Miami Interior Designer: David Charette
Today in The Lounge, Nick chats with David Charette, one half of the Miami based design firm Britto Charette, from the Porcelanosa flagship building in NYC. Learn about David’s early days as a designer, his journey to Miami, and the lessons he learned from opening a design firm shortly after an economic recession.
Getting to Know David
David, a Michigan native, loves: to travel, shoes and Tesla. Unfortunately, he doesn’t drive a Tesla (he drives a land rover) but he finds himself drawn to the environmentally conscious concept and brand behind Tesla. His favorite accessory is shoes, Jimmy Choo being his brand of choice as they have a lot of options for men and garner lots of compliments. David’s parents were school teachers who taught him the importance of education, tenacity and to never give up. They also instilled his love of travel. He has been traveling since the age of two. Some of his favorite places are Florence, Berlin, Paris, and Hong Kong. In the US, he is drawn to the excitement of Manhattan and its many skyscrapers.
One of David’s strengths has been drawing and sketching. Growing up, he found that he was always putting together spaces, shapes and volumes and building models with Legos. He also had strong drawing and hand sketching abilities, which he now uses as a tool to communicate with clients to articulate his ideas. David began studying Fine Arts and Sculpture at Aquinas University in Grand Rapids. However, after receiving feedback that most of his work was architectural in nature he transferred to the University of Detroit where he received a Bachelor of Architecture (professional architecture degree). He taught 3rd-year studio at the University before he departed to focus on his professional work.
Although David is passionate about core and shell architecture, he found himself drawn to interior design due to the project time frame and increased client connection. When constructing a new building from the ground up, the process could take between 3-4 years. There is immediacy to interior design, where a project could be complete in around 6 months. With interiors, David found much more client contact and interaction with the end users. There was also more of a personal connection since people typically experience a building from the inside.
David began working at Smith Group where he focused on higher education, corporate projects, and top secret spaces. After this, he moved around a bit interning in Cleveland and Chicago before landing at the San Francisco office of Perkins and Will. At Perkins and Will he worked on one of his largest projects, Princess Nora University, for 45,000 students in Beirut. It was a fast-track project, going from design to completion in 4 years. Working on this project allowed him to live and work in Beirut as a member of the design team and also travel to Miami and Chicago for various team meetings.
At a trip to Chicago for NeoCon, a trade show for commercial interior design, David met his future business partner, Jay Britto. After a series of casual conversations, David noticed that they had similar tastes and he found himself growing increasingly frustrated with his experience in large corporate environments. Fueled by a lack of recognition for his participation in an industrial design project on display at NeoCon, Jay and David decided to work together and create their own firm: Britto Charette. As designers, they are both equally creative. They work organically; sharing most of the work and naturally dividing project demands. David calls his move to Miami a calculated risk. It is a very architectural city with large room to grow and invest.
Creating and Maintaining the Business
David accredits three steps to creating his business: a strong business plan, staffing, and technology. Opening in 2010 when Miami was beginning to come back from the collapse of the condo market, David and Jay invested $100,000 to start their business. After this initial investment, the partners began thinking about the space, and clients. They were fortunate as Jay was already working for himself and had an existing client base focusing on residential projects. They now find themselves with a staff of 10 full-time employees (a few working remotely) focusing on hospitality and retail in addition to their residential projects.
As a boutique design firm Britto Charette keeps the business lean. Their staff includes a Principal designer, Senior Designer, Junior Designer, CAD drafter and office manager that are broken up into project groups. They offer a competitive benefits package (401k and medical, PTO, vision and dental) as well as paid employee training. They find that big teams are challenging and 10-12 seems to be a good number to manage while allowing the opportunity to review and support their team.
When it comes to managing staff, David is a strong believer in delegating. Delegating allows employees to be a part of the process and fosters a collaborative learning environment. He also believes in strengthening his employee’s active listening skills. The presence of cell phones has become increasingly distracting in professional environments so rather than looking at smartphones during meetings, all of their attendees take notes which are then compiled into a master document. This allows staff members to be actively present and perceptive of client feedback and mannerisms, which is especially important with working across different languages and cultures.
David has been through 4 recessions in his professional life and has seen others struggle through the downturn. He has recognized that “fortune favors the prepared” and is guided by this principle. Often times an opportunity or experience can come up and if one is not ready for it then they have to decline. Being prepared readies a person to partake in opportunities as they arise. Through his professional journey, he has recognized that one does not always have to spend money to impress others and has now learned to manage money wisely. He advises others to look at their monthly expenses and to have 4 months of liquidity in their account that isn’t touched. Look at money as strategy and never go into debt to do something. Every time a check is received from a client 10% of it should go into savings and get reinvested into the firm. Currently, Jay and David are reinvesting in their company by redesigning their website and increasing the number of photo shoots.
Britto Charette began using 3D printing methods for custom prototypes for their industrial design studio and the creation of custom furniture; however, they found that the final results were too small to be effective. They now do full-scale section mockups and they have been getting more involved with Virtual Reality on certain projects. The cost for the Virtual Reality technology is about $2500-$5000 and it gives clients the opportunity to walk through, zoom in or fly over a virtual room scene. The firm also utilizes 3D modeling for every project, with a typical project receiving 3-5 3D renderings, costing between $600-$800 depending on the size of the project and the number of revisions. Not only does 3D Rendering allow the client to visualize the space, the final images can be a great marketing tool and uploaded on social media sites to promote the business.
Social Media can be a great tool to grow and promote the business but must be constantly uploaded and maintained. David advises to pick a platform that you like and support that one heavily. Also, always ask clients “How did you hear about us?” to gain insight and data for which marketing strategies are working. His firm uses Houzz, Pinterest, and Instagram as social platforms. Social Media has been such a successful platform for the firm that as of 2016, they have begun phasing out the use of paid printed advertisement. They found that sales increased after the removal of paid advertising. With paid advertisements, it was difficult to aggregate the data to define if a job came in the door as a result of the paid ad. They realized that people like to pin photos, enjoy liking posts and are frequently engaged in social media. With printed magazines, it is difficult to go back and remember where you saw something. Surprisingly enough, although they don’t have many followers they are constantly told by clients that they are looking at feed.
To Learn more about Britto Charette visit their website www.brittocharette.com
For more information on Industrial Design Products visit: www.bchomeusa.com
Porcelanosa – Check out Porcelanosa’s product Krion, a natural mineral based solid surface material ideal for kitchen and bathroom areas, retail or healthcare environments. It is an antimicrobial, nonporous and durable alternative to stone or ceramic.
Previously Owned by a Gay Man – Looking for something unique or sick of shopping second-hand stores? Visit www.previouslyownedbyagayman.com to find unique gently used items.
Next up Nick will be heading to Chicago for NeoCon and also visiting Julia Buckingham’s office in Chicago for the next long format interview.
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