Meet Winston-Salem’s masters of modernism—the owner and architects of STITCH: Design Shop: Ben Schwab, Pete Fala, and Adam Sebastian. The 5-year-old firm has put together a pretty impressive portfolio of residential and municipal projects dotting the downtown and the neighborhoods beyond.
A full-service design shop, STITCH provides master planning, interior design, branding, and landscape design to complement their modern ethos—a comprehensive approach to the built environment exemplified in the firm’s West Salem project. As developers, architects, contractors and homeowners, the design shop’s enclave of five modern homes in historic West Salem is a great example of thinking outside the box while making the box uber-cool.
As STITCH continues to grow its residential design portfolio, one can only expect bigger and better things to come. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the guys about their humble beginnings—and what lies ahead.
1. Please tell us about the house that you grew up in.
Adam Sebastian: “I grew up in a 1980 split-level home in Lewisville—lots of brown carpet and parquet flooring. I spent hours building forts and tree houses in the woods behind our home and developed a love of architecture and buildings.”
Pete Fala: “I also grew up in a 1970s split-level with a two-car garage—nothing extravagant. The bedrooms were upstairs with the kitchen, formal living, and dining rooms. Downstairs was the den, which is where I spent most of my time. I can still remember turning out the lights and hauling ass upstairs in fear of being chased by whatever monster hides out in basements.”
Ben Schwab: “I grew up in a 1920s Craftsman-style home in a rural farming community in Iowa.”
2. What, or who, inspired you to pursue architecture as a career, and specifically modern architecture?
AS: “My grandfather was a commercial artist in Chicago and studied at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) where Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius taught. [The Bauhaus style profoundly influenced modern design]. I was really exposed and impacted by modernism while a student at the School of Design at North Carolina State; I would say that Frank Harmon [well-known North Carolina architect and professor] had the most profound impact on me as a designer.”
PF: “When I was an undergraduate studying interior design, the chair of my department—Jo Kerr—inspired me to pursue architecture through her teachings on the Bauhaus and International Style. After my first year of interior design school, I vowed to continue my education with a Master of Architecture and did so by attending the University of Colorado at Denver.”
BS: “The regional architecture of the Northwest resonated with me and inspired my pursuit of architecture and modern ideals. The architects I admire most include Seattle’s award-winning Tom Kundig, Cutler Anderson Architects, and Australia’s most famous architect, Glenn Murcutt [the only Australian to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize].”
3. How would you describe STITCH Design Shop’s signature style?
AS: “Progressive and transformative. What I mean by that is the power of good design inspires people to imagine and wonder. I think our clients really appreciate our ability to look at things from a different perspective and provide inspiring solutions.”
PF: “Behold and have fun as ideas become reality. It’s not so much a style we try to convey but more of an exploration of form and materials that are appropriate to our clients and our times.”
4. What advantages did STITCH gain in the roles of architect, developer, contractor and ultimately, homeowner?
PF: “By being fully immersed in the [West Salem] project—from budget to schedule to client expectations—we were privy to all of its challenges. Understanding the various facets of a project from land acquisition to owner occupancy truly was a learning experience that taught me many lessons. And living in a house of your own imagination and design is both satisfying and overwhelming—we’re always our own worst critic. Still, the process gave me a better understanding of the client’s perspective.”
BS: “The West Salem modern project was a result of years of asking the question of why there were not any new modern residences in the area, especially houses attainable for young families. As a result, we decided to go all in on this project as developer, architect, and general contractor as it appeared this was the only path to achieve our vision of sustainable modern homes in a Winston-Salem urban neighborhood. It has been a rewarding experience to have been involved in all facets of this project. This project was a huge risk for us as it was one of the first STITCH projects.”
5. What is STITCH’s ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to be remembered for?
AS: “We are boundary pushers who, as an architecture firm, strive to create something that is bigger than us. Hence, our firm doesn’t have the partners’ names in the title. We hope to transform our environment through the power of design, and that comes one project and opportunity at a time.”
PF: “We take pride in our craft and joy in seeing it come out of the ground. We want to be remembered as the firm who brought Modernism back to Winston-Salem and a change agent for things to come.”
6. What’s next for STITCH?
AS: “The future only knows, but I hope we continue on the path we’re forging. I have to occasionally stop and remind myself about all the projects we’ve had the opportunity to create in just five years. I just hope our community, and the wonderful people who live in it, keep believing in us and continue to give us the opportunity to make an impact.”
PF: “We are always searching for new opportunities and prefer those that make us feel a little uncomfortable because they’re the ones that bring out our best!”