Built to Last
For distinctive, artfully designed homes that blend beauty and function, homeowners turn to Luce Architects
by Bill Donahue


Amy Sargent knows a thing or two about good design … and good designers. She studied interior and architectural design in college, and also designed much of her own Newtown home. So when she doles out praise to a colleague of sorts—in this case, Christopher J. Luce, founder of Luce Architects—you know it is well deserved. 


By Sargent’s estimation, Luce is an anomaly in his field, blending the precision of a skilled architect with the artistic vision of the most imaginative designer. Even more impressive is the fact that Luce and his firm are so versatile in their talents, equally capable of designing compelling spaces for residential and commercial alike—from luxury homes, upscale restaurants and churches worthy of glossy magazine covers to ambitious townhome villages and 500-unit apartment communities—on both sides of the Delaware River and beyond.


“Chris is a rare combination,” says Sargent. “Over the years I’ve never found [an architect] who was great at everything, until I met him. A lot of architects have more of an engineering mind, so they’re not always looking at the flow of the house and how people live. … He’s really bright about what he does, and I actually have fun working with him. I feel very lucky that we’re connected.”


In 2010 Luce collaborated with Sargent on the design and layout of parts of her Newtown house, effectively transforming two unused and uninhabitable spaces into communal spaces that could be the jewel of any home. The now-finished basement features a countertop bar that wraps around the back of the staircase and “feels like a Manhattan nightclub, blending transitional and traditional,” she says. “I’m big on function and design, and Chris’ layout definitely blends both.” Also, the space above the home’s garage has become a comfortable yet elegant office and lounge area.


Luce attributes his unique skill set to artistic background and, in some ways, his DNA. “I always wanted to be an artist,” he says, though his father, who worked for a regional builder, suggested his son follow a career path toward architectural design. He pursued his Bachelor of Architecture degree through the nighttime program at Drexel University while working full time to support his growing family. The experience taught him discipline and the value of hard work, while honing his ability to look at things differently than most architects might. 


“When I’m designing a space, I’m thinking about the engineering in the back of my head at the same time,” he says. “It’s a matter of blending art and function. I might go through someone’s house 100 times in my mind throughout the design process just so I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. I want to make sure that I get every turn and every angle just right in the design. Our goal is to exceed every client’s expectations.”


Clients aren’t the only ones who have noticed the firm’s skill. The Home Builders Association of Chester and Delaware Counties bestowed Luce Architects with the 2011 Custom Home of the Year Award for a ground-up home in Thornbury. In fact, the firm’s trophy case is getting crowded, having won Best Original House Plan awards in 2006 and 2008 from the Home Builders Association of Bucks/Montgomery County. The most recent winning design, in Chester County, references the French Manor style with a modern flair that Luce describes as “gracious” and “stately.”


“We are very careful in the design process to put key elements on access, so there’s a progression with transition points along the way,” he says. “In the Thornbury home, for example, you walk down one of the hallways and see an elliptical window that looks out onto an ornamental tree. That’s just one example. Every room takes advantage of the property and its surroundings. You never impose the design on the property; it should be natural and subtle.”


Luce is not only an architect and a designer but a therapist of sorts as well.


“In going through people’s houses, and they explain what they want to do, you find that everybody has their own personality,” he says. “A husband and wife tend to come at things from different angles but usually want the same thing; I’m almost a moderator to some degree. I like to get inside their head, for lack of a better term, and really learn how they live and determine what’s important to them.”


In other words, it’s a matter of collaboration. Luce Architects also offers an overlay of an existing property depicting its potential through a service known as the Master Plan. Most clients who chose this service are thinking about purchasing a particular property or renovating their home, and use the Master Plan to prepare plans that can be implemented in phases, while building in an overview of potential zoning and building code issues, as well as potential structural issues.


“It gives the owner an opportunity to plan things in phases instead of hitting everything at once,” Luce says. “When we lay them out this way, the homeowner knows what to expect, so they know what the venture is going to cost and can make a decision whether to pull the trigger and do the whole thing at once or in bite-size chunks. They’re in the driver’s seat.”


With every design, Luce practices efficiency—what some people would call “green”—in design and materials selection to optimize lighting, heating and other practical considerations.


“It’s about the effective use of materials with as little waste as possible,” he says. “We’re positioning every building and every window in a way that takes advantage of the wind and solar cycles, among other things. We also try to think very clearly about how the client will live within the space.”


Laura Heleniak hired Luce’s firm to design her ground-up home in Gwynedd Valley. By working alongside Luce and his team, she attained the home of her dreams, complete with an artfully designed master kitchen and a breathtaking “princess closet” adjacent to the master bedroom.


“He was very receptive to my ideas, but he also had so many of his own,” she says. “He was very specific about where the light would come in, and he also paid a lot of detail and attention to the theme, which is more of a Tuscan or Venetian theme—very European. He designed so many different angles and turns that you just don’t see in a lot of other homes here. I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘Your home is stunning, but it’s so comfortable and livable.’ He really cared to figure in the things you just don’t think about.”


Her contact with Luce did not end once the construction was complete. He came back many times afterward to make sure she was thrilled with the finished product.


“He’s a very sincere person who must love what he does,” she says. “I have met other architects and designers, and he stands out from the rest. He takes into consideration the fact that you’re going to live there so it’s not just a beautiful design, which it is. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so to please me you’ve got to keep me on my toes. I don’t know I would have accomplished this with someone else.”


For her part, Amy Sargent has shared a rather valuable gift as a result of her experience collaborating with Luce in the transformation of her Newtown home: a referral.  


“I would feel comfortable recommending Chris and his firm to anyone for any kind of job,” Sargent says. “I’ve had no issues, and that’s very rare in the building world.”


Luce Architects

67 Byberry Road
Hatboro, PA 19040
Phone: 215-674-5950
Website: www.lucearchitects.com