A Charlotte Architect Designs a Better World

Credit Jamey Price

Rick Kazebee is a practicing Charlotte architect and the founder of Kazebee Design. He is also a self- described “maker of things” and a part-time lecturer at UNCC. Kazebee brings a unique set of tastes, interests, and ideals to his projects, focusing intently on what drives him and defines his artistry.

His experience is extensive: For two decades, Rick worked for one of the largest architectural firms in the world and ultimately became a design director. One of the last projects he led there was Asheville’s New Belgium Brewery. He’s also responsible for his own home, Pharr Mill Brewery, and the Small Cakes upfit. Currently, Rick is in the middle of three homes, each coming soon.

“It was a critical turning point because I spent four years working with craft brewers. I have always been a maker, but this exposure showed me that there was a culture of craftspeople that fit my nature. I realized I wanted to work with people who appreciated the craft including but not exclusive of craft breweries… However, pursuing well-crafted work and relationships with other small craftspeople does not fit well with a large corporate firm.” 

With that, Rick left about three years ago and created Kazebee Design, where, rather than focus on a particular type of design, he looks for opportunities to make thoughtful, well-crafted things, including commercial, residential, and even furniture. He told us a bit more about the business and his art.

Credit Jamey Price

How did you get started in Charlotte architecture, and what drives you to create?

Drawing and understanding three-dimensional space has always been easy and enjoyable for me. Kris (Kazebee) is also very artistic; I think we both get it from our mothers. A designer fundamentally looks at the world and thinks it could be better. Then they are driven to make better things. Each project seems to provide its own opportunities for and definition of better. “More beautiful” is a dimension of better, but I think beauty is the consequence of thoughtfulness and craft more than it is an end in itself. For Kris and me, a day spent making something good is a good day.

Who are your architectural influences?

I tend to appreciate the modern masters, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Luis Kahn. More current architects include Brian MacKay-Lyons and Peter Zumthor. I am also inspired by simple vernacular buildings like sheds and barns. I find their clarity and authenticity reminds me that as designers we often try too hard. We focus on making something novel and exciting when sometimes an elegant construct that well provides for the needs is more poetic and more timeless.

Tell us how you come up with your Kazebee Design concepts. 

My thoughts come from a history of pragmatic middle-class culture doing as well as an intellectual culture studying. I draw on experiences of changing oil in a car or building a shed. These are amazing examples of the blue-collar ability to understand and manipulate the world we live in. I also draw on experiences from intellectual study of design and architecture having earned two degrees in architecture from Virginia Tech and from teaching architectural studios at UNCC for the past ten years. I learn with a pencil or a hammer in my hand, often both at the same time.

Charlotte Architect
Charlotte Architect Rick Kazebee Credit Jamey Price

Tell us what it’s like to design a project, engineer its construction, and then see it actualized. What does it feel like to see something go from paper to a fully realized building?

Seeing something you conceived come into the world is wonderful and terrible. Managing these emotions seems to be part of maturing as an artist, but I am still working on that balance. It is wonderful to see something good come into the world and especially rewarding to see people enjoying a space. On the other hand, seeing work that you put your heart and soul into poorly constructed and the feeling of bringing ugliness into the world is troubling. That is the downside of being a passionate artist… One reason I am so passionate about craft is the hope of designing in a way that inspires and facilitates more care and craftsmanship.

It seems your designs take into consideration the environment in which they will exist. How do you prepare for a project? Take us through your process. 

Architecture is the art of responding to a particular place, culture, and environment. I spend as much time on site as possible. Day and night, hot and cold, rain and shine. I document the surrounding structures and context. The built context is a result of a culture, so I strive to understand that culture and its philosophies. I strive to fully understand what the client wants and unite that with what the place wants.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Keeping my passions in balance, there are days when I understand why Van Gogh cut off his ear.

Is there a person or people you work alongside?

I work with my wife a lot and she provides valuable feedback. Kris is not trained as an architect but has wonderful instincts. I think if someone can endure living with a crazy architect for a few decades, they should get an honorary degree in architecture. Beyond that, I collaborate with a lot of people, from talented engineers to draftsmen to other architects. These are like-minded people I have come across during many years of practicing in Charlotte. I find it best to build an appropriate team for a project by collaborating with other experienced small businesspeople. 

Do you have any designs coming to Charlotte in the future? 

I have plans for a line of heirloom furniture that can be sold in kits. The idea is that someone who does not have a woodshop can make something she or he can cherish.