This issue of PROP.houses features architect and entrepreneur Cavin Costello from The Ranch Mine. Cavin practices residential architecture in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife Claire. The Ranch Mine’s clean and elegant designs have been featured in many architecture publications, such as ArchDaily, Dwell, Architectural Record, Dezeen, and more. He will answer questions about his firm’s increasing popularity on social media, as well as how they use other internet marketing strategies to share their work.
Q: How did you first become interested in architecture?
A: My father was a civil engineer who designed the house I grew up in and the blueprints were framed on the wall where I would look at them every day during meals at our dining table, which most likely peaked my interest since I was recorded on tape saying I wanted to be an architect at the age of 5. My parents were also very interested in history, especially built history, and we took many family trips to historic towns around New England seeing and appreciating 100s of years of architecture on a regular basis.
Q: What does a typical day in your firm look like? What is it like to work alongside your wife Claire being the only two employees at your firm?
A: We actually are a firm of 3 now with 1 employee who we hired approximately 6 months ago. We had worked side by side for 7 years before hiring our first-time employee, and it worked out great. I think a major key to working well alongside each other is we primarily have separate skills and duties. This creates a clear “leader” when tough decisions have to be made. Since we work at home, a typical day starts with a 5-second commute followed by morning emails and then typically a discussion on what our goals are for the day and for the week if it’s a Monday. Then our employee arrives and we give him some tasks for the day. A majority of my time is spent designing and documenting projects while a majority of Claire’s time is spent running the business and providing most of the interior design services.
Q: Talk a little bit about your design process. What advantages or disadvantages do you see being such a small firm?
A: The design process for us starts with research. No project exists in a vacuum so we spend a good amount of time researching the site, the existing house if it’s a remodel/addition, the history and culture of the area, and dive deep into the needs of the clients. Then we start to whiteboard sketch and move the sketches into AutoCAD and SketchUp in 3D to develop them.
I think the advantage of being a small firm is the ability to connect deeply with clients on every project. I also think it allows us to pivot faster depending on the market. The disadvantage of being a small firm is you can only help a limited amount of people, as there is a limit to how many projects you can take on and how quickly you can complete them.
Q: Do you believe that the business models using digital/social media marketing have a place in today’s practice of architecture?
A: I don’t think we would have a business today if it wasn’t for digital/social media. We started our business at the age of 23/24, which meant no history in the industry/community, no former clients to ask for referrals for future business, and no friends who were at the point in their lives where they were looking for an architect.
We leveraged digital publications, online portfolios and social media to grow a following and showcase our work and our value at a very fast speed, which in turn allowed us to grow the business to where it is today.
Q: What is one project (architecturally or otherwise) in progress right now that you are really excited about? Can you share specific details?
A: We are doing a full gut renovation and addition to a house, called “Red Rocks,” on the side of Camelback Mountain that will be wrapping up construction most likely in late March. The site of the house is special, tucked into a crevice of the beautiful mountain near the center of Phoenix, with panoramic views of the valley. Unfortunately, the original house was not designed for the site, and an unpermitted flip made the house dangerous as we found some disturbing construction practices once the walls were opened up. Our redesign focused on connecting the house to its one-of-a-kind site and views while improving the overall quality and functionality of the house.
Click here to get the full interview with Cavin, and to see the secret behind his firm’s success on social media!