Small Architect Shop a Refuge From Big Firm


by David Greenberg

Michael Erlanger could not have been happier when he landed a job straight out of Cornell University in the Los Angeles office of the Gensler architecture firm. But after 14 years in the stuffy corporate world, he wanted out. In 2000 Erlanger and co-worker Lorraine Francis, who worked at Gensler 12 years, formed Santa Monica-based Aparia Design. He jokes that they went from one of the nation's largest design firms to one of the smallest.

"The training within the corporate atmosphere is good. However, it does get stifling. In a smaller firm, we can pay closer attention to our clients and have more control over our work. We started to focus more on the hospitality and entertainment fields as well as airports.

"We design the total interior environment everything from the hard construction to choosing the materials and finishes, lighting as well as furniture and fixtures. We specify furniture and fixtures but don't do any purchasing.

"We're now in the schematic design phase of the interior design of a 2,000-square-foot spa in the Beverly Hills Hotel. For the Beverly Hilton, we did interior design of 36 guest rooms in the historic Cabana Suites wing. Part of that project was a pedestrian bridge connecting those suites with the International Ballroom. We also just completed interior renovations for two of the newly acquired Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles and West Hills. And we are interior design consultants to the executive architect in the proposal stage of designing the interior of a new concourse at Miami International Airport.

"Our fees are based on the percentage of construction costs. It depends on the level of detail required in the design and process. Designs and construction of the project can take anywhere from a week to two years, depending on whether it's just space planning or a complete build out.

"The firm in 2000 billed $230,000 and in 2001, we billed $480,000. This year, I think we're shooting for $600,000. We started out just the two of us doing everything. Right now, we have eight employees who are architects, graphic designers and consultants. In terms of the slowing economy, we have not been affected because of the type of work we were involved in.

"What is most exciting is doing all these different project types and working with dynamic clients. Every day is a different day with different aspects of creativity involved."

David Greenberg

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