When a name seems to be popping up everywhere you look, it spurs you to do a little investigating. And that’s exactly what happened with us in regard to Sawyer Design Associates. We saw them featured in the media and listed as interior design award winners in industry newsletters, and a friend even went to work for them. We just had to know more. It’s a first for PLiNTH & CHiNTZ, as we have never interviewed a firm before, but we were wowed by their collective energy and talent, and we know that you will be too.
When was the firm established, who was there in “the beginning,” and how did the firm’s creation come about”
Sawyer Design Associates [SDA] was established in 1996. Stacy Sawyer and her husband John were recently engaged. He spurred her on to jump in head first and start her own business at a young age, which had always been an inspiration of hers. Stacy was the sole designer in the beginning, and Kay Whelan, our current COO, provided business support. After approximately one year an additional designer was hired which began the development of the staff.
Approximately how many people does Sawyer Design Associates now employ, and what has been the firm’s growth pattern over the years”
SDA has over 50 employees in the Dallas location and has additional employees in two other offices. The growth pattern has been influenced by the development of new clients, including repetitive business from existing clients, as well as expansion into other types of projects and offering expanded services such as architectural services. We do very little marketing and most new clients contact us after visiting our installations. So in essence, our work speaks for itself.
You specialize in multifamily, hospitality, student living, and senior living environments. For our readers with more limited design industry experience, could you please be more specific about the kinds of project types these encompass and what they entail”
We are lucky to center most of our work around multifamily living and hospitality because it allows us to utilize our knack for offering the cutting edge design that we have become known for in the industry. We often get our inspiration for the interior design from the exterior architecture. Since most of our projects are modern structures we get the opportunity to apply the latest designs, colors and textures to diverse spaces such as lobbies, clubrooms, media rooms and e-lounges. Specifically, we design “multi-family” projects which run the gamut from mixed-use luxury condos to student living, (and anything in between), including adaptive reuse. The coolest thing about this arena of design is that every project is unique, which allows for a lot of creativity.
It is our understanding that the firm started in Dallas but has now expanded to other locations (East Coast & West Coast). Where on the Coasts are your offices, and what prompted the opening of the two extension offices”
Our East Coast office is currently located in Bethesda, Maryland (in the Washington D.C. area), and our West Coast office is located in San Diego. Our multitude of projects in the area prompted the opening of both of these offices, as well as the enormous potential for future business growth in both of these particular regions. Our San Diego office, which opened at the beginning of 2007, has experienced the fastest growth. It doesn’t hurt that the climate there is nothing to sneeze at (no pun intended)!
Would you say that SDA has a signature style and/or one element that is present in almost all of its projects”
SDA prefers mixing classic design with a modern twist to create a fresh yet timeless look. We love combining the old with the new, and we’re certainly not afraid of color! Too many designers play it safe with commercial interiors. We have done many projects specific to an area or region where we are asked to pull in elements of that particular region but we always put our own “spin” on the interpretation.
Besides interior and exterior design, you also offer staging, installation, merchandising, warehousing, and delivery. When did you start offering these types of expanded services, and what drove you to do so”
We started offering these services in 1999 when we identified an absence in the market for professional movers and installers who specialize in the handling of very upscale furniture, artwork and accessories. We also get involved in the signage and lighting design, all an integral part of the design “package” if you will.
One of the biggest mistakes that designers make is not understanding / embracing the business side of the design industry – bookkeeping, marketing, public relations, etc. How did SDA get so savvy in this realm and were there any mistakes that you made along that way that ended up making your practice even stronger”
SDA recognized from the beginning that the business side was essential and marketed the firm to clients with that focus. We also were keenly aware that the biggest mistake a growing company can make is to neglect sound accounting and management practices. We currently employ a full-time, fully staffed accounting department and a director of purchasing, all of whom are essential to this company’s success.
What’s the most satisfying project that SDA has worked on and why”
They are all satisfying to a certain degree. Probably the most satisfying, however, are the renovation projects because the transformation in such a short period is amazing to witness and very gratifying. Of course seeing the client’s reaction is always the best!
What would be SDA’s fantasy project”
A mixed-use, luxury condo/hotel project located on a satellite orbiting the earth. The views would be phenomenal, not to mention the site visits involved! You did say “fantasy” after all!
When you are looking to hire entry-level designers, what are the top three traits and top three skills that you look for”
Traits would be professionalism, a passion for design and a great attitude. Skills would be raw talent, production capabilities and effective communication skills.
What’s the best advice that you could give a new designer coming out of school”
First, obtain a good internship. Seek out a firm that will provide you with a diversity of design experiences in the area of design that you love, and hone your traits and skills. Absorb everything that you can. Be a Team Player!
Are there any regular activities that the firm does together (e.g., a monthly happy hour) or offers to employees (e.g. monthly chair on-site chair massages) to de-stress”
We really function like a large, happy yet slightly dysfunctional family! But that’s what keeps it interesting and it all works. We have regularly scheduled in-office happy hours and monthly birthday celebrations. We have had an office bowling league and an office baseball team, depending on the season. We always get involved as a firm in many philanthropic causes and fundraisers throughout the year.
Is there a way in which the firm gets its creative juices flowing”
We are always looking for ways to remain cutting edge. We provide in-house “lunch & learn” seminars about twice a week. We start each project off with a design charette. We send our designers to all the trade shows, (like METROCON in Dallas and HD in Las Vegas), to get exposure to new product and attend classes, and we attend the GreenBuild Conference. We have several designers currently working to become LEED Accredited Professionals. We are also making a concerted effort to “go green” in our office environment.
What really sets SDA apart from its competition”
Our company is known in the industry for employing a great group of enormously talented designers with high expectations and high energy. Everyone is genuinely happy to work here, which makes a remarkable difference in the clients’ experience as well as the final outcome of the design. Things are exploding in our industry at present but our employees are here for the long haul. We respect our designers for what they bring to the table as individuals instead of trying to mold them into something they aren’t.
Where does the firm see itself in 2017″
Continuing to grow both locally and regionally. And continuing to strive to be recognized as the leading full-service interior design firm in the country, specializing in multi-family and student housing.
Is there any other information that you would like to share with P&C readers that we haven’t covered here”
Only this quote: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius