Kristin Rose

By Susan Bean Aycock

Partner, Vice President and Project Architect, RBDR Architects

In an alternate world, Kristin Rose might be throwing pots on a potter’s wheel — something she would consider if she didn’t already have the job of her dreams.

But that would only tap into a tiny portion of the prodigious design skills she wields as an architect and partner of Waco’s RBDR Architects. Her design of The Dental Gallery, the offices of Jayesh S. Patel, DDS, FICOI, FAAIP, recently earned her an honor award from The American Institute of Architects Waco.

With a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Baylor University and a master’s degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, Rose is uniquely positioned to address building design from overall exterior concept to interior minute detail, blending project components into a beautiful and cohesive whole.

Wacoan writer Susan Bean Aycock sat down with Rose recently to talk about her work, the Waco AIA design award, life as a working mother of three, married to one of her business partners, and how Waco fits into the schematics of current architectural directions. Not trends — because trends come and go — but directions, because good architecture is forever.

WACOAN: Congratulations on receiving a 2023 American Institute of Architects [AIA] Waco Design Award for your design of The Dental Gallery in December! Tell me about that award.

Kristin Rose: There were four projects recognized out of 15 submissions. Typically, as an AIA standard, only about 10% of submissions are recognized, so having so many awarded projects was surprising and really speaks to the quality of work happening in our community. Two of the four awards [both honor awards] were to my firm, RBDR; my husband and business partner Michael Papernov also received one for his design of the Bridge Street Plaza.

WACOAN: How does AIA Waco interface with the state and national associations?

Rose: AIA Waco is a section of TxA [Texas Society of Architects], a state component of AIA. We started a rejuvenation process within our local organization in 2019, creating our mission statement and expanding our reach to include designers and others interested in being involved in the architectural community. We now have a small volunteer group who meet as needed to organize various events, including the AIA Waco design awards. We started holding design awards in 2021, inviting local architects and designers in the central Texas area which includes Waco, Temple, Killeen, Copperas Cove and Belton.

Being a component of TxA has really allowed us to tap into their human resources and they have been so supportive.

WACOAN: What was your vision for The Dental Gallery?

Rose: The idea was to create a clean, contemporary, beautiful office space that felt like an art gallery. My father was a dentist, and I grew up working in his office, so I understand the inherent stress that goes with going to the dentist.

I believe in the power of the built environment. A space has the ability to improve or distract from the program that inhabits that space. We wanted to create a space that would put people at ease and make the whole process of going to the dentist calming. That’s where the concept of biophilic design comes in — the effect of natural light, shadows, forms, colors and patterns is very healing. The Dental Gallery does have a great solar position; it gets the early morning light filtering through the front of the building. It’s on the high-traffic corner of Ambassador Drive and Bagby Ave., so the architecture acts as a billboard to advertise the business.

WACOAN: What did you do design-wise for The Dental Gallery to create that sense of calm and connection to nature?

Rose: Every consultation room has the patient chair facing at least one window that looks out to a ‘forest’ of columns. The geometrically abstract roofline and abstract column arrangement are meant to approach a landscape-like aspect. Similar patterns and a play of different colors and materials throughout the interior are all coordinated to maintain visual clarity and cohesiveness from the exterior to the interior.

WACOAN: Once you’re assigned a project, how do you get started on it?

Rose: Every project is client- and site-specific. You never start with a blank slate. There are always constraints like site boundaries, easements, parking, trash collection and city ordinances. Those facets have to work within the general design. It’s all about how to best meet the needs of the client. We frequently help them develop the building program before ever starting on any actual designing. Then it’s not just space-planning the floor plan but massing [general shape and form as well as building size] and finally texture and color. We construct 3D digital models and craft-rendered images to see how it will all work together.

WACOAN: You’re one of four partners at RBDR. Tell me about your firm and your work for them.

Rose: I’ve been with RBDR for most of my professional career. RBDR does almost everything but single-family residential. The wide variety of work we do gives us a broad base of experience. We’ve done a lot of work at Baylor [University], MCC and for the City of Waco. There are several local banks we’re proud to call our clients in addition to the many churches, nonprofits and other developers.

I’ve recently had the privilege to be part of the team that’s worked on multiple projects for American Bank; they have two new branch buildings in Woodway and Bellmead, and an interior finish-out in downtown Waco. I’ve also worked on several city animal shelters. Currently, I’m working with a great team on the renovations at the local YMCA; they’ve completed Phase I and will be completing Phase II soon. I also do a lot of work with churches, from master planning to design. Every project involves multiple people from RBDR, industry consultants and contractors. The other partners of RBDR are my husband Michael Papernov, David E. Wright and Bernadette T. Conrad Hookham. We’re lucky to have such great people to make up our teams.

