Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 15
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

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Weichert, Realtors

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Iris Interiors

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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

ALL-IN-ONE: “We’re a design-build firm. We are an architectural firm, a general contractor, and custom woodworkers. It’s three cylinders that function together.” Kevin Wilkes AIA, founder and managing director of Princeton Design Guild, stands in front of the state-of-the-art wide belt sander in the company’s 12,000 square foot shop.

Designing, Building, and Custom Woodworking Are the Hallmarks of Princeton Design Guild

Everything is under one roof at the Princeton Design Guild (PDG) shop/office at 35 Reading Boulevard in Belle Mead. A design/build firm, founded by Kevin Wilkes in 1985, PDG focuses on residential work, including renovation, additions, and new construction.

“We do all kinds of projects, but with a focus on residential,” says Mr. Wilkes. “Lately we’ve done a lot of remodeling for people who want to stay in their home. When the recession began in 2007, a lot of people decided not to move, but to stay put, and fix the kitchen, or make modest additions, or better utilize their existing space. We can move windows, redo the floor plan, and achieve a better organization of the space. We help clients discover what they actually need.”

Over the past 25 years, PDG has completed more than 300 residential and commercial projects from Florida to Manhattan, including many in Princeton and the area. PDG is unique among local architecture firms in that they build their own projects in their shop with their own full-time staff.

The company employs 16 architects, designers, craftsmen, cabinet makers, carpenters, masons, and metal fabricators, working as a team. They design the projects, including the interiors, manage the municipal approval and permit process, build the project and completely outfit the interiors with products made in their custom woodworking shop.

Scenic Design

A graduate of Princeton University and Yale, with a Master of Architecture degree, Mr. Wilkes is a believer in hands-on experience. When he was at Princeton, he was able to target his love of the theater by designing sets and costumes for campus shows, and he also studied scenic design. He took time off between sophomore and junior year to work full-time at McCarter Theater as scenic artist and assistant technical director. He also worked in Manhattan as a scenic designer, as well as creating interior designs, such as a new lobby and a second stage, for various theaters.

While still a senior at Princeton, he began building a house on the corner of Harrison and Sycamore Streets all on his own, and it still stands today, a testament to his skill and determination. After completing his undergraduate degree, Mr. Wilkes served an architectural apprenticeship in Princeton. His work received recognition, including an honorable mention in the 1984 Young Architects Competition in New York City.

The first house completed by PDG was featured in a book, “Modest Mansions: Design Ideas for Luxurious Living in Less Space”, as well as in Architectural Digest Magazine. In 1986, Mr. Wilkes began teaching architectural design studio as an adjunct critic at The School of Architecture/New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Indeed, Mr. Wilkes has worn many hats, including formerly serving as Princeton Township Building Inspector and currently as a member of Princeton Borough Council.

Japanese Tea House

PDG has undertaken and achieved success in all phases of designing and building, including a unique Japanese Tea House in Pennington in 1996. In addition to residential work, PDG designs and manages specialty municipal projects, including the design and management of the Princeton Township Municipal Building that was entered in “Charrette” — an open design competition in which the new municipal building was selected. PDG was also the Architect of Record and the builder of “Remembrance Fountain”, a memorial fountain in South Brunswick Township, dedicated to local citizens who perished in the attacks of September 11.

In 2007, Mr. Wilkes and his landscape designing collaborator, Peter Soderman teamed up to design and build special public event gardens featuring local art and architecture talent in collaboration with artists, academics, builders, landscapers, and others who wanted to showcase the accomplishments of the Princeton community. Writers Park and Quark Park were the result.

These parks and other projects have brought Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Soderman a number of awards and honors. Mr. Wilkes was also awarded a “Best of the Best” Excellence Award from Downtown New Jersey for his design at the Frog and the Peach Restaurant in New Brunswick. His designs have been featured in many magazines and publications.

When PDG undertakes a project, it is important to consult with the client on many levels, points out Mr. Wilkes. “An initial consultation is our chance to learn more about your project, and your chance to get comfortable with us and determine if we are the right team for your project. Some of the things we will discuss include: what problems do you want to solve, what ideas have you considered, what is the “look” you are going for, and what are your budget considerations? Based on an initial meeting, we will prepare and submit a customized project proposal for architectural design services.”

Good Match

He adds that life-style factors are involved, such as cooking habits, how many in the family, children, pets, etc. “We’re like a tailor. We tailor the physical space to the clients’ specifications. Also, there must be a trust level, and it has to work both ways — between us and the client. There should be a good match of personality and point of view.”

Kitchen remodels, bathroom, and home offices are very popular today, and PDG is busy with a number of these, as well as new construction projects.

Once plans have been approved, the project moves into PDG’s spacious woodworking shop/facility, where the craftsmen, woodworkers, carpenters, and construction staff get to work. Here, the cabinet makers build interior and exterior architectural elements, mouldings, custom cabinets, and custom furniture in a controlled environment. Typical projects include custom doors, cornices, columns, mantels, crown mouldings, floors, and more.

“The hallmark of our work is woodworking,” says Mr. Wilkes. “We have designed many interiors that have been warmed by the right choice of wood.”


The shop contains state-of-the-art machinery, and everything is assembled right in the shop. “We make sure everything fits perfectly,” points out shop foreman and master cabinet maker Richard Carter, who has many years experience in his field. “I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old, and I still enjoy coming to work every day.”

The finished pieces are then taken to the site, where the construction team has provided whatever services have been needed for the project. These can include excavation, utilities, concrete, and foundation services, framing, roofing, landscaping, grading, and site access/egress, plumbing, electrical, heating, etc.

PDG also builds projects designed by other architects, and the construction services are available for all types of projects: residential, light commercial, and municipal. “We will work with you from concept drawings right through to finished construction,” notes Mr. Wilkes. “We’re in constant touch with the client, and we can always make adjustments during the project. Choices can vary depending on the budget.

“I enjoy making clients happy,” he adds. “It’s a great feeling when we see people’s lives transformed because their space is transformed. Their whole life can be more optimistic. And, the clients always seem to feel they get more than they expected.”

Proud of PDG’s accomplishments over 25 years, Mr. Wilkes is also looking to the future. “We have six acres here, and we hope to expand and add a complex of buildings to include stone and tile, woodworking, and metal working equipment. They could all be here on our campus.”

It would certainly be in keeping with PDG’s unique integrated approach, offering clients the best services from innovative designs and expert craftsmanship to quality construction and smooth project execution.

PDG can be reached at (609) 683-1034. Website:

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