Kate Allen, Kelly Morrison and Kristen Lien: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs

Today we’re chatting with the founders of RAD Architecture, a firm that’s responsible for designing some of the most popular bar and restaurant interiors in Calgary. In between consulting on colour swatches, light fixtures and grand plans for their latest projects, Kate Allen, Kelly Morrison and Kristen Lien took a few minutes to share their wisdom on success and their favourite places to find inspiration.

Describe your job in a nutshell.
Kristen: We help facilitate our clients’ vision and bring unique ideas to the table.

Kate: And because we’re starting fresh with every project, every day is a new story.

Why did you start your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
Kristen: There aren’t many firms that can do architecture as well as design work for restaurant interiors. We’ve combined the technical side of architecture with detailed interior design work, and this is a service offering that’s unmatched.

Kate: The work we do at RAD is a very niche part of architecture; it’s very detailed. With every project we really do a deep dive into all aspect of the design, which is something that really appeals to me.  These aren’t giant projects that last for 5 to 10 years. We work very closely with our clients and curate every part of the process to make sure the concept is consistent from beginning to end.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
Kate: I love the beginning of the project and the end of the project. At the beginning, we get to talk about the big ideas, really get into the concept, do the research and background, and get to know our clients. At the end, you get to show your client the finished product, another exciting piece.

Kelly: There’s something to be said for being able to actually go and enjoy the finished product, whether it’s enjoying brunch at Diner Deluxe in Aspen or having dinner and drinks at Model Milk.

Kristen: I really like helping business owners with their vision and being able to help them succeed.

The most challenging part?
Kristen: The timeframes associated with restaurants and hospitality work can be very aggressive.

Kelly: Restaurants are very complex businesses and there’s often a lot of coordination required with consultants and clients who have different interests and priorities. It’s a juggling act trying to appease everyone.

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
Kelly: When you don’t sleep anymore.

Kate: When you see your husband on Monday morning and he says “See you Friday!”

Or waking up multiple times in the night and sending yourself emails so you can go back to sleep.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Kelly: In five years, we see ourselves expanding our work into other cities. We’d still like to be doing restaurants but also taking on more commercial, hospitality and residential spaces as well.

Kate: There’s also the possibility of expanding into the hotel industry

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Kate: Being women with the goal to have a family is the biggest challenge that comes to mind, but with three of us, we can generally count on having at least two of us in the office. We really help each other out and support each other in our family lives.

Kristen: Some people think woman can have careers and do both, but in reality being a mom and a career person is a huge challenge. Because we really try to support both, it’s surprising how many women professionals approach us about coming to work here. We’re trying to show the industry it can be done, but it’s definitely not a typical business model.

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Kelly: Success is seeing the project done and the client happy with the new space, and really enjoying it. Designing places that are going to have a long life is also an indication of success.

Kate: I’d also say that balance is success. We want RAD to have a long life and sustain itself.

Kristen: It’s really important that this business is sustainable from a profits perspective – so no, lots of money doesn’t equal success, but you need some money to make it survive.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Kelly: Designing Double Zero Chinook, because it was a project that incorporated both architecture and interiors, and it was so large and complex. This was a turning point for us because we started to expand our team.

Kate: It all happened very fast. Suddenly we were scrambling to order office furniture because we had four new people starting in one week.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Kristen: Think about the goals you have and where you want to be. Especially in this line of work, you have to be vocal about what you want to get experience in and be very forthright about your career objectives.

Do you have a favourite place to wine/dine in the city?
Kate: Ox and Angela for cocktails, and of course Model Milk.

When you’re not working, how do you spend ‘me’ time?
Kristen: What is that?

Kate: In cafes, looking at magazines and design blogs – so its kind of work, but the relaxing kind.

Kelly: We travel a lot to do research, but also take personal trips with our families.

What is your favourite place to travel?
Kate: Sydney, because it’s the perfect mix of everything. There’s a pulse of what’s going on with food, fashion, design and architecture. And there’s also a beach.

Kelly. For me it’s Barcelona. We go to Europe every summer but keep returning here. The three of us used to study there, and I love returning for the food and the architecture.

Kristen: The Netherlands. For me, there’s the family connection, and there’s always something crazy happening with design and architecture. 

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
“Ca Plane Pour Moi” – Plastic Bertrand

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Kate: I would be a painter.

Kristen: A florist, working one day a week.

Kelly: Also a florist.

Do you support charity? And if so, which ones?
Kelly: Collectively, we support the U of C grad show.

Kristen: We’ve done women’s career days with schools and worked with the youth-based organization Junior Achievement within Southern Alberta.

Kelly: I also work with CUPS when time permits, and now that we’re more grounded and we know what our workload is, we’ll be able to get more involved in charity organizations.

Kristen: We’re also very much about working on projects that have personal connections. One of my good friends is a paraplegic and we redesigned her front exterior ramp and handrail as part of a community fundraiser.

What to you is notable?
Kate: Design that is unique and beautiful.

Kristen: An inner thought that makes me smile uncontrollably.

Kelly: The saying, “Design like you give a damn” – Architecture for Humanity.

iPhone, Android or other?
iPhone! It’s unanimous.