It’s the goal of Liz Hamilton and Joanna Nabholz to leave a piece of themselves with each project they complete at H+N Architects. It centers around a word that was foundational in the creation of their firm.
The Greek word, meraki, means to do something with soul, creativity, or love; and to leave a piece of yourself with your work.
“It sounds self-sacrificial, but the reward of getting to work together, and collaborate with our clients, with our team, that’s how we’re fulfilled,” Hamilton said. “We’re able to leave a mark on our hometown.”
Hamilton and Nabholz did not know each other well growing up in Conway, but each discovered a love for design that would lead them to architecture school at the University of Arkansas, and a future together neither could have predicted.
For Hamilton, the love of architecture came early. She always enjoyed drawing and doodling as a kid. Her father was a mechanical engineer by trade. Hamilton spent hours watching her father sit at a large drafting table as he designed additions for their home.
“Even at that early stage, I remember roller skating through the construction and enjoying getting to see the evolution of my dad’s work from design to construction,” she said.
Later on, she discovered books filled with home designs and became even more infatuated. Her father suggested architecture and Hamilton was sold on her career’s work by eighth grade.
Nabholz grew up around construction and contractors, but the seed of architecture was planted much later for her than Hamilton. It was an astute art teacher that suggested the field to Nabholz after noticing her ability to focus on a project for hours and become lost in it.
Nabholz was months away from going to Arkansas State University to major in marketing and graphic design when the suggestion was made. Soon, a visit to the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture was planned.
By the end of her visit, which included a stop at a nearby architecture firm that gave Nabholz the chance to see a full set of construction drawings and all the details, she was hooked.
Nabholz and Hamilton spent the next five years studying together, learning the field of architecture, and even living together while studying abroad.
“We always said, wouldn’t it be amazing to go back home and start a firm,” Hamilton said.
It would be eight years before the duo set out on their own. They worked at separate firms for three years, and side-by-side at the same firm for five years before H+N Architects was founded in 2016. What began as a team of two has grown to six, including an office manager, two project managers, and an interior designer.
Since then, the women of H+N have left an indelible mark on Conway. Their work includes multiple projects at St. Joseph Schools, the University of Central Arkansas, and a host of downtown businesses, including Rogers Group and most recently, The Rogue Roundabout, a craft brewery and restaurant located across the street from their office.
Each brings their own set of strengths and beliefs about design. For Hamilton, she appreciates getting to sketch ideas and the possibilities each project brings, and most enjoys seeing the buy in from clients once showing them the design. Nabholz imagines each project as a puzzle as she sets down at her computer to design, and always looks forward to the start of construction with each project.
“I like working things out, and working with our engineers and contractors to figure out solutions to problems that may arise throughout a project,” Nabholz said.
While each has their own process with a project, both understand the importance of listening to their clients and making the entire process a collaboration.
“You have to get to know your clients and learn what they want as an end result, and help them achieve that,” Nabholz said.
“Any good firm starts with listening to the client,” Hamilton said. “You cannot be too proud to think that the first idea is the right one. You have to have that back-and-forth to find the right design.”
H+N does not design buildings to have their names on a space or win awards, Hamilton said. It’s all in service to the clients and the community.
“As architects and designers, I can say it’s quite unique and indescribable to share work with family, clients, and co-workers, and leave a mark on your hometown,” Hamilton said.