Design With Distinction: A downtown Conway architecture firm makes a distinctive mark with an array of projects in both commercial and residential design.
Creative, custom and completely unique. Located in downtown Conway, Sowell Architects has been in business since 1995 with an impressive and distinctive portfolio of projects.
Partners Rik Sowell, Cody Ferris and Emily Ferris are all licensed architects registered with the American Institute of Architects (AIA). While the company primarily focuses on commercial architecture, it also ventures into residential architecture in the form of single-family homes and multifamily construction, such as apartments and townhomes.
“When we take on residential projects, we purposefully avoid the terms ‘high-end’ and ‘upscale’ or even ‘large,’” Rik says. “A home doesn’t have to carry these tags to be distinctive and custom. Our homes reflect the individual personalities of our clients, and that’s what makes a custom home.”
With sweeping views of Conway’s Lake Beaverfork, the Lakeview Residence is the newest residential construction project by the team. The two-story main living space features a single-slope roof with floor-to-ceiling glass that leads to a large outdoor deck and living area, the perfect spot to enjoy a sunset over the lake. Because of the sloped nature of the lot, the home also has a full walk-out basement that leads to a large, outdoor gathering area with a fire pit. The modern lines are complemented by the warmth of natural materials, such as wood-look siding and stone.
“The homeowners wanted a home with clean, modern lines that took advantage of the prominent lake views,” Cody says.
Another three-story residence in Central Arkansas dominates the impressive design work by Sowell, and quite literally. It rests at the top of a ridge with sweeping views of the Arkansas River Valley and a third-floor informal gathering room that features a wide balcony on the rear side.
“The owners wanted the feel of a large country home in Europe, using a lot of natural materials, not opulent but bigger than life,” Sowell says. “We used two types of native stone, slate shingles, exposed timber lintels and brick that was lightly covered with a slurry mixture so the individual bricks read through,” he explains. “The exterior was softened by the use of informal landscaping, window boxes, wood shutters and copper elements such as gutters, decorative downspouts, chimney caps and finials. Juliette balconies add a distinctively French touch.”
The tone of the home is established at the entrance with its wide stone steps leading up to 12-foot tall wood-and-glass doors, with a two-story music room on the right and a curved monumental staircase on the left.
“We don’t often have a request for this style of home, so we were thrilled at the opportunity,” Sowell says. “We have produced several European country homes throughout the years, but none as grand as this home.”
A stairway leads to an English-style pub above the garage, providing an expansive view of the back, a dark stained-wood bar, a large-screen TV and a small performance stage with its own sound system.
A successful service business in Central Arkansas, the Sowell team designed a modern hillside pod home with stunning views of the lake. The large, wooded lot is located on the side of a fairly steep slope, so the owner suggested a pod-style plan.
Pods with various functions were designed and stretched across the width of the property and connected by enclosed bridges. There is a central gathering pod (living, dining and kitchen area), two bedroom pods, a pool house /bar pod, an outdoor living pod and a garage and shop pod. The children’s pod is tucked under the gathering spot.
“The intent was to disturb the existing grades and vegetation as little as possible, construct the pods on stilts and let the rainwater flow down the hill – under and around the pods,” Emily explains. “This approach would ensure the preservation of the beautiful wooded site as much as possible.”
Very much modern, with sweeping roofs that expose walls of windows in each pod to offer the best views of the lake, the home also features large decks that line the lake side of the home with views down to the pool and the shoreline.
“We are seeing more and more of a demand for large, modern homes with views,” Emily says. “Many clients are purchasing rural acreage on a bluff with valley views or a hillside with meadow views.”
Perhaps one of the most personal projects is that of Rik Sowell’s own residence.
On the north side of Conway, high on a ridge, is a street appropriately named, Grandview Heights. It offers arguably the best views in the city. The one-story home is approximately 1,400 square feet with two bedrooms and two baths, constructed on stilts due to the steep slope and with a large deck on the rear side. Because of the steep slope, the deck is approximately 15-feet above the ground.
