A Look Back: A Decade in Review with Brenda Brix

As one decade ends and a new one begins, many of us are looking back on the events that have shaped us over the past ten years. AMR Design opened in 2010 and things have definitely changed since then. In this blog post, we are sitting down with AMR Design Owner and Principal Designer, Brenda Brix to get her take on the last ten years of business.

Tell us about your decision to open AMR Design and what you were doing before you opened your firm?

I have always been a part of renovations or new builds in one form or another.  I followed my dad to job sites from the time that I was 5 years old. Even when I was younger, I always built elaborate forts (two stories with glass windows!!). Any space I walk into I’m either reworking in my head how to redesign it or appreciating what has been done well. 

I flipped houses all through my undergrad and then even 3 years after that.

Brenda with her now husband back in Kindergarten when she began joining her dad on work sites.

I used my molecular genetics degree to run medical research projects and worked at the Cross Cancer Institute focusing on Breast Cancer and then later worked for the University of Alberta with a focus on heart damage. 

Eventually, I realized that my heart and passion was in interior design and I went back to the UofA to receive an education in Residential Interiors (while pregnant with my second child!) I went to work for a design firm after graduating but quickly became frustrated with the industry’s lack of construction knowledge and collaboration with builders. I knew I wanted to forge a new path and so after travelling to Europe and Australia to gain more knowledge of European design and building practices, I opened my own firm in 2010.

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the interior design industry in the last decade?

Honestly, the HGTV movement that makes every job look like it costs a fraction of reality and only takes 7 weeks is total bull! It definitely makes our job harder when clients can have unrealistic expectations based on some of these shows. Everyone wants a designer but does not realize the cost. There is also a new kind of “Wayfair mentality” forming…many untrained ‘designers’ do it as a hobby and clients don’t know the difference between true expertise and a good eye. Design is so much more than the 15% of making it pretty and the real professionals stand out on construction sites.

I am happy to say that as we reach 2020, there is much more of a collaborative feel within the design community (which I love). When I started out, no one would speak to me, let alone help me learn. I am so glad that has changed and I am happy to mentor new designers entering the workforce.

I have also been blessed to gain contractors’ trust. We are there to make the job run smoother for everyone. We work with great builders and contractors now that have smooth communication. Many builders use a designer that never would have considered it before so they can concentrate on what their expertise is while we can concentrate on ours.

How have design preferences changed?

There is definitely a tie to the economy as well as our lifestyles. For a while the trend was very simple with no color as we are so inundated with geometric shapes and color all day. We needed home to be a refuge from it.  As people take a step back from the business and are putting more of a focus on balance in their lives, we are seeing a return to texture, color, etc. I personally love mixing textures, color, and finishes for a luxurious but inviting space – you don’t live in a showhome people!

Speaking of that, there is more emphasis on function (which I love!) and being green (also love!!).  Our focus has always been on quality over quantity. We want to build something that will last and not be put in our landfills. Natural products and classic finishes never go out of style.

How have contractors changed?

There was definitely a challenge in the beginning, being a woman on a job site that was dominated by opinionated men, but the contractors we work now with value the expertise we bring to each project.  They also appreciate our streamlined process to make the job go as smooth as possible and open communication. Great partnerships means everyone  wins – especially the client.

When we work with a contractor we have not worked with before, we do find we spend much more time on communication and the details.  Most of them appreciate it and we continue to work on future projects together. If they don’t value it, we move on.

How have your clients changed?

Our clients are looking for long term value in their home – both function and aesthetic.  By looking at quality products (and scaling down a project if we need to) and workmanship, they know that the investment will pay off by not only exponentially increasing the enjoyment of their home but also the monetary value.  

We always talk to the client from day one about why they want to do the reno/decor, what would enhance their life now and in the future, as well as the value of enjoying their day to day life and what that is worth to them.

They understand our expertise and the process we use to ensure they have a home that is better than they could have ever imagined.

Clients are very busy with their own lives and want us to take care of all the large and small decisions so they can fully enjoy the end result. As we have built the firm, we have clients who know our process and workmanship and trust us from day one to do what we excel at.

