On April 3rd of this year, Design Develop celebrated its 15th year in business.
Since 2008, Design Develop Owner, Bob Pineo, has watched the firm grow from his own small practice to 12 employees across two offices in two states based on his “nail it and scale it” business approach. Underlining this approach was the importance of finding like-minded individuals who shared Bob’s vision for service-based, client-focused architecture, who could check their egos at the door and put client needs and perspectives first.
By 2013, Bob had enough work on his hands to bring in Kevin Schafer, a young and enthusiastic intern architect with an appetite to exercise his creativity and passion for design on a part-time basis. A graduate of Virginia Tech’s 5-year professional Bachelor of Architecture program, Kevin had graduated in the midst of the 2008 recession and had worked a few jobs in both residential construction and multi-family and institutional architecture. Within six months both Kevin and Bob started to realize this might be something they should make more permanent. Their design solutions and thought process aligned well and Kevin saw Bob’s eagerness to create a meaningful practice that fostered new and creative talent. By early 2014 he was Design Develop’s first full-time employee.
For the next five years, Bob and Kevin worked to grow the practice’s client base and internal talent, abiding by their “process equals outcome” philosophy, until they found themselves at another critical growth point. The firm had grown to six employees, while at the same time, Bob’s long-time friend, Khanh Uong, was looking for a new professional challenge. Khanh graduated from UVA’s undergraduate architecture program in 1995, but had returned for his masters in 2000, which is when he met Bob. They’d stayed in touch while Khanh had taken a job with a firm based in Baltimore, but after 19 years at the same place, he was ready to grow and bring something new to the table. In 2019 Khanh joined the Design Develop team as the first member of the new Baltimore office.
The leap of faith paid off. Khanh had started his role as the single Baltimore team member working out of an office sharing space, but within a year the workload between the two offices had grown exponentially. Khanh had hired three additional employees and they moved into a private office space in the Historic Meadow Mill building.
This growth spurt sustained itself and continued to grow the business into a team of 12 across the two offices. Knowing how instrumental Khanh and Kevin had been in this process, Bob came to the conclusion that if the firm were to continue to grow and be successful, then they should both officially become partners.
“Kevin's management skills and capacity to creatively and effectively service our clients have been a big reason we have grown. Kevin also understands the importance of, and is passionate about, exposing our next generation of designers to the profession.
Khanh has excellent interpersonal skills, a varied and successful project portfolio, and deep connections in the Baltimore Market. He has developed the skill set and relationships necessary to lead the work we have started there.”
- Bob Pineo, Design Develop Principal Founder
Kevin and Khanh’s teams were used to collaborating across distance prior to the pandemic, so when remote work became a requirement, no one missed a beat. Zoom meetings and virtual communication were already a part of the daily workflow. As team members have gotten back into the office over the past two years, the work and camaraderie continues to flourish. In fact, creating a welcoming and supportive company culture is tantamount to client services for both Kevin and Khanh as they take on their new roles as partners.
“At our most recent company retreat, I stated my goal is to make DD the best firm to work for! I believe it starts with creating a great firm culture that attracts great people to get great projects.”
- Khanh Uong, COO Baltimore Office
“Great process makes great outcomes - both architecturally but also with professional development. We have a collaborative, supportive, flexible environment here at DD that encourages personal growth. I want to keep that going.”
-Kevin Schafer, COO Charlottesville Office
In their new ownership positions, both Kevin and Khanh say they will continue to pursue a client-centered approach to design. And while it may not sound groundbreaking, they both believe that it is truly Design Develop’s primary differentiator in the market.
“We don’t let our own egos or preferences get in the way; we feel every client knows what is right for them and we trust them to help us come to a solution and design.”
- Khanh Uong
“Our only goal is to help bring value to the project - by helping it progress, by creative problem-solving strategies, by bringing a wide variety of experience to the table. The best idea wins here, because that’s the idea that will help our client the most.”
- Kevin Schafer
Within those client-focused services, though, both partners have particular experiences and knowledge that brings additional value to every project. Kevin is an expert at the local entitlement process in Charlottesville, navigating the red tape to keep projects moving. Khanh brings an advanced knowledge of new 3D visualization technology, which we use throughout design iterations to help clients really see and understand the design as the project evolves. Both skill sets have been critical in acquiring work as well as servicing a growing client base that bears many repeat clients - the highest form of compliment in our industry. And of course, both are accomplished and excellent designers who balance their technical skills with an artistic eye.
We are so excited to enter this new chapter of growth at Design Develop, and want to give every team member credit for helping this company grow and thrive, even through difficult economic and social challenges. Here’s to another 15 years (and many more) of serving clients and our communities through thoughtful design!