Father and son take plunge to form new architectural firm


When Thomas Mathison was raising his son, Evan, it never occurred to him he might be raising the man that would someday be his business partner.

But to his surprise and delight, that’s exactly who Evan has grown up to be.

“I never really thought that we would end up working together,” Thomas Mathison said. “We had talked about the ‘what ifs?’ But it seemed like a theoretical conversation.”

The Mathison men are a father-son business partnership and the co-founders and principals of Mathison|Mathison Architects, a Grand Rapids-based architectural firm they founded in October 2013.

Thomas, with more than 30 years of experience in the architecture industry under his belt, focuses on connections and developing the business, while Evan, who had been working in Boston as an associate at Maryann Thompson Architects, focuses on the design work and moving projects forward.

Currently, they are running the business out of Thomas’ house in Forest Hills, but they are hoping to open an office in downtown Grand Rapids in October.

Mathison|Mathison will not focus on one area so much as it will cut across a number of architectural categories, Evan said, offering clients a range of scalable work in categories that include residential, education, park buildings and civic projects.

This type of scaling meets the needs of the generational shift happening in Grand Rapids right now, he said. As the city loses its parochial edge, a diversified architecture firm can better serve the area’s influx of young families and young professionals, he said.

“The trend for housing will be smaller housing that is more efficient and better designed. The new trend will also focus on square footage,” he said.

“Grand Rapids is growing and it’s becoming one of the places in Michigan that’s thriving. It’s one of these places where people who have been away are moving back, and people that haven’t lived here before are moving here,” he said.

Evan understands that story well. He too is a young professional with a young family, who has returned to work in the city of his childhood. Currently, he and his family live at his dad’s while they wait for their new house to be finished. Although he loved his job and the New England area, Evan said wanted to return here to use his talents in the place he grew up calling home and raise his family in Grand Rapids, ranked by Forbes as the best city in America in which to raise a family.

“I feel like a lot of what I learned (in Boston) — the high value people place in their communities and their built environment — those ideas and approaches we took at Maryann Thompson is something that could contribute to the West Michigan architectural approach. And it was something I was seeing as a void in the market,” he said.

“And I’ve got to get in-state tuition for my girls to go to the (University of Michigan). The public schools here are excellent, as is the cost of living. … I really love the West Michigan community.”

The similarities in the men’s lifecycles are striking. Both were born in Traverse City, both studied architecture at U-M, both moved out of Michigan before returning to raise a family in Forest Hills, and now both are co-founders of the company bearing their name.

It’s a shared experience that has drawn them closer together as partners and as family, they said.

“We’re very close, and also we have a good working relationship, but we were both a little worried that it might not work on a personal level,” Thomas said.

“(You have to) find a way to separate the personal and professional, keep them in separate buckets. We always want to be able to have Thanksgiving dinner together, whatever it takes. That’s what’s most important.”

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