By Tim Priebe
February 8, 2022

Professional Q&A: Thomas Small

Small owns two local architecture firms and shares his perspective on growth personally, professionally and in the Edmond community.
Thomas Small brings more than 40 years of experience to his firm Small Architects. (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Thomas Small has lived and worked in the Edmond area for nearly 40 years. He has a notable career in architecture including the founding of two local architectural firms and decades of experience on large-scale projects like the Oklahoma City National Memorial Center. Hear from Thomas about his journey to find his dream career, his appreciation for the Edmond community, and his advice for other professionals.

Q: Do you live in Edmond, work in Edmond, or both?

A: The “original” architectural firm established in Edmond in 2000 is called Small Architects. I am the founder and currently the only principal in Small Architects. We also started a spin-off in 2010 that focuses solely on church projects that is called SPACE, which is an acronym for “Specialized Planning & Architecture for Church Environments.” SPACE is a partnership between myself and Mark Allen, who formally lead the construction and design department at Life.Church before retirement.

My wife Susan and I have lived in the Danforth Farms addition in northwest Edmond since 1985. However, we are currently completing a new home located in the Town Square Addition in northeast Edmond, hoping to move there in the first quarter of 2022.

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school?

A: Until I was 13, my family moved all over the south/central US following my father, who was a petroleum engineer. Our last move was to Oklahoma City in the Putnam City area. There, I attended Central Junior High School (its name at that time) for “middle school”, and went to Putnam City West High School graduating in 1977. I enrolled at Oklahoma State University, initially declaring Biology as my major. After my first Chemical Engineering course as a freshman (yikes!), I quickly dropped a number of classes and eventually settled on Architecture. It wasn’t much easier, as my class began with over 120 students and dwindled to 27 by the time I graduated in 1982.

Q: What did you do prior to getting involved with your current company?

A: Starting a career in 1982 was a challenge for anyone at the time. My first “professional” job was just doing some drafting work for OG&E, but after a few months, I found an open position with an architectural firm located in Norman. From then until about 1987, I floated around to various firms in the Oklahoma City and Edmond areas until landing a position at Frankfurt+Short+Bruza (now just “FSB”) which lasted about five years. It was during my tenure there that I passed the architect’s professional exam and became a licensed architect. From 1992 to 2000, I was a project director at CH Guernsey & Company (now just “Guernsey”) before launching my own firm which opened its doors in April of 2000.

Q: How did you get involved with your current organization?

A: My years of prior experience as an intern and as a newly licensed architect at various firms provided the needed background, experience, and confidence that was necessary to launch out on my own. Much of what is learned in Architectural School focuses (rightly so) on design; however, there is much more to starting and running an architectural practice than design talents. Without an understanding of marketing, general business, and accounting, there would be no hope of maintaining and growing an office. By the time I was 40 years old, I felt I had enough knowledge of those other necessary skills that I stood a chance of succeeding.

Thomas Small serves as founder and principal at Small Architects and SPACE (Photo: Brent Fuchs)

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I have always been a somewhat creative person, so the design aspect of architecture brings me the most satisfaction. However, there is very little about running an architectural practice I do not enjoy. The challenge of successfully marketing our services, developing clients and business relationships, creating an office workplace that has a great culture and is rewarding to our staff, and maintaining a profitable practice are all aspects I highly value.

The work on church projects that we do through SPACE has expanded the past decade to be on a nationwide scale, now including projects from Florida and New York through the Midwest to California. As a Christ-believer, I’m convinced that success has been blessed for the continued expansion of the Kingdom.

Q: What’s something you’re passionate about in your personal life?

A: Susan and I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to raise two great kids in Edmond: Evan and his wife Maria, along with our granddaughter Willow, are the owners of the new climbing gym “Blocworks” located in downtown Edmond right next to Small Architects. Our daughter Katy and her husband Jordan live in Perry with our three grandsons Max, Wyatt, and Colt. Outside family, I remain active by playing tennis about two or three times a week and hiking in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near our weekend cabin in Medicine Park. We’ve also got a couple of Aussies, Ginger and MaryAnn, that keep things interesting…

Q: What do you like about Edmond?

A: We’ve lived in Edmond since 1985, so we’ve witnessed significant changes over those years. The best part of Edmond will always be the people, but I’m especially excited about the recent changes and momentum in the redevelopment around downtown. The addition of new restaurants, shops, offices, housing, and other walkable amenities is transforming our historic central core into a destination for those both here and from other areas of Oklahoma City. It’s an exciting time to be in downtown Edmond.

Q: What is your number one tip for other professionals, either for work or life in general?

A: Find an occupation that you enjoy doing. Working only for a paycheck or similar motivations will never bring lasting satisfaction. As an example, if you enjoy working with your hands consider a trade occupation instead of a desk job – in the long run, you’ll be happier. Outside that, be aware of a good balance between work and personal life. Too much of one or the other is never a good thing. We are all given only one chance at this, so make the days count.

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About Tim Priebe

Tim is a public speaker, author, publisher of Edmond Business, and the owner of T&S Online Marketing. He helps businesses that are worried they don’t have the expertise or time required to invest in doing their own digital marketing. He helps them plan where and how much to invest and often helps execute the plan.

Tim started the Edmond Business online magazine in May 2020 to fill a need in the community when The Edmond Sun shut down and stopped publishing their monthly magazine, The Business Times.