Architectural Design and Remodeling Associates?
Advanced Detailing of Residential Architecture?
Accelerated Drafting in Revit and AutoCAD?
Another Dumb Rehashed Acronym?
Choosing a name for a new business is a daunting task. It has to be memorable, yet unique; obvious, yet clever; personal, yet universal.
As a sole proprietor, the name of my architectural practice needed to do more than just reflect the mission of my firm. It needed to define me as a person in a way that would be meaningful to the people I wanted to work with.
I wanted a name that said something about why I decided to start my own practice. I wanted it to encapsulate the unusual journey that had led me to this pivotal moment in my life, and to assert a vision for the future I wanted to create for myself and my clients.
And I wanted to do all of that in one word, preferably no more than four letters long.
World's Craziest Idea
My journey started two years ago when my workday was interrupted by an email from my wife. The subject line was "World's Craziest Idea."
Let's go somewhere, sell our house, rent our house. Before our kids are in school. Can you take a year sabbatical? Let's get basic jobs. Lets buy a one way ticket to somewhere warm and have an adventure. I'm serious. Maybe I'm just exhausted but it would be amazing.
I love you.
Four months later, we had rented our house, sold our car, left our pets with Erin's parents (bless their souls), and boarded a plane to Europe with our three-year-old son and fourteen-month-old daughter.
I had quit my job of thirteen years with one of northern New England's premier architecture firms to be a stay-at-home dad; only we didn't stay at home. I had every intention of returning after the year as long as they would have me back. I liked the firm and found my work as a healthcare project manager to be both challenging and fulfilling.
But we were exhausted. Juggling the demands of our careers, the needs of our children, and our own personal ambitions had run us ragged. Then we got eight feet of snow and a nasty stomach bug. Something had to give.
So off we went. Europe in the fall, back home for the holidays, the Caribbean for the cooler months to skip the snow, and back to the States for the summer.
Then the year was over. But we still weren't ready to go back to our old life. So we rented our house again, bought a new house, left our pets with Erin's parents (bless their souls), and boarded a plane to Europe with our five-year-old son and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
You can't uproot your life in the way we have and not be changed.
Before we left, the only future we could imagine was a return to the life we were leaving; our home, our cars, our careers, our exhaustion.
But this journey has forced us to minimize the things we think we need; to prioritize our time as a family; to open ourselves to the unexpected; and to redefine what "home" means to us.
We would return home, but we wanted to find a way to maintain some semblance of the spontaneity we have enjoyed while traveling. We wanted to have less stuff, more time together, less commitments, and more flexibility.
Above all, we wanted to be in control of our own lives.
As our second year of travel went on, it became increasingly clear to me that the best way to achieve this was to work for myself.
A New Endeavor
Every architect considers the possibility of working for themselves at some point. But while I had been working at a firm, it wasn't something that had interested me.
I was an architect. I didn't want to deal with sales and marketing, computers and software, billing and accounting, risk and uncertainty. The firm I worked for did all of that for me. All I had to do was show up and spend my days designing buildings.
As I now started to imagine the life that self-employment could make possible, my perspective started to shift. I would be selling and marketing myself and my ideas. I could build an ideal computer and software setup for the way I wanted to work. And after the upheaval of our past two years, no amount of risk and uncertainty seemed insurmountable.
Billing and accounting still didn't do much for me. Maybe I'll come around on that once some checks start coming in.
I began to get excited about this new endeavor, and about the possibility of using my abilities to improve the lives of others by improving the spaces in which they live. I had something to offer, and I couldn't wait to tell everybody about it.
But first, I needed a name.
Finding the Right Word
I've always had a love of words, from my teenage years as a songwriter to my newfound passion for writing on our family's travel blog.
I didn't just want to use my own name for the name of my firm. There are countless sole-proprietor architects who just hang up a shingle with their own name. In this white noise of eponymous entrepreneurs, "Tim Brochu, Architect" seemed yawn-inducing, not to mention difficult to spell in a search engine.
I wanted the name of the firm to be an idea, a statement about me and my practice. More importantly, I wanted it to start with the letter "A" to be alliterative with "Architecture."
