Boutique Style Firm vs. Full-Service Firm

A few more questions and answers in the Frequently Asked Question vein...


Why do you write in first person narrative?

Because I’m the one doing the writing.


But don’t architects usually refer to themselves in the third person?

I can’t answer for them, only for myself. And speaking for myself, I find third person narratives on websites – especially architectural websites – to be pretentious and off-putting. I also refuse to refer to myself as “we,” which is another thing I often see on websites of single-person firms. That’s not to say I’m against collaboration. This profession is built on collaboration and I welcome it whole-heartedly. But I am against deceptive, exaggerated, and/or misleading claims, such as implying that I am a group of people, when I am not.


When are the best times of year to design and build?

I have seen projects successfully designed and built at all points throughout the year. However, I can say that within my own career, the busiest times for design have typically been the few months preceding Thanksgiving and the months after New Year’s Day. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is usually the slowest due to holiday vacations. The busiest time for construction has usually been the spring and summer months. Here in central Oregon, that is even more true as the winters can be fairly cold and more difficult to work in and with (though it can be done).


What is the difference between a boutique style firm and a full service firm?

Generally speaking, a combination of size and focus. I would say that a boutique-style firm is smaller and more focused/specialized in what it does. A full service firm, on the other hand, is larger, pursues a wider variety of project types, offers more in terms of services, and is likely not as specialized. Again, that's a generalization. As with everything in life, there are always exceptions.

You could make an analogy with the movie business; say between the major and minor movie studios. For example, I would consider 20th Century Fox to be a major studio. A full-service firm if you like. As a major studio, it has nearly everything required to produce films. Capital, talent, and the physical studio sets & soundstages are arguably three of the biggest things needed in that regard. 20th Century Fox has those and has a multitude of projects going at all times.

In contrast, something like Lucasfilm (pre-Disney, obviously) doesn’t have those resources. Initially, when George Lucas formed it in the early ‘70s, he was the talent (writer, director) with a few employees for support working out of an office in Hollywood (later relocated to a house in San Anselmo). Everything else such as cast & crew, physical studios, and the all-important capitol (funding) came from outside the company. Clearly that changed to a degree as the company grew. The success of STAR WARS and especially the retained licensing & sequel rights gave Lucasfilm enormous leverage with the distributing studio (in this case 20th Century Fox). But even then, it still operated as a boutique-studio. It still needed loans to finance both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. It still needed a larger company for distribution. And, despite it’s growing assets (and associated companies in the form of Skywalker Sound, LucasartsIndustrial Light & Magic, etc.), Lucasfilm still relied on outside talent and physical studios (i.e. Elstree, Leavesden, Fox Studios, etc.) help produce its films.

I consider myself to be a boutique-style firm. Though I will consider any potential project, my specialty is high-end residential architecture. That is my focus. I rely on outside consultants for things like surveying, structural engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and occasionally other more specialized disciplines (like lighting design and/or interior design). In contrast, a full-service firm may well have those departments in-house. The full-service firm also pursues all projects regardless of type. The drawback to this approach is the lack of a specific focus and the ability to become a specialist or expert within a given field, subject, or project type. Typically the full-service firm is a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.

The secret to the movie business, or any business, is to get a good education in a subject besides film - whether it’s history, psychology, economics, or architecture - so you have something to make a movie about. All the skill in the world isn’t going to help you unless you have something to say.
— George Lucas