Since co-founding The Lawrence Group architecture firm in 1983, Paul Doerner has been beautifying the local landscape with a variety of innovative homes. He recently retired from the company after a successful career but says he is far from being done with design.
Most T&S readers will recognize Doerner as ‘the Homework guy’ who pens one of our most popular columns. In fact, he says the column is what inspired a new venture he has been ruminating about for some time. It will be called Homework Consulting and will allow him to take on smaller, more focused projects like the ones he often tackles in the publication. “I won’t be designing whole houses, just helping people update different parts of them,” he explains. “It might be changes to a driveway, porch or entryway, things like that.”
He says his process for redesigning Homework exteriors is very organic and traditional. He could use high-tech architectural software to create his suggested updates, but he prefers to wield pens and brushes instead. “I do use a photocopier to magnify the pictures people submit,” he says. “That allows me to see more detail so I can redraw the house with my suggestions.”
He adds that homeowners usually react positively to his Homework recommendations, but occasionally there’s an outlier. “After I wrote one of my first columns, the owners sent me a letter saying they thought my (very extensive) updates were ridiculous and would be far too expensive,” he notes. “But it was a difficult case—the front elevation was dominated by a large garage door, and the home didn’t even look residential. I had to just throw the book at it, and that’s why I went all out. It’s one of the things I like best about this column; it’s a purely creative exercise, and there are no zoning committees or regulations to deal with.”
Doerner says even though some owners submit a photo without identifying the neighborhood, he usually can tell where it is located by the style of home. Occasionally, he’ll drive by at a later date to see if they took his advice. “Sometimes people have made changes I didn’t suggest, and other times, they have taken my recommendations and made them even better,” he says. “I may notice that homeowners have made their home look more Tudor than I proposed, but it really works. I think the column is a catalyst for other people’s creativity as well as my own.”
The architect adds that St. Louis is fertile ground for people interested in his field. “This area has a lot of terrific homes and neighborhoods,” he says. “I think it has embraced a broader range of styles than most cities of its size. And there are a lot of older or smaller homes that can be modified so they are more workable. I really enjoy what I do because I believe any house can be made better.”