Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: Korte Architecture

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Brian and Andrea Korte’s dedication to customer service has kept their Crystal Lake firm on track for 15 years. As client needs evolve, this husband-and-wife team stands behind its work.

Brian and Andrea Korte, owners of Korte Architecture, in Crystal Lake, at the construction site of their new office on 91 Gates St.

Brian and Andrea Korte, owners of Korte Architecture, in Crystal Lake, at the construction site of their new office on 91 Gates St.

Brian and Andrea Korte are not only building a life together; they’re also helping others to build their dreams.

Fifteen years ago, the Crystal Lake husband-and-wife team co-founded Korte Architecture, a hands-on architecture and engineering firm located at 35 Burden Drive. The full-service firm offers front-end and construction assistance, as well as services like 3-D computer visualization. The Kortes believe responsible architects must understand how all components of architecture come together in a step-by-step process to create a satisfying result. They also believe good architects should listen to their clients carefully and incorporate that insight into their designs.

“We try to find something interesting and unique in each project and each client,” says Brian. “We use that to leverage the design of the project.”

Listening carefully and fully investigating the possibilities in every project are hallmarks of this team. “This allows us to present options that satisfy the clients – options that are efficient and economically budget-conscious, and that offer new, unexpected possibilities,” says Brian.

Never afraid to get their hands dirty, the Kortes have personally taken on projects involving concrete, framing, siding, roofing, finish carpentry, flooring, plumbing and the installation of drywall, insulation, electrical and mechanical systems. They used all these skills while adding a second story to their home and building a cottage for themselves in northern Wisconsin.

“These experiences have helped us to better understand the contractors and tradespeople who carry out our plans,” says Brian. “Construction is a step-by-step process.”

Korte Architecture works with a variety of clients to build custom homes, industrial buildings, professional offices, preschools and more.

A native of Ontario, Brian was participating in a co-op session with a local architect during high school when he discovered his professional passion. “The experience really cemented – pardon the pun – my desire to be an architect,” he says.

Andrea, a native of Arlington Heights, made the same discovery, in high school, while enrolled in a drafting and architectural design class.

Brian studied architecture at the University of Ryerson in Toronto, and then at the University of Michigan – where he met Andrea in an architecture class. After graduating, they both landed jobs in the Windy City and married.

“We spent a lot of time at firms in Chicago – big firms,” Brian says. “But we wanted to be more customer service-oriented than that allowed. We wanted to do something different. And we wanted to be more involved with clients from start to finish.”

“We also wanted to focus our work in the region where we live,” adds Andrea.

While Andrea continued working at a large firm, Brian opened Korte Architecture from the couple’s Crystal Lake home. A few years later, Andrea joined him. As business picked up, they relocated to their current Burden Drive address. Today, they’re renovating a home that will become their new business address by the end of this year.

The couple founded their business because they wanted hands-on contact with clients and a variety of challenges. They haven’t been disappointed.

Among favorite projects to date are the Hampshire Township Park District Preschool, Randall Road Animal Hospital and Crystal Lake Brewery. Each one presented specific challenges. It’s the “oddball” projects and niche designs that keep things interesting, says Brian. And it’s the repeat business that tells you you’re doing something right.

“Building the preschool was a really satisfying process,” says Andrea. “Korte Architecture is now in the process of adding a child care addition onto the school.”

“When a client comes back and wants to work with us again on another project, it’s a testament to the services we provide,” says Brian.

Work on the Crystal Lake Brewery was a nice change of pace.

“We’ve never done anything like that before, and we learned all about the process of brewing during the project,” says Brian. “It was a very rewarding experience.”

Still, running an independent firm isn’t always easy. The slow-down in construction caused by economic recession forced the Kortes to reduce their staffing level from seven to three. But even that had an unexpected upside. It reminded Brian and Andrea that working directly with clients is what they love most.

“Our reason for becoming architects was to design buildings,” says Brian. “If we’re managing a large staff, we’re getting away from what we love. Our size allows us to be flexible and agile in the industry, which helped us to weather the downturn during the recession.”

The Kortes caution those who are considering the same path to think it through carefully. “It’s important to be ever mindful of where the next job will come from,” says Brian. “You have to be flexible and make adjustments as the workload dictates.”

Being married and being business partners has worked well for this couple, but that’s not the case for everyone.
“We’ve been working together since we were straight out of college, so we’re very used to it,” says Brian. “And we provide a little bit of a different service to our clients as a husband-and-wife team. For example, sometimes women feel less intimidated talking to Andrea, or vise versa.”

It’s sometimes challenging to separate work from private life.

“We’ve had to learn how to stop work when the workday is done, and not take it home with us,” says Andrea.

Architects who strike out on their own must teach themselves small-business skills.

“It’s challenging to stay on top of the business side of things,” says Andrea. “Keeping track of insurance, taxes, invoices – these are all things they didn’t teach us in school. Don’t be afraid to get help from experts, with things like accounting. Don’t think you have to do it all. And be prepared to devote a lot of hours to the business.”

When it comes to bringing in new work to the firm, it’s important to be open to opportunity. There’s plenty to be found.

“Don’t be afraid to take on the unglamorous jobs,” Brian says. “You never know where they’ll lead.”

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