Alamo Hardwoods Blog

Tobin Smith Architect

alamo hardwoods san antonio tobin smith architect mid century modern house restoration
Original view (Most people would have run)
Once a year, the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects hosts a home tour to raise awareness of the value that architects provide to a project.  Their years of training and experience raise what can be an ordinary remodel or new build into a work of living art.

Recently we had the pleasure to see a young man we knew as a child grow into an adult, earn his license as a architect and help create a dream home for him and his lovely wife.  Tobin Smith, AIA saw the potential in a 1960's house in an area of San Antonio notorious for tear downs and Mcmansions and saw the potential behind the...well, you see.
alamo hardwoods | tobin smith architect child
Tobin Smith with early design work
After working closely with Tobin for many months, we recently sat down with Tobin and Courtney to find out about the experience:

 (A.H.) what made you decide to enter the field of architecture?

Tobin:  When I was in high school one of the art teachers created an Introduction to Architecture course. He took us to a diverse group of architectural sites, from Wright’s Fallingwater to Waterford, Virginia, a historic town. These experiences awakened something in me. On top of that, our design projects were critiqued by panels of professionals working in creative fields… this was serious preparation! He saw my passion and encouraged me to apply to architecture school. The course changed my trajectory and we still keep in touch.

(A.H.)  My father remembers you and your father making birdhouses together when you were a young boy. Do you remember that?

Tobin:  TRUE! During the giant snowstorm in the 80’s that closed down the city, my father went to raid the scrap pile of a construction site near our house where Alamo Hardwoods had delivered material. We used the “salvaged” wood scraps to build birdhouses while we were snowed in. I was always busy building when I was young. I was a Lego maniac and had a set of Lincoln Logs as well. My sister and I had a playroom that was somewhat of a free-for-all zone so eventually I started constructing multi-level structures out of futons and playroom furniture. My parents would come in and find me near the ceiling.

(A. H.)  In design what is the very first thing you consider on a project?

Tobin:  (long pause) How it should be anchored.

(A.H.)  What is the most important thing that you consider on a project?

Tobin:  I would say client mindset is the most critical thing. Understanding where they’re coming from is the first step in assembling a proposal that will be meaningful to them.

(A.H.)  How does South Texas Influence your design philosophy?

Tobin:  In the same way any unique set of conditions does. A deep understanding of climate, culture, and context is critical to each approach… each beginning. Here in San Antonio we’ve had a strong tradition of responsive and responsible architecture for generations so there is plenty of inspiration, plenty to learn from. My years at Lake/Flato were certainly critical to my development. I learned a great deal working with Ted and David and am grateful for the opportunity they gave me right out of school.

(A.H.) How have your skills changed in your career. How have you grown as a professional?

Tobin:  Less sleep and more gray hair.

(A.H.)  What is the single design project you are most proud of and why?

Tobin:  I’m proud of the work that’s been executed to this point, but I’m also self-critical. Each needs to build upon previous efforts. A smart man once told me, “You’re only as good as your next project.”
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | tobin smith architect mid century modern
Tobin's new entrance vision takes shape
(A.H.)  What was the best part about working on your own house and being your own client?

Tobin:  Having the ability to sometimes make quick decisions and experiment and sometimes pause and deeply consider ideas. There was a flexibility to do what felt right, fast or slow, without the usual ticking clock, until Courtney said “I gave up our apartment and we have 4 weeks to move in.”

(A.H.)  What was the most challenging part of the project?

Tobin:  Refer to last question!  The part about my wife…

(A.H.)  What was the best part about working with Alamo Hardwoods on your house?

Tobin:  When I asked you to tell me if the wood decking was longleaf pine and you sniffed a board to figure it out.

(A.H.)  What was the most important thing Courtney brought to the project?

Tobin:  Courtney was always on board… she was “in” for the journey, a great sounding board and supporter.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | tobin smith architect mid century modern house natural wood
Removing paint to reveal the beauty of the wood beneath
(A.H.) And Courtney, what was the best part about working with Tobin on your house?

Courtney:  I loved that I was always consulted and my view taken into consideration. When we were working on the master suite with limited space, he said we could have a good closet or bathroom, which did we want? I said great bath, but in the end he managed to fit all of it into the space! Everything had to work for both of us. It was a collaborative process.

(A.H.)  As an artist yourself, what was your biggest influence in the project?

Courtney:  My husband. We’ve both learned a lot from each other.

(A.H.)  And what is your favorite part of the house now?

Courtney:  I’d have to say our library with all of the family photos and collected items. Everything in there has a history and a story. It’s very cozy and we spend a lot of time together in that space. I love to cook and entertain so my kitchen is a close runner up...
alamo hardwoods | San antonio | tobin smith architect | mid century modern red clay
during reconstruction
Tobin felt that the old house deserved respect for the construction method and materials, and found ways to celebrate them, versus covering them over.
alamo hardwoods |San antonio | tobin smith architect mid century modern house wood ceiling
Now what to do with THAT?

