Kristi Kenney of KW Architects on Designing Challenging Spaces

Kristi Kenney of KW Architects designed the Kennebunk home that was featured on the cover of Maine Home+Design in June of 2017. Located on a strip of land between a marsh and the ocean, the property illustrates Kenney’s specialty perfectly; she loves the challenge of seeking out-of-the-box design solutions for seaside properties. Kenney tells MH+D Inside Out why restrictions help rather than inhibit her creative process.

Q. How did you get into architecture?

A. In college, I majored in architecture, and then I came out of school and drafted for an architect all the time. Instead of pursuing my own projects, I was drafting for someone else. It wasn’t fulfilling. After a while, I started to think that I might want to find a different career. First I looked into law school, but then, after visiting a friend in Tucson, I starting calling up Arizona-based architecture firms and asking for a job. In the end, I moved to Phoenix, where I became a project manager. A change of scenery made all the difference—it gave me the design opportunities that I hadn’t been finding.

Q. Who is your ideal client?

A. My ideal client is someone who knows what they want, but works with the architect to figure out the best solution. When people start thinking about remodeling their house, they often get stuck on a single idea—an architect can help clients see their home differently. Architects and designers know how to look outside the box and come up with solutions that owners have never even thought of.

Q. What’s your first step when you’re tackling a new project?

A. I start every project off with research. Most of my projects are tricky properties—they have layers of restrictions, including DEP, FEMA flood zone, local town ordinances, setback issues, and nonconformities.

Q. Do you feel like the restrictions are useful to you when you’re planning a home?

A. I have been dealing with all the laws and restrictions of houses near the ocean for so long that it blows my mind to have free reign of whatever I want; it’s almost overwhelming. I tend to work more with challenging locations.

Q. What’s an example of how regulations affect design?

A. When we designed the Burke house that was featured on the cover of Maine Home+Design in June of 2017, we were wrestling with the allowable volume, which is a restriction on houses situated near the ocean​ where lots are subject to several ​layers of zoning ​ordinances​. We did not want to reduce the space in the house. All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb went off, and I thought, “Let’s just chop off the corner of the building,” which helped us meet the ordinance and solve the problem of how we could maximize the view to the harbor. Then we added these amazing gables to address the corner. The way that I prefer to work, and the way that has been the most fun and most challenging, is creating solutions for those regulatory challenges.

Q. Do you feel like the restrictions are useful to you when you’re planning a home, that they help you think differently?

A. I’ve been dealing with laws and restrictions for building seaside houses for so long that an open site without restrictions seems almost overwhelming. Creatively, I enjoy the challenge of working with more difficult locations. With Maine’s long coastline, and with the number of people who want to build along it, there are always opportunities for more challenges and creative solutions.