I started looking for Latin words related to architecture. Finally, those three years of Latin I had taken in high school would start bearing fruit.
Apparently I wasn't the only architect who had taken Latin. Every marginally interesting word I found - Adeo, Ara, Aria, Asa - was already the name of some other architecture firm somewhere, making them useless to me in the age of search engines.
It didn't matter. None of them were particularly meaningful to me. Maybe I needed to pick a different language.
As I started to browse some Spanish words (my other high school language), Erin interrupted me. She was planning a last-minute getaway for the next weekend and wanted my approval of the AirBNB apartment she had found.
I clicked through the photos. A living room, a kitchen, a flower vase, a bedroom, a framed painting, another bedroom, a heart-shaped tchotchke hung on the wall -
I stopped and stared.
"The apartment looks great," I told her.
"And I know what I'm going to name my business."
The next weekend we buckled the kids in their carseats and drove west across the English countryside, until the rolling pastureland erupted into the stunning Snowdonia mountain range of Wales. After a breathtaking climb up the twisting mountain pass, we descended into the ancient coastal castle town of Caernarfon.
We parked on the street and dropped our bags in the front doorway of the apartment. As the kids ran upstairs to test the jumpability of their beds, I wandered through the first floor until I found the kitchen.
There it was. The tchotchke sent to me by divine providence.
It was a small paper mache heart hung from a natural fiber rope. On the heart was an atlas-style map of Caernarfon. On top of the map, written in black puffy paint, was the word "Adra."
The photo I had seen on the AirBNB listing had a caption explaining the meaning of this Welsh word, "Adra."
"Adra" means "home."
The Idea of Adra
Okay, so it may seem obvious for an architect with a focus on residential design to call his firm "Home" Architecture, at least to all the Welsh-speaking denizens of northern New England.
But for me, the meaning of this word goes a bit deeper.
There are three different words in the Welsh language to describe "home." The house you live in is "cartref." When you are at that house, you are at "gartref."
"Adref," of which "Adra" is a variant in northern Wales, is used to describe not the building, but "home" as a destination. When you are going home, you are going "adra."
Adra describes home as an idea, not an object for habitation. It is the place you want home to be, the place of your collected memories and nascent aspirations. It is the place you choose to return to, and the place where you feel you belong.
Over the past two years, my family has called twenty-three different places home. Home was wherever we were, together as a family. But none of these places were adra, the final destination where our lives would be at rest.
Now that our travels have ended, we have this destination to go home to. We are going adra.
However, the home we are returning to is unfamiliar. The house we bought in Kittery, Maine before our last round of travels is still new to us. Our five-and-a-half-year-old son will be starting kindergarten and our three-year-old daughter will be starting preschool. We'll be setting new routines, finding new activities, and meeting new friends.
For us, adra is not a place we have grown accustomed to through years of stasis. It is a vision of the new life we want to create in this new place.
For me, this new life starts with my new architecture practice. My adra is this business that will define and make possible the new life that I want.
This concept of adra, as a sense of place that is cultivated through a deliberate process of self-determination, can extend beyond my own life to the architecture I design.
You don't have to drop everything and set off around the world to get a change in perspective. Every building project presents an opportunity to question they way things are and redefine the way they should be.
In residential projects, reconfiguring spaces challenges you to question what you think you need, what you want your life to be, and how the space you live in can help to make it happen. Adra is the home that you create around your ideal life.
In commercial projects, the design process is an opportunity to recreate your image and reinvigorate your organization. Adra is the place your clients and customers want to return to again and again.
In healthcare projects, new construction allows you to rework existing processes and refocus on the experience of your patients. Adra is the place where patients feel comforted and cared for.
Adra Architecture as the name of my practice is more than just a foreign four-letter word. It is an assertion of the possibility for reinvention through architectural design; for recreating the world around us to make our lives the way we want them to be.
Tim Brochu is the founder and Principal of Adra Architecture, offering a broad range of architectural services to residential, commercial, and healthcare clients in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
Visit Abroad Life for more stories and photos from Tim's two years of world travel with his young family.