Meet the Minds Behind Restaurant Design - Rebecca BuchanSep 4, 2013
As founder and principal of Salt Lake City, Utah-based Denton House Design Studio, Rebecca Buchan has worked on hospitality, residential, and commercial spaces across the globe since 1988. Here, she discusses the importance of a strong work ethic, non-verbal cues, and childhood memories of the grocery store.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Believe it or not, I didn’t. I became focused on the design world when I was sixteen and interned at a large design firm. I worked for a highly talented designer who was willing to let me experience all aspects of his day, which ignited my aspiration to become a designer.
What are some of your first memories of design?
I remember feverishly trying to flip through the pages of my favorite design magazines at the grocery store before my mom could check out. I knew I could only buy one magazine, so the cover shot most often determined my final selection.
How did you end up where you are today?
Hard work and determination—truly many, many long hours and lots of hard work. I think this is a tough business and rarely a nine-to-five schedule. You have to be willing to go above and beyond to make it and to build relationships and network. Reputation is everything and I’ve found that once clients see your work ethic they believe in you on every level.
Do you have a greatest lesson learned?
Have confidence in yourself and your clients will follow suit.
What inspired you to start your company?
A need for flexibility and a desire to ‘do my own thing.’ I had four young daughters and wanted to set my own schedule and break out of the mold of the firm that I was working for.
Tell us about your office culture and design process.
Our office culture can be summed up in one word: hectic. We are an incredibly diversified, busy firm.
I’ve worked in all sectors of design, yet hospitality continues to be my focus twenty-five years later. I love the opportunities and the diversity of the projects. Our work spans high-end private clubs to 5-star hotels, allowing us the opportunity to work on residential, restaurant, resort, and public spaces. What more could you ask for?
How do you think being in Salt Lake City influences your approach?
Our design resources are very limited in Salt Lake City. Over the years, this has led me to travel frequently in search of design inspiration.
What are some of the challenges of the industry today?
Since the downturn in 2007, I think owners have become much more aware of the economy of their project. Budgets are tighter and we are required to do more with less. Projects end up requiring more design hours with a tighter fee.
How do you first tackle a project? What do you look for?
I try to listen carefully to everything my client is saying. Obviously design is visual, but to me listening to them and understanding what they are saying is equally important. A client may not be able to verbally articulate exactly what they are looking for, but can express their desires in other ways, like precedent imagery from magazines, photos from their personal travels, a friend’s home, or even a restaurant or hotel that they visited recently. Design inspiration exists in all things. You just need to be open.
What’s a recent project that was most challenging and why?
Last Christmas we were installing several hospitality villas at a project in Mexico. The importer was two weeks late delivering our furniture and we did not finish until Christmas Eve. Out of the country projects are always a challenge, and when things go awry we forget that the resources we have to pull from are in the States.
What’s one project that you are most proud of and why?
The first that comes to mind is Talisker on Main, a fine dining restaurant in Park City, Utah. It was awarded the AIA Los Angeles Restaurant Design Jury Award in 2012.
What are some projects you are currently working on? What’s next for you?
We have several large hotel projects coming up in both the U.S. and Mexico. We also have a handful of private golf course clubhouses slated to start construction early next year.
Most creative solution for a cool design feature that you have recently come up with?
We have a ‘stacked flat’ project in Mexico and we wanted to incorporate individual pools on each balcony. We cantilevered each pool and the walls on the overhang are all glass. It was a structural nightmare, but it is going to be amazing.
What would be your dream project?
I work on my dream projects every day. I love ninety percent of what I do, especially meeting interesting people and hearing their stories. Sometimes the little projects are the most inspiring because you can concentrate on fewer details and let the creative juices flow.
What’s the key to a successful collaboration between designer and client?
Trust. You have to gain the trust of your client by listening, responding accordingly, and being reliable. Many creative people can do amazing things, but their lack of follow-through can be damaging. A client has to be able to count on you to have their best interest in mind at all times.
What’s the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant?
Motto to live by...
Go big or go home. It’s a joke in our office, but we really do mean it.
Greatest accomplishment so far?
My kids. My husband and I have a yours, mine, and ours family with six daughters and two sons who are growing up to be amazing people.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
A physician. I often regret I did not go to medical school, as I am fascinated by modern medicine.
When you are not in the office we can find you…
Hiking in the mountains or walking on the beach.
Whom do you admire the most? Why were they an influencing factor in your career and life?
My Dad, who we lost last year to cancer. He was a steadfast influence in my life of all things good. He was wise, self-disciplined, calm, and steady. He encouraged me to go after my dreams and to never give up, and taught me that hard work and integrity always rise above the fray.