Crayon Architects: Drawing on their passion

Andrea and Dan at the opening of the new Drakes store, designed by Crayon Architects

Andrea and Dan at the opening of the new Drakes store, designed by Crayon Architects - Credit: Archant

CHRISSY HARRIS talks to a couple who are making a big impact with their burgeoning archictects’ practice

Andrea Galley is used to the look: that one of surprise, awkwardness and admiration all rolled into one. It tends to happen when she tells people what she does for a living.

Because at the age of just 29, Andrea is an architect in charge of her own firm and responsible for an increasing number of high profile projects in Devon.

She and fiancé Dan Atkins, 33, set up Crayon shortly after graduating from the notoriously gruelling seven to eight-year-long architecture course at Plymouth University.

It was a bold move for a couple fresh out of university, but ‘freshness’ seems to be what appeals to their growing list of clients who like their new ideas and hands-on approach - and the fact Andrea is not your archetypal architect.

Sat in Crayon’s rambling Victorian terraced-house headquarters in Plymouth (which doubles as the couple’s home) I’m all ready with my ‘girl power’ spiel but Andrea brings it up first.

“There are not a lot of females in the industry, I’m going to throw that in there,” she says, after explaining how much she enjoys her job. “I think by the end of my course there were about seven girls and 12 boys in total.

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“It’s a long, hard course and it does set you back, I mean, most of my friends are married with kids by now.

She adds: “It’s hard when you’re there in front of a big board of men. You’ve just got to stand your ground and tell people to trust the knowledge that you have.”

It’s a strategy that is paying off. Crayon recently beat off stiff competition to secure the contract to design the new Drakes jewellery store in Plymouth.

The couple are also responsible for bringing to life a beautiful roof garden at Morley Court in the city, complete with vegetable patch and soft play area for children.

Elsewhere, Andrea and Dan have been working on residential new-builds in Exeter and Cornwall, as well as conservation projects across the South West and beyond.

A highlight for Andrea has been working on the plans for her graphic design teacher’s extension – a man she credits with helping her decide early on to pursue a career in architecture. “It was so nice to work with him,” says Andrea. “But I kept calling him ‘Sir’. He told me to call him by his first name but I just wasn’t ready!”

Crayon’s success has been built on good, old fashioned word-of-mouth from people eager to support an up and coming local firm. To help their modern approach, the pair use the latest 3D technology software to help clients decide exactly what they want and where.

Andrea says it’s all helping them to make their mark in a competitive business.

“Our website started out showing two loft conversions, then it went to a kitchen extension, then a two-storey kitchen, houses and then Drake’s. It’s been incredible,” says Andrea, who says good customer relations are fundamental.

Dan agrees being an architect is about much more than bricks and mortar. “You do find yourself becoming a specialist in the strangest of areas,” he says. “For instance, when we were working on Drake’s, we had to spend a lot of time looking at heights of people and what level things needed to be at, as well as the best coloured light needed to display diamonds and how bright it should be.”

“It’s true,” says Andrea. “It’s not all about designing buildings. It’s about spacial awareness, understanding place and context, how people use spaces, how they sit and walk.

“We do tend to have to know a little about a lot of things. But we like a challenge. We always throw ourselves fully into each project because we want it to be the best it can be.”

In the five years Crayon has been up and running, that has meant pulling 12-hour days and spending weekends working to meet deadlines.

But this is a couple with a solid working relationship. “People often ask what it’s like to work with each other,” says Dan. “We love it. People might imagine we do everything together and wouldn’t be able to make decisions and we’d be arguing all day. But we have quite specific roles in terms of taking on our own projects.”

“And we face different ways in the office!” says Andrea.

With a wedding to plan, as well as Devon’s architectural future, these two have certainly got their work cut out. But Andrea isn’t fazed. “I haven’t lost that excitement about getting that new project. I don’t think that will ever change.” n

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