Nosy Questions with Thomas Kligerman

Architect Thomas Kligerman was in Houston in December for a book-signing and presentation to a crowd of enthusiastic fans at Greenwood King’s Lobby. His local appearance was sponsored by the Institute for Classical Architecture and Art.

Kligerman is known for a robust architectural style that draws from English traditions as well as East Coast shingle homes and the pueblos of the American Southwest. His latest monograph, Shingle and Stone, is a career overview with some 200 photos of interiors and exteriors alongside plans, renderings and sketches that reveal the design process. It is co-authored by Mitchell Owens, US editor of World of Interiors.

Raised in Connecticut and New Mexico, Kligerman was a long-time partner in Ike Kligerman Barkley. However, after 35 years and as of January 1, 2023, the firm has split, with Kligerman Architecture & Design based in New York and the former partners, now known as Ike Baker Velten, set in Oakland, California. We caught up with Kligerman just as the winter holidays began and asked him some pretty nosy questions.

What was your earliest ambition? 

I wanted to write and illustrate (in watercolor) books on birds. I started my first edition in the second grade. By third grade I had moved on. Life moves fast at the age of eight.

Martha’s Vineyard Residence. Photo by Peter Aaron

Tell us about your education. University or straight into work?

I graduated from high school in Albuquerque and moved to New York City to attend Columbia University. I majored in architecture before heading to Yale School of Architecture. I guess I was determined to put off the real world as long as possible.

Who has been your mentor?

Robert A. M. Stern. He taught my undergraduate architecture studio class. I then worked for him for seven years before starting my own firm. I owe him a lot.

Bridgehampton NY. Photo by Richard Powers

You were in Houston in early December for a book-signing event at the Greenwood King Lobby. Do you have a travel ritual?

My guilty pleasures when I travel are buying automobile magazines and overindulging on Peanut M&Ms. (I buy the “share size” – sometimes two – but I don’t share.) Then a quiet dinner alone at an elegant bar the first night of arrival.

Favorite gift?

To give: my time. To receive: cash in unmarked bills.

Watch Hill, RI. Photo by William Waldron

Do you have any pets?

No. I would love to have a dog. I am lucky that two of my three daughters have wonderful dogs. I guess they are placeholders for grandchildren.

“At 5 pm, I’m usually thinking about …”

…how little I have gotten done that day. But then I remember it is only lunchtime.

Seattle, WA. Photo by Richard Powers

“Every day I read …”

… as many pages of whatever book I’m reading before I fall asleep. Current book: The Longbow, The Schooner and the Violin: Wood and Human Achievement by Marq de Villiers. Excellent!

What was your most cherished toy as a child?

I had an ugly beige and red chenille bedspread. I created forts and secret rooms with it. I hid in it. I loved it. One day I came home from school and my mother had thrown it out and replaced it with an even uglier tiger print bedspread. I was heartbroken but never told anyone. It still haunts me!

What is your biggest extravagance?

Travel, although it is hard to call something so important an extravagance, but it is where I spend the most money and time outside of work.

Martha’s Vineyard Residence, MA. Photo by Peter Aaron

Who is your literary hero?

Victor Hugo. Extraordinary, enveloping novels. Rich poetry.

What is your favorite food-and-drink pairing?

I am a man of simple tastes. I love a cold lager, saltines with sharp cheddar cheese and a thin slice of Vidalia onion.

Martha’s Vineyard Residence, MA. Photo by Peter Aaron

Please tell us a fun fact about you that most people wouldn’t know.

In college, I taught dancing – jitterbug and the hustle.

What is the biggest home-design mistake you see again and again?

Bad proportions. (Am I really limited to just one?)

Do you consider the carbon footprint of your home designs?

Absolutely. We encourage our clients to use reclaimed materials, geothermal and other energy efficient systems, to build less rather than more when possible. We consider the orientation of the house to take advantage of sunlight and the time of year. We try to use local materials. I could go on – we take this issue seriously.

East Hampton, NY. Photo by Richard Powers

What ambitions do you still have?

My ambitions haven’t changed since seventh grade. I want to become a better architect. I work on that every day. I wake up and go to sleep thinking about houses.

What is your favorite building?

The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., John Russell Pope, architect 1937-41