Westport NY town office design and building team 2


Practicing Gratitude

By Andrea Murray

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. The usually brown November landscape makes me feel okay about being in the kitchen, and the foodie in me appreciates the excuse to cook and eat some of my very favorite dishes without feeling guilty. Bar none, however, I love Thanksgiving because it is not about “stuff,” maybe just “stuffing.” To me Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share the kitchen and food mentioned above with the people I love, with people who may be less fortunate, and to practice the act and art of gratitude.



I woke up early this morning, the day after Thanksgiving, intent on continuing the practice of gratitude in my writing to you, and I notice 164 email messages have clogged my inbox with offers of sales and deals, “just for me,” on this Black Friday. I am not sure what to make of this. My first thought is to be annoyed and to turn my nose up at all of those people out there who left their Thanksgiving dinner tables, warm beds, and families early to wait in lines at stores to take advantage of the aforementioned deals.


“What have we become as a society?” I ask myself. I turn on the TV, and our local reporters are interviewing people taking advantage of Black Friday in Burlington (at 6:30 in the morning!). One woman explains that this is a tradition for her and her sisters and that they have so much fun together and try to get all of their Christmas shopping done on this one day so they have more time to celebrate other holiday activities with family and friends. Another person notes how the deals are “unreal,” and that he couldn’t afford to shop at any other time with the same results. The reporter then goes on to state, “A recent study shows that Vermont leads the country as the safest state for shopping on Black Friday!” Wow! I actually find myself proud of this. Of the many violent crimes that occur on Black Friday, trampling tops the list. Was I wrong about Black Friday? Perhaps it does serve an important role?


So, here I am on Friday morning at a critical juncture. Do I jump in, start my Christmas shopping, scour the web for the best deals? Or, do I try and re-frame the conversation? Well, if you’ve read this far, you can probably guess.




VIA collaboration meeting


I set out to write a piece about gratitude. So, here it goes I want you the VIA community (clients, consultants, contractors, vendors, friends, and family) to know how grateful we are not just for your patronage, but for your leadership, hard work, dedication, friendship, and support. Over the years we have noticed the following about our partners and collaborators:

  • You are doing what you can, in your own unique way, to make the world a better place;
  • You care about the future and understand that we as architects are uniquely trained to help you imagine and realize the future you want to live in;
  • You are open-minded and willing to “think outside of the box;” to consider ideas and opportunities that never occurred to you before;
  • You value excellent communications; and
  • You measure success not just by the financial bottom line, but also by impact on the natural environment and the community.

How fortunate I am/we are to work with so many of you. I am grateful to be in a position to work on projects with you that have a positive effect on so many. I am proud to be working to create spaces that foster community, have a net positive impact on our beautiful natural environment, help restore beautiful historic structures and make them relevant for future use, and simply make life a little easier and better for all of you and the people we collectively effect. I have learned so much from each of you. Thank you.



In gratitude, on behalf of our entire firm, we hope you will join us for our eighth annual Holiday Open House at our studio in the Marbleworks in Middlebury. We will have the usual spread of local food and libation.


This year, instead of having our project work on display, we are creating a gallery of mentors, elders, and friends. Ashar has suggested that each of us in the office put up four (18” x 18”) photographic “portraits” of individuals who have been influential to us as mentors or elders. He noted, “In some ways, I think it would highlight the fact that we are in a people profession and a field that relies on mentorship and teaching. It’s a different approach than just pinning up a bunch of pretty pictures of projects.”


To summarize, we are grateful for the projects on which we collaborate, but mostly we are grateful for you!



Many years ago while teaching a section of “Architecture and the Environment” at Middlebury College, I asked my students upon returning from Thanksgiving break if anyone wanted to share an architecturally-related experience from their time off. I always ask this question of my students, and often I get: “I went to New York and walked the Highline;” “I was in Paris with my family, and I loved the Eiffel Tower;” “My parents just built a new house, and it was exciting to have our first Thanksgiving together there.” But, on this one occasion, a senior Economics major who rarely contributed to class discussions had something to say. He told us that his family has a very large house in Greenwich, CT, and that he has three siblings all of whom were present for the holiday. He said usually on Thanksgiving, we spend time in our own spaces and only come together at meal time. “My dad works constantly and is always on his phone or computer.” This year was different, though, because there had been a big storm and the power went out. It was cold, and they made a fire for the first time ever in their fireplace. Everyone gathered around the fireplace to stay warm and conversations and board games ensued. Even this chap’s father joined. He reflected somewhat simply that it was the best Thanksgiving he’d ever had and that he learned how much he actually likes being with his family. He also noted that they could have left the house and gone somewhere else, but it just felt right to stay put.


Several years after he graduated, I got a call asking for a written recommendation for graduate school (in Architecture no less). He said, “Andrea, do you remember me?”


“Of course,” I replied, and I recounted this story and told him what an impact it had on me. I said that when I am designing a house, I often ask my clients, “Where will you gather as a family when the power goes out?”


He laughed and said they have new traditions in their family now as a result of that stormy Thanksgiving, and they make time to just “be” together.


He is, of course, a thoughtful practicing architect now.



Wherever you are this holiday season, we send you our well-wishes. Thank you for being part of our ever-expanding VIA community. Stay in touch.