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THE ART OF EQUINE DESIGN WITH ARCHITECT ANNIE CARRUTHERS

Jan 29, 2019 12:25 PM

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Annie with her brother's horse
Annie Carruthers poses with her brother's horse.

Envisioning and bringing to life innovative, custom equestrian facilities over the past decade, architect and South Florida native Annie Carruthers has designed some of the most magnificent dream barns in Wellington, Florida. Classically trained, having earned her degree in architecture from the University of Miami, Carruthers founded In-Site Design Group and has worked on upscale projects for many well known high-goal polo team owners including BlackWatch polo team’s Neil Hirsch. Multilingual and frequently in Europe, she adds her extensive experiences abroad to her creative touch, melding together the old and the new in fresh and dynamic ways. Housing many top equestrian athletes, Carruthers’ designs are functional yet breathtaking works of art, recreating the distinct look and feel of distant cultures and time periods intentionally and purposefully crafted through a trained eye.

Boasting a diversified skillset as a general contractor, interior designer, real estate broker and licensed registered architect in both Florida and North Carolina, Carruthers is recognized for her attention to detail and talent for distinctive designs, starting in luxury high rises and waterfront estates before delving into the equestrian space. Representing an underrepresented demographic in a male-dominated industry, Carruthers sits at the unique intersection of identity as a Latina business owner. Invited on a tour of Hirsch’s newest equestrian stables in Wellington, Florida, the USPA uncovered how she stays on the cutting edge of design trends while gaining a better understanding of the facility’s purpose through her expertise.

Michael Bickford's tack room
Custom polo tack room in the Preserve.

What was your entry way into designing for the polo industry? 

“I met a polo player a few years ago and at the time I already had extensive experience designing numerous equestrian estates, stables and facilities after working on my first equestrian related project in Southfields 13 years ago. I began working with him on my first polo-related project in the equestrian community of the Preserve, a very large estate of almost 60 acres. It has two polo fields, 64 stalls, groom’s quarters, and a maintenance building along with a few other buildings for the owner. After completing that project, it just rolled over into all of this and I started learning more and more about polo. I’ve been working consistently in Wellington for 10 years now and I’ve designed between 20 to 30 barns for all disciplines.”

Michael Bickford's courtyard
Outdoor lounge area in close proximity to the polo stalls.

What is the most important architectural goal when designing an equestrian facility?

“My number one goal is always to design healthy stables that are safe for the horses. Of course functionality and the owners’ requirements are also important. At In-Site Design Group we have developed a very extensive program based on our experience where we go through a list of specific questions so there is a conversation regarding all of the possible options and how the client envisions their facilities, which we interpret architecturally. I like to talk to the barn managers and grooms whenever I can because in designing something that is healthy for a horse it’s very important to incorporate features that are integral to how the barn is cleaned. The details of how frequently the barn is cleaned, the materials used, and how they come together is very important. Many of the stables are cleaned several times a day so a designer needs to understand how it’s done so there isn’t cross contamination and the layout makes the job easy for the workers.

It’s important for us to go through the process with the people who work the barns on a daily basis so we understand their circulation patterns. For example, in Neil Hirsch’s barn I designed a designated area for the equine spa or treadmill to allow the horses to exercise, continue right outside and come back around to reenter. This circulation is important in the fact that it’s not blocking the middle of the aisle. Also, we incorporated an overhang with a walkway on the other side so when the horses have their heads out south facing they are going to get direct sun. We played with that and the trees so they would have optimal shade.”

Neil barn overhang
Equestrian barn detailing includes an overhang to shade horses from the sun. ©Ginger Photography

“I like to talk to the barn managers and grooms whenever I can because in designing something that is healthy for a horse it’s very important to incorporate features that are integral to how the barn is cleaned. ”  – Annie Carruthers

Where do you draw your architectural influences and inspirations from?

“I am constantly visiting other barns and keeping abreast of everything new that’s being created in the world of architecture. My team and I search the internet trying to keep our finger on the pulse of design by seeing what everybody is doing all over the world. A lot of our inspiration comes from seeing what is being done now and understanding how we can use these trends and incorporate them into our designs. We also love to travel and visit different styles when we are abroad and throughout the United States. I work with my husband, Jack, so we are always traveling together and visiting places where we can see unique architecture, both new and older classical styles. I lived in Florence, Italy, for a while and traveled throughout Europe for many years so I do have a classical background, and the University of Miami where I studied is a classical school. Right now the trend is to go a little cleaner stylistically and contemporary and if they go traditional to have a simple look.”

