Architect celebrates 30 years in Evanston community
David Roberts (right) talks to Hilde Hutchins of Wilmette. Roberts has done a few, and one major project, on Hutchins' home. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
On the Web
To learn more about Roberts, visit the firm’s website at www.robertsarchitectsltd.com
Updated: December 9, 2012 6:17AM
EVANSTON — Pursuing his architectural degree from the University of Illinois Chicago, then budding architect David Roberts chose as his thesis project the remodeling of a house at 2130 Ewing in Evanston.
“We called it the corner of pain and suffering,” Roberts recalled.
With the help of his father and friends, Roberts renovated the dilapidated Luxembourger style farm house. They spent lunch breaks on a 50-foot tree swing in front of the house.
“We had a lot of fun building that project and learned that the design-building process should be enjoyable for everyone, especially our clients,” he said.
He’s built a lot since then. The firm he founded in 1982, Roberts Architects and Construction, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Roberts planned to enlist past clients to help commemorate the company’s anniversary by displaying commemorative yard signs for the 30 days leading up to the celebration.
Roberts took on the job of deliveries himself, and set his goal at 20 signs a day.
“I got three done the first day,’’ he said at the anniversary celebration in the firm’s offices at 1319 Emerson.
Stopping to talk with clients, “I realized at the moment it wasn’t about me. It was about making all those connections.”
Roberts, 58, estimates he has done thousands of projects. A lot of the work is bringing historic homes up to code or doing renovation on older homes that need special design and construction care.
He didn’t start his own business by choice. He had been working for a large firm in the early 1980s when the economy took a downturn.
“We had an office of 100, then 60, then 40, then 10. I was kind of like the little architect, hoping nobody would find me. Then I was cut loose,” he said.
He worked his first year from a dining room table — no air conditioning, a child on the way.
David Seidman, owner of a historic home in Winnetka, hired Roberts in 1987 for his first major restoration project.
“I’ve been in the house 24 years and the floors don’t creak, the walls haven’t cracked. It’s in beautiful shape,” Seidman said.
“He’s very knowledgeable, well-steeped in architectural history,” Seidman said of Roberts. “Most importantly he’s a good architectural engineer.”
Al Swanson, a civil engineer who lives in Wilmette, has used Roberts for three projects.
“What I like, he puts thought into what you want to do,” he said, “but at the same time talks it over and gives you ideas to make that project so much better.”
On one kitchen project, Roberts recommended moving the windows over “and we had to convince my wife,’’ said Swanson. “She loves it now.”
Roberts came naturally into his building skills. Born and raised in Evanston, he attended Dawes and Chute schools and later graduated from Evanston Township High School. The family lived at 1607 Brummel, a house his dad built in the 1950s.
“ He was always adding on to (it),” Roberts recalled. “A vacation for him from his job was “OK, this week or these two weeks we’re going to build a garage, so that’s what we did.”
Like father in son.