Stephanie Houston

Stephanie Houston,

a DC-based designer at Fox Architects, sits down with us to discuss her favorite projects, her take on learning leadership, and her favorite projects.

Tell us your story.

I’m kind of a local. I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a suburb of DC.  My parents still live there, it’s super cute. For college I went to Virginia Tech and went through their interior design program.  I did my internship at Intec Group, I was there for about a year, and then I made the switch to Fox.  


What attracted you to Fox? 

I always had Fox on my list as where I wanted to end up at because of the work culture.  I heard amazing things from my peers that have ended up at Fox from Tech. That’s kind of how I got my foot in the door, through relationships with the Interior Design program at Tech.  It’s just a very people-based firm. They really work on promoting their people, and in that way, it promotes the design. For example, we have professional development meetings with your project manager where you talk about your goals, where you see yourself, what you want from your career path, and is Fox the right fit to get you where you need to be.   We have those two or three times a year and you really get your chance to voice what you want to do with your Design career. For me, personally, at my recent one I mentioned that I was interested in more Retail-oriented Design or Hospitality. Because I voiced that, now I’m the go-to girl for Retail projects. Fox doesn’t usually do those, but because I voiced an interest Fox is now chasing those projects.  

Did that take you a while, how to learn how to speak up? 

I definitely think my first internship with Intec group helped me speak up, because that is a learned trait.   When you’re in a studio situation in school, it’s easier to speak up since you’re with your peers all the time.  But in a workplace where you are definitely the youngest one in the room, it’s hard to sometimes to own your design, own your work.  You have to know what you’re going to say has value sometimes. My first internship and position got me used to speaking up and learning when to interject in conversations.  Now that I’m at Fox, and I’ve been doing it for a year, it’s a lot easier for me to take charge. It’s funny how if you speak up people are going to look to you and listen to what you have to say.  You just have to be confident in what you’re saying and if you hesitate and retreat, then they’ll pick up on that and think “Yeah, she’s too young or inexperienced, or whatever…” But if you own what you’re saying they’ll feel like you’re a young professional who knows what they’re doing.


What about design makes it your thing? What are you passionate about within design?

I just feel like in my personal life day-to-day I’m always affected by the environment that I’m in.  With design you get a chance to tailor different environments for different people’s needs and I love the puzzle of that.  I also like beautifying.  If you walk into a space and you’re like, “How is anyone working in this?”,  you want to help, you want to make it better. I love a challenge. I think it’s just the balance of beautifying a space, but also getting to know people and what they need.  Having that conversation and developing a space based on those personal interactions. 


Did you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far that you could talk about? 

I think recently my favorite project is, well it’s multiple projects for the same client. I’m working on For Five Coffee Roasters,  a New York-based small business. It’s a group of guys that grew up together in Queens. They’re a great group and they just started opening coffee shops in New York.  Now they’re expanding, and the DC / Virginia market is their next stop. Right now I’m working on designing three of their locations. This is my first stab at a retail / hospitality-type project, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do.”   It’s been a really great process and a lot of fun being able to take their brand and give it a local touch to it. When you walk into a For Five they want you to know that it’s a For Five, but it also needs to be different and not a cookie-cutter type. They were like, “We’re not Starbucks,” and I was like, “Got it.”  And so that was cool to just to do that brand development, taking their branding as a concept and enhancing it with DC. Being new at Fox, I was like, “Wait, you’re giving me this responsibility?” They were like, “Yeah, we trust you. And you said you want to do retail, so, here you go.” 


Is there an area of design that you think, as an interior designer, we can improve?

That’s a tough question.  I feel like Workplace Design has come so far.  I’m personally passionate about retail spaces, but Fox Architects, our bread and butter is really Workplace Design.  I think that’s an area that’s always changing and I think that’s what affects people the most because you’re spending the majority of your life in the office, honestly.   I feel like that has the most importance and I think right now we’re making great strides with fitness and wellness and really using that to enhance people’s experience at work.  I think Workplace Design is in a great place, but now it’s actually implementing it. We know what we need to do now, but it’s actually making it happen.

Is there a kind of dream down the road for you that you want to tackle?  It could be really far down the road or just something you’ve been thinking about,  stuff that you want to do?  

I’ve never seen myself owning my own business. I think I love the design aspect of design, or even the mentorship aspect of it. I would never actually want the stress and responsibility of a firm to overshadow the work.  I respect the people that can manage the business, but I just don’t see myself in that position. I don’t know.  I love what I do now and I definitely want to spend several years exploring, but down the line I think it might be cool to do set design or stage design.  Go out to LA and work on a movie set or something in that realm because it just seems like that’s taking an Interior Design degree and turning it on its head, and now it’s in a different engagement. I think that would be kind of cool. 

Is there anything you want to say as kind of your final note, any final thoughts you’d like to say?

That’s the hardest question you’ve asked me!  I guess kind of just reiterating what I said earlier - 

If you’re a young designer, remember to speak up for yourself.  Don’t let the idea of your age or that you’re just out of school stop you from pursuing or standing up for your design.  

I think that’s really important.


Maxxi Museum 

Convene Terrell Place

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