Q&A with... Mark Finlay, New England Design Hall of Fame inductee
FAIRFIELD — Mark Finlay was only a child in Chicago when he first took a joy in designing cages and houses for the animals he found near his house.
Back then, Finlay didn’t know what he was doing would eventually turn into his profession.
“I loved the challenge of observing how these animals lived and what they liked,” said Finlay, 65. “That’s how I started.”
By the time he was 14, the Kansas City native and his family moved to New Canaan — and into the house he designed with his father.
“I was 14 when I designed it and 15 when it was built. That was my first sort of architecture project,” Finlay said.
The president and CEO of his own architectural firm since 1984, Finlay was one of six individuals recently inducted into the New England Design Hall of Fame this year.
A Fairfield resident since the 1980s, Finlay talks about his interests and goals for the upcoming years.
Q: What got you interested in architecture?
A: Since I was really little, I’ve always kind of loved this.
I didn’t know what this was called when I first started designing cages for my pets. I lived in Illinois and it got to the point where I designed cages for these raccoons and skunks and all these animals. I loved the challenge of observing how they lived and what they liked. That’s how I started and when we moved in New Canaan in 1967, I designed our house in New Canaan that we built with my dad.
Q: What was it like to open your own firm?
A: It was a little scary.
I was working for a local firm and I just decided to open up my own firm because my brother was going to build a new house. I interviewed with him and I had this one job in Weston and it was a new house from the ground up. I took the job and realized that I could just start on my own because back then my fee was $15,000 and I figured I would be set for a year.
I started and got an office space downtown in Fairfield. I entered a design competition about the streetscape of downtown Fairfield, which I won, and that was a big deal because I got some notoriety and got started. I had residential and commercial architecture going at the same time and that was something I always wanted to do, keeping a mix of different kinds of projects because the economy can always affect one and not the other, and one can keep you going during a bad economy.
Q: Do you have a particular style?
A: No — I actually don’t like it if people know I did it.
I almost go the opposite direction of that and that’s because everyone is different and I like to tailor my work to the client. We do jobs all over the country — we do local jobs, we do jobs in Florida, the Rocky Mountains, even a house in Canada right now and they’re all different. They’re all different because the people are different and the sites are different.
There’s not a certain style that I equate to our firm at all. The thing that is consistent in everything that we do is that the buildings are designed from the inside out and are comfortable.
Q: What are some projects you’re really proud of?
A: We just finished a club in Dallas, Tex., a very successful one, the Trinity Forest Golf Club. It’s one of the PGA tour stops there and that’s a good one. I’m designing a house in Victoria British Columbia which is going to be a beauty, one of very classic architecture.
The Olde Pink House in Savannah, Ga. is also a really good job. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Savannah and it was the headquarters of the Confederate Army during the Civil War and we completely restored the original building. We kept it in the vein of the original so you don’t know where the old ends and the new begins.
Q: What are some upcoming goals for you?
A: I’m always interviewing for the best jobs in the country — we’re trying to skim the cream of the top in the residential and the club market. I’ve got four or five new jobs and they’re all very significant architectural jobs. My goal is to keep this up and the quality of the commission.