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Vail architects staying small, staying busy

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Scott N. Miller/smiller@vaildaily.comThe staff at K.H. Webb Architects is, from left, Michael Current, Kyle Webb, Ryan Darnell, Heather Barrie, Stacy Goehring and Lauren Ford. Webb started the company 10 years ago, and has purposely kept the staff small.
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VAIL – Kyle Webb’s business is slow these day. He’s an architect, after all.

But Webb’s company, K.H. Webb Architects has the same size staff it did three years ago, when the real estate boom was booming. Of course, that’s all of seven people.

Webb went out on his own in 1999 after several years working with local architect Jim Morter.



“It was extremely scary to do, but my gut told me it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Five months after opening his office, Webb hired his first employee. Three months later, three people were working for him. At its one-year anniversary, K.H. Webb had a staff of six, including the founder. The company’s been at seven people for the last eight years.



“I never planned to be much bigger,” Webb said.

Heather Barrie has been with Webb for several years now. She said she was referred to Webb by a contractor. The two hit if off and have been working together ever since.

She’s stuck around for a couple of reasons, she said: “Kyle’s a great boss, and we’ve had a great mix of projects,” Barrie said.



But, as with all architecture companies in the valley these days, business isn’t great.

“I haven’t laid anyone off, but we’re all taking long weekends, and we’re playing more golf.”

Still, there are projects that need to be finished.

“There’s no doubt it’s been luck,” Webb said. “But we’re blessed with great clients, too.”

Now, Webb’s talking to those clients about the opportunity the current economic slump presents. Because construction costs are falling, one of the company’s projects that started work is now under budget.

“We want to get five projects started this year,” Webb said. Those projects range from a home in Austria – that will be made in a factory in Denver, then shipped across the Atlantic in pieces – to smaller remodeling jobs.

“Because we’re small, and stayed small, we’ve focused on small projects,” Webb said.

But that doesn’t mean the projects aren’t ambitious. The company’s designs have won awards and have been featured in several magazines over the years.

“We try not to have limits,” Webb said. “We’ll try anything.”

That includes green building.

Webb has an ownership stake in a commercial building now under construction in the downtown part of Eagle Ranch. When finished, the building is expected to earn a “gold” designation from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

When finished, the new building, at least in theory, won’t need to use its hot water boiler system.

Like many architects, Webb got interested in green building long before most clients were interested.

“In the last three years it’s really become socially acceptable and has moved to the forefront of people’s thinking,” Webb said.

It’s also getting easier all the time get more energy efficiency out of a building or its appliances.

Webb and his wife recently finished a top-to-bottom renovation of their home in Lake Creek. Everything that went in was as energy-efficient as possible.

“We got five years worth of utility bills, and we’re using so much less energy now it’s incredible,” Webb said.

Solar energy in particular has made huge advances in just the last few years, Webb said. The company is now working on a project that will put photovoltaic and hot-water solar panels on top of the Vail Spa building where the K.H. Webb office is located. The goal is to heat the pools and hot tubs with the sun-heated water and to run at least the K.H. Webb office with the electricity-generating panels.

“We’re shooting for a zero electric bill,” Webb said.

But, Barrie said, it can be tough to build green in Vail, between the extremes in weather and the demands of clients.

“But windows and exterior cladding has come a long way in just a few years.”

While Webb and his handful of employees are excited about the future of building, and anxious for the economy to turn around, don’t expect the company to get bigger, even when good times return.

“The level of service we provide works really well,” Webb said. “We’re not going to ebb and flow with the economy. We haven’t yet, and we don’t intend to.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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