The Early Years Leading to IA Interior Architects


Part I of III

In the 1970s and early ‘80s, a new and exciting creative discipline called “corporate interior design” was coming to the fore in the field of architecture. There were a number of firms providing this design service on a national basis and doing it well. Prominent among them were GenslerSOM, and a firm called EPR, for which Mick McCullough, Don Lam (Don and Mick are principals at IA), and I had the privilege of working.

My professional background up until that time was rather conventional for an architect, except for the four years immediately after architecture school at the University of Kansas when I worked for an architect in the Virgin Islands. He was very talented and had a small, diverse, and highly creative practice: It was great fun and a tremendous experience. There I met my wife and after four years, we moved to San Francisco in 1974. Before I left I had to buy a pair of shoes, because in the Virgin Islands all we wore were sandals!

With my new shoes and a rickety car, I found a job working for a small architectural firm in San Mateo, California, and my wife went to work for Knoll International, where she introduced me to the exciting new field of interiors. Shortly thereafter, I was hired by EPR as their owner/architect representative for a new 500,000-square-foot headquarters for Itel Corporation at 101 California Street, a Gerald Hines development in San Francisco.

This was the best job in the world. Hines is a great developer and the iconic Phillip Johnson was the architect for the base building. EPR was a young, dynamic firm doing stunning work and they were designing the interiors. Everything was going very well for a year or so until Itel went broke; they were put out of business by IBM.

Photo courtesy of Dreamstatic.

I didn’t know if I still had a job, but I was lucky and the timing was fortuitous: EPR was asked to compete for an interiors master plan for the Bank of Hawaii and won the project. This was another terrific assignment but, alas, all good things come to an end and when the project was completed, I found myself in the president’s office wondering again if I would be handed my hat.

The president of EPR taught me a lesson that day: When you don’t have a clue as to what you’re going to do with someone, ask what they would like to do. When he asked, I suggested that we shouldn’t have to go to Hawaii to work with banks. EPR should be working with banks in San Francisco as well—and there were many at the time. San Francisco was the banking capital of the West with five major bank headquarters, and we weren’t working for any of them. With the president’s blessing, I started calling on them and in a matter of months, we had an extraordinary amount of work with Wells FargoCrocker Bank, and Bank of America.

Shortly thereafter, I was put in charge of business development. Now, I was “director of corporate services,” but I didn’t care about titles. I was having a world of fun in this wonderful new discipline called corporate interior design.

One career-changing day at EPR, I received a phone call from a prominent architect in San Francisco, who had been asked by IBM’s real estate and construction division if he would be interested in providing interior design services for IBM’s Western Region under what they called an “on-call contract.” Explaining that he wasn’t interested, he asked if I was. I accepted so fast it would make your head spin. The contract officer at IBM walked me through the concept of the on-call contract and I was off to Los Angeles to pursue the assignment.

Read part two here.

IA is a global firm of architects, designers, strategists, and specialists .We focus exclusively on environments through the lens of interior architecture—a radical idea in 1984, when IA was founded. We are highly connected agents of change, committed to creativity, innovation, growth, and community.

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Learn the origin story of IA Interior Architects.

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