By Melissa Sorge
Passersby know them when they see them–the subtly distinctive properties that, rather than draw the eye, instead invoke the senses to a visceral experience of unmatched beauty and craftsmanship that blend seamlessly into the local streetscape. Built with rich materials, unrivaled attention to detail, and the personal touch of premier architects, these are the “Asher Houses.”
These timeless and iconic structures found along the New Jersey coast and throughout suburban Pennsylvania, built with care and improved by age, are the trademarks of the Asher Slaunwhite firm. Established by Mark Asher in 1993 (then known as Asher Associates Architects), the Asher Slaunwhite firm gained recognition after Asher himself renovated the Ocean City Yacht Club and created the blueprint for Avalon Yacht Club (both of these establishments are located along the New Jersey coast).
Family summers on the southern coast of the Jersey Shore sparked Asher’s interest in building and design long before he knew about the formalities of architecture. As a child, he would head out on his Raleigh bike on a breezy summer evening equipped with his pencil and pad. When he saw a house that caught his eye, he would draw it in his sketchbook. At the time, Asher’s only motivation was that he liked the house. He would later realize that these summer bike rides were valuable lessons for the business he would one day create. Through his leisurely sketches, Asher began to think about proportion as well as the many other details that go into the creation of a beautiful home such as porches, eaves, and brackets working in tandem to create the perfect balance. Asher went on to study architecture at Virginia Tech, where he earned the prestigious credentials to make a lifestyle out of his childhood dream.
Asher’s renovations and designs quickly gained him recognition as the local expert in coastal architecture and his pace has not slowed since. Though Asher works with an accomplished team of other architects and designers, he oversees all of his projects on a daily basis, ensuring his touch is in every step of the design and construction process.
In 2008, Asher’s firm gained a valuable team member who shared in their vision of bettering communities through the building of luxurious, yet respectful homes. Creative and talented architect Deborah Slaunwhite joined Asher Associates Architects with a drive similar to Asher’s, a desire to design homes that would not only be timeless and beautiful but also fit into the neighborhood aesthetic. Similar to Asher, Slaunwhite came to love architecture as a child, when her family gave her a drafting board at the age of 10: “I would spend hours drawing geometric shapes, exploring proportion and color more than necessarily designing buildings. My family traveled a fair amount when I was young, and I was enamored by the built environment, from the graceful Victorian homes in small towns across western New York to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The monuments and urbanism of Washington, D.C. were particularly interesting to me.”
Despite his love of and attraction to many of the coastal New Jersey homes he sketched as a child, Asher knew, early on, that there was a need for improvement in this real estate-driven market. His desire to better the places he knew had such wonderful potential precipitated the New Urbanism philosophy that underlies Asher and Slaunwhite’s firm.
According to Asher, “The echo of New Urbanism stems from our recognition that, in these densely populated towns, houses should have a relationship to one another. We’re not town planners per se, although we’ve had any number of our zoning suggestions adopted, but we saw the more historic coastal cottages as touchstones. We wanted to calm things down. Turrets, gewgaws and pebbled yards were replaced with green lawns and inviting front porches. Our homes didn’t fight for attention but had a quieter, more timeless quality. We strived for and pushed clients to use richer materials and encouraged the builders to elevate the craftsmanship and attention to detail. These are the elements of good architecture.”
While she attended the University of Notre Dame, Slaunwhite studied a traditional architecture curriculum. Upon graduating, she interned at Curtis and Windham Architects in Houston, Texas, where she designed her first project–a detailed, classically proportioned Doric order room. Her work on this difficult project impacted one family in a positive way and paved the way for hundreds of more projects that would continue to impact and improve upon the lives of others. Slaunwhite’s talent, her commitment to the vision of Asher Architects, and her leadership role in numerous design projects earned her the title of partner in 2018.
With Mark Asher and Deborah Slaunwhite at the helm and a creative team of talented architects working alongside them, it comes as no surprise that Asher Slaunwhite Architects continues to design quality homes and buildings both along the shore and inland. With a unique talent for seeing beyond the individual project, while envisioning structures that assimilate into and enrich their existing communities, the Asher Slaunwhite firm creates buildings that are icons of quality and craftsmanship–structures that pay homage to the communities in which they reside.
Main image by Lauren Hagestrom