What was your most challenging year in business and how did you overcome the challenges presented to you?

If you can believe it, it was actually 2019!  I have been so ingrained in the design end that I did not pay attention to the business itself.  But as I grew the firm I knew I needed to create a solid foundation for the team and the project elements I would be delegating.  I have learned a lot about running a business this year and it has been humbling.

I felt like I was a start up company even though I have been working on my own for 10 years.  I was previously a stay at home mom of three kids in hockey, preschool, etc. and fit my business inbetween all those mom duties. 

This year I have been able to have full working days to really get the firm where I want it now and over the next decade.

2019 was also a year where I was dealing with health issues that have finally been resolved and I am so happy that I have my energy back. 

I have started regular meetups with other local designers for support and joined a business group so I would learn among peers and gain from their experience. I am obsessed with podcasts and reading anything I can to learn about design and small business and am grateful to also now have more time to give back with volunteer opportunities – something that I’m very passionate about a feeds my soul!

How has the team grown over the last 10 years? How do you vision the team to grow/change in the next 10 years?

I am proud of the team that has grown over the last decade:

  • Suzanne – Office Manager – keeps me organized in the office and she is my biggest cheerleader. She cleaned up the back end of our business after a disastrous bookkeeping hire.
  • Alexis – Project Lead who is on every little detail making sure everyone has the info they require and allows me to concentrate on the big picture and sourcing for the projects
  • Francesca – Communications Lead who keeps the clients up to date so they never need to question where we are in the process. She also keeps us active on social media and creates documentation for our clients. I am currently training her for styling projects.

I would like to bring in a business manager to oversee the firm allowing us to hire more principal designers and support staff.  And a draftsperson who has renovation experience is our next key hire!  

Our service model is everything and we want to ensure we have the enthusiasm and expertise for every project covered.  As we grow, our clients trust us with more and more of their lives. As such, I am also hoping to develop a position to provide concierge services as part of the project (moving services, pet sitting, etc. are things that need to be considered in a large reno).

We are also setting aside time as a team to work with the Bissell Centre and Find to set programs in place for our industry to assist with the amazing work they do.

How do you see the industry changing in the next 10 years?

There will definitely be more of a technology focus on the back end.  For example, we are looking into a new system where we can scan a room and the program will provide us with AutoCAD and 3D renderings rather than having to do the site measure, photos, etc. and then draw them up ourselves.

The Wayfair shoppers will be working with e-designers (this is already happening) and the full service design model will truly be full service, with the design firm taking care of everything. “Middle of the road design” is disappearing.

With the current relationship with the USA, more firms (including AMR) are looking more for locally made products. We have incredible custom furniture and artwork made right here in Edmonton!

I believe and hope that green certified will become the norm and fabric manufacturing will be pushed to be produced in a more sustainable way – it is sadly one of the worst environmental elements of our industry at the moment.

What changes are you hoping to implement in this industry over the next 10 years?

I want to continue to educate clients on the value of doing it right the first time and not filling our landfills with demo waste.  It is slowly changing but much of Edmonton is still focused on going as big as they can for the least amount they can spend.  

I also want to create a stronger collaboration between the design industry and builders/contractors/vendors. I hope to educate other designers on how much our industry can give back to our community as a whole.

I want to strive to lead this business with our core values in mind:

  • Education: To teach the value of our profession and what we can offer to our clients. To educate clients on the value of their home and to have gratitude for learning every day. 
  • Enhancement: To increase the value of clients’ lifestyles and increase the trust our clients have in our team as well as enhance the lives of those not as fortunate 
  • Integrity and Honesty: This relationship, any relationship, whether it be a business or personal one should be based on integrity and honesty. I have a sincere interest in understanding clients’ needs and how to address those needs.
  • Respect: To listen to trusted experts. Show respect for clients and receive respect for our team and our process.

I am so excited to continue doing the work I love, for clients I admire, with contractors I believe in! 

Bring on 2020!

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