alamo hardwoods | san antonio tobin smith architect wood ceiling mid century modern
With proper selection, new wood can be found to blend in with historic
In areas where the original ceiling/roof deck had rotted or where Tobin wanted to expand a space Alamo Hardwoods came up with alternative woods and sizes to keep the project flowing and on budget.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | tobin smith architect cypress ceiling mid century modern
Finding the right wood and grain to blend in with the original

alamo hardoods | san antonio | tobin smith architect | mid century modern restored revised
The new vision is complete (Photo by Mark Menjivar courtesy of the Smiths)
The newly created Portico uses all new Cypress wood to blend with the original structure, but create a grand entrance to the couple's home.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | aia homes tour tobin smith architect mid century modern house
The Smith Home will be open for the 2015 AIA Homes tour Saturday, October 17

previous tour information can be  can be found through the San Antonio AIA chapter site

tickets will be sold at each individual home,The Twig Bookshop or at HEB grocery stores.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio tobin and courtney smith architect mid century modern  house
Tobin and Courtney Smith

alamo hardwoods | san antonio tobin smith architect sign aia homes tour
In case you want to hire Tobin for your own project, he can be found at

Posted by JR Huebinger on 13th October, 2015 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: architecture, historic homes, mid-century modern
Tags: AIA homes tour, modern design, historic home restoration, mid century mod, alamo hardwoods, tobin smith architect

Paris Doors, Continued

alamo hardwoods \ san antonio | paris france eiffel tower
You know what this is, doncha?
Paris is one of the most walkable cities in the world for a tourist.

Something special hides in most every corner. One could spend a lifetime wandering the streets and still feel like there's more to see.  Most artists talk about light and their work. It's plain to see what magic can occur at any moment as thing change form hour to hour.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak door carved Paris france fancy
OOooooooo, Fancy!

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak doors paris france
White Oak Door showing ammonia fuming to emphasize grain and flake pattern

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | paris france white oak doors

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak door paris france
"I always feel like, somebody's watching meeeee....."

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | paris france doors white oak
So this is like the Versace of doors?

Posted by JR Huebinger on 27th January, 2015 | Comments (6) | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: doors, details, travel, white oak, wood, Paris
Tags: history, historic district, travel, wood, paris, restoration woods, restoration millwork, doors, Historic Preservation | Historic homes | historic building re-use

Paris Part 1

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | notre dame paris church
Travel allows one to see everyday things in a new light, breaking free from the standard, mechanical routine we often become hypnotized by.  Here are some impressions of Paris, walking around only days before the recent events.  The sun breaks through and there are moments of serenity found all over. Enjoy.
alamo hardwoods | san antonio | paris painted wood door moldings
Painted wooden door in the Hotel de Sully

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak wooden door Paris moldings weathered
White Oak door showing decades of weathering in Paris

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak door Paris weathering
Does one fight the elements with maintenance, or allow the years to show?

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak door paris carvings moldings
A deep overhang and maintenance make a noticeable difference, take note, architects

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | white oak door paris moldings pattern
Like snowflakes, every door is different, showing the taste of the owner, and the skill of the designer and carpenter

Posted by JR Huebinger on 24th January, 2015 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: Paris, doors, wood, white oak, travel
Tags: alamo hardwoods, travel, historic, wood, doors, paris

Kerrvile Furniture Show, The Winners!

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | kerrville furniture makers show
!"Sorry to leave you readers hanging for so long as to the winners of the Kerrville Furniture Maker's show (of course, you COULD have just gone to their website
if you were truly that curious)

The judging was quite difficult and there was much discussion about what should be the criteria for one piece to be considered superior to another.  We agreed that machine labor should not be punished versus hand labor.  Some pieces received extra points for creativity and the "I've never seen that before" credits.  In some instances, it came down to the judges running their hands around underneath a piece to check for the finish quality in the nooks and crannies.  Many pieces were downgraded by their poorly applied finishes that hid the wood quality under thick, goopy poly-plasti-ure-tex.

One judge recounted how one evening at ten o'clock one of his female clients called him to say that she was sitting in bed, reading, just stroking the surface of a side table he had made for her.  (Lesson woodworkers, it's all in the surface treatment! it sounds like it can even get you dates!)

Each category allowed for us to find a piece that exemplified that particular category as a fairly clear winner, then the real work started.  How do you compare apples to oranges and declare one to be superior?  Should a flash of creativity be valued over obvious months of pure labor? (hint, in America, yes) 

In the end, we made our selections and the announcements were made.

Interestingly, once the veils were lifted and the names were revealed there were MANY familiar faces for me at the show.  The Two art pieces, the rib chair and the tower drawer were actually made with Alamo Hardwoods lumber (Iknew I smelled quality!)

One judge announced "If you didn't get an award, just blame the judges!" , which was fine for him. He got on a plane the next day!
I had to live with all these people. And the next morning we had a critique, where each maker had the chance to learn just what we liked (and didn't) about their pieces.  Imagine the Nuremburg trials....

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | kerrville furniture makers show wood modern
The Announcement (You can feel the tension, right?)

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | wenge| inlaid wood table
"You are here"

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | mesquite campaign table
Texas Mesquite Campaign Table with Modern Mesquite Table in background

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | berdoll sawmill table
Texas Table by Berdoll Sawmill and FUrniture

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | modern art furniture
Modern Art Furniture

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | White oak bench
White Oak Bench

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | modern contemporary bench walnut woven seat
Winning Modern Bench

alamo hardwoods | san antonio | Kerrville furniture makers show winner chair ash
THE WINNAH!!!!! Bent Ash Chair

Posted by JR Huebinger on 22nd January, 2015 | Comments | Trackbacks | Permalink
Categories: art furniture, art, Kerrville, local furniture, modern, wood
Tags: Kerrville, art, art furniture, wood furniture reproduction historic, contemporary wood furniture

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