Just add water: architecture startups!

Mind the Gap.
March 23, 2016, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Startup

Lately I’ve been taking some time to put together PR material — mainly cleaning up plans and photos to be ready for publications and writing more elaborate project descriptions.  The thing that I’ve realized is there’s a huge gap in the publishing world.  There’s a million and one interior design blogs and magazines out there, but very few architectural sites.  Most of the sites that we as architects have are mainly echo chambers for stararchitects and projects with budgets that are $1000/sf and beyond.  Not the most suitable for the regular architect in their mid career starting out on their own.

I’ve tried pitching to interior design magazines but the reality is that I’m not an interior designer. I don’t have zoomed in photos of a night stand with carefully laid out books and candles.  It’s not to dismiss this, but it’s not what I do.  I fall into the gap between architect working on a lot of interior projects that don’t all include furnishings.  So it often feels like I’m neither here nor there….but in the gap.

What are you doing to get your work out?



Feast or Famine
January 8, 2016, 4:39 pm
Filed under: Startup

It’s the early days of 2016 and I’m clearly reminded that running a small business as an architect can be either a ‘feast or famine.’  I think back to this time last year, and I had three contracts signed and two prospective clients lingering in the background.  Five projects would’ve meant an immediate growth to the firm, while the three meant it would be a healthy if not nonstop deadline year.   This year, I have one large project and was feeling optimistic that it would be a financially and professionally healthy year for us.

The doom came in an email just one week into the year.  The project has been put on hold because the client has been hospitalized over the holidays. The first immediate reaction was concern for the client, whom we’ve grown to really enjoy our conversations and come to respect early on.  The second was that pit that hit in the middle of your stomach, as you recognize what that means for work. The idea that all your eggs are in one basket is never a good thing.

Juggling workflow is something that all architects need to excel at, regardless of whether you’re a startup or a well established office.  The impact can be catastrophic to a large firm who’s running a $2 billion urban development project, staffing a team of 75 to a solo startup practice that’s struggling to survive.  As architects, it’s a matter of constantly marketing in the background, and successfully converting prospectives into actual projects.

Last year, while I was struggling to keep up with every deadline, every urgent email that came rolling in, I think in hindsight that I shouldn’t have turned away projects but acknowledge that every project’s schedule shifts to all the tides and inclement weather.  That feast or famine, it’s better to keep aware of the future even if the present tells you otherwise.

selecting work
June 1, 2015, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Startup

Up until now I’ve been of the mind set, “Say no to nothing”  when it comes to selecting projects. Thankfully, the projects that have come in have been great for many different reasons — diversifying my portfolio, being consistent to an aesthetic or design intention that I’m used/inclined and/or financially viable.   My lazy marketing approach has been “do a good job and you’ll get referrals”…and now that day has come.  for good or for bad.

Two new projects came through the door — much smaller (in budget and scope) than the original referring clients.  I’m inclined to decline as I realize that there’s only so much work that I can take on solo without having to grow my practice, and right now, my gut instinct to grow on the basis of small(er) projects isn’t the most reliable or responsible.  There’s also the other considerations: what if you turn down a job that could potentially grow into a larger project or be a job that allows you to get into another sector/market?  if you turn down this project, will your original referrer be less inclined to refer you to more lucrative/interesting projects?   Is this just the carrot dangling and we’re chasing after nothing?

These rumblings are all musings on how do you shape the direction of your firm when you’re just starting off?

Moohlah. the Big Bucks. Benjamins. $$$
November 8, 2014, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Startup

Good reads on structuring your architectural design fees here:



Playing telephone…but wanting to hang up.
October 16, 2014, 3:53 pm
Filed under: Startup


One of the unpleasant parts of being an architect is playing “telephone” — that is, relaying information from a client to the contractor, or client to consultant or consultant to contractor.  This is especially difficult when either party is making unreasonable, if not, outright rude, requests/demands.  The diplomacy required to make translations into more polite requests can be exhausting.  The need to maintain good working relationships with all parties is crucial in this business….I’m trying to figure out how to maintain these relationships when you are put into these compromising positions.

I am very close to just carrying a white flag with me at every meeting from now on!   These are skills that you didn’t know were so important to being an architect.

the 24 hour Architect…on call
October 6, 2014, 1:55 am
Filed under: Startup

Lately I’ve been working on a high end residential project and I’m struggling to draw the proper boundaries.  *wince*  I have a residential client who believes all conference calls, site visits, correspondences etc should be on the weekends and nights….late nights. All of our meetings are after his office hours (we’re not talking 9-5….more like 9pm), never mind that my work hours are the same as his (ie: during the daytime).

I recognize (within reason) that this is part and parcel for residential projects — clients often have full time jobs and don’t have time to deal with their home renos, but this has been exceptional.  On average, this client sends about 15-20 emails over the weekend with insanely detailed, bullet pointed emails that rival Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  When I don’t respond within a few hours, I typically get follow-up emails.   If I don’t respond at all over the weekend, he proceeds to send articles that essentially answer his questions.  Turns out he has more time than I do to research the different manufacturers of epoxy grout as a hobby.

(take a deep breath) Architecture is certainly a service based industry.  But what are the limits?  At what point are these 24 hour “on call Architect” expectations so far from reality?  How do you safe guard yourself (contractually speaking) when you had no idea that the level of discussion and administration/client management would be this excessive?  There’s this dual fear of 1) not getting a referral project out of this project and 2) actually getting a referral with a client who’s like him(!)

What’s it worth??
September 17, 2014, 1:51 pm
Filed under: Startup

For the last month, I’ve been working on FFE package for a gut renovation project.  This means endless hours staring at websites like 1stdibs, lightology, hivemodern, etc.  on the great hunt to find the furniture/furnishings/equipment that will be the right size, shape and color at just the right price. Not always the easiest achievement, especially when you have super picky clients who spend endless hours trolling through Houzz photos.  While its probably easier to just head over to Design Within Reach or West Elm, there’s still an interest of mine to find furniture that’s handmade, or designed by local and/or small businesses.  A lot of really great furniture makers are out there — they might not have the marketting capacity in the big design magazines, but they’re doing great work.  Head over to: Etsy, sondermill, etc.  The downside is these places might have the right size, shape and color, but since they’re not doing the bulk quantities of Walmart, nor are they fabricating everything in China, the cost may be higher.  What I’ve ended up doing is surveying the cost at the Big Box stores, then working with small businesses to make custom pieces that are within that price range.  The issue here is that it forces the market to dictate the value of handmade or local?  How is it that we are willing to pay more for gluten-free but we aren’t putting as much value to handmade?

In some ways, I see some clients also apply this same consumer logic to architecture.  The value of built-ins or the architecture isn’t a question of “does it works best for your needs or the space,” but it can be translated by “Would I buy/pay that in a store?”