Architect Crush: Kirley Architects


It is fairly clear Northern California-based architect Keith Kirley was been destined for design. A third-generation architect, he followed his father and grandfather down the path of creating visionary beauty and detail when launching his own firm—Kirley Architects. Kirley’s impressive accomplishments includes completing an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a masters in Classical architecture from Notre Dame and serves on several planning boards that steer California’s architectural vernacular. Here, he shares with us more about his background and thoughts on the future of the practice.

Photo by Megan Bayley

-We read that you are the third-generation of architects in your family. Did you feel obligated to follow the same path or inspired? I was heavily involved in athletics and played division 1 ice hockey in college. I mention this because I was totally focused on athletics and school until I graduated. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I realized how interesting my father and grandfathers’ profession was and my interest only grew as I started looking at their work more closely. This interest eventually led me to Graduate School in the next phase of my life. They still inspire me on a daily basis.

Photo by Christopher Stark

Which other architect has inspired your work the most? Greene and Greene. They fascinated me with their signature craftsman style which was purely American. The attention to detail in their work and their use of natural wood materials makes their work totally unique.

You received an impressive masters in Classical Architecture from Notre Dame. How do you utilize this knowledge and infuse each project in your work, being the predominant style in California is more modern? My graduate degree taught me the fundamental design skills that I rely on daily in my practice. Classical architecture is based upon principles of proportion, scale and symmetry. I use these principles during my design process whether I’m working on a classically inspired project or a new modern home. My design tendencies and interests skew toward traditional styles, but I love good design and enjoy working on modern projects when the opportunity presents itself. As an East Coast transplant to California, I’ve found many of our clients are similar to me, they’ve moved to this beautiful part of the country but still want a home that evokes the nostalgia of where they grew up.

Photo by Christopher Stark

-In your free time, you mentor young architects. What is the one piece of advice you tend to give?  I try to find their passion and then encourage them to find a niche that allows them to pursue and focus on that passion. I also push them to draw by hand. It’s a dying skill that is so valuable throughout any architect’s career. It’s important for young architects to love their work as it can be a demanding profession. You need to love what you’re doing if you want to do great work.

Photo by Jim Westphalen


Favorite Marin-based restaurant for the design? That’s a tough one as Marin isn’t a hotbed of restaurant design, but I like what BCV did at Hog Island in the Marin Country Mart. There is a mastery of detailing and material selection in the design that I appreciate every time I’m there having oysters.

-Favorite design book for office inspiration? We have over 500 books in our office so that’s also a tough one!  I just purchased a rare copy of John Soane’s work from the 1700’s. It inspires me as it ties me to this profession and all the architects that have worked as we do today over the centuries.

Favorite place to travel to in California? Every year I go fly-fishing in a remote part of Northern California on the Kalamath River. It’s so remote, it almost feels like Alaska.  It’s a magical place that reminds me of why I love my adopted state of California.

-If you weren’t an architect, you would be? I always wanted to be a professional hockey player, I came close but never quite got there. Maybe it’s time for a comeback?

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