Two Decades for a Powerhouse Couple at AV Architects + Builders
Partnerships built on love, respect and a mutual appreciation of modern design are the great makings of both a marriage and an architecture firm that builds homes for people who want to enjoy Vacation Style Living ™ year-round. Francisca and Tony Alonso, the founders and creative team behind AV Architects + Builders, draw inspiration from many sources. They are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the firm in August 2021, and I had the chance to talk to them about their influences, their philosophy, and their approach to teamwork.
Drastically different childhood landscapes led to a surprisingly similar biophilic approach to design.
Born in Chile, where she lived until she was 6, Francisca remembers the contrasting views of the majestic Andes to the East and the vast Pacific Ocean to the West. From there she moved to Marbella, Spain, where her family’s architecture business soaked into her blood, and she learned to appreciate the open, airy feel of the vacation resorts designed by her father. Unlike high-rise buildings found in the US, the resorts in Spain are rarely more than three stories, often spread out over a larger property and emphasize an attachment to nature, air, connection, a grounded, beautiful environment, and a relaxed community feel.
Tony couldn’t have had a more distinct childhood in the Midwest, where he grew up loving the Indiana landscape, which featured rolling hills, but neither mountains nor oceans in sight. From early days, Tony loved the work of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, whose designs were attuned to their natural surroundings and focused on making the most of every square foot of space instead of creating oversized buildings.
The common thread for the two was a love of the natural environment and a desire to see their work integrate with the location. And they were drawn to the biophilic design movement. As described by Yale Professor Emeritus, Stephen Kellert, “Biophilic design fosters positive and sustained interactions and relationships among people and the natural environment. Humans are a deeply social species whose security and productivity depends on positive interactions within a spatial context. Effective biophilic design fosters connections between people and their environment, enhancing feelings of relationship, and a sense of membership in a meaningful community.”
For Tony, this means designing and building “extroverted houses” that reach out to the environment, speak to it, and embrace it. According to Francisca, they share a commitment to creating homes where, no matter where in the house, you have at least three outside viewpoints, which has the added value of eliminating dark hallways and creating interesting transition spaces. The flow between indoor/outdoor spaces is a hallmark of Vacation Style Living ™, and all of their projects encourage more time outside.
First encounter leads to a successful partnership in design and in love
As students of architecture at the Catholic University in the 80’s Francisca and Tony happened to take a history of architecture course together. When it came time to pick members of the student project working groups, Francisca, who envisioned a 4’ model, honed in on Tony for his height and apparent strength. Tony laughs that, “Francisca always thinks big when it comes to design projects, and this first joint effort was no different. We got an A in that class, and never looked back.” The two fell in love, married and have been together for the past 34 years. Next year marks their 30th wedding anniversary. They have four children in their 20s, who bring joy to their lives.
20 years ago, Francisca and Tony decided to form a design/build firm, which they dedicated to realizing projects that fulfilled their modernist and biophilic approach to architecture. For the first 12 years of the firm, they focused on renovations and remodels, helping clients in Northern Virginia realize their household dreams with existing structures. Over the years, they noticed consistent preferences and complaints from clients related to home design. 8 years ago, when they decided to start building new homes, Francisca and Tony compiled the top 22 issues that mattered most to clients and launched their new direction incorporating them into each and every design. The results? Straight A’s from clients at every turn.
As partners, the duo appreciates that they each bring different strengths to the table. “For our work together, we always put all ideas on the table, and we talk through them because this helps bring out the best in one another, through discussion, occasional intense debate, and a lot of mutual respect,” says Francisca. They find that in work and home, they meet one another halfway, and balance each other out. According to Tony, “One thing we’ve found is that humor is key to a solid relationship. We laugh together a lot.
Taking inspiration from around the World to create designs that fit the location
Over the years, the Francisca and Tony have travelled the world, absorbing the beauty of locations like Southern France, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Venice, Italy. The latter, known for its canals, also features hundreds of piazzas, some so small they only fit a couple tables and chairs. Wandering this wonderful city, Tony and Francisca recognized how this wonderful, historic city also committed to useable, outdoor space. While staying at the Amangani Resort in Jackson Hole, the two found buildings that matched their philosophy, utilizing superior quality, oversized windows to bring the outdoors inside, and situating the buildings in a way that harmonizes with the landscape. More importantly, the resort stays true to the local environment, with design and materials that are appropriate to a Western location. Francisca and Tony don’t try to shoehorn a style or materials appropriate to a different climate into the Northern Virginia area where they produce their custom homes. Instead, they carefully research materials and apply an aesthetic that matches the landscape.
AV Architects + Builders has developed a reputation for delivering superlative homes that make people feel like they are on vacation year-round. As founders and leaders, Francisca and Tony set the bar high for livable, modern homes in Northern Virginia. To learn more about how you can work with this amazing team, schedule a consultation.