Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Mark R. LePage: I am the president and partner in charge of operations at Fivecat Studio, a small residential architecture firm located in Westchester County, New York, about 40 minutes north of New York City. We provide services for high-end residential projects. I founded Entrepreneur Architect in 2007 and relaunched the blog in December 2012 to be a resource for inspiration and business information for small firms and sole proprietor architects.
"With the knowledge of business basics and the understanding of how healthy businesses grow, we turned our struggling firm into a thriving regional leader for residential architecture"
Novedge: What has been most important in developing and growing your architectural practice?
Mark R. LePage: I launched Fivecat Studio in 1999 with my wife, architect Annmarie McCarthy. We grew the firm from scratch with no clients and limited funds to (at our peak in 2009) a firm of 6 providing services for more than $10 million worth of construction projects. In 2006, we experienced a plateau with our growth. We had no employees, lots of work, not enough time to complete it all and not enough money to pay the bills. Through our local county business council, I enrolled in a program called the Academy of Entrepreneurial Excellence. In 15 weeks, we reviewed and learned every fundamental element of a successful business. With the knowledge of business basics and the understanding of how healthy businesses grow, we turned our struggling firm into a thriving regional leader for residential architecture.
Novedge: What are some of the rewards and challenges of working as an architect?
Mark R. LePage: I would say that the challenges and the rewards are very similar. As residential architects, we have the opportunity to work with growing families to solve functional problems with their homes. The services we perform and the architecture we create help to build stronger families and, quite literally, improve the lives of the people living in the homes we design. This responsibility, at times, is incredibly difficult, but the results are wonderfully rewarding.
"The biggest challenge for small firm architects today… is finding the next project."
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Mark R. LePage: Most of our work is in the form of additions and major alterations. Working in the New York metropolitan area, a historic and mostly developed region, there are not many opportunities to design and build new homes. Much of our portfolio includes large, whole house renovations, but as the economy weakened throughout the past 5 years, the scope of our projects decreased. Much of our most recently completed work are small, well-detailed additions, such as kitchens and master bedroom suites.
Our Artisan Kitchen, located in Briarcliff, New York, was designed for a married couple with a young daughter. Working closely with the owners, we created a large social kitchen with open shelves, a butcher block island, a family dining table and open floor area for spontaneous creative projects. The project has been published in New Old House magazine and is scheduled to be included in the next special kitchen edition of Better Homes magazine.
Our Pelham Shingle Style for a Modern Family was a multi-phase whole house renovation and addition project. The original home was built in the shingle style in 1907. In 1947, the home experienced a major fire and was "renovated" in the then popular modern international style. The ornament was stripped, the siding was replaced with stucco and the double-hung windows were replaced with jalousie glass. When Fivecat Studio was invited to work with the new homeowners to restore the home to its former glory, it was the "ugly duckling" in a neighborhood of restored traditional homes among mature tree-lined streets. Without original documents, we restored the exterior of the home to what we thought could have been designed in 1907. On the interior we had the opportunity to design a more modern pallet for a young modern family.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Mark R. LePage: We keep it simple at Fivecat Studio with everything we do, including our choice of software. For drafting, we are running AutoCAD LT with 3D support, as necessary, from SketchUp. Having recently moved from our 2,000 square foot studio to a distributed model, where we all work from smaller remote studios, we have launched a new system of file sharing using cloud based apps Dropbox and Evernote. With much of schematic design still being developed using pen and sketch paper, and developing projects with a networked team of diverse professionals, keeping our software simple allows for easy collaboration and quick turn-around.
Novedge: What is the philosophy behind Entrepreneur Architect?
Mark R. LePage: Entrepreneur Architect was relaunched in December of 2012 to change the mindset of architects from one where business and profit are unimportant, to one which embraces a new psychology of success. Entrepreneur Architect will become a powerful, influential movement, encouraging architects throughout the world to build better businesses, so that they may then make the world a better place through architecture. In short: profit... then art.
"Entrepreneur Architect was relaunched in December of 2012 to change the mindset of architects from one where business and profit are unimportant, to one which embraces a new psychology of success."
Novedge: Entrepreneur Architect encompasses business development, marketing and architecture. In your experience, what are the biggest challenges architecture professionals are facing today?
Mark R. LePage: The biggest challenge for small firm architects today… is finding the next project. By building stronger, healthier businesses, architects will be able to not only find the next project, but attract the projects they most desire.
Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Mark R. LePage: My parents often told me as a child… work hard and you'll achieve whatever your want to achieve. That advice is still the best advice I have ever received. Failure is not thrust upon us. Success is a choice. I work hard, embrace the psychology of success, and good things happen.
All images courtesy of Scott LePage Photography