When Frame-n-Lens wanted to update the image of its eyeglass and contact lense stores, City Spaces Inc. looked at the retailer through the eyes of its customers.

The City Spaces project team scrutinized the stores, from the color of the carpet to the shape of the tables, and suggested changes that would create a friendlier, less clinical atmosphere.

Frame-n-Lens lightened the color scheme to make the stores appear more inviting and replaced desks with round tables to create a more conference-style interaction with the customer.

"Before we ever start on a new design, we ask a lot of questions about how we can make the client more efficient," said Christie Skinner, president and founder of the 11-year-old design firm.

City Spaces approaches interior design as a business investment. A good design ultimately adds to the bottom line by saving money on real estate and attracting more customers.

The Pasadena-based design shop's client roster runs the gamut, from entertainment to insurance to non-profits. The shop primarly designs office spaces, but occassionally takes medical and retail clients large or small.

"You have to take the small projects to prove you're worthy of the bigger ones," she said. The strategy has apparently paid off: City Spaces revenues have increased each year since it opened in 1986. The shop's revenues are up 8 percent this year.

While its territory has expanded across the Western states, Skinner intends to keep her staff at around its current 30-person size so that the company remains "flexible and responsive" to clients.

Rick Butler, vice president of western regional operations for Bowne Business Services, said this willingness to listen has distinguished City Spaces during his company's remodeling project.

"I've worked with a number of nationally known design firms over the past 10 years," Butler said. "City Spaces is the first one that really listened."

Butler said the design team took time to understand what his company did. The designers also considered the growth and direction of the business so that the office would continue to be functional as Bowne changes, he said.

Added Alan Strasburg, manager of William E. Simon and Sons investment group: "They're very responsive. They're always right on target as far as budgeting or hitting deadlines."

Skinner, who studied engineering at the University of Oklahoma before switching to interior design, founded the company partly out of frustration at the places where she has worked. "There was no budget or quality control, no concern for keeping to schedule," she said.

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