At EntreArchitect, you’re encouraged to share your knowledge. When we share with other architects, we all benefit. We are able to learn from one another and the profession will grow. One of the goals of EntreArchitect is to provide a platform for other entrepreneur architects to share their stories.
Join us for our series called The Entrepreneur Architect, where each guest has the opportunity to share their story and answer some questions that will provide value to each of you.
This week on EntreArchitect Podcast, The Entrepreneur Architect Series featuring Chris Bailow.
Chris is the Principal Architect at Bailow Architects, a custom residential design architecture firm that works in New England. The firm’s work consists of thoughtful, innovative design rooted in New England tradition. Chris works remotely
Chris felt fortunate to grow up on an island in Maine. It has a great culture and community, and it was also connected to the mainland by a bridge. When he was a kid, he spent a lot of time outdoors and would find the summer cottages of those who weren’t there any longer. He and his friends would go up on the porches and peek in the windows, and he thought about the layout and spaces of each home. That simplicity is a part of his design aesthetic to this day.
As he grew up, he was interested in how things were put together and how buildings were constructed. His dad wasn’t particularly handy, but he was encouraged to explore what he was interested in. One summer, he got a job building boats. In high school, he thought he may want to be an architect. His guidance counselor pointed out his low math scores, and Chris went to a liberal arts school to level things out.
Chris got a job as a carpenter and was hired by a contractor. He loved learning how to build houses, and that’s some of the most foundational learning he received. After hauling shingles for a while, he realized he did want to pursue architecture.
He earned his undergraduate degree from St. Laurence and an internship in Vermont at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School. Soon he found a graduate program at the Boston Architectural College in Boston where he could work in a firm during the day and go to school in the evenings.
Following school, he got a job as a mail person in a 100+ person firm. He was exposed to tons of different architects, none of whom were doing what he wanted to do. He soon got a call from a firm he’d given his resume to who was doing residential architecture in Massachusetts. After interviewing one-on-one, he got the job. There he learned to hand draft and was exposed to the elements of a small business. He was there for a few years before he hit his ceiling.
Next, he went to a high-end residential firm where he was exposed to 7-8 different architects using CAD software who he got to learn from. He was confident in his abilities to pick CAD up quickly and moved around to different projects helping with whatever they needed at the time. He quickly worked himself up to an associate and project manager. Within years, he felt he was doing the same thing day-to-day and needed a new challenge.
With his wife’s nudging and support, in 2014 he decided to jump out on his own. He stayed home with their son and worked on some projects, and they haven’t looked back since.
The Entrepreneur Architect Questions
How did it work out for you raising a child and building a business?
Chris doesn’t know any other way. Raising a child is an amazing experience that taught him a lot about himself, and the same can be said of building a business. He worked to have clear separation between home and work, but it’s a constant process to set boundaries. It’s been great for his business because it makes him relatable to many clients who are looking for space for their families.
What is one big goal you’ve achieved in your career and how did you get there?
Family is the biggest achievement for Chris. After he originally got his job as a hand-drafting architect with long hours, he one day decided to do a triathlon. He had to separate himself and put in a ton of time to work toward the goal, but it gave him back some of what he felt he’d lost. To get to where he was, he had to make some sacrifices, like not having the time to ski for a while. After some time, he felt it was important to reset after the hard work and find things that he loved to do.
What is one struggle you experienced and how did you overcome it?
Chris isn’t naturally organized and has to work at it all the time. He thinks it’s funny that others perceive him as organized, and feels lucky that his wife does have that personality trait.
Have you had an “aha” moment? How did you turn it into success for your career?
Chris always looks for opportunities to try new things. He used to send out resumes and go for interviews if it worked out, and he found one firm that he made it through a few rounds of interviews for. He didn’t really need or want the job, but he was naturally trying to better himself. The firm wanted to fly him to Manhattan and interview him. It was a great experience and good practice for moving forward, so he went. That firm was cloud based without a central space, and he got to look at an architectural firm in a whole different way. It wasn’t what he wanted at the time, but he took a lot from that. He found that there was a niche space for doing the work outside of a big office with lots of capital.
What’s one thing that makes you and your firm unique?
Chris’s firm is cloud based, and they’re also scalable. He works to put a team together that meets the needs of a specific project with those who are best fit to complete it.
What did you learn when you went cloud-based?
There are bumps in the road with a home office, but as with anything, Chris tries to be introspective to see what’s working and what’s not. The hardest is that family life is cyclical too, and adjustments need to be made. Clear boundaries of when he’s working and when he’s not are important for Chris.
At what age did you become an architect? 33 years old.
What’s your target market? Custom single-family residential.
Hourly or percentage-based fee? Chris prefers percentage-based, but will do hourly if needed.
Other than architecture, what makes you happy? His family, the ocean, and the band Phish.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? His father taught him that he can do a lot in life as long as he acts like he know what he’s doing.
What’s one personal habit that contributes to your success? He drops his daughter off at daycare each morning, creating a clear delineation of work time vs. personal time.
What’s an app or resource you’d recommend? Building Science Corporation for detailing resources and great information for best practices. Instagram is his favorite social media application; it’s a great place to put things out there as you’re working on them.
What book would you recommend and why? Rob Thallon’s Woodframe Construction helps you understand how a building gets put together.
What’s a parting piece of guidance? You don’t stay the same, you get better or you get worse. It’s not a straight line, your craft needs work. Work on being an architect and a business owner.
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Recognize bad habits and figure out how to fix them. If something isn’t working for you, there’s somebody out there that can help you fix it.” – Chris Bailow
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Referenced in this Episode
EntreArchitect Profit for Small Firm Architects course (unlimited free access)
Rob Thallon’s Woodframe Construction (book)
Building Science Corporation