Building a business is hard, and sustaining one for 5, 10, or even 20 years is no simple feat. But Toronto-native and architect, Jane Sachs, has done just that. In fact, she just celebrated 20 years of business success last year — but Jane’s strong creative vision and mastery of materials didn’t come without a lot of hard work and a humble beginning. Jane sharpened her teeth at University in the 90s, where she received a degree as a Bachelor of Fine Arts before attending architecture school in her 30s. After graduating, she opened a small pottery studio in New York City producing custom dinnerware, and it was there that she met her partner, Thomas Hut. Together, they launched HS2 Architecture in 1994.
Having gone from a duo to a collaborative team of nearly a dozen, they continue to create unique buildings and interiors with a deep appreciation of visual arts and responsive design, and have created some of the most recognizable buildings in New York City — including Ralph Lauren’s flagship stores, Gramercy Park Hotel and Palazzo Chupi. They take their clients from pie-in-the-sky design and high-level thinking to the actual construction of the projects. Regardless of budget or scale, they guarantee a high level of creativity, commitment to quality and attention to detail, and it’s this level of care that continues to elevate them to new levels of success.
Today, Jane is taking us through her impressive journey from producing dinnerware to where HS2 is today, exploring the importance of listening carefully, enjoying your work, considering diverse points of view, and more! — Sabrina
Why did you start you own business?
I went to architecture school in my 30s. My first degree was a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Upon completing my studies, I had my own studio in New York. For 10 years I had a small design business producing custom dinnerware. It was never the grand plan to work for myself, but I always have.
Initially when I graduated from architecture school I did work for other people, but within a couple of years I had enough work to open a studio with my partner Tom Hut. When I graduated from architecture school, a family friend commissioned me to design a showroom in Laguna Beach for her clothing line. She was a great client and together we built a project that was published in Architectural Record. I then mailed the article to 20 people I knew. From that outreach came my next project, which was the complete renovation of a loft in the village. At this point I realized I needed help. A friend introduced to me to my now business partner Thomas Hut, who had been practicing for nearly 10 years, and this year we celebrated our 20th anniversary.
Images above: Von Hoffman Doyle Estate in Tennessee
When you started you own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I did not have a clear picture of the type of business I wanted. It was clear from the start that our business would be a design firm. Given my partner’s experience with the Guggenheim and large projects, we have also always tried to make our practice a mix of residential and commercial projects. Life is a combination of what one plans for and what life puts in your path.
For me, the challenge has always been to redefine our everyday world. As a potter I spent 15 years trying to define my forms within a very long ceramic history. Today, in our architecture practice, it is a similar research. Architecture is not what a place looks like, but rather how space is defined. Architecture is a dialogue between us and our clients, we do not define our work by style. For us, each project is unique, reflecting the programmatic and aesthetic needs of our clients.
Images above: Blum Apartments
What was the best piece of advice you given starting off?
It takes 10 years to believe that you will not go out of business tomorrow. And this was told to me by an extremely successful person, so it always comforted me in those first years. What I would tell other women is to go after what you want, take the risk, the worst anyone can do is say no. Then, once you get the work, do not be afraid to charge fairly for it.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Your question implies that we decided to start a practice and then looked for work. Our architectural practice has been much more organic. We have been very fortunate and work has continually come our way. There have been times [when] it has been slower, but we are still here. For a lot of people, the most difficult part of starting one’s own business after working for someone else is the insecurity of not having a regular paycheck. Having always worked for myself, this really is the only work life I have known.
Images above: Danko Bayer House
Can you name the biggest lesson you have learned?
In life and in work, the biggest lesson I have learned is that, in the end, the only person I can control is myself. In business, that means when things get difficult with a client, I look at my part in the relationship and understand what I can do to make it better. I have learned that if I can see how I am contributing to the struggle, and modify my approach, that slowly the whole dynamic will change. Being in the service business, this has been a very important lesson for me.
Can you name a moment of failure?
In my field there is endless room for error, and fortunately, mistakes are very good teachers. I don’t really have that one big moment of failure, but rather moments of real learning on all of our projects.
Image above: West Village Townhouse
What has the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your own business?
That is very hard for me to say because for the most part I feel I have been extremely lucky. I have had the opportunity to build an office with a strong partner and work with some very interesting people. Yes, at times it is very hard, but I know how extraordinarily lucky I am to be doing what I was meant to do.
As a parent, there was the challenge of raising my children at the same time we were starting our business. I would not have made another choice, but there are moments when it is hard to maintain the balance in our lives.
Can you name your greatest successes in your business experience?
It is hard to say what the greatest success in our business experience is. There are definitely projects that have opened doors for our firm. They would be our first house, the Chiat beach house, our first gallery, the James Cohan Gallery, Palazzo Chupi which we built with Julian Schnabel, working on the Gramercy Park Hotel and all of our work for Polo Ralph Lauren.
Image above: Ralph Lauren Flagship, in collaboration with Weddle Gilmore Architects. Photograph by Rafael Gamo.
What business books would you recommend?
Business books have never really been the way I have learned how to sustain our practice. I have learned from the people in my life, my business partner Tom, my sister and one of the main influences in my life was my father. But I do know my husband always recommends Good to Great by Jim Collins and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Image above: Rosenthal Marino House
What are the top three things to consider before starting your own business?
1. Are you okay with doing anything and everything yourself? In the beginning, there may be no infrastructure and you have to act as both executive chef and dishwasher.
2. Do you know how to schedule and manage your own time? There is nobody to report to, so you need to know how to keep not only yourself but also the work moving.
3. Enjoy your work. It will not be a 9-5 job, but in the end, if you can stick it out, it is very satisfying building up your own business.