What did you do before founding Brown Davis Interiors? Interior Design was not your initial career how did you get there?
Todd Davis: I had always wanted to be an architect and was discouraged from doing that. What I wanted to do was design really beautiful homes and I was told that you’d never get to do that. That I’d just be doing the grunt work for an architect so it didn’t seem as if it was a really glamorous job.
Sounds disheartening doesn’t it?
Todd: Exactly. So I was encouraged to go to business school and then I went to John Hopkins Graduate school. Then I went to work for an aerospace firm, Martin Marietta and hated every second of it. Rob actually always wanted to be a designer but was discouraged from it by his family. He also went to school where he got an engineering degree and also a Master’s in Business. Our formal educations were great and they’ve helped us figure out how to run a business, but we basically ended up doing what we should be doing.
What you were destined for?
Todd: Exactly. I think so.
Tell me about the early days of your design firm, Brown Davis Interiors, Inc.
Todd: When we were in Washington DC the business grew really quickly and within four to five years our work appeared in Architectural Digest. Then we were doing design projects at the British Embassy; the Clintons hired us; and then we did a project, for the heiress to Campbell Soup, in New York. All of these projects happened in the first four to five years of being in business, so it was really a bit overwhelming.
Was it like a dream- almost surreal?
Todd: Yes, it was little bit like that. It was totally surreal and at the same time it was something neither of us were really prepared for in terms of knowing how to manage all that, and you know, even now running an Interior Design firm is not easy because you’ve got a lot of clients and a lot of demands.
Brown Davis Interiors has offices in Miami Beach and Washington DC. How does having these two locations influence you creatively?
Todd: I really love a certain aspect of the understated sensibility to design in DC. But that’s not to say that Miami and Miami Beach in particular aren’t great also in terms of being introduced to so many new products, concepts and designs influenced by an international sensibility. We know Austrian people; we’ve worked for Russians, Americans, Germans and the thing is that everybody is bringing something style-wise from where they come. We’re sort of like sponges. In that when we are working on a project we have to absorb what the client is looking for – so that’s where going back and forth between DC and Miami is beneficial.
As a creative type you really want to focus on the creative end of your business, but is there something from a business perspective that you’ve learned along the way that has really helped your business?
Todd: I think to me a big part of it has been just not trying to grow a business because of your ego. My goal at this point is to keep the business small for two reasons: one is that it is so much more manageable and secondly more profitable. During the big recession we didn’t lay anybody off. We kept going, though a bit scary at times, because we had enough business.
How many people do you have on your staff? And how does technology factor into your business model?
Todd: When we left DC we scaled down because we didn’t want to spend all our time managing the business. We’ve kept the staff small. We have a designer/project manager in DC and one in Miami Beach, an architect in Rhode Island, in addition to Rob and me. We have two different accounting firms; one in Washington DC and one that provides accounting services remotely for the trade – we use a cloud computing accounting application so I can work from anywhere in the world-for example I was in Rio de Janeiro recently and I was able to log in to the accounting application. We really do a lot of business activities, though we do fly around to our many different projects, remotely and that has been aided by advances in technology.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to those considering going into business?
Todd: Keep it true to what you want to do.
Next in Series: Brown Davis Interiors: The Creative Design Process ( Mark your calendars for July 2nd, 2011 when we share Todd & Rob’s design process and projects. ).