By Sienna Mae Heath
Dan Sherer seeks adventure in architecture and life. Venturing off the beaten path, he’s ready to visit a historic site or take a hike on a woodland trail, which makes perfect sense because his specialty is historic renovation and preservation.
Historic projects are especially complex, he says, because the architect must go through a discovery process to identify exactly what’s there, decide what should be saved and what actually can be saved. The focus is on existing elements and materials that will preserve the historic integrity and benefit future occupants of the building.
“It’s a big puzzle from day one,” he says, “and I love working things out and solving the problems. I love the challenge.”
A morning person who often starts his days outside, he enjoys hiking and working out.
He hikes 10 miles every week along the banks of the Congaree River in the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve near Columbia, S.C. “It’s the perfect gym with hills to climb and streams to cross on fallen trees,” he says.
To Dan, a workout goes much further than a brisk walk. On flat areas, he takes off on 60-yard sprints. He runs as fast as he can on rough terrain, adding a playful spirit to these excursions. In between, he stops to do pushups, climb 20 feet up a rope tied to an old oak tree, then another 50 feet up the tree. Creating his own obstacle course, he picks up an old log and carries it as far and fast as possible through the woods.
He’s certainly wide awake after a morning adventure like this one, and it helps him ramp up before a big race. And with his son, he competes in Mud Run obstacle course races all over the southeast. Wherever the father and son wander off to, they always end up on a trail. Dan also participates in the XTERRA Trail Run Series competitive trail running at Table Rock State Park.
For the same reason that he appreciates the great outdoors, he loves natural lighting and considers how the building is oriented in nature. “Building orientation and use of natural light create an inviting, comfortable space,” he reflects.
Brick, stone and reclaimed wood materials appeal to his design style; however, he is happy to step out of that realm depending on what the client wants.
His mission is to create designs that “belong.” Each building suits its setting – appealing to the client’s lifestyle and fitting in with the area’s architecture and atmosphere.
“If the client wants a spectacular view of a mountain, I want to select the appropriate site and design a fantastic structure that fits into the site and provides the view they envision,” he says.
Looking back, he realizes how the themes of nature, historical integrity and problem solving weave through his professional and personal life.
The oldest of five siblings, he grew up in a ranch home in suburban Springdale, South Carolina. They spent hours in the woods, swimming, climbing trees and riding motorcycles.
Their family owned a 2-acre property on Shull Island. The tiny cabin was among 50 lots by a lake. Here, he started becoming an architect.
At age 12, he would sit by the water and sketch out their future home. His vision: what is now considered a contemporary style house with vaulted ceilings. Growing up in a ranch home with 8-foot ceilings, he dreamed of a more modern, spacious house. His layout also included a barn for their (future) horses, motorcycle trails and a dock with an outdoor kitchenette where the family could spend time together.
Fittingly, the top two results from the career test he took in high school were 1) architect and 2) park ranger.
Amid his outdoorsy adventures, he took a drafting class for three years in high school. It wasn’t exactly an architecture class, but he learned the “nuts and bolts” of drafting and design. “I was fortunate; I knew exactly what I wanted,” he says.
His childhood friend’s father was an architect. One day, Dan walked up to their contemporary, yet playful, home and noticed the dad’s porsche parked in the driveway. As he ventured toward the front door, the style felt surprisingly reminiscent of the lakehouse sketches he had done. The exterior was rusted wood, stone and glass, and inside – vaulted ceilings.
Dan’s friend actually joined him in the architecture program at Clemson University. They graduated in 1987.
Dan worked for five years as an intern architect at a small firm, Curt Davis and Associates. The next step in career was starting his own firm in 1993, Sherer & Associates Architects, LLC.
Since then, he has become an expert on historic renovation and preservation. The firm has won several local awards from the Columbia Historic Society for Adaptive Reuse. For one of these awards, he transformed an old school into unique condominiums – stripping the building back to its brick structure and exposing its wooden beams.
Dan has chosen to keep his firm small in order to maintain clear focus. This enables his involvement in all phases of a project; starting with the preliminary design and construction drawings through construction observation to completion.
Maintaining these efficient systems allows Dan to take the lead, and put his problem solving skills into play.
“In our historic projects, we design elements that improve upon the original. For example, we design windows that are an asset, not a detriment to a historic building. We consider how we can make all the systems work, meet the expectations that the clients are trying to achieve, and abide by sustainability and energy codes,” he says.
Dan’s creative solutions find their way into his personal life, too.
He recently drove by his childhood cabin on Shull Island. To his dismay, the new owner has let the property become overgrown. He and his brother are considering buying it in hopes of revitalizing the lot as a place for their family to make new memories together.
Like his father before him, he is very much a family man. While taking pride in his work, he is most proud of his children. He has three children and two stepchildren ages 17 to 30. His favorite artist is his youngest daughter who started a business painting pet portraits. She also dabbles in watercolor, photography, and, like her dad, sketching.
Dan met his wife, Heather, through a contractor friend in Charleston who told her, “Dan is going to do what he says he’s going to do.”
Dan and Heather got married in February 2015. She helps with marketing the firm, and Dan upholds his promises to his family and to his clients.
Attending to his clients’ needs is an integral part of Dan’s work. What they want and what they need aren’t always the same depending on the budget and logistics. He balances all the factors while working on historic sites, and residential and commercial projects.
His personal mission – offer a long-term and thorough service that’s valuable for many years to come. His designs create meaning and improve livelihood, all the while making efficient use of the land.
He says, “I’m careful to not lose the character of the older styles while still creating a design that will work down the road.”
Learn more about Dan’s work here: http://www.shererarch.com