Any female entrepreneur who starts a business, hires 13 people, and becomes a trusted interior designer for Crow Holdings and others clearly has no shortage of vision.
But B. Allison Brooks’ vision for B2 Architecture + Design was not shaped by a lifelong dream, but rather by a surge from the 2008 recession.
Courtesy of B2 Architecture + Design
B. Allison Brooks, founder of B2 Architecture + Design
The infamous 2008 recession derailed the aspiring developer’s plan to build two DFW properties, leading him to settle informally in a boardroom donated by real estate development firm Crow Holdings.
This side concert eventually grew into a fully-fledged, stand-alone interior design and architecture company in the heart of Dallas’ design district.
B. Allison Brooks sat with Bisnow to explain his unexpected journey from architect to boardroom surfer to successful business owner.
Courtesy of B2 Architecture + Design
B2 Architecture + Design employees enter the creative spirit
Bisnow: Describe how B2 Architecture + Design was born.
Brooks: Crow Holdings had been a client when I was at Good, Fulton & Farrell, and Crow Holdings had just bought the old Parkland Hospital and was redeveloping it into a corporate campus. They were trying to do things a little differently. They were all doing their own rental contracts in-house, so they asked me if I could just help on a contract basis with space plans for new customers and potential tenants. I helped them with their space plans, and when people signed a lease, they said, “OK, we’re going to continue working with you, aren’t we? And I thought, well, I’m a licensed architect; I’ve never really done interiors before, but surely I can. I’ve probably done 20 or 25 projects there with small tenants. I have never been an employee. I just started to introduce myself and sit at their conference room table three days a week. Then it was four days a week. Then they said, “You monopolize our conference room. So they gave me an office, a phone number and an email address. A lot of people thought I was an employee, but I never was.
Then Trammell Crow Residential started to take over, and they asked me if I could consult them for some interior work, so I started to do a bit. Then they gave me four projects and said, ‘You have to get out of here and you have to hire your own staff and find your own office space. ” I was terrified; I thought I had to be sitting at that conference room table everyday to find a job. Turns out it isn’t, but I was afraid it would be for a while.
Bisnow: What does running a business owned by women look like?
streams: I come from an architectural background, and I’m used to being the only woman in the room and I’ve kind of got used to it. Having this whole office filled with very talented women is a different vibe. (B2 has 13 employees – all women, including two architects, eight interior designers, four purchasing managers, installation specialists and an accountant.)
Bisnow: How is multi-family interior design different today compared to your early days in the business?
Brooks: When I was working in the architecture side in 2007, we were getting all permits without even knowing who the interior designer was and had no interior design or interior design drawings. We didn’t know who hired the interior designer, and it was usually someone hired by the owners at the time. They really came in and decorated a white box. [Interior designers] were not involved in determining the amenities, where they are in the building, and how to switch between the amenities. We are constantly coordinating from project start to finish with base building architect and structural engineer and civil engineer. We do a lot of coordination with the landscape architects to make sure there is a continuous flow between interior and exterior spaces.
You also had a rental office, and maybe a room with a few treadmills and a swimming pool [for amenities]. Now, we do a lot of research to verify demographics in a particular location to make sure we are achieving the amenities they want. In one property, we have a brushing bar. We have wine cellars, rooftop terraces, and spas with massage tables, so it’s increasingly inspired by boutique hotels. This whole idea of ”living” is important in many of these properties.
Courtesy of B2 Architecture + Design
B2 Architecture + Design has grown from a one-woman show to 13 employees working in the Dallas Design District.
Bisnow: Do you see a recovery in activity within the multifamily sector?
Brooks: Yes, but I don’t see how it will continue. I mean I bet it keeps going. But, at the rate at which things are going, it does not seem sustainable. We are not slowing down and we have not seen any signs of slowing down from our customers. I always hear that it’s harder to find sites and get diversified equity, but I don’t see a slowdown. What we did when we decided to go fully into multi-family is say we need to diversify by not just doing new builds and not just towers or mid heights. We are also doing garden-type operations… and are starting to do more renovations. My thinking is if multi-family is a bit of a downturn, there are a lot of properties that haven’t been touched for 20 years that are in prime locations that are adjacent to all of those luxury properties that need a refreshment, and therefore we have been very happy with the work that we have obtained in these markets.
Bisnow: Where do you plan to grow next?
Brooks: We are 95% multi-family. I have hired two women in the last six months – one with very good experience in student housing and another with very good experience in senior housing. I would really like to develop these two market sectors, and I think there are opportunities in both. They have their own players, their own equity, their own jargon, so I’ve been looking for the right people over the last three or four years for these market groups. I found them and now we’re really going to get on with this matter.
Bisnow: So what makes senior housing an attractive prospect?
Brooks: [Seniors] are demanding residents and active residents. A lot of the properties we’re working on from a direct multi-family perspective, they could already qualify as age-restricted residences if they wanted to. They are sort of by their price. So I think what really turns me on is this trend towards seniors living on college campuses. I think the mix of seniors and students, and obviously the very strong health systems that surround universities – as well as access to the arts, entertainment, and adjunct faculty – all of these things cause these generations to blend together. .
Bisnow: Do you see a lot of senior residences popping up around DFW that could serve as future interior architecture or design projects?
Brooks: Yes. Obviously there is the [Ventana by Buckner] it happens on Northwest Highway and Central. It is a magnificent building designed by D2 Architecture. I think we’re going to focus more on for-profit independent living and memory-care properties, but if we had a great non-profit group we wouldn’t turn it down. I think, however, in the same way as with multi-family home improvement projects, we think there is a very strong market for senior property renovations, and we are talking with many groups about doing that.