Several years ago when I would walk out Williams Street, which lies a block east of Gay Street and Ts into Depot, it felt like I was walking into the margins of downtown. Now, while not necessarily fully where it will be in a few more years, it has a different feel. At the corner of Depot and Williams will sit the east end of the Regas Square building, while across the street a brewery and restaurant are planned and under construction. A block north on Magnolia sits Tennessee Valley Bikes and Public House. Just up the street another couple of blocks Jeremy Wann is hard at work on his new salon. It has the feel of a happening street.
In the middle of all that development, in a building under the interstate sits Paulk and Company building everything concrete. As I looked for Fork Design – standing in their parking lot – I asked Justin Paulk where I’d find it and he pointed around the corner of his building. Understated doesn’t quite cover it. Bruce Cole Photography is marked by a red dot on the door and Fork Design by a yellow dot. There is another space available on that side of the building and one presumes a primary color should be selected for a dot on its door when it is occupied by a new business.
Forrest is as unassuming as the dot on his door. Quiet spoken, confident but measured, he’s taken a circuitous route to be where he is today, but he sees each step as important in some manner. Originally from all over the southern Appalachians – his father was a Presbyterian minister – after graduating from high school in Johnson City, Forrest attended UT to study architecture. He said he decided at age three he would be an architect and was always torn between science and math classes and shop class.
After graduating from UT, he decided he wanted to start from the bottom construction jobs in order to get a feel for all parts of the process. It sounds pretty noble, but in the summer of 2002 it meant digging a hole to make way for the expansion of the East Tennessee History Center. He followed that by remodeling a Fort Sanders house with Jon Haas in 2003. He traveled for a spell, landing in Brooklyn where he worked as a project manager restoring a brownstone, Seattle and Alaska where he spent a summer fishing for salmon.
He started a remodeling business. He helped his brother rebuild a boat and a Perkins diesel engine after which they sailed from San Diego to Charleston in 2007. Returning to Knoxville, he worked for Benefield Richters as a draftsman. In 2011 he started his own company, Fork Design. The company name, in addition to being a combination of the elements of his own name, carries the implication of choice or decision points which inevitably present themselves in design and construction – a direction must be chosen.
Fork Design focused on fabrication initially and Forrest’s first big client was HGTV for whom he made educational displays, focused on product with which they were affiliated. He particularly enjoyed working with a variety of architects and mentioned, in particular, the Holston River House which was featured in Dwell Magazine and included his cabinetry and special furniture pieces.
Readers of this blog have run into his work in numerous contexts, sometimes acknowledged and sometimes not. He designed the interior for Marc Nelson Denim and Flow: A Brew Parlor. He fabricated the very cool sign that has hung inside Just Ripe since it first opened. He also designed and built-out the Vagabond Truck. He’ll be the architect for the “Restaurant Formerly Known as the Civil Air Patrol” (they’ve been encouraged to pick another name). He’s actually made a brief appearance on the blog as part of the January 2013 Pecha Kucha.
His focus now has shifted more to pure architecture, though he continues to be involved in every phase of his projects, including the construction. Earlier this year he obtained all the needed certifications and has just completed a project next to Public House at 210 Magnolia Avenue which really jumps out. The backside, 210 Common Avenue (more or less an alley), was also built to be an alternative face of the building as plans are underway to enliven that alley with a mix of old and new construction.
He says, “There is a ‘why’ to my semi-sporadic madness. We do ourselves a disservice when we separate design and construction.” He referenced a presentation by Peter Gluck, which we both attended, that focused on architect-led design and construction. The idea being that communication is more effective, construction less expensive and prone to going awry,and buildings are made better when the architect is hands-on and follows the project through. He brought the conversation full-circle by adding, “This is why my first job was digging holes on Gay Street.”
He sees great opportunity in Knoxville to “do things the right way.” Part of every project for him is, “considering how it fits into the community.” He likes the concept of taking something – a building – apart and reconstituting it into something the community needs and the neighborhood uses. The old home which will be the unnamed restaurant on Sevier Avenue he holds up as an example, saying it’s part of the neighborhood and needs to look the part, but it also needs to be activated to be something useful.
He says Fork is a design company, not an architecture firm or a fabrication facility, though it incorporates those. He intends to be a part of what he sees going on in the city, which he characterizes colorfully as, “a group of creative young people hellbent on making this a very cool place.” That, he says, is his focus, taking pride that his work has a “quality,” but varies greatly in style.
He enjoys working with others who see the potential both in projects and in the city. He’s proud, for example, of his work as a founding member, and current president of the Nourish Knoxville Board of Directors. Both in that organization and in the projects he takes on he says, “I feel like a partner in crime,” as he works with other creative people. He’s looking for team-driven, creative projects and he points out that creativity doesn’t have to come at a financial premium. He simply enjoys working with “interesting people who have a passion about this town or about what they do.”