Neil's barn inside
Neil Hirsch's new equestrian barn in Wellington, Florida. ©Ginger Photography

What was the inspiration behind the new Wellington stables for Neil Hirsch?

“I worked with Neil to design an exterior that mirrored his main residence which is Greek revival plantation style from the Antebellum era. We wanted in some instances to keep it a simple, classical style, but also that the elements matched and complimented the main residence. He wanted it to have more of a European feel with a very classical interior, so we created several three-dimensional renderings of the inside using different materials. We ended up with a barn interior that’s very European with a lot of tile including inside the stalls. This helps for the cleanliness of the horses because you can easily wash down all the walls in the interior of the stables. It’s a nonporous tile which is very clean and the tile isn’t set too low so the horses can’t break or crack it. We also did some brick and accents that helped to emphasize the European feel including a lot of tongue and groove and crown molding.”

Neil's barn outside
Hirsch's barn is located on the roundabout just outside of International Polo Club Palm Beach. ©Ginger Photography

What is your process of envisioning a design and laying it out?

“First we visit the site and we get a feel for all the elements of the landscape. We always have to fulfill the owners’ needs first and then we ask about what they want. Once we get the list, including the style and barn layouts, we are able to help the owner understand the pros and cons of each layout and have an active conversation on what would be best for their needs. Once we finalize the program, we go back and do the floorplan first and we lay everything out including where the house would be and the circulation of the site. When we come to the owner to present they understand what our vision is and how it’s going to work. After we make any changes from the owner we move on to elevation, working with the 3-D renderings almost immediately to understand the massing and how it’s all going to come together. At the end of the design phase is when the owner gets to see a realistic photo 3-D rendering of the facility.”

“Cross ventilation which allows the air to come straight through is really important in my barns. This has to do with the health of the horses by keeping the circulation of air going.”  – Annie Carruthers

Is there a polo stable in the Wellington area that was particularly enjoyable to design?

“I enjoyed working on the polo facility in the Preserve because there were a lot of things I learned about the lifestyle of the sport while designing that particular facility. It was an exciting project for me because there were so many aspects of polo that not only involved the stables, but how the polo players rehabilitate and understanding the cultural relationship between the traditional Argentine asado and the sport of polo. I have a Spanish background and so I understand why the Argentines partake in a meal together and the important connection it has to their heritage.”

What are some typical examples of Argentine elements you might include?

“The main Argentine element is the area surrounding the asado and how that space is integral to being around the horses. In one of the areas where we created an asado it was a full courtyard with beautiful landscaping. That allows you to not only have the asado, but feel amongst all of the horses which really is what it’s all about - that connection. The Argentine aspects are very beautiful, natural materials and we integrate a lot of woods and natural stones. The interiors feel like home and have to feel very natural in both colors and finishes. The Argentine feel is not overdone and incorporates a lot of earth tones and colorful landscaping.”

Michael's lounge
Bahamian inspired details such as cedar wood shake roof, natural wood accents and white stucco exterior walls.

What is the most unusual or unique request you’ve had to design inside a stable?

“Many of the features are not so much unique as they are atypical. They are more of luxury considerations, for example we take into consideration the exercise and training that the horses need. We always ask what kind of equipment they are going to have which usually include horse trainers, treadmills and spas. This is unusual outside of communities like Wellington because very few barns have the ability to implement these features. Many of the barns I’ve designed include high-end multimedia features throughout like flatscreen televisions so you can see and monitor the horses outside and watch the horse show from the comfort of your barn.”

Polo wash racks at Michael's
Polo wash racks just outside the main barn in the Preserve.

How does designing a polo barn differ from other equestrian disciplines?

“The circulation of polo horses is very different than equestrian because it’s more focused on the mass and not a single individual. In polo barns they pull all the horses out differently, walk with many horses at a time and bring them in together. Also, polo wash racks are typically located on the outside of barn.

I don’t have a favorite discipline to build for, I just love to do them all, whether it be jumping, polo or dressage. I think it’s definitely a learning experience for me no matter what because every client wants something a little different. I’ve learned so much about polo just from working on the facility in the Preserve, although I think I still have a lot to learn there because I only have a couple under my belt. I love the refinements of the equestrian world and how everything is so beautiful, but I love how polo is very rustic and more natural. I love to see the combination of cultural aspects which are so integral to the sport of polo reflected in a functional design.”

If you would like to learn more about Annie Carruthers visit her website at http://insitedesigngroup.com.

USPA

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