Lenore Weiss Baigelman, architect, author, speaker, lifestyle design expert, and founding partner of Full Circle Architects, talks about her career, managing a business, being a woman in the industry, and working with her husband.
Baigelman, who owns her Highland Park, Illinois, business with her husband, Danny Baigelman, specializes in transforming built environments into custom spaces that meet the functional needs and personal style requirements of individuals and groups. She is the author of Feng Shui Principles for Building and Remodeling: Creating a Space That Meets Your Needs and Promotes Well-Being.
AllBusiness: Where does the name Full Circle Architects come from?
Baigelman: Years ago when I was working out of my basement, having just had a baby, I needed a name for my newfound architectural enterprise. I searched high and low for inspiration. For sure I knew the name of the business had to reflect the fact that I was a control freak and loved to create total environments, structure to finishes; you know, the full range of services. I also knew that with a name like Baigelman I had to come up with something else that was catchy. So it struck me that I could actually play on the circular concept of “bagel” and its inclusive, comprehensive association to the wide range of design services I could offer. Thus Full Circle Architects was born out of my need to do complete design work, and it is a nod to my namesake of a big, round carb.
AllBusiness: Have you always known you would design houses and commercial properties, too?
Baigelman: No. As a matter of fact when I was in high school my guidance counselor reviewed my talents and interests and declared that I should be an architect. I was appalled at the time. I was no Mike Brady (of Brady Bunch fame) and couldn’t possibly see myself in such a tough, male-dominated (at the time) field. After going to the University of Illinois for a couple of semesters and studying psychology and interior design, I realized that I could integrate those very disciplines with what I realized was an emerging passion for me: architecture. Subsequently I spent a year studying architecture in Versailles, France, and traveled all over Europe and part of the Middle East, where that passion was fed even more with the amazing opportunities those travels afforded. My eyes were pried open to a new awareness for design and the built environment that I was eager to share through my emerging architectural career.
AllBusiness: You’re in partnership with your husband. What are some of the challenges that come with that kind of collaboration?
Baigelman: When we are being the mature, emotionally evolved adults we like to think we are, we respect each other’s differences and celebrate each other’s strengths. Other times, well, I guess the main challenge is being able to separate our husband/wife issues with our “partners with very different perspectives” issues. The fact that our strengths are very different allows us to be able to actually fill in the gaps for each other; our talents truly do complement each other.
AllBusiness: Are there certain traits that you bring to the table that your husband can’t because he’s a guy?
Baigelman: I’m not sure if it’s a gender issue or a life-experience issue. This is going to sound very cliché but it’s true for us; I am a much more sensitive person than he is, and I think that includes some design sensitivities. I think I’m more in tune with the personalized part of the business: the client interface that digs a little deeper into people’s lives in order to uncover what they really need spatially. Danny often teases me that I’m part psychologist. Really, I look at people’s personal environments as a self-empowerment tool. Spaces can enhance or sabotage personal goals based on whether or not they are in sync with whatever those goals are. For example, if one of a client’s personal goals is to encourage her young children’s love of reading, I’m going to be sure to design in small, bright, intimate reading nooks that would make reading alone or with an adult a joy. That might include some south-facing window seats or maybe a cozy bench on a stair landing with bookshelves below. Whatever it is, I try to really get to know my clients so that I can offer them personalized architectural solutions.
AllBusiness: What are three of the biggest challenges you face as a business owner?
Baigelman: First, finding the time to wear all the hats I need to, while still being effective in each. It’s a huge challenge for me to balance administrative, personnel, financial, marketing, PR duties with actual architectural work. Second, finding the best way to be able to service my clients well on a personal level while being able to delegate enough to staff so that the work gets done efficiently. And third, time management, time management, time management.
AllBusiness: What do you like best about what you do?
Baigelman: Knowing I’ve somehow improved people’s lives by providing living and/or working environments that are supportive of their individual needs. It is so gratifying when I run into an old client in the street and they tell me how they’re still enjoying their home or office, or that their lives were enhanced in some way because of the spaces I designed for them.
AllBusiness: If you could change one thing about the training you received, what would it be?
Baigelman: I would have spent more time on job sites sooner, learning the nuances of construction practices from those who do it every day, the contractors who actually do the building.
AllBusiness: If you were to advise a new female architect entering the field, what would you say?
Baigelman: Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. Your unique differences from your male counterparts are not deficits but assets to give you distinctive perspectives.
To reach Lenore Weiss Baigelman, visit Full Circle Architects online.