Ladue News Feature Stories

A New Level of Design

Nick Adams is on a mission to push the design envelope in St. Louis.

The native St. Louisan has followed a lifelong passion for architecture and fabrication all over the country before landing back in his hometown – where he started his own company, Mademan Design.

Adams went to the University of Kansas, where his master’s program, Studio 804, turned into “one of the defining characteristics of my life.” During the program, Adams and 21 other students designed a house during their first semester. During the second semester, they built the home they’d designed: a modular home constructed in a warehouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

“We trucked in seven modules to Kansas City,” Adams recalls. “Most architects [in school] are doing watercolor and balsam wood models. We were actually hammering two-by-fours together.”

For some students, Studio 804 pushed them away from fabrication and architecture. But others, like Adams, were drawn to the design-build process even more. When he finished school, he came back to St. Louis and worked for SPACE Architecture + Design for five years.

Adams became restless, though, and had what he calls a “quarter-life crisis.” He loaded up his car and traveled westward to every major city he could see himself eventually moving to. Although the trip didn’t end in his moving, Adams discovered something important: He wanted to – and would – start his own company.

“If I started my own company, I could do work I felt was impactful,” he says. “I figured the best chance of success of pulling that off was if I came back to St. Louis, where I had a network of people.”

On returning to St. Louis, he picked up part-time work for SPACE again while he helped renovate a co-worker’s Tower Grove house.

“It was a mess, but it was great,” he says. “That started Mademan, though it wasn’t Mademan at that point. It was me trying to figure out how to generate work.”

His friend’s mother had a quartet of four-family homes that needed kitchens and bathrooms redone, so Adams took on those projects. Then, he left SPACE and worked for UIC/CDO for a few months before deciding it was time to commit to his own small client base full time.

When he turned his focus to what would become Mademan, all of Adams’ jobs were fabrication. Through a former SPACE co-worker, Adams learned about a workstation project at Mackey Mitchell Architects and put in a bid. He won the bid, opening up the door for other opportunities. He took on small furniture projects while studying for the Architect Registration Examination – needed to earn an architect license – and finally officially founded Mademan in early 2013. Through another lead, Adams secured his first substantial residential project, a modern Richmond Heights house.

“That project was a true labor of love,” he says. “These days, it probably takes us 200 hours to finish a residential project. This one was 450.”

The modern home took months of deliberation with the municipality, along with having to secure a new general contractor partway through the process. After editing $100,000 out of the initial general contractor’s budget, Adams and his small team created a sleek, modern, energy-efficient home that satisfied the clients’ wish list and budget.

“When it got complete, it opened up so many doors for us,” Adams says.

A passionate traveler, Adams relates seeing modern homebuilding all over the country, but hardly any of it here in St. Louis.

“When you travel outside of St. Louis, it’s easy to recognize how huge of an opportunity there is for some stuff out of the ordinary,” he says. “A lot of people looked at [the Richmond Heights project] and thought, ‘What a deviation!’ But this is the first step into making some awareness of doing modern architecture in a way that suits our city.”

Since then, the company has worked on projects of all shapes and sizes: from steel fabrication and design for Blueprint Coffee to cabinets for The Collective to a home at Dry Fork. Currently, Mademan is in the process of constructing two houses that are “kickass.” Adams and his team are also putting finishing touches on their work for Yellowbelly, a new restaurant project from the owners of Retreat Gastropub. (“We just need to deliver some steel, and it’s basically done.”)

Overall, Adams and his team want to continue to push the envelope and bring an architectural style that St. Louis doesn’t currently have.

“I didn’t start [Mademan] to find ourselves in the middle of the design world in terms of style,” he says.

Adams also hopes St. Louisans consider the option of modular construction: He’s pushing to change the delivery system of architecture and build big parts of houses under a roof before trucking them to a site, which ends up being more affordable.

Aside from a passion for modular and modern design, Adams is also a proponent for energy-efficient options.

“The Midwest is one of the hardest places to pull that off because of the hot, humid summer and the cold, dry winters,” he says. “It’s always an added cost for sustainable features. It’s more insulation, higher-efficiency furnaces, forced-air units, solar panels and geothermal. We’ve had success pushing the envelope in terms of design, but I’m hopeful to start implementing more sustainable features into those modern designs.”

This story was originally published at Read it on LN’s website here.

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