Hufft Projects’ Blueprint for Success

Entrepreneur Matthew Hufft
Company Information Hufft Projects 321 W. 40th St. Kansas City, MO 64111 (816) 531-0200
Type of Business Architecture and design firm
Year Founded 2005
Employees 22
Keys to success “The key to our success is constant meetings. It all boils down to communication.” Matthew Hufft, founder and creative director

In just a few short years, Matthew Hufft and his team have won national acclaim for their work—and they’re only getting started.

When Matthew Hufft was in graduate school, his parents had one request: They wanted him to design their dream home.

The architecture student, then living in New York City, feverishly spent his nights and weekends turning ideas into sketches.

When he visited his parents in Springfield, Mo., to discuss the details, the then-20-something was blossoming from an eager, promising academic into a full-fledged architect. And having his parents as clients was an odd, yet exhilarating experience.

It was his parents’ faith in him that ultimately would give Hufft the confidence—and the portfolio—to make it in a business where impressive designs aren’t the only requirement for success.

“That project was the catalyst for everything,” he said. “It not only taught me a lot, but it gave people who weren’t my parents the ability to trust me. I started getting jobs from other people afterwards.”

More than eight years later, Hufft now has one of the most cutting-edge architecture companies not only in the Kansas City area, but in the country.

Since its inception in 2005, Hufft Projects has more than quadrupled in size, now boasting 22 employees and substantial growth. The company has been featured in national magazines and received numerous design awards.

Many of its local architectural masterpieces, such as the Baulinder Haus, a Marcel Breuer-inspired, ecologically friendly home in Mission Hills, are becoming well-known conversation pieces among dazzled Kansas City residents.

Raising a Business in a Barn

Most weekdays, Hufft can be found walking up and down the corridors of his company’s headquarters, located in a historic Westport barn. With his two faithful Weimaraners trotting by
his side, he smiles warmly at his employees and stops to listen to any question or thought they might have.

The barn, which was built in the late 19th century, has been divided into different studios, representing each facet of the company. Unlike most architecture firms, Hufft Projects doesn’t just design. When it comes to residential homes, the company also builds, fabricates and furnishes.

For each residential project, a team of architects, artists and builders collaborates on every aspect of the home, tossing ideas back and forth, overseeing the details from conception to construction. In one studio, wood craftsmen work on a piece of furniture, while metalwork takes place in another area.

Upstairs in the hayloft, a row of graphic designers and architects sits at computers, an inspiration board behind them filled with photos of art and magazine cutouts.

“We are a very collaborative group,” Hufft said. “We mesh all steps together early in the design process and have everyone at the table. We get input from different fields at the same time, which allows us more control and to be more innovative.”

He points out that clients really enjoy having the entire process at their fingertips. They’re able to stop at Hufft’s headquarters and see virtually every aspect of their future home right before their eyes, he said. It allows for better quality and control. Plus, his employees love it.

Kimball Hales moved to Kansas City from Chicago five years ago to be the managing director of all Hufft Projects’ divisions. He believes that overseeing every level of a project is a lifesaver. “Normally, you would design something and hope the contractor gets it right,” he said. “But here, you can just go downstairs and see for yourself, which really helps with efficiency.”

He also thinks the structure makes work a lot of fun.

“In any profession, you can grow stagnant,” Hales said. “But here, we have variety. There is never a dull moment.”

But juggling all the divisions is not easy.

“It’s a challenge being so diverse, because you’re essentially running four different companies and working with many different personalities,” Hufft said. “Managing the facets of each industry can be complicated, because running a design studio is a lot different than running a cabinet shop.”

In order to maintain communication and keep everyone on the same page, Hufft schedules meetings once a week for each division to come together and converse.

“The key to our success is constant meetings. It all boils down to communication,” he said. “And in the process, we’re essentially teaching everyone the business. It’s an open-book company, where everyone sees how each part of the company runs.”

