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Origin Stories: Early Life In D.C. Inspired Workshop Co-Founder Julia Lauve's CRE Career

This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.

Were it not for living in Washington, D.C., during her college years, 39-year-old Workshop | studio co-founder Julia Lauve may have never discovered her passion for commercial real estate and interior design. 

While studying in the capital city, surrounded by historical monuments and eccentric, world-renowned architecture, Lauve found a passion she has leveraged into a nearly two-decade CRE career.

Her journey through real estate hasn't been a straight line. She began in the industry in 2003 at CBRE as a marketing assistant, transitioned to an investment sales broker with training in performing valuations and ultimately launched her own interior design hub, a Dallas-based firm known as Workshop | studio, in 2010.

One thing that has stayed with her through it all — marketing, selling or designing real estate — is a passion for storytelling.

Workshop | studio co-founder Julia Lauve launched her career at CBRE before becoming an entrepreneur on the design side of the industry.

Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE? 

Lauve: I was introduced to commercial real estate while attending The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The city was experiencing pockets of revitalization and redevelopment, which provided a bustling and constantly evolving streetscape. As I traveled abroad and expanded my horizons, I became very interested in urban landscape and what made places feel so exciting and unique.

Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE? 

Lauve:  I started my career in commercial real estate straight out of college as a marketing assistant for CBRE in Washington, D.C. Working at a large firm afforded me with opportunities for education and leadership development leading to internal promotions and recruitment by competing firms. 

Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role? 

Lauve: I became a licensed real estate salesperson in multiple states and acquired financial modeling training to aid in project valuation. After years of selling and raising capital for large-scale commercial real estate developments across the Northeast, I realized my passion for commercial real estate was specifically in helping developers to create and foster a project narrative. By telling the story of a project’s future potential, we were able to secure financing and buyers for any big project.

In my current role on the design side of CRE, the merging of marketing and design makes a project a unique place for visitors — regardless of the project type. The storytelling philosophy has stayed with me through my education in interior design, was a big part of landing my first design role at Harwood International and has become crucial to the growth of Workshop | studio. 

Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?

Lauve: I feel like I have just recently fully tied all of my experience in CRE together, using my experience in marketing large-scale projects to develop unique interior environments for our current clients. I wish I had been able to see that bigger picture earlier on and had been better at communicating it, but I wouldn’t trade my years of experience for anything.

Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed? 

Lauve: Early in my career, I found there was a lack of female role models in the industry. Over time, my uniqueness as a female in a mainly male boardroom allowed my perspective to shine, as I could approach an issue from a different point of view. It allowed me to think outside of the box in ways that helped my career excel. 

Workshop | studio co-founders Julia Lauve and Kari Walker-Higgins

Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?

Lauve: I think work-life balance has become more important industrywide. As I have grown older, I’ve had to take purposeful steps to make time for my husband and two boys, as well as things outside of work that feed my soul. Work-life balance has certainly been an important part of founding and growing Workshop | studio and has helped us create an incredible culture within our team. We foster communities in the spaces we create, and we feel that starts with our community in the workplace.

Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE? 

Lauve: My business partner, Kari Walker-Higgins, has always been a wonderful inspiration for me. We excel at different things and are constantly pushing each other to learn and be more in our roles. I also worked alongside Jihane Boury at Harwood International. Her career journey in interior architecture and then brokerage was the flip-flop of my own, so I’ve always respected and admired her. She’s been a great source of mentorship through my own career.

Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?

Lauve: My father always says that “the best problem to have is options,” and that has stuck with me for my entire career, through difficult decisions about changing positions, or going back to school, or deciding where to focus our efforts on growing our business. I’m so grateful for the opportunities my life has provided, and focusing on gratitude makes difficult decisions a less daunting task.

Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?

Lauve: It can be challenging and competitive, but hard work is rewarded. Surround yourself with people who push you to be the best version of yourself, and don’t forget to find the moments of joy and laughter in whatever you do!

Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change? 

Lauve: I started to answer this question by saying that I wish I had realized my passion for interior design earlier on, but I truly believe that my unique experience in the commercial real estate industry makes it possible for me to help our clients in a way that no one else can.

If I could, I would continue learning and growing, maybe even going back to continue studies in art history or psychology. So much of the built environment is interconnected, and I want to always make time to expand my own perspectives.