Built to Last: Thomas Weems Architect celebrates 25 years


From left, Alex Hatcher, Katie Hill, Tom Weems, Caryn Ellis and Mary Grace Galpin of Thomas Weems Architect are celebrating the firm’s 25th anniversary. PHOTO BY TARA HODGES

By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor

After working for other people for 16 years, Tom Weems woke up on a Tuesday morning back in 1996 and decided enough was enough.

So he drove to his office and broke the news to his boss that he was quitting to start his own firm. Then he drove home and broke the same news to his wife.

“I had been working this direction,” Weems clarified. “It’s not like it was 100 percent a surprise.”

Still, Weems admits it was a bit disconcerting when the phone didn’t ring during Thomas Weems Architect’s first day of business. By Day 2, however, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

The rest, as they say, is history – 25 years worth to be exact.

There are plenty of successes for Weems to reflect on as his firm marks its 25 thanniversary. After starting the firm out of his home, Weems put in plenty of 100-hour weeks to build up the business, but all the hard work eventually paid off. Weems’ fingerprints can be seen all over our region in the form of the projects his firm has designed on behalf of its clients.

The milestone is also a good opportunity to look ahead, and that is what Weems prefers to do at this point in his career. He is excited about the team he has put together and confident the group can help guide his firm toward a bright future, even though delegating tasks was a challenge at first.

“I used to like to have my hands on everything,” Weems said. “It gets to the point where you can’t do that anymore.”

The genesis of Weems’ current team came as the architectural industry began to emerge from the financial collapse of 2008. Weems had enough work in the pipeline to survive those harrowing days of 2009 and 2010, but by the time 2011 rolled around, he was back to being a one-man operation.

As things started to pick up, he placed an ad in search of some help, and Kati

“I basically forced Tom to hire me,” Hill said with a laugh.

Weems started out by giving Hill some side work. After the third or fourth assignment, Weems received an ultimatum. “She said, ‘If you’re not going to give me a job, don’t call me back.’ So I hired her,” Weems recalled.

Hill could not have been a better fit.

“I spent a lot of time going back through his old files and seeing how he liked to do things,” Hill said. “Then I just did that. It sounds simple, but a lot of people don’t do that for some reason.”

Hill is now an associate architect at the firm and is capable of seeing projects through from the design stage to completion. She is affectionately known as Tom’s “right-hand woman” around the office.

In addition to Hill, Alex Hatcher serves as an architectural designer for the firm, displaying a great deal of technical accuracy. Caryn Ellis is a registered interior designer responsible for interior space planning and the selection of interior finish while also assisting the team in design development and visualization, among other things.

Mary Grace Galpin is a recent addition to the team following her recent graduation from the University of Tennessee. She is currently settling into her role as an interior designer at the firm.

The expanding team at Thomas Weems Architect has allowed Weems to focus his efforts on building relationships with clients – the lifeblood of his business. When he started the firm, Weems did so with a project already in the pipeline thanks to a relationship he had previously built.

“I had a project in my back pocket,” Weems said. “In this business, it’s as much who you know. You have to have connections.”

Weems also brings 25 years of perspective to the table. When he started, banks and hospitals were being built in bunches. In recent years, there has been a shift that has the firm taking more government and school projects. The ongoing nature of these larger projects provides stability for the firm, but Weems believes a wide and varied body of work ensures his team is ready to go in whatever direction the future dictates.

“I think the future is bright because of the work we attract now,” he said. “We have a track record that shows what we can do.”


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