Homes on large, sloped lots have been developed over decades on the uphill side of the street. The downhill side of the street has slopes that are difficult to build on, but showcase the entire reason for the stunning views. “When one of those downhill lots went up for sale, I jumped on the opportunity,” Sowell says.
Designed as a weekend home or a vacation rental, the midcentury modern style was really beginning to catch on early in 2019, so Sowell envisioned a small, modern, compact cottage with a large deck, a wall of windows and a beautiful view. “Who wouldn’t want to rent a place like that?” he says.
“About halfway through construction, my home in Old Conway unexpectedly sold, so I made the decision to move into the cottage, a decision I have not regretted,” Sowell says. “My wife and I sold or gave away almost everything we owned, pared down to the basics, bought new midcentury modern furniture and moved into our little treehouse upon its completion.”
Several steps were taken to make the home feel larger than it is. The living, dining and kitchen area is an open plan with a high ceiling. The wall color was terminated at 9 feet above the floor, and the upper walls were painted white, same as the ceiling, to expand the sense of space beyond the top of the walls. The entire rear walls, with all the windows, were painted white to expand the sense of openness. The rear deck is the same width and depth as the open living, dining and kitchen area, so the two spaces work together.
“A lot of us baby boomers downsize and simplify as we get older, but usually not to this extent,” Sowell says. “We discovered a newfound freedom in small living, especially as it comes to the simplicity of maintenance, cleaning and landscaping, leaving us time to do more of the things we enjoy doing,” he says. “When your house is this small, you are not tempted to purchase additional household items because there simply is no available space for anything else. We love it.”
While the kitchen is small, it’s efficient with a 9-foot island. Cabinet space is limited, so only the dishes needed are kept. There is a recess in the hall to the garage, which contains two built-in bunk beds just in case there are more sleepers than the two bedrooms will accommodate.
“We do not typically design homes this small, but this fits our criteria for residential design – unique and creative with an out of the ordinary vision,” Emily says.
With the help of builder J.C. Thornton & Company, the unique Steel Avenue Townhomes have a charming, historic quality about them and complement the surrounding architecture of Hendrix Village. All nine units feature prominent roof lines, gas lanterns and white brick to create a look that will not go out of style. Timeless elegance both inside and out.
At just over 1,500 square feet, each unit includes generously-sized living, kitchen and dining areas with 10-foot ceilings, two bedrooms and an attached single-car garage. High-quality construction materials and techniques coupled with the classic design ensure that these townhomes will withstand the test of time. “The walkability of the community is probably what is most appealing about these townhomes,” Emily says. “You can easily walk to one of the three nearby restaurants in the Village or take advantage of the nearby walking trail.”
In addition to single-family residences, the Meadowlake upscale apartment complex is the most recent multifamily project in the works, with the help of builder J.E.G. Contractors.
The three-story complex will contain a healthy mix of unit types and sizes, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Featuring a ‘‘transitional’ design with gabled roof lines coupled with shed roof elements, the palette tastefully blends brick, siding and wood for a high-contrast, interesting façade with private balconies for some.
ARNOLD INNOVATION CENTER
Formerly home to Conway’s City Hall, this historic downtown building was transformed into a state-of-the-art co-working space for startups and entrepreneurs. The design features an industrial/modern vibe with exposed ductwork and utilities. The space is a partnership between the Conductor and Conway Corporation and will serve the small business community in the area.
Contractor: Nabholz Construction.
AMERICAN SAFEGUARD INSURANCE OFFICE BUILDING
Recently completed construction, located on Bob Courtway Drive. The design features modern forms coupled with the warmth of natural materials such as wood and stone.
Contractor: Corco Construction.
ANIMAL CARE VETERINARY CENTER
Recently completed, located on Washington Avenue. A striking new concept for a veterinary clinic features modern lines and abundant glass. Designed with separate entrances for cats and dogs and a centrally located, shared reception space that serves both canines and felines.
Contractor: Mallard Construction.