Clay: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. So, for our readers, let’s talk about what you do. For starters, what is your title and role at Open Studio Collective?
Allison: I’m the principal, but they call me the creative director and founder. It's funny because, in an architecture firm, there's always a principal, but in design firms, there's always a creative director. Because we're a conglomeration of several things—a hybrid—I go by founder and creative director.
Clay: Tell me about the story behind the name Open Studio Collective.
Allison: I have my undergraduate degree in graphic design, and I worked for Urban Outfitters for a while in my early twenties. After that, I went to grad school for architecture, then did high-end residential design and ended up at Nike. Every time I worked anywhere, I always felt siloed into a discipline, even though I wanted to do all kinds of design. That's where the Open Studio concept came from: open to any idea, any medium. The Collective is the idea of pulling all these types of designers into one.
Clay: That makes a lot of sense and is an awesome story. Tell me a bit about what Open Studio Collective does and specializes in.
Allison: We do everything from graphic design to interior design to architecture. From identity to branded environment, retail design, and residential and commercial ground up architecture.
Clay: What is your most successful project? What do you feel the most proud of?
Allison: The project that’s the most challenging one at the moment is the one that I'm absorbed with. No matter what the challenge is, we want it to be a beautiful space, object, or just graphic. We just completed the Freeland Spirits tasting room in Portland, which was a great use of our skill sets. We did everything from custom wallpaper that tells a brand story, to custom furniture, shelving, and a really intricate sawtooth detail on the bar that tells the story of the wheat within the distilling process. It was a good chance for us to do the full tip-to-tail design.
Clay: Now that’s what I call a good fit.
Allison: It's our ideal situation. A lot of times, we'll do branded environments and work with an architect. Or we'll be the architect, and there's another brand designer. So it was great to finally have a project where we could incorporate it all. We save a lot of time, and everything has the same end goal, same story. We try to have one simple concept and always come back it, so if we're doing all aspects of the design, it's more unified.
Clay: So what is the design process that you use with your clients and with each other?
Allison: Usually, when we kick off with a client, we want to see what they like and get a read on them. We're not in the business of forcing our aesthetics down someone's throat. We want to be proud of our work, we want to think it's beautiful, and we want it to be functional. So the first thing is figuring out what a client likes and what they’ll respond to, and then, we show them imagery and things like that. Once we get a handle on that, we start dipping into the design process. Our team sits around the table with trace and sketching, and sometimes, we throw stuff around on Slack to really dive into “what's that big idea?” I’m also obsessed with whiteboards. It’s “a big gray area” until we have it. But once we find it, it makes everything feel true. We start with a schematic design, and the details really make themselves once we have that concept.
Clay: Right! That's what you use to make every decision going forward.
Clay: In terms of the spatial aspect—let’s talk about this tasting room, for instance. If it's spatial, how do you communicate space? Do you use any 3D design software? You also mentioned Slack and sitting around a table. What tools do you use?
Allison: We use all of the Abobe Creative Suite for anything two-dimensional. We use AutoCAD and SketchUp for drafting. We do a lot of rendering through Podium. We're not using The Wild yet, but someday, we will.
Clay: Yes, a lot of our customers use SketchUp and AutoCAD as well.
Allison: We're eight people right now, and if we ever get bigger, we could potentially get into BIM software. But right now, SketchUp is totally fine for what we're doing.
Clay: Can you share how you were introduced to The Wild?
Allison: I was introduced to Gabe through Shawn at Nelson Cash, where our companies share a space. Gabe came in and showed us how The Wild works. I had also heard about Gabe and The Wild from within the design community. I thought the concept was really cool, and we started talking about ways to work together.
Clay: What did you think of The Wild?
Allison: Experiencing the spaces we designed in The Wild was amazing. It feels so real. I recently worked on a space at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine (in collaboration with Upswell). We were working remotely the entire time and never stepped foot in that space during the project. Then, when it opened, I went to see the space, and it felt like walking into a model. That's what being in The Wild was like. It felt like walking into this thing that you've been working on and experiencing on a small scale, to then walking into something real that you can stand in—it's kind of an out-of-body experience.
Clay: Let's talk about the spaces you designed for The Wild. What were your ideas, and what was your approach?
Allison: With all of those spaces, we wanted to create a dynamic experience for the users with a definite path to take, so they would be led into different experiences within the one experience. For the Walsh Residence, the idea was to create a central spine with various pods coming off of it that had their own experience. Because we were using such a dynamic landscape, we created a spine that became a catwalk with the stairs.
We thought it was important for the user to be able to experience many different levels—architecture plus overall experience—within one model. When you go into a pod, it gets lower, but there's natural light coming in, which shifts as the sun rotates. When you're on the catwalk, there's a spine model. You're walking on a different materiality, but you're outdoors and you can see a tree beyond.
Go up the stairs, and you have to figure out how to get up a spiral staircase. There are hidden elements as well. With the nooks and smaller concrete tunnels, we wanted people to get lost in the experience. The thing I like the most is the skylights in the pods and moving the sun around. When you're in the space, it makes it much more real to feel the sun above you.
Clay: I do love that you can move the sun feature wherever you need it to be.
Allison: With the retail space, we were trying to create something dynamic that could act as either a retail or an exhibit space—something that stood on its own as a beautiful thing, an object. It has a very intentional flow, and those little nooks create interest and a sense of discovery for the user in The Wild.
Clay: We demoed that space when we participated at the International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) last month, and that's the space people loved the most. It was so interactive and gave retail designers a chance to explore a space in virtual reality, many for the first time.
Allison: It's been a great experience collaborating with The Wild, and we’ve enjoyed this project. It's so rare that we get to design something from scratch with no prescriptive nature to it. Normally, people come to us with a set of expectations. But your team just wanted it to be a super dynamic space that would work well in The Wild.
Clay: Exactly. We trusted you to do your thing, and we love the spaces.
If you'd like to experience Open Studio Collective's Walsh Residence or the retail space for yourself, schedule a demo with The Wild.