Husband-wife architectural firm adds interest to diverse buildings

Reported by The Press of Atlantic City (July 4, 1999)

When you’re driving through southern New Jersey, there’s a good chance that some of the buildings you pass by were designed by Steve Fenwick and Doortje Schipper.

The husband and wife owners of Fenwick Architects in Linwood have been doing their best to keep residential and commercial businesses as eclectic as possible through their 20-year history in southern New Jersey.

“We never specialized in any building type,” said Fenwick, whose firm celebrates its 20th anniversary in November. “I’d say we do everything except prisons and hospitals, but with the small medical buildings almost being the same now as mini-hospitals, I can’t even say that.”

As southern New Jersey hits another wave of resort development, Fenwick and Schipper have been busier than ever. Some of their recent projects included the 24,000-square-foot brick Sturdy Savings Bank administration building in Cape May Court House, the traditional looking Study Savings Bank branch in Cape May, the modern Singh Medical and Pace Orthopedic buildings in Linwood and Somers Point, as well as some ground facilities at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield. In between all that, the firm handled the major renovations of Yesterday’s restaurant in Marmora, designed an atypical building for Atlantic Masonry Supply in Egg Harbor Township, and kept busy with residential designs as well.

Do any work

“In this region, you naturally do any work that comes your way,” Fenwick said. “There are some architects who do just schools, others who do just hospitals; we’re not like that.

“We don’t specialize. It’s interesting for us and the staff to mix it up. It’s healthy to have that diversity. We would hate to be subject to just one building type.”

“We follow the marketplace,” added Schipper. “In the 1980s, condominiums were a big thing. Office parks were very prominent at one time. So you run with what’s hot and learn from those phases. You develop mini-specialties and a reputation.”

A look at its huge array of work definitely proves Fenwick can mix styles in its repertoire.

The Sturdy Bank branch in Cape May is a good example. When you examine the building outside and inside, it’s hard not to think that the building was renovated from the early 1900s.

That’s not the case.

“It was a difficult job because they wanted to look of a traditional classic bank while maintaining some modern elements,” says Fenwick. “So I talked them into using real wood and doing some other touches on the exterior and interior to give the building a nostalgic look. It’s a brand new building, and people are always asking when it was originally constructed.”

On the other hand, Fenwick designed grounds facilities for the Atlantic City Country Club, which asked the architects to come up with something functional, yet attractive.

“That’s an entirely different type of project, but it shows our diversity,” Fenwick said.

“They’re simple buildings, but they maintain the traditional style of turn-of-the-century buildings the club is going for. We make an effort to please everyone involved with a project.

“For example, I had this one project where the owner of the building loved traditional style and wanted to add a large addition to rent to a law firm. Well, the owner of the law firm loved contemporary style, and we had to come up with a happy medium. And it worked out. Everyone was pleased.”

Lured by casinos

Fenwick and Schipper came to southern New Jersey almost by accident.

After meeting in London, England, where the two attended school, Fenwick and Schipper worked and studied in Philadelphia before deciding to look for “fertile ground to explore,” according to Schipper.

“When we were examining areas and deciding where to move to, I remember someone telling us, ‘Didn’t they just get casino gambling in Atlantic City?’ And we thought, ‘Well, that’s easier than packing up and heading to the West Coast,’” Schipper said. “So even though we were unsure of what we would find, we gave it a shot.”

But success didn’t come immediately to Fenwick.

“I would take my card and nail them on to buildings just to try to get associated with anyone I could,” he said. “Eventually, things picked up.”

After working on projects for casinos that included Greate Bay (now the Sands), the Claridge and Caesars, Fenwick kept adding different projects. Now, the firm employs three other architects and two additional staff members.

“We love to tackle different projects,” Schipper said. “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. There are so many different pieces of information that’s hard to solve, but fun at the same time. The most important thing is to understand the mission and the whole vision of the client. When you do that, your job is much easier.”

Although the larger products obviously mean more money for the firm, Fenwick keeps its hand in residential.

“We love doing residential because it gives you a base of reality of what the consumer wants. You’re rooted with the public. Residential design is an important part of our practice.”

Despite all of the projects S.J. Fenwick has tackled, there’s always more.

“I would love to do a hotel,” says Fenwick. “I think it would be great to be involved in something like that. I think about projects all the time—in the shower, driving my car—it’s always on my mind. It’s what I like to do.”