The Art of Architecture With Ronnette Riley

An example of Ronnette Riley’s work. Courtesy of Ronnette Riley Architecture

“My grandmother’s third husband designed gas stations for Shell Oil Company. I was absolutely enamored with his large office, colored pencils and new car every three years. I wanted this as well. Of course, when I told him that I wanted to go to Berkeley –like he did –he told me, women couldn’t be architects.”

Now the principal of her eponymous firm, Ronnette Riley, FAIA, not only graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and then the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she went on to serve as Project Architect for the Lipstick Building in Manhattan among other iconic structures, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, serves Director at Large for the National Association of Women Business Owners, and heads a firm that has completed more than 800 renovation projects, including healthcare facilities, firehouses, police stations, parks, bridges, cultural institutions, public safety facilities, housing and social service centers.

Ronnette Riley    Courtesy photo

“I later learned that architects do not get a large office or a new car every three years, and eventually realized that if I opened my own company, I could guarantee a large office and buy my own cars. Sadly, colored pencils, are a relic of the past. “On a serious note, my father was a fire chief on the front lines, and I have great pride for the work he did. After 9/11, Superstorm Sandy and the wildfires in the West, architects find themselves on the front lines, too.”

ON INSPIRATION AND VISION… Form, texture, color, materials and site-specific challenges provide the inspiration for our work. An interesting development in the wake of COVID-19 has been the exodus of our clients from urban centers to the country. Following them, we are designing homes, guest houses and additions in Morganton, GA, Woodstock, Hampton Bays, Sag Harbor and even my own home in Bridgehampton.

ON CREATION AND COHESION… Architecture is problem solving. It’s much better to work with a list of criteria, a budget and a time frame than to work in complete absence of those things. The exciting part is the interactive relationship with the client and working within constraints while addressing their needs and creating something beautiful inside and out. Most people think you need a designer for the interiors, but it’s more important to have the same design attitude throughout the project, which is why Frank Lloyd Wright typically designed the house, the interiors, the furniture and even the dishes. I really want to design dishes…

ON DREAM PROJECTS… Besides the $10 million-plus house in the Hamptons, I would love to design a new library. These are spaces that, despite their small footprint, let you have the world at your feet. Where I grew up, there was a local Carnegie-funded library that I frequented. It’s since been demolished. But I know without that space, I probably would not have gone to college.

ON THE HAMPTONS CANVAS… I was raised in northern California, where everything is mountainous, and I love that the sites in the Hamptons are mostly flat. The quality of light is special. It’s no wonder that artists moved out here to paint. In the Hamptons, there’s more elbow room to get creative.