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inspired designer
Story by Susan O'Connor, Photo by Dero Sanford

Inspiration comes from many directions. For architect Jeff Herren, the song of a city has been his muse. That city is New Orleans.


“We just got sucked into the city,” he said with passion. “The culture — everything about it — pulled us in.”


Herren earned a bachelor’s degree in art and interior design at Harding University, where he met his wife, Jonesboro native Angelia McGlothin Herren.


Post college, Herren worked in interior design in Little Rock for five years before pursuing a master’s degree in architecture from Tulane University in New Orleans. Architecture had been his choice of profession from the start. He completed graduate work in 2002.


“I was 26 and decided if I was ever going to go back to school, I needed to do it now.”


Herren described the move to New Orleans as a culture shock, and the graduate program as very demanding. His colleagues at Tulane, he noted, were impressive.


“For me, it was interesting going back to school in my late 20s and working with kids right out of high school and being blown away by their work ethic; that they performed the way they did and were very mature about it.”


Immediately after graduation, he took a position with Dennis Brady Architects in New Orleans, a firm that specialized in high-end residential projects. Herren said he was able to “push design concepts to the limit and not worry about finances,” a coup for any architect, especially one fresh out of graduate school.
But, as the couple contemplated having their first child, Herren said they felt that New Orleans was not conducive to raising a family. A mental preparation ensued as they prepared to leave the city they had grown to love to return to Northeast Arkansas. But before their departure in 2005, an epic storm named Katrina rolled in. It was the second time for the Herrens to evacuate the city.
“I thought, ‘I have one car, two people, two cats. What is really important to us?’”


They left in the middle of the night to avoid the mad rush of traffic. Herren said he had a feeling that this hurricane was different.


“There was just something there that didn’t feel right,” he said. “The doomsday scenario of 20-feet of water in the city — this was as close as it has ever gotten to that scenario. Watching it unfold over the television and knowing what I know about the city and the struggles that go on every day. It was heart wrenching to see that happen.


“People called it a war zone and it really was for a couple of weeks. We lived out of a cooler for a week and a half after we returned.”


After recovering from the Katrina experience, the couple made the move to Jonesboro. Herren went to work for Brackett-Krennerich Architects in 2006, where he has designed everything from schools and corporate settings to one of his favorite projects, the beautiful Manley Chapel on the campus of Williams Baptist College near Walnut Ridge.


“Manley Chapel was a special project with the right people on board to execute it well,” Herren said. “We cut very few corners on that job. I never gave up in terms of the design. There were certain aspects I was not going to compromise on.”


Another striking Herren design is an addition to his home, located at the corner of Main Street and Strawn. The circa-1920s home now has a master bathroom that warrants coveting.


“The original structure used a traditional brick veneer, but a not so common ceramic tile roof,” Herren said. “In the mid-50s there was an addition that used lapped siding and the same roofing system. I liked the idea that there was a deliberate change in the material’s scale and finish to denote the addition. I wanted to push that idea even further with our addition, so we used zinc titanium panels for the cladding, but turned it vertically. I wanted to use zinc because it has been used for hundreds of years — particularly in Europe — and has made a resurgence into the States with more modern designs.”


Beyond a large bath of modern design are floor to ceiling windows, letting in natural light and a real feeling of being outdoors.


“The shape of the addition was a combination of form and function, and I tried not to let one overpower the other. I pulled the mass inward so the corners of the first addition were still visible, and we ‘inserted’ the new addition into the old. I detailed the lap siding in such a way that it literally looks like the new addition is cutting into the old.


“The main form is an adaptation of a butterfly roof. I wanted to bring in natural light, and this shape seemed to be the perfect fit. I used a commercial curtain wall system with butt glazed corners so there was a light, airy feeling and the interior and exterior began to become one.”


What types of architecture inspires this Jonesboro executive?
“I seem to be drawn to European architecture both classic and contemporary,” he said. “I feel that design-oriented architects have to acknowledge what is being designed and constructed in Europe, and should push new ideas forward. I also appreciate Japanese architecture, both classic and contemporary. I think this is where my minimalist attitude towards design began. I can truly appreciate that less is more, but realize that true minimalism is very difficult to successfully accomplish, both from a design and construction standpoint.”