Houzz 2013
The Dream Team

Hour Detroit
May 1998

Architects Kevin Akey and Frank Zychowski are as different as a ranch and a Tudor, but as partners, their vision is the same: To fulfill their clients’ fantasies with an emphasis on open spaces.

“We don’t always dress the same.”

Architect Kevin Akey is explaining why he and his partner, Frank Zychowski, are wearing duplicate shirts this particular morning.

It’s ironic: Partners with alphabetically polar surnames and contrasting design talents – described by colleagues as right and left sides of the same brain – dressed in identical French-blue shirts. The shirts maybe the same color, but the men wearing them are cut from an entirely different cloth.

Akey wears no necktie. He parts his hair in the middle, and it falls forward, snow-boarder style. Zychowski’s style is button-down collars and Windsor knots. Unlike the shirts, their differences are no accident. AZD Associates Inc., architects, is founded on the partners’ dissimilarities. Akey is the designer. Zychowski is the technician who makes the concepts work. Says Akey: “Frank loves the part he does and I can’t stand it.”

For men who avoid architectural labels, their own lifestyles carry tags as obvious as the Nike swoosh. Akey’s the high-energy vacation guy: skiing in Vail, snowmobiling Up North, diving in the Caymans. Zychowski teaches, reads architectural history and watches the stock market.

As a team, the 35-year-old former Lawrence Tech roommates are riding a crest that includes making the Crain’s Detroit Business 1996 annual brat-pack list of 40 of the metro area’s best and brightest under the age of 40. Recently, a Better Homes and Gardens photo crew documented Akey’s own home, a ‘50s ranch reborn as an airy ‘90s cottage. An Isiah Thomas-autographed basketball in their office hints they’ve done work for the former Detroit Piston. And the pair recently completed blueprints for Red Wings forward Igor Larionov- fun stuff for bachelor pals who love hockey.

Underlying the fun is a belief that the Great American Dream too often gets shoehorned into existing standards. As Zychowski says: “A lot of people are pushed into the ‘how much square footage can I afford’ kind of thinking.”

He sees residential design as something much more personal.

“I grew up in a modest middle-class home and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Zychowski says.

Says Akey: “Every person, no matter what income level, has a dream feature they want.” Such sensibilities are evident in their home renovations – projects they love bit as much as their dramatic estates.

In AZD’s high-end homes, dream features have included prayer rooms, sports gear rooms computer lofts and indoor pools. They even created an 11-car garage with glass walls so the owner could admire his luxury cars from inside the house.

AZD emphasizes freedom from preconceived design constraints - for example, textbook Tudor. ”A lot of architecture was developed by available material.” Akey says. “When Tudor was devised, you couldn’t get 7-by-12 panels of glass.” And, if a Tudor can have more natural light, contemporary can be cozy.” Warmth,” Akey says, “comes from the materials you use: brick, color, carpet.”

Akey and Zychowski are fascinated by alternative materials such as concrete block - usually regarded as utilitarian and homely – or metal roofing. But they’re best known for open space, maximum views and creative solutions for problematic sites.

That’s evident in the 10,000-square –foot White Lake contemporary they designed for Shila and Mike Morganroth. “I can see the lake from everyroom, “Shila Morganroth says. “The house is completely panoramic and yet it offers privacy.”

Akey and Zychowski met at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, where they arrive as freshmen with, not surprisingly, diverse goals.

Zychowski pursued architectural technology. It’s a choice he attributes to his contented youth in the Upper Peninsula. “Children are fascinated with building and design, playing with blocks or crawling in and out space, building forts, “Zychowski says.

Akey spent much time of his boyhood drawing, but at Ferris aimed to be a rich dentist. When a college friend quit art, however, Akey bought his supplies and went back to drawing.

“ Now, “he jokes, “I design homes for dentists.”