Architect showcases talent with home/office

By Carolyn Barbre

Architect Eric McConnaughey gives directions just like you might expect of an architect.

No left or right turns, it's all north, south, east, west which presumes that the recipient of these directions has a clue as to compass directions. However, going to his pueblo style home/studio in Visalia is well worth the trip.

McConnaughey, 43, is the founder of EBM Design Group which has landed contracts to design the Lindsay Wellness Center, downtown streetscapes and is designing the future Lindsay Library. The City of Lindsay is their biggest account.

It all started last summer when landscape architect Bill Gurnea began working for EBM. Gurnea had designed the Sweet Brier Plaza and was working on site, coordinating the project and keeping it moving along.

"Our first project was downtown redesign. We entered into a contract for a master plan and entry into the city," McConnaughey said seated at the conference table on a balcony or loft above the living room which has a 20 foot ceiling. He said about the same time the RFP (request for proposals) went out for the Wellness Center.

"We met with Scot and kind of picked his brain - 'What is it you see and the city wants this project to be?' - so when we responded to the RFP, instead of just going with a written response of our history, we came in with a master plan of the whole quadrant."

McConnaughey is a Visalia native who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up when he was still in grammar school. "I was blessed. A lot of people struggle with careers, to know what they want to do. I knew from the age of 10-12 what I wanted to do." He said that was a big advantage because he was taking drafting in high school at Mt. Whitney and studied architecture, graduating with an associate of science in architecture from College of the Sequoias.

McConnaughey went on to Texas A&M, having been inspired by one of his professors at COS who had earned a doctorate from that institution. McConnaughey got his bachelor's in environmental design. He finished up at Arizona State where he earned a master's in architecture. He said ASU was one of three universities in the U.S. offering specialization in energy conservation design and one of three schools specializing in computer applications. He actually earned a split masters and graduated in 1987.

McConnaughey said he would probably have stayed in Arizona (where his home/office wold have blended perfectly) but his parents requested that he design them a new home - his first clients. "I kind of developed a niche market in custom residential, which I did for years," he said.

McConnaughey said there came a time when he realized he was paying rent on an unsatisfactory house and an unsatisfactory office. "I had a town house and I was working out of an office in a strip mall.

I was meeting with clients and telling them how important style is. It felt hypocritical." In 1993 he bought 2.5 acres out in the country on the southeast (we think) side of town. It took almost two years to design and build his pueblo style home/office.

"There were a couple of trees on the property. I picked an east-west axis to orient with the oak trees. The building faced south for solar. It's pueblo because I wanted a series of courtyards off of the building." It doesn't sound all that wonderful from his description, but it is absolutely gorgeous.

"So I picked a style and decided on details." Details (to name a few) include roof beams carved on site, a massive double front door that Eric made himself, and a tiled spiral staircase up to the conference room - which can also be reached by outside steps. The landscaping around the site is mostly low maintenance and perfectly accents to the pueblo style.

His business is going so well that EBM is expanding to an outbuilding, a word that doesn't really capture the project. It could be an inlaw apartment but it will be the new design studio while the present design studio in the home will become an expanded conference room, and the present conference will probably just be a library type space which it is now although without the big table. Gurnea, the landscape architect, and designer Milton Dalida were at work in the office. The quarters were getting cramped, and two other employees were not present at this time, not counting McConnaughey's wife, Rhonda. She recently retired from a long career in child development at Central Valley Christian and became the office manager for EBM. The couple has a 5-year-old daughter, Kaley.

"During the last eight months to a year, we've developed a good relationship with Scot and the Lindsay City Council," McConnaughey said. He said the plans for the Wellness Center have changed dramatically from the original, which was evident in computer generated design by EBM that was on the front page of the May 19 Gazette. They expanded day care facilities and added a senior day care. There is the eight to 10 lane competetive pool, children's wading pool and warm water therapy pool and possibly a day spa. Not everything will be done in the first phase. There will be tennis courts, a racquet ball court and a diabetic clinic and much more. They are setting up meetings with the Tiger Woods Foundation regarding redesigning the golf course.

"I truly enjoy working with Scot. He has vision. His attitude is to go for it rather than cut back. Often clients only look at the bottom dollar. It's great to work with a client who has foresight." McConnaughey said city council was easy to please. "They said whatever we come up with is great - just find a way to pay for it."

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