UI grad's Champaign firm has small staff but large list of diverse area projects
CHAMPAIGN — Andrew Fell may be the busiest local architect you've never heard of.
His firm, Andrew Fell Architecture & Design, occupies a small office on the second floor of a two-story house near downtown Champaign.
He has three employees, but they don't come to the office much, if at all, working instead from Paxton, Chicago and Iowa City, Iowa.
But Fell has had 63 projects this year, including:
— An "unusually long and skinny" duplex under construction near First Street and Armory Avenue in Champaign.
— An elaborate "second home" in rural Mahomet for a Chicago area attorney. The home, slated to be built this fall, would include a four-story tower and overlook a tributary to the Sangamon River.
— An apartment complex near the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie.
Fell, 52, of Urbana said about a third of his work is multifamily residential, a third is commercial and a third is single-family residential.
Perhaps his most recognizable building is the four-story "leaning out" duplex at 1004 S. First St., C, built for apartment developer/tavern owner Scott Cochrane.
"That's given us the most notice," Fell said. "The footprint was so small, it forced us to do something like that."
Among his other local projects:
— The Distillery, a four-story, eight-unit building at 25-29 E. John St., C, with each unit having four floors.
— The Stratford Residences at 202 N. Race St., U, built to replace a former apartment cooperative there.
— The renovated Spiros Law Office building at Fourth Street and University Avenue in Champaign. The building once served as a hotel and later housed the Ginza flower shop.
— The renovated Wagner Storage Building at 301 S. Water St., C, for town homes.
Plus, he's working on a host of other projects, including build-outs of offices at M2 on Neil and apartment developments in several states.
He has done residential renovations for several University of Illinois professors and calls single-family residential work "the most fun" — though not the easiest.
Fell said he also has done his share of "unglamorous things." His first design project, while working for another architect, was designing "bathrooms for a Putt-Putt course," he said.
A native of Morrison in northwestern Illinois, Fell received his undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Illinois in 1983 and a master's in architectural design two years later, also from the UI.
While still in college, he worked for architect Harry Baxter of Baxter and Associates and later took a job in New Hampshire, where he and his family lived on one of the ponds used in the filming of "On Golden Pond."
He and his family then returned to Champaign-Urbana, where he worked successively for Russ Dankert, Gary Olsen and the Gorski Reifsteck firm.
In 1999, Fell took "a leap of faith," starting his own firm in the office he still occupies today. He initially worked on small residential additions, a couple new homes and some small commercial projects. Eventually, he did "a fair number of apartments on campus."
Fell said he's done "probably a dozen projects" for Scott Cochrane.
One of the reasons he likes working for Cochrane, he said, is that Cochrane allows a lot of freedom in design, as long as the project cash-flows.
That's not common in the campus rental market, where developers want their buildings to appeal to "90 percent of people" and to include as many bedrooms as possible, Fell said.
Fell said "the opportunity to do apartments on campus is shrinking" as developers find it harder to assemble enough land for projects.
As for his own business, Fell plans to graduate soon from his office space at 302 W. Hill St., C. He said he has purchased the former Blind Man building at 515 N. Hickory St., C, and plans to move his office there and add a second story for apartments.
He said the location is ideal: close to downtown, easy to find, with light traffic on Hickory.
In addition to having an intern, Fell has three employees:
— Sara Riebe, who lives outside Paxton and works from home.
— Tyler Harries, who lives in Chicago but commutes to Champaign two to three days a week.
— Martha Stoakes, who moved to Iowa City when her husband got a job there. But even when she lived in this area, she worked from home, Fell said.
Fell's own home, built about 11 years ago, is on Raintree Woods Drive in northeast Urbana.
"It's a space out in the woods. It doesn't feel like it's in Urbana," he said.
His wife, Deborah Fell, is a quilt artist whose works are displayed throughout the world. She is an artist-in-residence at the UI's Figure One Gallery in downtown Champaign.