WACOAN: Being an architect requires a complex set of skills. How have you been mentored along the way?

Rose: Bernadette Conrad Hookham has been an amazing mentor. You should be doing this interview with her, not me! She’s really a wonder woman. She’s an amazing role model who’s extremely accomplished and inspirational because she practices with such integrity.

Founding partner Keith Bailey, who retired recently, was also a huge mentor to me. I worked under him for a decade, and he taught me a lot about how to work with people. He took me to meetings, put me in front of clients early on, and including me in that part of the business was an invaluable experience.

RBDR has a history in the community that dates back to the 1940s, and Keith worked here for over 50 years, leaving an indelible mark on the community. Our firm takes pride in being local; there’s such a deep history and we’re so rooted in Waco and central Texas. We know what’s important to the community because we’re so personally invested here.

WACOAN: Your husband, Michael Papernov, is also a partner at RBDR. How did you both end up in the same firm?

Rose: I’m from Marlin and did my undergraduate studies in interior design at Baylor. I went on to get my Master of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and that’s where I met my husband. At first, I had no interest in coming back to the Waco area; we were interested in going to New York City. Michael had a sister there, so he had a couch to crash on, but it was the cusp of the economic comeback in 2012 and our loans were coming due.

Michael had just found a job in Manhattan with an architecture firm. A good friend of mine had just left RBDR and told me I should talk to them. We had a great conversation and they offered me a position. Michael and I did long-distance dating for a year, but he wasn’t as professionally fulfilled, while I was having a great experience in Waco. He came down to visit, interviewed, RBDR offered him a job, and he gave notice in New York. We got married six weeks after he moved to Waco.

WACOAN: What about architecture plays to your natural skills? If you weren’t an architect, what might you be doing instead?

Rose: I have a really good sense of spatial awareness. I can fit leftovers into Tupperware every single time and I can really pack a suitcase. If I weren’t an architect, I might be an artist — maybe a ceramicist. I do have an art studio in our home, but with three kids 5 and under, we’re just in survival mode most of the time. It’s still not easy being a working mom, and it’s not always easy being a woman in this industry. We stay busy juggling our careers and family. Jeanne is 5, Kate’s 3, and Lina is 1.

WACOAN: How did you choose architecture as a career path?

Rose: Artistic design has always captivated me, and I love putting things together. I always loved Legos and was involved in a small community theater where I performed, painted backdrops and helped put sets together. My parents opened a small business in Marlin called Threadgill’s when I was around eight years old. It’s an antique, gift and jewelry store, so I also made a lot of jewelry and learned a lot of people skills growing up. The store and my dad’s dental office were next door to each other downtown, with connecting doors.

WACOAN: Tell me about your education and how that affected your future career.

Rose: I started at Baylor as a fine arts major, but the first semester switched to interior design. I quickly knew I also wanted to pursue a Master of Architecture degree, which I did at Washington University in St. Louis.

During my time at Baylor, I spent a summer abroad in Paris studying French. We had free, back-door access to the Louvre and my roommate and I spent as much time there as we could. That trip opened my eyes to a whole new world of art and history. During graduate school, I had the opportunity to spend an entire semester in South America — our architecture studio was based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I absolutely loved the bold and fearless character of the architecture of Brazil. I also spent a spring break in the Netherlands with my studio class at the invitation of our Dutch professor, Wiel Arets. I’m so grateful that I was able to study abroad, and I believe that those experiences make me a better and more well-rounded architect today.

WACOAN: What qualities do you personally appreciate in architecture?

Rose: There’s not a specific quality that catches my eye — it’s more about having a cohesive concept that’s fully articulated from exterior to interior. Although I started with interior design, it’s not separate from architecture; they’re just different sides of the same thing. In the projects I do, I tend to have a hand in it from beginning to end. In the new American Bank builds, I was involved in everything from the architecture to the interior to the furnishings, even the artwork. Everything was specifically tailored to meet the needs of the client. It’s never just about the building. No individual piece can be successful if the entire project isn’t successful.

WACOAN: What misconceptions do people have about architects and what they do?

Rose: Architects are not builders or craftsmen or artists — we’re problem solvers at many levels. We have to have at least a basic understanding of so many different technical aspects that all need to work together and look good in the end. And on top of all of that, it’s imperative to be good listeners and ultimately produce a project that fulfills the needs of the users. Balancing all of those tasks is the unique challenge of the architect.

WACOAN: How much of your work is pure design and how much of it is working with clients? What have you been surprised to learn on the job and why?

