At Work: Becoming Part of a Community in Multiple Ways

At Work — By on January 15, 2014 at 8:00 am

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A home office is often a great way to begin a business, but moving into a separate office space can be a wonderful way to grow it. When Tim Lai was let go from a job at a bigger architecture firm in 2010, he saw it as an opportunity to start his own practice. His wife, Eliza Ho, was able to help it get started.

“As an architect, I am looking for the opportunity to work on smaller, local projects that I can have a “closer” relationship with,” says Tim Lai, principal at Tim Lai ArchitecT. “Eliza was a big part of it. At that time, she was writing her Ph.D dissertation and decided to suspend it to help me start the business.

“We made the right decision,” adds Eliza Ho, principal at Tim Lai ArchitecT. “We also chose Columbus to become our home!”

They found having their office inside of their home to be a bit of a challenge.

“House chores always get in the way,” says Ho.

“I need to have a different space and environment outside our home to focus on the work,” says Lai. “I also enjoy the commute to and from work; it gives me inspiration driving through Downtown every morning.”

They were one of the earlier tenants of the 400 West Rich complex, settling on a studio space just over 400 square-feet, and facing Lucas Street. Having a space allowed them to hire an intern to increase their work volume.

“We learned about 400 West Rich back in 2011 from a good friend, Matt Egner, who has grown his business in Franklinton and has contributed a great deal to the neighborhood’s revitalization,” says Ho. “We visited the building during an open house event and met Chris Sherman, building manager for 400 West Rich. Chris later took us on a building tour and we saw so much potential, loving the raw industrial feel and aesthetics. Back then, there were only a handful of tenants and there were many spaces that were waiting to be built.”

“Back then, the windows were boarded up,” says Lai. “When our studio was built, they took out all the boards and fixed the broken windows, letting the natural light come inside the building, which is very important to me. It’s so beautiful, the view to outside!”

The tall ceilings and big windows make the studio a wonderful space to work.

“We’ve tried to keep our space as simple as possible,” says Lai.

Much of the furniture has been pieces they made themselves, found at the OSU Surplus Store, or splurged a little for something new. The mix-and-match style fits the space well.

“When we win a new project or award, we also like to reward ourselves, with designer furniture like the classic Eames’ lounge chairs,” says Ho.

Tim Lai ArchitecT recently collaborated with Brad Steinmetz on the Willow Theater, a fully recyclable and temporary state the won the World Stage Design Award. The winning design was chosen to be built out at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff, Wales, were it will serve as an important local venue to host performance pieces, exhibitions, seminars and workshops. The theater seats up to 150 patrons.

Willow Theater is the type of exemplary work Tim Lai ArchitecT is striving for. It is work that makes a difference in a city’s built environment.

“We want to do projects that are one of a kind and have a refreshing feel,” says Lai. “The challenge has always been finding the right clients that have the same conviction. We are fortunate enough to have people keep calling us through our previous clients or referrals.”

Some of the projects Tim Lai ArchitecT has worked on include Glass Axis in Grandview, The Candle Lab in the Short North, Celebrate Local in Easton Town Center, Blue Star Barbershop in Polaris, Bubble Tea and Juice Company in the North Market, 16 Bit Bar+Arcade in Downtown, and Dinin’ Hall, as well as the upcoming City Beet Café, and the Coop Café.

In addition to designing unique architectural projects, Ho and Lai also began a philanthropic arm to their company, ALTernative, an organization aiming to use design to improve Columbus neighborhood’s built environment.

“Through ALTerantive, we provide our design and management services with a highly discounted fee,” says Ho. “Our goal is to create design-oriented projects that bring people together and help nurture a sense of neighborhood. So far, we have completed four murals with two coming up this year. In addition to murals, we have also built the Gift Garden, a collaboration with Local Matters and Boys and Girls Clubs. This education garden project just received a grant and we’ll be working with our partners together, plus the help from the Kiwanis Club, to expand it.”

The two have accomplished a lot in just a few years, but Ho gives cautionary advice.

“Good things will happen but you also need to be prepared for a slow start,” she says. “Give at least a year or two to see how it goes. Don’t be too hard on yourself and try to find balance between business and community.”

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Photos courtesy Tim Lai ArchitecT.

To learn more about Tim Lai ArchitecT, visit laiarchitect.com.

Do you know of, have, or work in, a creative workspace and would like to be featured in this series? If so, please contact Anne Evans.

Anne Evans Anne Evans (52 Articles)

Anne Evans is the Co-Founder and Director of Operations for The Metropreneur and Columbus Underground. She also regularly contributes to both sites with features focusing on living (At Home) and working (At Work) in urban areas and creative spaces. She enjoys scrapbooking, parties, her family and restoring a 100+ year old home close to Downtown Columbus.