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Meet Michael Buss of Michael Buss Architects in South West

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Buss.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michael. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Due to a depressed economy in the early 90s, I found myself unemployed at age 25 and unsure about my future. As a University of Illinois graduate who worked my way through school, I had experience in the luxury home and remodeling markets as well as commercial and retail industries, However, there just was not a lot of work after I graduated and interns were hired by the project.

On the very day of my most recent layoff, I went home to surprise party planned by my wife and family to celebrate my passing the Architectural Registration Exam. When I told my wife Sue later that evening that I was unemployed, I was not sure what her reaction would be. She really only had one set of words – advice – for me. She said, “You can continue looking for work with other firms or look for work for your own.” My family agreed with her and I did too. Having my own architectural firm had always been my dream. So, in November of 1991 with the support of my wife and family, in the unfinished basement of our home, Michael Buss Architects, Ltd was born.

Primarily, I was a home designer, and so this was the direction I took. Whether it was an addition, whole house renovation, or new custom home, I enjoyed working those early projects. Each one served up a unique set of challenges, which allowed me to create a unique set of solutions. To me, success came when clients continued to love their home years after completion. I’m reminded of a Christmas card Sue keeps by her desk. It simply says “ Happy Holidays, Sill love our gingerbread house. Should move but we can’t give it up. Your contented clients.” This success has withstood the test of time, as today I’m designing my clients’ second homes, their downsized homes, and now their children’s homes. As years went by, our projects grew in size and I was able to provide more services to my clients. In 1999, I started providing construction management services. Clients wanted my design and construction knowledge to guide them through the construction process, whether they were with a builder or building themselves. This allowed us to work closely with them to create a consistency of design within the project.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ultimately, Yes. While the road has had its ups and downs, even in the darkest depths, even on the worst day, I still got up and enjoyed going to work. I believe whatever hiccups we faced along the path have made us stronger. Michael Buss Architects has become more flexible and resilient as a firm as a result.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Michael Buss Architects – what should we know?
A few years after establishing my own firm, my wife Sue took the leap and left corporate America to work with me full time. She brought the organizational management to nurture our continued growth. I also have a great staff of talented people that help bring the design full circle and help our clients enjoy the process. When you have the correct staff, work isn’t working anymore – it’s fun! They’ve learned my Mike-isms. They share the same passion. They enjoy seeing the finished product of what they helped create.

Our passion is to create beautiful buildings. I have a true love for the whole building process. I have always loved the smell of construction – a fresh excavation, the smell of cut wood or even drywall. There is nothing more exciting to me in the architectural world than watching lumber go up piece by piece and shaping what were once pictures in my head. There are moments of mixed anticipation and anxiety. Is it going to be what I expected?

Our specialty is in residential design, coupled with a curiosity to solve any challenge. We take the time to know our clients and understand their lifestyles. We ask the questions no one else asks. “When you tell me the apple is red, I need to find what your red is.” I take great pride in being able to translate my clients’ dreams into reality, to actualize the visions our clients describe. During the design phase, I sit with them and my roll of trace paper. I am looking for their fireworks, “Aha!” moments. Those simple moments allow me to create a fuller design suited to each client.

One of the things they don’t teach in school is how to be assertive when talking to both clients and contractors in order to get the intent of the detail. Often, it is easier to go to the job site and show them the intent, simple details that I strive to achieve. I am always willing to go to the job site, pick up a hammer or saw and show them my design intent. At my core, I am a designer/sculptor, but throughout school, I worked in the trades. Because of that experience, I speak fluent “contractor”. One of my favorite moments is when the artwork showing the detail sketched on the rough lumber behind the drywall is equally as impressive as the finished product.

I’m very proud that our vast amount of work has created relationships with many unique people. Our long list of happy clients includes musicians, a rocket scientist, an ice dancing coach and a doctor who introduced herself as Dr. Baby Catcher. I’m proud of the fact that we get to design and tailor homes that are perfect for each of our clients’ personalities.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Probably the ability to process quickly while listening and translate that into a sketch while sitting with a client. Sometimes what they are saying is not entirely what they want- again what is their red?

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Image Credit:
Norman Sizemore

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