Rose: I frequently work with clients and have many days where I’m hardly at my desk. My schedule is purely dependent on what stage of development my projects are in at the time. During the design stage, designers in the office like to look over everyone’s shoulders and give opinions, wanted or not! We like to collaborate and believe it always benefits the project.

A large part of what we do is communicate and coordinate. I didn’t realize when I was studying architecture how much of it is day-to-day coordination. There are building codes, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural and civil engineering, and all of the elements have to work together. We work with many talented and indispensable consultants. Still, architects are the people who connect the answers to the questions and make everything work from the plan to the ribbon cutting. When surprises and challenges come up, we work with all parties to find solutions. Good, clear communication is critical to doing the job well.

WACOAN: What’s the best part of your job?

Rose: Seeing the final product, and how space can transform the community and individuals who use it. To see your work six months, two years, 10 years down the road is very rewarding. I’m constantly learning, and every day, every project, every client brings variety and challenges that are honestly a lot of fun. I love getting to do different things, and although it’s challenging, it’s never boring.

WACOAN: Tell me a little about current trends in architecture.

Rose: Generally speaking, ‘trendiness’ is a tricky thing; it comes and goes. So, if you’re renovating to sell a property, it might make sense to embrace a hot trend, but if you’re investing in a long-term solution, the calculus is different. At RBDR, we try not to let short-term aesthetic trends dictate design decisions. Of course, we stay well-informed about and utilize the latest products and technologies, as well as the most advanced methods and tools of professional practice, because it allows us to do the highest quality work.

While we may not practice what I would call ‘trendy’ architecture, we very much strive to practice architecture that’s uniquely responsive to the needs of the user, the time and the place, with strong consideration for future needs. No matter the style, good design does that. Successful design is responsive in a way a layperson may not consciously recognize. You may not notice the positioning of the windows or the lighting details, but you know when a space makes you feel good or not. You know if it’s an environment that you feel comfortable in to work or learn, that puts you at ease and increases your efficiency. That’s the power of the built environment. New builds and renovations, like at Baylor, may be there for 30 to 40 years, so the design needs to be lasting.

WACOAN: Well, rather than lean into trendiness, what are some of the directions that architecture and interior design are taking? How does Waco align with those?

Rose: The biggest direction is in building more multi-purpose spaces. With how our needs in the commercial world are constantly shifting and changing, there is definitely an overall trend based in promoting the flexible and surprising combinations of uses of different spaces, especially following all of the price increases post-pandemic. Some of that happens through space planning, and some through addressing acoustic and lighting needs more specifically.

I think Wacoans have embraced the idea of efficiency, and our clients are generally very open to new ideas and creative solutions. One thing that we have seen and noticed — maybe not yet so much in our market but definitely in general — is that businesses have to create unique and special experiences to attract customers and employees. All of this is tied into the boutique movement of all things.

There are some technological trends that are based in pre-fabrication and newer technologies like 3D printing in construction, but these are still not truly mainstream. Interior trends are moving away from stark white and gray everywhere and introducing more patterns and warm tones back into the palette. I’m personally excited to see this, as I’ve always believed in using a mix of warm and cool tones to achieve visual balance and harmony.

WACOAN: What’s new and exciting architecture-wise in Waco?

Rose: Waco has a lot of potential. The downtown development along the riverfront is really exciting with the planned Cultural Arts and Performance Center, riverwalk expansion and connection to East Waco. Bridge Street Plaza and the energy along Elm Avenue show that Wacoans are ready to support all of our communities.

In a way, Covid helped mid-sized cities like Waco because with remote work, people could make more intentional decisions about how and where they want to live. That’s probably true across the country with the incredible growth of mid-sized cities after the pandemic. Michael and I made a conscious decision to stay in Waco and raise our family here and to build our careers at RBDR.

WACOAN: Describe yourself in three words.

Rose: Passionate, driven and creative.

WACOAN: Do you have a signature style you design in?

Rose: I don’t really have a signature style. I want to bring joy to people; I’m not a tortured soul of an artist. I gravitate toward joy in my professional life, just like I do in my personal life. I love Waco and am proud to be contributing to the growth and transformation that’s happening here.

WACOAN: How do RBDR and Waco fit into the architectural community at large?

Rose: RBDR has always done thoughtful work but there’s always more to be done. Our goal is to provide service that is personally tailored to every client and provide it through great architecture, no matter the budget. We want to grow the legacy of our previous partners.

I want Waco to be a design mecca and for that to be synonymous with RBDR. That’s a big reach, but one I think is achievable. Waco is in a unique position in timing and geographic location to really tap into the potential to be that place. It can be the city to come to for great art, architecture, design and creative identity.