The London of my youth was the not vibrant, buzzing, design centric, world-class city it is today so after graduating from the Royal College of Art with a Masters in Design, I hot footed it to Paris working as a design gun-for-hire.
Following on from positions in two different design studios I decide to try freelance work. I think in many ways that change in my working life laid the groundwork for forming figure3. Without the luxury of a salary, I had to be tenacious and committed to finding work and doing an outstanding job once I found it. I knew all I had was my reputation. After a move to Canada, I found myself at NORR Architects where I met Allan Guinan, the man who would be become my business partner. The firm sent the two of us out to Abu Dhabi to oversee a client project and it was there that our friendship was cemented. While I appreciated the security of a full-time job, there was plenty about being my own boss that I dearly missed. In Allan I saw not just a set of complementary skills but also ambition and talent. Removed from the daily grind of the office out in the Middle East, I broached the idea of going into business together.
Frustrated with the firm’s approach to interior design he said yes and we quickly set up shop in offices on Adelaide, an up –and-coming neighbourhood back then. Work for big accounts including British Airways and law firm McCarthy Tetrault quickly put us on the map. I remember constantly going back to the landlord to negotiate more space in our building. Merging with Network Design came in 2002, which significantly grew our corporate workplace capabilities and, of course, our team. Ever since founding the firm, I’ve been passionate about keeping it multi-sector. I love the challenge of solving different design problems and I knew if we developed a singular practice, I’d become complacent. Retail was the sector that I always felt the greatest affinity with as it was here that design was allowed to happen and actively encouraged. Certainly our work for Umbra’s flagship store just off Queen Street was a brilliant expression of that idea.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of growing a business is shaping its culture. For me it was always very important to shape an organisation that prized mentorship and support. I believe in taking the necessary time to articulate design and having the discipline to stay with the challenge long enough to really understand it before rushing to a concept. From a cultural perspective, that always meant being hands on, in the studio with the designers constantly working alongside them. I wanted ours to be a firm where staff continued their design education, where we nurtured and grew our talent. The thing I’m most proud of is having built the kind of business where talented people can thrive. What we have created is an environment where someone with an entrepreneurial streak coupled with raw talent has the opportunity to become an industry leader, even building an entirely new studio, bringing our expertise to three sectors.