When a Designer Designs for Herself

When a Designer Designs for Herself

Over the past 10 or so years, we’ve designed dozens of offices and each time, the approach is essentially the same. We take the program requirements and creative approach for the project and execute that vision. It’s an emotional time for our clients and many tough decisions are made throughout the process. A commercial buildout can be a huge investment and a lot is on the line.

Don’t worry, we got this. This is what we do every day.

This project is a little different. This time we’re doing the designing and building for ourselves. It’s one of the hardest projects we’ve ever taken on: Designer Becomes Client. From permitting to supply chain delays, our new office seemed like it might never happen. 

Challenge #1: Find new office space. We found a great space that met our requirements and was within the budget we set for ourselves. Or so we thought. For several months we planned and drew. At the 11th hour, we came to realize that this space was not going to happen for us. So we scrapped the deal and had to start over. It seemed like months were lost.

We dove into the hunt again and fortunately found another space that met our needs. We signed a lease and started over. We took a deep breath and dived into the design and plans for the NEW new office.

Challenge #2: Permitting can be a nightmare, but this project was a real doozy. Despite our best efforts and investing thousands of dollars to fast-track the permits, delays, and setbacks almost thwarted our dreams a second time. Our current lease was ending and we had a hard deadline of November 1, 2021. We had to make this happen.

Challenge #3: Supply chain problems and labor shortages were constant throughout the buildout. Building materials were delivered late or not at all. Labor was in high demand and short supply. I was onsite one day and heard someone say “No one wants to work anymore.” 

Challenge #4: Designing for yourself is hard. Really hard. We’re passionate about clients’ projects but our job is to take some of the emotion out and help them make the tough decisions about what they want and how to make that happen. For our clients, we take a proactive approach, ensuring that every detail is nailed down and when a client says no, we quickly find a solution to turn a NO into a YES.

So what do you do when it’s your baby and there is no one to check your impulses and emotional attachment to say, a lighting fixture or a wallcovering?

I had my heart set on a wall covering for my office. After much agonizing, I had finally made a decision and it fit perfectly with the design. We picked furniture and accessories to match and we were ready to check the box and move on. We estimated 60 yards would be needed and requested pricing. Often we sit with a client explain why we should splurge on a big-ticket item. But pushing $20,000 not including installation? That’s not going to happen and I was heartbroken. In fact, I had a bit of a meltdown and for three weeks I simply refused to deal with it. It was like a painful breakup and I just needed some space. But one night I had a dream about a new wallcovering. That’s it, I’m pivoting. The next day I found the item, and we ordered it. 

Empathy is an extremely useful tool and having gone through this roller coaster ride for the second time in my life makes me fully understand our clients. (First time was designing and building my home with my husband)

I empathize with their tough choices and their perceivably irrational attachment to cabinet hardware or a piece of furniture. But is it irrational? I don’t think so. We love what we love for a reason and sometimes it works out well and other times we have to pivot.  

Because design is not just about solving a problem, it’s about creating emotion for the people who experience our spaces. So what did we learn, what do we take away from all this? Know that things are going to change. Know that despite our best efforts some things are out of our control. And that was a hard lesson for this designer to learn, but rewarding as well.

But I think we as a design firm are better for it, even if I do have a few more grey hairs and wrinkles than 1 year ago when this all began. 

We are finally in our new office. It’s not 100% complete but when it is, we are going to have one heck of a party and we can’t wait to share it with you. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to our team who put up with me throughout this process and much gratitude to our contractors and vendors who pulled off what seemed like the impossible. 

Our work in progress