Just sitting down for a friendly conversation with Tom Neff—Principal—you can understand why he leads our K-12 Studio. It’s always an interesting education and a fantastic conversation!
Tell me about your background
I grew up in Coshocton, Ohio, and attended The Ohio State University—one of the last Beaux Arts programs in the nation—for both my undergraduate and masters in Architecture. That lead me to teaching at the University of Notre Dame (also a Beaux Arts program) and then into practicing Architecture.
Uhm, Tom … what is Beaux Arts?
It’s a very rich and lavish type of architecture. But at The Ohio State, it was a style of presentation as well. Everything was done in watercolors and freehand drawing. It is more of a classical design training process, emphasizing color theory too. All work had to be drawn and watercolored beautifully when we turned it in. Each student’s project was hung on the wall and we were asked to leave the room. At that point, the faculty would get up and throw the ugly ones on the floor. It really forced the students to take a lot of self-initiative to stay in the program.
So what inspires you?
My children and my wife. Each one is so talented and giving in their own way. I love watching them use their talents to achieve remarkable results and truly make a difference in this world.
As far as design, it needs to have a sense of meaning that reaches and pulls from the past, follows through to the present, and moves on to transform the future. A true piece of architecture is something you can always go back to, but understand something new each time. If you understand everything from the outset, then it is over. To me, there always needs to be something new to see and discover.
Tell me about your family.
I have been married to my beautiful wife, Marilyn, for 40 years. She is a speech pathologist who specializes in early intervention. The things she does to help families is absolutely incredible.
My son, Matthew, is married to Alison and they have a son, Yasir, 14. Alison had been working at a foster care agency with Yasir for several years. After his seventh foster home didn’t work out, Matthew and Alison knew he needed to join their family.
My son, James, is married to Susan, a childhood cancer survivor. As such, they are extremely active in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Together, they raised more than $100,000 for cancer research last year!
Maxx is my schnauzer mix—a pound puppy from Kokomo. We are so lucky. He is a great dog and loves to travel!
What do you do in your free time?
Well, I am an avid swimmer. I aim to swim roughly 2000 yards a day. And as you might imagine, I enjoy painting, drawing, sketching, watercolors, etc. Oh yeah, and I love to cook crazy things! I think my favorites are out of Food and Wine magazine.
Do you have a favorite movie or type of music?
As an architect, I loved the movie Gladiator. The reconstruction of the Coliseum was unbelievable!
As far as music, I like it all—opera to jazz to Broadway to classic rock, country western. My playlist is a fusion of many different styles.
There is so much more to Tom than we have time to get into here—be it his travels, his love of wine, or his animated personality. If you are ever looking for a great conversation, give Tom a call!