When Gary Beyerl looks at the world of high-end architecture, he sees a changed industry. What began as a fashionable commitment to sustainability and green building—once voguish buzzwords in the mid 2000s—has blossomed into a full-on understanding that the trade can never be the same.
Beyerl, one of the principals of Chicago-based Burns + Beyerl Architects, made his first foray into residential design out of a desire to make his clients’ dream homes real. “I always loved the connection with the client,” Beyerl says. “The client’s passion always seemed more alluring than the committee side of an institution.” And it helps having kindred spirits in his partners, Cathy Osika and Ed Twohey. “We’re all of the same mind,” Osika says. “The design is much more personal, and all those little details matter.”
Since the company’s founding in 1993, the architects of Burns + Beyerl have indeed become known for their attention to the nuances of fine but sustainable design. Take, for instance, the firm’s first LEED Silver home, built for a Chicago family that wanted to be near each other, actually utilizing all the rooms instead of “living in a museum.” There wasn’t a sacrifice of luxury—including beautiful marble bathrooms and an immaculate, naturally lit kitchen—for sustainability. They incorporated geothermal heating and cooling, a 700-gallon cistern for rainwater irrigation, and rooftop solar arrays for hot water.
“No one would know it was a LEED house because of its traditional details,” Osika says, noting that even though it was completed in March 2011, “it feels like it’s been there since the genesis of the neighborhood.”
Taking their green goals a step beyond the home itself, Burns + Beyerl selected Scott Byron Landscaping, a firm known for its commitment to sustainability, to help conserve resources across the entire project. “They picked materials carefully and earned quite a few points in the LEED program thanks to their efforts,” Beyerl says. A major component was a 700-gallon cistern that catches rainwater and aids in irrigating the landscape.
Accordingly, the crown jewel of the home is its front-porch columns made of ghostwood, beautiful timber preserved by the scorching heat of Western forest fires. “Luxury and sustainability can coexist fairly easily,” Beyerl says, which is why the firm makes responsible design a priority even when working with clients who don’t set out with sustainability on their shortlist of must-haves. “We as architects want to make houses more efficient, and it becomes a monetary benefit to the client if they plan to stay in the home more than seven years,” Osika adds.
“Gone are the days when sustainable design meant sacrificing beauty by constructing walls built of cans or tires,” Twohey notes. “Small gestures like using lumber from managed forests, LED lighting, or traditional cork flooring in the basement in lieu of vinyl, can have a huge collective effect.” For Burns + Beyerl, there’s no turning back from this sort of responsible design. “It will continue to be the future of high-end design,” Osika says. “It has to. We’re in a world where we have to make smarter choices.” Adds Beyerl: “I don’t ever see us going back.”