Next-Gen Design

Meet the Architecture Power Couple Designing Award-Winning Homes

When it comes to design, Joe Kelly and Gwen Leroy-Kelly of Hive Architects get personal with their clients.

By Kim Doleatto June 23, 2023

Joe Kelly, Gwen Leroy-Kelly and their dog Kai.

Hive Architects

Joe Kelly, 46, and Gwen Leroy-Kelly, 48

1570 Boulevard of the Arts, Suite 110, Sarasota.

Completed in 2021, Shibusa is on Big Sarasota Pass. A required flood elevation led to the design of interconnected pavilions above the tropical landscape.

Image: Ryan Gamma

At Hive Architects, Joe Kelly and Gwen Leroy-Kelly get up close and personal with their clients’ lifestyles—right down to knowing what side of the bed they wake up on—to craft a home so personal they name it. In-Yo, for instance—named after the Japanese equivalent for the Chinese yin and yang—reflects a couple the client worked with who complemented each other with differing qualities. Their projects also often win awards—for example, the home Shibusa (pictured above) recently received two AIA Florida/Caribbean design awards: a Merit Award of Excellence for New Work, and a Merit Award for Interiors.

Gwen and Joe both graduated with masters degrees in architecture from the University of Florida in 2003 and started their firm, Hive Architects, in 2016 with their dog—a.k.a. principal "barkitect" Kai—who greets clients at the office with a wagging tail. 

Before beginning their firm, Joe worked with Seibert Architects and architect Guy Peterson for 12 years. Gwen worked with architect C. Alan Anderson and also spent 11 years working with Sweet-Sparkman Architects. 

Interior of Shibusa.

Image: Ryan Gamma

Where are you from originally?

"I grew up on Treasure Island in Pinellas County, on the beach," says Joe.

"I'm from a region in France between Paris and the Champagne area. When I moved here I fell in love with Florida—and Joe," Gwen says.

How do you define your style?

“It’s definitely modern," Gwen says. "The new trend is saying 'tropical modern' but it’s a bit overused. I would call it 'modern vernacular,' meaning we’re responding to the site and the climate, as well as our clients’ needs–those are the unique points for our initial analysis. We interview our clients thoroughly and create unique aspects of their day-to-day lives." 

"We ask, ‘What is your typical day?’ 'How do you like to wake up?' 'What do you like to do in the evening?' 'How do you entertain?' It’s a lot of time spent before putting a line on the paper," Joe says.

Rendering of a terrace for a home called Equa on Bird Key scheduled for completion this year.

"The second profession of an architect is to be a psychologist. It’s our job to really listen and figure out what will work collectively for our clients,” Gwen says.

"We don’t treat our projects as shells. We design the exterior structure and the interiors, from large to small scale—pools, landscape, built-ins, flooring, fixtures, tiles and countertops," she says.

Completed in 2019, the LS1 House in Lido Shores won multiple awards including the 2021 AIA Florida/Caribbean Citation Award of Excellence for New Work.

Image: Ryan Gamma

What’s a trend you love less in the industry?

“'Pretend modern' houses that don’t do any favors to good architecture. It’s misrepresenting what modern architecture is," Joe says.  "I think it's making people under-appreciate true architecture. It's out of harmony and often overstated and posing as something it's not. Some builders are trying to capitalize on what Sarasota architecture is known for, but it can look discombobulated." 

"Our clients have a taste for what’s real. In-Yo is exposed concrete. It is what it is; you’re not trying to make it something else. A lot of modern homes are considered sterile, but our clients like a warm effect and the use of true materials," he continues. "For example, columns and beams—why hide them in plaster when they're holding up the house? Keeping them exposed is an expression of how the building was constructed. If it’s steel, glass or concrete, let it show."

A rendering of In-Yo on Lido Shores shows off exposed concrete and warm woods. It's scheduled for completion next year. 

What are the benefits of being a couple both in business and in life?

"Some feedback we get is that our clients identify themselves with us. They feel we can relate more to the chemistry of the couple," Gwen says. "Also, our firm is just Joe and me. When we take on a project, it's just us, from concept to completion." 

Rendering of a Bird Key home called Amalgam. It has two intersecting volumes, interpreting the two life trajectories of its residents.

"We have good relationships because it's very stressful to build a house as a couple and come out the other side in a positive light. But in the end, [the clients] are emotionally connected to the home. Some clients appreciate our design so much they don't want to deviate and call us two years later to choose sheets and towels," she says. 

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