit their budget.

2.    What is the first question you ask a new client?

In our first interview together, I will ask the clients about their past experiences in building or renovating a home and how it went for them. This conversation lets me know right off the bat how we can avoid repeating any mishaps from the past, but it also lets me know how much guidance to offer them right from the beginning, especially if this is their first experience constructing a home. We don’t ever want a client sitting through a meeting without fully understanding the discussion.

Communication is important to us in terms of making sure the clients are happy and informed. We want to be able to walk them through everything from timelines to codes and ordinances to the sometimes complicated floor plans and elevations so that they are aware of what’s going on and what will happen next without any misunderstandings or unwanted surprises. Now that we have 3-D technology and can virtually walk the clients through the design we have one more way of making sure the clients get the experience and the home they are hoping for.

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3.    Where do you start your design?  Is it the kitchen?  or does it always change based on what’s important to that specific client?

I really start the design by spending time on the site—understanding how to take advantage of its great potential and minimizing any challenges: the view, the wind, the direction of the breezes, the sunrise and sunset, road traffic, and surrounding structures, for example.

But once you’ve established the way the site will speak to the design the kitchen is certainly a critical component. It’s the hub of the home, and everything has to develop from there.

4.    If you were to re-design your own home, what would you add (or subtract)?  Be specific. (and if you happen to have a picture to go along, that would be great!)

Most people would probably be surprised to know I currently live in an 850-square-foot historic cottage. It functions incredibly well because of the layout, which is very simple. What I would add is about a hundred more square feet of additional storage space.