Craig O'Connell Architecture

Studio Updates

STUDIO UPDATES

Ten-Year Anniversary Series: The Origin Story

2019 marks the 10th year of Craig O’Connell Architecture.  We will celebrate this milestone over the next four months with a special blog post each month.  In this post, we share the story of how Craig became interested in architecture and how Craig O’Connell Architecture came to be.

   

Craig in his childhood treehouse that he helped design and build.

Craig in his childhood treehouse that he helped design and build.

“Even as a little kid, I would sketch structures and actually build them. I was always recruiting my friends to help build forts outside my house that I had drawn in my little sketchpad."


It’s not very often you hear of someone making their childhood dream a lifelong career. Not surprisingly, Craig is one of those people.

“Even as a little kid, I would sketch structures and actually build them. I was always recruiting my friends to help build forts outside my house that I had drawn in my little sketchpad."

Many decades later and he is now celebrating his 10-year anniversary of the inception of Craig O’Connell Architecture.  

From going to school to working for big firms and experiencing the ’08 recession, Craig has managed to build the career he’d never even dreamed of. “I don’t really sit around easily and just by the nature of my personality, I like to keep busy,” he says. “I’ve always been that way and I think, as with anything, if you really love what you do enough, you can figure out how to make it work.” Craig admits he spent many, many hours, including nights and weekends, in his studio at school in Montana working on projects and studying for a difficult series of exams. He also spent a lot of time building his career in San Francisco, so he could get his business to a place where it could support his growing family.

From East Coast to West

Craig in his dorm as an architecture undergrad at Montana State University at Bozeman.

Craig in his dorm as an architecture undergrad at Montana State University at Bozeman.

 

After moving around a lot as a child, Craig attended high school in the Atlanta area. From an early age, he truly knew he wanted to be an architect. His mother’s side was a family of artists: but painting and watercolor were more their speed. When he decided to pick a major for college, because he respected his father so much, he tried going the business school route at the University of Georgia.  After the first year however, he ended up dropping out after he realized it was a mistake that he wasn’t studying architecture. “I was bummed not to be following my passion and realized I could always go back to school for business later if I wanted to,” he said.

 But because there weren’t many architecture schools in the area, and Craig really wanted to move out west after experiencing the beauty and culture of the area during family vacations, he decided to venture to the mountainous Rockies. He was accepted at Montana State University in Bozeman, which had and still has an excellent architecture program. “The professors, the students, and the place was really special,” he says. "Because of the idyllic mountain setting and the quaint, small town vibe with a progressive bent, Bozeman is a highly desirable place to live and therefore the school attracts high-caliber professors and students. Plus, I got to ski almost every day during the season, which is from October to May. I really would love to get back there soon, and maybe make it a regular trip to go once a year.”

 After five years of school and late nights in the studio with some skiing and fraternity parties to balance it out, Craig was ready to experience a proper city. With a couple of internships under his belt, he drove his car from his home in Atlanta to the west coast, making stops in LA, Seattle and eventually deciding to land in San Francisco, because he liked the urban energy and unique character of the city.

 It was 1999 and jobs were plentiful. Craig knew people who graduated ahead of him so he was able to find roommates. He got his first few jobs through Craigslist. For a first project, he drafted a houseboat in Sausalito. He then worked for a small architecture company and eventually landed at a large firm downtown.

 

Crafting a Rustic and Modern Style


Craig says his slight modern aesthetic grew over time, and it was a mix of the popularity of modern design and his personal style, which tends to be more of a cozy, rustic feel.

Craig and his son, Wyatt, at his first office - a co-working space in the Mission, San Fancisco.

Craig and his son, Wyatt, at his first office - a co-working space in the Mission, San Fancisco.

 

 “I am not a very clean, stark, modern architect – I love balance and I like the details to be clean, but I love warmth, texture and natural, organic materials and lots of light, of course.”

 The journey to begin his firm came on much sooner than he had planned. Because of the ’08 recession, Craig got laid off from a firm in downtown San Francisco when they cut staff by more than half. “I was unemployed and started doing small projects for friends and family basically, and overtime, that grew. I started to meet more general contractors and they would pass my name along. One thing led to another and three years down the line, it became a viable business.”

 Craig mentions that being financially free also helped when he was just getting started.

Craig in the midst of the design-buiild style remodel of his current home in Woodacre.

Craig in the midst of the design-buiild style remodel of his current home in Woodacre.


"My wife Jess and I were living in a junior one-bedroom apartment in the city where the rent was cheap.  I didn’t have a lot of other financial obligations at the time, and I was working from home, (and eventually started working out of co-working offices in the Mission)." Craig and Jess had their first child, Wyatt, in the city.  But when they decided they wanted to grow their family, they moved to Marin County, and eventually bought a house in Woodacre.  There, Craig built his very own 400-square-foot office that is detached from the house, where he holds meetings for clients and is kept away from distractions from the two kids (they now also have a daughter Farrah), but also can pop down to play with them for some stress relief and easily join the family for nightly dinners.

 As his business continues to grow (he now has two junior architects helping him), Craig’s vision is to continue to flourish as an architect while achieving a healthy work-life balance, where he can travel more often and work from anywhere.

 

Craig and his family: Jess, Wyatt and Farrah.

Craig and his family: Jess, Wyatt and Farrah.

“I feel like I have a really good team behind me, so I can go out and meet new clients and we can grow the business and take on bigger stuff. At the same time, there’s so many more places I’d love to travel to, and I get a tremendous amount of creative inspiration from traveling. I am always inspired to get out the sketch book when on the road, so I look forward to be able to do more of that."


Stay tuned for our next thee blog posts that shares more about Craig and his journey.

Brittany Nelson