Last week I shared my journey from discovering my passion for entrepreneurism through my development as an intern. If you missed it, I recommend you read Part 1 before proceeding with Part 2 below.
Seventeen feet long and 8 feet wide, we claimed a corner of our new basement and equipped it with a used Dell tower, a huge VGA monitor, a printer, an internet connection and a new telephone line. An old student version of AutoCAD and the MS Office basics would get us started.
The Construction Documents Company was in business.
With my expertise in surveying existing conditions, I launched a direct mail marketing campaign (though I had no idea that’s what it was called) aimed at local sole proprietors and small firms. I created a simple, well designed postcard pitching the idea that architects could make more money by hiring me to measure and document the existing conditions for each of their new projects. It worked beautifully. I quickly became an integral part of several firms’ processes and earned a nice income to supplement Annmarie’s full time salary. I was running my own business and the bills were being paid.
Annmarie McCarthy, Architect
Annmarie completed her internship requirements, passed the Architecture Registration Exam and became licensed. This was the final piece to the puzzle. We had an office, a staff (me) and now we had a license. Annmarie McCarthy, Architect was launched. We did it. We had started our own architecture firm.
I began networking locally in order to get our name out among our potential clients as I continued to work for local architects through The Construction Documents Company.
Annmarie and I were 28 years old. We had no experience as business owners, no real savings and no clients. Finding that first project was not going to be easy, but we had faith and were certain that we would succeed.
Albertus Magnus, Prince of Broadlawns
Not long after launching “the firm,” our first commission came from a very unexpected source. His name was Albertus Magnus, Prince of Broadlawns. When starting, we never imagined that our hard work would lead us to royalty, but that is exactly what happened.
Albert was about 80 pounds, had long blond hair and a pink nose. A friend of Annmarie’s heard through a friend that a local family had four golden retrievers and needed to find homes for them. A family member had become ill and the dogs needed more attention than they could be given. Having recently purchased our own little cottage in the woods, we thought it was time to grow our family (and we weren’t yet ready for any “two-leggeds”.)
Broadlawns is an estate in Bedford, New York. Among several smaller accessory buildings, a large barn and a guest house, the main house is a large white manor built around the turn of the century. As we rolled down the manicured gravel drive, Red, Daisy and Albert were there to greet us.
Penny and Joe are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Their warmth and gracious hospitality instantly put Annmarie and I at ease. Over a glass of iced tea, we talked about our lives and our plans for the future. Although it was officially an interview to determine whether or not we were a good match for one of their beloved goldens, as we talked, we all knew that we would become friends.
As we sat at the kitchen table, we learned that Penny had recently resigned from her position as a nurse and was in the early stages of opening a new restaurant in nearby Bedford Village. She and her partner had a contractor lined up, but they were looking for a talented architect.
We left Broadlawns that night with a couple of decisions to make. Which retriever was right for us and what should we wear to our first meeting as Penny’s new architects.
The opportunity that Penny presented us was amazing. The space she leased was home to another restaurant for decades and all the services were already in their proper place. Our job as her architect was to transform a greasy hole-in-the-wall into an elegant, yet informal local eatery called Meetinghouse. We were commissioned to design the interior architecture, built-in furnishing, all the finishes, a full bar and complete graphics for letterhead, menus and signage. It was not only our first project, it was our dream project.
Albert lived with us for many years. Penny and Joe became good friends and are great business references to this day. They trusted us to care for a dog they loved and helped to launch the firm that one day would become Fivecat Studio.
Next week I will share Part 3 of How I Started My Own Architecture Firm. Meetinghouse lead to many new projects and an early rebranding of the firm. I will tell you how and why.