2020 marks the 20th anniversary of ERT Architects, founded in 2000 by Erik Tolley. “I moved back to the Cape after I graduated,” explains Tolley, who holds a masters degree in architecture. “I got married, had a child and decided it was time to go out on my own.” Starting his own firm was, quite simply, a natural decision for Tolley. “It was stressful, but it worked out,” he laughs.
Today, Tolley is the point person for all of ERT’s projects. Unlike other architectural firms where clients might get passed around from principals to managers and other employees, Tolley personally oversees projects from start to finish. “It’s about building a relationship,” says Tolley, “whether it be a project that lasts six months or one that takes years.”
“Our process starts with a free consultation where we talk about what’s involved in creating a client’s dream home,” explains Tolley. “We work intimately with clients to develop their vision and turn it into a home where they can spend the rest of their lives. A lot of the homes we work with on the Cape are intended to be summer homes now but retirement homes later, so we need to create something that is both comfortable and functional.”
The vulnerable nature of this coastal region means that building or renovating a home comes with a fair share of regulatory challenges—from zoning policies to historic guidelines for older homes. Many homes also must confront precarious environmentally sensitive areas or sites prone to flooding. It’s an easy trade off in exchange for owning a home in such an incredible region, with the National Seashore’s breathtaking panoramas, peaceful marshlands, and rustic views gracing the area, the responsibility to the region is one that many homeowner’s are glad to assume. Being conscientious of local regulations makes it important for homeowners to hire licensed architects as early as possible, and perhaps even more essential than that, hire a local professional familiar with the region. ERT Architects often provides homeowners with services before they have even purchased a property, and Tolley regularly finds himself on site with future homeowners, advising them on the properties they are considering. With his local knowledge as a Cape native and his architectural expertise, Tolley and ERT Architects check all the boxes for the perfect architectural firm: professional, knowledgeable, and local.
Recent trends on the Cape have more homeowners taking advantage of open floor plans as well as using sustainable materials for their home projects. The intention is to create a home that will last for generations, withstanding the wear and tear of grandchildren’s’ sandy feet and summer antics, muddy boots trekking through the halls in the winter, company spreading throughout the home for the holidays, and, of course, time. “Lots of homeowners are creating places that are both for themselves and for their families,” explains Tolley. “They want a home built to accommodate company, but also to escape from it. After all, you can’t own a Cape house without expecting summer company. Homeowners need both areas to entertain as well as private spaces for themselves.”
Tolley himself is fond of open floor plans. “They say that all parties end in the kitchen,” he says. “When you’re hosting, you don’t want to be separated from the fun because you’re busy in the kitchen, and open floor plans solve that problem. I like creating a house that people can gather in.” Tolley’s advice when working with an open floor plan concept is to differentiate different areas within the one large space—for example a place for sitting separate from a place for eating. Tolley also enjoys playing with intriguing rooflines and mixing materials to create a unique look for a home. “At the end of the day, I’m not Frank Lloyd Wright,” he says, referencing the famed architect and designer. “I can’t tell my clients what to live with. For us, it’s about giving clients what they want.”
“I think my favorite parts are the beginning and the end,” says Tolley about creating a design. “I like fleshing out ideas with the preliminary design, then going to construction observations and watching what started as an idea on paper, in the end, come to life on site.”
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