The number of women in the architecture industry is on the rise as they increasingly make their mark in the field. Locally, Rachel Martin is doing just that as an associate at Pfeffer Torode Architecture. With a background in interiors and architecture, Rachel brings a unique perspective to the firm, combining style and function to create dynamic spaces. Her talents, coupled with her superior organization skills and dedication to a high level of service, have earned her the recognition she deserves as one of Nashville’s forward-thinking architects. Today, she recalls her journey in architecture, shares insight into her projects and gives a glimpse into her life outside the office. Welcome Rachel Martin as today’s FACE of Nashville.
Tell us about your background.
Out of high school, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I went to school and went through my first year but got frustrated by the fact that we were only interested in talking about the outside. I wondered what is inside the box. I thought maybe interiors would be more my thing. After that first year, I went into interior design and was unsure why we weren’t thinking about the outside.
I went through the interiors program and stayed for a master’s in architecture. The whole story isn’t one or the other. They should be integrated.
I met my husband in grad school, and after graduation, we moved to the west coast — because we had no reason not to. In Portland, Oregon, I worked in a huge corporate firm with 250 people in my office, plus offices in New York, L.A. and Seattle. I went from there to a one-person firm, then to a firm similar to the size of Pfeffer Torode Architecture. In a corporate firm, you realize pretty early on that it’s going to be a long time before you get to talk to the client. I wanted to be more in the process.
After living there, we decided it was time to come home (my husband is from Nashville, and I am from East Tennessee). We came home in 2008, and everyone we knew was getting laid off. We decided to create our own jobs and opened a business in 12South. We had a shop in a little house, where we were doing design work and also bringing some of the products we had used on the West Coast to the Nashville Market. We chose the worst possible time to do it, but we did that for several years. We liked it, but neither one of us went to architecture school to be in retail. I was also teaching interiors at Watkins at the time (I am a glutton for punishment).
We started focusing more on design work and phased out retail. That led us into the work we do now. Jamie [Pfeffer] had been coming into the store, and at the time, he was looking to add people to his firm. That was almost five years ago.
I cannot imagine it happening any other way, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What sparked your interest in architecture?
I have this really foggy memory from elementary school when a teacher asked us to map out our ideal house —what we now call a plan view (a floor plan). Just as any elementary school kid would do, I had a trampoline and an indoor aquarium. I remember the amount of excitement I got from that project, and it just stuck with me. As I got older, I was good at math and art, and those two things took me in the direction of architecture. Oddly enough, I use both math and drawing on a daily basis.
What do you bring to the Pfeffer Torode Architecture team?
Having both an interiors and architecture background is beneficial. It’s grounding and brings a human element to something that could be just a structure. It is easy to get caught up in what it looks like from the outside, but if it doesn’t function for your daily use, it is a waste of resources and time.
Also, I am really organized — obsessively organized — which doesn’t always happen with creative people.
How do you approach your projects?
Our goal is to provide clients with the highest level of service so that something that is inherently chaotic and stressful (spending a ton of your hard-earned money to build a home) is made as seamless as possible.
Who and/or what has been most influential in your career?
Zaha Hadid is an iconic female architect (who recently passed away), and many women look up to her. Stylistically, everything she does isn’t my cup of tea, but I look up to her as a successful woman in architecture.
All of my experiences play into who I am today and inform my decisions, whether about aesthetics or client relationships.
What has been your most memorable project and why?
One of my most fulfilling projects was I started when I was still on my own. I met a group of like-minded people. Nashville was just starting to boom and development was happening — about 10 years ago. We were frustrated by the amount of poor construction without the level of detail and quality design we thought could be there. So we said, “We can do this.” We got together and built five houses on Shelby and 14th. We built the first one in 2013 and built the last two last year. They are all LEED-certified, and we built them like we do custom homes. It is a statement to say, “You can do this.” High-quality speculative development can be sustainable and beautiful, and people want it. I brought this project with me to Pfeffer Torode, and the last four (and the bulk of the work) I designed under the umbrella of Pfeffer Torode. It was my first project that was on the cover of a print publication (Nashville Scene), which felt really validating for a project that was such a labor of love and not necessarily super lucrative.
We have some others on the boards right now that have been in the works for a while that we are excited about — big, beautiful things.
What is your favorite part of the process?
My favorite part is handing the presentation to the client. Everyone is excited. The second is right as framing is happening — after the foundation is done and it starts to take shape.
What are three words that best describe your work?
Service-oriented, thoughtful and responsive
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
I am so goal-focused and not very retrospective, but someone once said, you are exactly where you need to be. That one hits me on so many levels — personal, career, being a mom. Don’t worry about where you are going; don’t worry about the past. Own where you are today.
Where can we find you when you aren’t working?
I like to be outside, but, mostly, I am a homebody. I like to hang out at home. I have two little girls and spend a lot of my free time hanging out with them. We like to be outside, whether it is at home or going on a hike. If I am at home, I am fiddling with things. As much as you would think I get all of my creative energy out at work, I knit or garden or paint.
What books are on your bedside table?
My bedside table books are usually books that everyone else read five years ago that I am just getting around to reading – typically suspense thrillers with a female lead character. Recently, I read No One Knows by J.T. Elliston, which is set in my neighborhood, so that was really fun.
Also, I was recently with my oldest daughter at the library and was looking through the chapter book section on the kids’ shelves and came across Sense & Sensibility, so I checked it out.
What are three things you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Music (I’m a music junkie although I can’t play an instrument), art (I love art and the ability to create art in of my life and my work), and — this is more of a wish — cute shoes that are appropriate for both the office and a construction site.
Thank you, Rachel, for giving us an insider’s look at life as an architect. And thanks to Molly Peach Photography for today’s photos of Rachel!
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