Stephen Arnn

In our ongoing series, Interview with an Architect, we speak with leading voices in the North Texas architecture community and learn about their work, development issues in our community, and good design practices and principals (you can read the last one here).

Stephen Arnn grew up surrounded by and appreciating great architecture. From an early age, he showed talent and interest in art, especially drawing. When his mother suggested he should be an architect when he grew up, the seven-year-old agreed, and from that point forward, Arnn had his career path in mind.

Stephen Arnn

Stephen Arnn

Today, he is a Dallas residential architectural designer, owner of Stephen Arnn Design, which he established in 1976. Arnn graduated from architecture school at Washington University in St. Louis and working at other boutique firms in Nebraska and Dallas.

“I became a different person [at Washington University] and I had a wonderful group of professors who challenged me,” he said. “It was easy in Oklahoma City to be known as talented—it wasn’t easy at Washington because there were a lot of talented people and I had to learn to use my talents and not just slough around.”

Arnn moved to Dallas after a stint in Nebraska at a large firm, joining Pierce Lacey Partnership and working six years with his mentor, Neal Lacey. Lacey taught him something valuable:

“He said, ‘You are in a profession where people tend to preen around each other and you should be in this profession to create beautiful buildings, buildings that work for the client…you’re not doing this to get published in Architectural Digest or Architectural Record—that is simply showing your work to your peers, your competition,” Arnn said. “I want to design a house that is exactly what the client wants, because it’s their money, not mine, and I want them to be embraced by the house and love it.”

We sat down with Arnn and talked shop.

CandysDirt: You’ve had a special gift since childhood that plays an important part in your career. Tell us about it. 

Stephen Arnn: A gift I was given, not one I developed out of education, is two fold: the ability to draw freehand, with a simple stroke, and the gift of seeing things in my head in three dimension. That makes the design process enormously easier. As well, the warmth of hand-drawn sketches or presentation drawings is much easier to sell than is a CAD drawing at this point in technological history. Hand drawings also allow me to be thinking about every stroke. It takes longer, at the inception, but it solves lots of problems later in the design development phase because it’s all been thought through.