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SoCal Power Women: 5 Questions With Omgivning's Karin Liljegren

Los Angeles

This limited series profiles SoCal Power Women who have helped shape cities, neighborhoods, businesses and lifestyles in Los Angeles and Orange counties. These women will be honored at Bisnow's SoCal Power Women event Dec. 13.

It seems fitting Karin Liljegren named her company Omgivning, the Swedish word for one's surrounding and environment.

Since Liljegren was 15, it was the space and environment in New York City while growing up in nearby New Jersey that inspired her to become an architect. She is founder and principal of Los Angeles-based Omgivning.

Her company has worked on almost 350 buildings in downtown Los Angeles. The architecture and interior design studio specializes in rehabbing and revitalizing old buildings.

Omgivning founder and principal Karin Liljegren, her son, Arik Billings, and fiancé, Kelly Kish

How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Liljegren: I have an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in taking existing, underutilized buildings and rehabilitating them to a new use. An example might be to take an old department store on Broadway [Street] and turn it into a hotel.  We work on small local cafés all the way up to 2M SF adaptive reuse of historic landmarks. We understand all the complex technical issues of a project, including market demands, city and code requirements, historic aspects and constructability. We also understand how to create spaces with warmth and vitality that feel unique and authentic, not trendy.

What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Liljegren: It’s hard for most clients to understand how much time and energy it takes to rehabilitate old buildings to new uses and it’s easy for architects to lose a lot of money because there are so many unknowns. A detailed and thoughtful contract helps everyone be on the same page. For our contracts, we spend time planning out the project, thinking hard about all the potential issues. We lay it all out for them. We give our clients options. This helps them understand the process as well as feel a part of the decision on what our fee will be.   

What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Liljegren: Create a culture of inclusivity [and] diversity and welcome feedback. Equality will follow. Or, start your own company like I did.

What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Liljegren: Dive in with no fear.  Don’t overthink things. Don’t compare yourself to others. Dig deep inside yourself to find what you love and put all your effort there — and even more amazing things than you imagined will happen.

What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Liljegren: I’m trying not to multitask and to be present wherever I am. Every day I try to have a moment of stillness to calm my mind — yoga, meditation or having cocktails staring out at my view. I spend a lot of time watching my son’s sports activities. I go to Santa Barbara to visit my fiancé. I cherish my spa days and seek unique vacations in nature.

Meet Omgivning founder and principal Karin Liljegren at Bisnow's SoCal Power Women event Dec. 13 at the LA Grand Hotel Downtown.