Midwestern Opportunities

Although he has managed to maintain a happy balance between all divisions, Hufft’s biggest challenge is the fact his company is growing very fast and is in
uncharted waters.

When he started the company in 2005, it consisted of him, wife Jesse and a handful of employees. Fresh from New York City, they worked out of the basement of the Huffts’ new Prairie Village home.

“I realized there were a lot more opportunities in Kansas City to be able to build from the ground up,” said Hufft. “The Midwest in general has opened its mind to a more modern sense of style and design, and that’s a huge opportunity for an architect. In New York, modern designers are a dime a dozen.”

The company started out designing residences, commercial structures and office buildings. In 2007, they moved the headquarters to Westport.

One of Hufft Projects’ first major endeavors was the Green Circle Shopping Center in Springfield, Mo. The 30,000-square-foot shopping center featured recycled materials and incorporated renewable energy systems. In 2010, the shopping center received an LEED Platinum rating, making it the first project of its kind to receive such a certification in the United States.

Around the same time, Hufft and his team launched a separate furniture company, Edwin Blue, and eventually ventured into construction. 200 Projects and Counting

Hufft credits his wife’s invaluable business skills for keeping the company afloat during the first few years. She is now the marketing director. The company also has received crucial advice from Mark Allen, a business development specialist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Small Business and Technology Development Center.

As people started to take notice and business exploded, the growth of the company—mixed with its unusual structure—got complicated.

“The past seven years have been an incredible learning experience,” Hufft said. “The learning curve for me has been painful because everything we do is different—it’s not cookie-cutter. There really isn’t an example for us to follow, which is mind-blowing, exciting and scary.”

Hufft Projects is currently working on its 200th project and is showing no signs of slowing down.

In the works is an approximately $60 million, mixed-use development in Westwood. Woodside Village includes about 30,000 square feet of retail space with 80 apartment units above.

Dreams of a National Reach

While Hufft focuses his energy on keeping up with his company’s growth, he’s purposely taking his time with Edwin Blue, the handcrafted furniture entity, which was launched in 2010. Sometimes its products are used for furnished homes Hufft Projects builds, while other times the furniture is sold on its own.

Clayton Vogel, a longtime friend and business colleague, helps run the furniture company out of his New York City home. The two co-founders are growing the business gradually, so they can figure out what direction they want it to take. Fortunately, the furniture sales aren’t needed to put food on their tables, so they have the luxury of taking their time with it, said Vogel, who is also design director for Hufft Projects.

Vogel is trying to get the company a showroom in New York City, and keeps Hufft informed of what’s happening on the design scene in one of the biggest cities in the world.

“Every showroom of every company in the world is in New York City, so it allows us to always know the latest and greatest designs,” Vogel said. “Knowing what is out there keeps us on our toes. It’s a nice advantage to have.”

Hufft admits he would love to expand his company nationally in five to 10 years. But for now, his main focus is quality over quantity. And no matter what happens, Kansas City will always be home to Hufft Projects.

Hufft believes there is a renaissance in Kansas City, where modern aesthetic is becoming the new classic. It’s the reason more and more talented architects devoted to modern design are emerging in Kansas City, he said.

His colleagues couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it’s a growing trend that will be around for a while because people are embracing modern design and moving away from tradition,” Hales said. “In the U.S., there is still that mindset that houses should be built the way they were 50 years ago, and I think that’s about to change. We’re coming up with new ways to make things timeless.”

In recent years, Hufft Projects has been swamped with resumes from recent graduates who are eager to work at one of the companies paving the way.

Even though Hufft is still trying to feel his way through the dark, the 36-year-old genuinely wants to see other young architects succeed as well. After all, a renaissance takes a community.

“Kids starting out in this business today should know calculated risk is a good thing,” he said. “I was young and took risks because I didn’t have anything to lose back then. Now I have a family, and I have to be more careful. But really, like any profession, it’s all about putting forth hard work to follow your dream. I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s true.”