With big overseas projects under its belt, design company is now keen to do more work at home.
While many New Zealand companies have been suffering in the past few years, design company Space Studio has been busy working on projects in the Pacific.
Founder Vee Smit has travelled extensively, working with her designers on projects including the 270-room Radisson Resort, the 270-room Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa, the Naviti Resort (all in Fiji) and the Grand Papua Hotel in Papua New Guinea.
Besides providing design know-how, Space Studio has also been growing the procurement side of the business, something that has grown out of the relationships the company has built with suppliers.
In a reversal of the usual trajectory for Kiwi companies, Space Studio now wants to carve out a greater presence at home.
"We will continue to do work offshore but we now know we have the knowledge and capacity to bring to New Zealand," says Smit.
The Parnell-based company has enjoyed strong growth since Smit went into business for herself in 2004. At the end of the first year of business, her company chalked up about $500,000 in project fees. The company is now turning over just under $5 million.
Smit recalls with glee the first major pitch she did for an overseas project, when she was thrown into a room with half a dozen sombre-looking men. "We succeeded because we had a good relationship with the architect," she says. "We were also able to demonstrate our practice in our approach to design."
One of the tenets of Smit's business is not to overdesign but to offer solutions that meet the client's budget. "Understanding our market, demonstrating good practical know-how of materials, the finishings and their details are the key to success.
"In big construction projects or longer-term projects, the successful ones are the ones where the group of consultants are collaborative in their approach - sometimes this involves compromises, but compromises where people don't lose too much."
One of Smit's most challenging projects has been fitting out Bendon Lingerie's stores internationally, including in the Middle East - from modern Dubai to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. In the most conservative areas, the company had to design stores to sell bras amidst a culture where individual fitting rooms were not permitted, mirrors were not allowed and where mannequins showing breasts were not the norm.
Space Studio, she says, has managed to grow its business because of its ability to understand the operational requirements of a company's marketing strategy. "Understanding your client's strategies to move their business, you have to take all that on board: the brand, the strategy, the concept."
Then there is the challenge of creating flexibility in the store, to allow for changes in merchandise, while still trying to keep to the budget, she says.
One recent high-profile project was creating space for the Waipareira Trust at Lincoln Rd, Henderson, to run the Whanau Ora project. Design and use of space had to bring together different groups of people who traditionally worked separately.
Smit and her designers have won design awards, including one for work with retailer FL Bone, and for Bendon.
Recent gongs include two bronze awards from the Designers Institute of NZ - a Best Award (Spatial) for a Three Wise Men outlet in Sydney, and for the Lauriston Park Retirement Village in Cambridge, in the Waikato (Public and Institutional Space).
Trevor Canty, senior development manager at the Neil Group, which developed Lauriston Park, says Space Studio's design has helped sales.
"We appreciated their fresh perspective. We wanted a modern, high-quality resort style and feel to the place and they have achieved that. It is not your typical retirement community centre; it is really modern. That's been a huge part of driving sales."
Smit has also invested in herself. "Our business model changed in year two - we were growing very fast and I have had to upskill myself.
"I got myself a good accountant who helped with the financial side of the business."
She also got organised and implemented a system for budgeting, planning, succession and staff development, to ensure there would be continuity of talent to support future business.
"I also have a business mentor as a way to get my head clear. Being a sole business director - you haven't got anyone to bounce ideas off. Taking time out to think about the business is very valuable."
Pricing a project can be one of the hardest aspects of the business but because Smit has had plenty of experience, she tackles the challenge head on, often reviewing the scope of what is needed and sometimes taking on loss-leaders.
She starts small and then allows clients to progressively understand the scope of the work needed.
Passion for design aside, Smit says she gets great satisfaction from observing how spatial design helps people live their dreams.