How Crashing At Crow Holding's Conference Room Led To B. Allison Brooks’ Own Company
Any female entrepreneur who builds a business, hires a staff of 13 and becomes a trusted architectural interior designer for Crow Holdings and others is clearly not lacking for vision.
But B. Allison Brooks’ vision for B2 Architecture + Design wasn’t shaped by a lifelong dream, but rather by a push from the 2008 recession.
The infamous 2008 recession derailed the aspiring developer's plan to build up two DFW properties, causing her to informally set up shop inside a conference room offered by real estate development firm Crow Holdings.
This side gig eventually transformed into a full-fledged stand-alone interior design and architecture company in the heart of Dallas' design district.
B. Allison Brooks sat down with Bisnow to explain her unexpected journey from architect to conference-room surfer to successful business owner.
Bisnow: Describe for us how B2 Architecture + Design came into being.
Brooks: Crow Holdings had been a client when I was at Good, Fulton & Farrell, and Crow Holdings at that time had just bought the old Parkland Hospital and was redeveloping that into their corporate campus. They were trying to do things a little differently. They were doing all of their own leasing in-house, and so they asked me if I could just help out on a contract basis with space plans for new clients and potential prospective tenants. I helped them with their space plans, and when people signed a lease they said, “OK, we’re going to keep working with you, right?” And I thought, well I’m a licensed architect; I’ve never really done interiors before, but surely I can do this. I did probably 20 or 25 projects over there with small tenants. I was never an employee. I just started showing up and sitting at their conference room table three days a week. Then, it was four days a week. Then, they said, “You're hogging our conference room.” So, they gave me a desk, a phone number, and an email address. A lot of people thought I was an employee, but I never was.
Then Trammell Crow Residential started picking back up, and they asked if I could consult with them on some interior work, so I started doing a little of that. Then, they gave me four projects and said, “You have to get out of here and you have to go hire your own people and find your own office space.” I was terrified; I thought I had to be sitting at that conference room table every day to get a job. It turns out that’s not the case, but I was scared that it was going to be for a while.
Bisnow: What is it like running a women-owned business?
Brooks: I came from an architectural background, and I’m used to being the only woman in the room and I sort of got used to that. To have this whole office filled with very talented women is a different vibe. (B2 has 13 employees — all women, including two architects, eight interior designers, four purchasing managers, installation specialists and an accountant.)
Bisnow: How is multifamily-interior design different today compared to your first days in the business?
Brooks: When I was working on the architectural side in 2007, we would get all of the way through permits and not even know who the interior designer was and have no interior designer or interior architecture drawings. We were not sure who was hiring the interior designer, and it was usually somebody hired by the owners at that time. They really came in and decorated a white box. [Interior designers] weren’t involved in determining what the amenities were, where they were located in the building and how to transition from one amenity to the next. We are constantly coordinating from the beginning of the project to the end with the base-building architect and structural engineer and civil engineer. We do a lot of coordination with the landscape architects to make sure there is a seamless flow between indoor and outdoor spaces.
You also used to have a leasing office, and maybe a room with a couple of treadmills, and a pool [for amenities]. Now, we do a lot of research to check out the demographics in a particular location to make sure we are hitting the amenities they want. In one property, we have a blow-dry bar. We’ve got wine rooms, roof decks and spas with massage tables, so it’s definitely becoming more boutique-hotel inspired. This whole idea of a “staycation” is important in a lot of these properties.
Bisnow: Do you see an uptick in activity within the multifamily sector?
Brooks: Yes, but I cannot see how it is going to continue. I mean I am banking on it continuing. But, the pace at which things are going, it doesn’t seem sustainable. We are not slowing down, and we have seen no signs of any of our clients slowing down. I keep hearing it's harder to find sites and to get the diversified equity, but I’m not seeing a slowdown. What we did do when we decided to go all into multifamily was to say we have to diversify in terms of not just doing new construction and not doing just towers or mid-rises. We also do garden-style deals … and are starting to do more renovation work. My thought is if multifamily does have a little bit of a downtick, there are plenty of properties that haven’t been touched in 20 years that are in prime locations that are adjacent to all of these luxury properties that need a refresh, and so we’ve been very happy about the work we’ve gotten in those markets.
Bisnow: Where do you intend to grow next?
Brooks: We are 95% multifamily. I have hired two women in the past six months — one with a very strong student housing background, and another with a very strong senior housing background. I would really like to grow those two market sectors, and I think there are opportunities in both. They have their own players, their own equity, their own lingo, so I have been looking for the right people for the past three or four years for those market groups. I found them and now we are going to really go after that business.
Bisnow: So what makes senior housing an attractive prospect?
Brooks: [Seniors] are discerning residents, and they are active residents. A lot of the properties that we work on from a straight multifamily point of view, they already could be considered age-restricted senior livings if they wanted to be. They kind of are by their price point in a way. So, I think the thing that really excites me is this trend toward seniors living on university campuses. I think the mix of seniors and students together, and obviously the very strong healthcare systems that are surrounding universities — as well as access to the arts, entertainment and being adjunct professors — all of these things get these generations to mix.
Bisnow: Do you see a lot of senior living places popping up around DFW that could serve as prospective interior architecture or design projects?
Brooks: Yes. Obviously, there is the [Ventana by Buckner] that’s happening on Northwest Highway and Central. It’s a gorgeous building designed by D2 Architecture. I think we are going to focus more on the for-profit independent living and memory care properties, but if we got a great nonprofit group, we wouldn’t turn it down. I think, though, similarly to the multifamily renovation projects, we think there is a really strong market for renovation of senior properties, and we are talking to a lot of groups about doing that.