Friday, October 20, 2017

Naples couple’s architecture firm builds their post-recession blueprints


Founded after the recession to give its owners a new start, Hlevel Architecture is now poised to bring sustainable and modern design to Southwest Florida.

Michaela Henning, who is originally from Italy, began her study of architecture in Venice and then moved on to Berlin before finishing her masters in Graz, Austria. The graduate student followed her parents, who owned an Italian restaurant in Lehigh Acres, to Southwest Florida for her internship in 2004. Michaela said she originally had planned on moving to a large city like New York, but quickly learned to enjoy the different pace her new home provided.

“I fell in love with the area because I love New York and all those big cities but coming here was a completely different lifestyle,” said Michaela. ”It’s always sunny and people are happy and not as busy and grouchy as in bigger places. I really liked being here.”

Brandt Henning grew up knowing he wanted to follow in the steps of his grandfather, who owned his own architectural firm for over 30 years.

“I was always around the profession. When I was a kid I would be down in the basement on the drafting tables drawing things.” said Brandt.

The aspiring architect attended Ball State University in Indiana. Hoping to break out of the midwest after graduation, Brandt researched opportunities in fast-growing areas and was drawn to the sunny climate of Naples. He was hired on to a local firm in 2003.

A recession-induced downsizing at Michaela’s firm led her to strike out on her own and found Hlevel in 2010. She began slowly, with smaller home remodels and consulting for other companies, but as business grew Brandt joined the firm in 2012. The smaller firm gave the two architects the freedom to bring the new angle that they saw a demand for to the Naples landscape.

“I think one of the main reasons we started the company is that we really wanted to focus on environmentally friendly design, and contemporary, modern architecture and real create a strong niche in that,” Brandt said.

The firm has picked up a number of accolades for their innovative work. Hlevel’s first big project, a renovation to a 1960’s era home in downtown Naples, earned a number of awards from the American Institute of Architects. Years later, the same client would request the firm build a new home that would earn another award, LEED Silver Certification. LEED is a national ranking system that calculates how eco-friendly a building is. The Hlevel designed structure is one of only two homes in Southwest Florida to earn the designation.

In addition to increasing business in the Naples area, the firm has also started to pursue opportunities beyond Southwest Florida, with three large home designs currently in the permitting stage in Los Angeles. Hlevel has now added two more full time employees, but tries to pick and choose the right consultants for the right project in order to keep the firm nimble and avoid a more rigid corporate approach.

“Our philosophy is to work with a network of really good consultants that we like to collaborate with,” said Michaela.

The firm also operates out of a shared workspace office of their own design which the owners feel allows them to keep a fresh perspective.

“It’s part of our philosophy, we like to collaborate,” said Michaela. “You don’t get stuck in your own little world, it opens you up to new ideas.”

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