We had the good fortune of connecting with Carol Chacon Allen and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Carol Chacon, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When deciding to open an architecture firm, one reason stood out above all others. After 23 years of practicing architecture in Los Angeles, I had never met a minority woman Principal of an architecture firm. This is especially true in the niche market of high‐end custom residential design. As a Hispanic woman working in this field, I’ve had to develop thick skin in order to thrive in a white, male‐dominant field. I felt strongly that if I was in the position to start my own firm, I had a responsibility to do so. One of my greatest hopes is that young minority women who are creatively inclined might see my position and consider following a career in architecture as a viable option for them. The architecture community desperately needs a more diverse representation and LA offers wonderful opportunities for architects.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?

I’m often asked if it’s scary to be the owner of an architecture firm. Simply put, yes. However, fear of the unknown is not a factor at the forefront of my decision making process. This is because experiences such as moving abroad, which might have been frightening at first, resulted in wonderful rewards I could never have expected. You could say, I have a healthy comfort level for risk taking. I wish I could say that I always knew I wanted to be a business owner. The truth is I always knew I wanted to create architecture, but being a sole proprietor was not an initial desire and definitely not a natural skill. To make things even more difficult, architecture school doesn’t really prepare students for the business side of this field. At USC my class started at 150 students and only 70 graduated. Out of those graduates, less than half continue to practice and become licensed architects. Sadly, throughout the years I have seen many colleagues leave the profession. If I had to pinpoint what really got me to where I am today business‐wise, I would have to say it has been a sense of purpose for what my profession allows me to do. I wholeheartedly feel that our environment, which is significantly defined by architecture, has a deep impact on personal wellbeing. My sense of purpose for improving our environment by designing high quality architecture gives me strength to surpass any challenges.

The path to where I am today has not been easy by any means. I completed my 5‐year degree at USC in 1999 with the help of some amazing scholarships and student loans, which I only recently paid off. Then after many years of practice, I qualified to begin testing for my professional architecture license. Becoming a licensed architect requires a deep commitment. The testing process involved a total of 8 exam sections, an expense in the thousands of dollars to cover exam fees and study material, waking up before work to study and giving up any sign of a social life for a solid three years. Achieving licensure is not a well-defined process and it requires self-discipline to achieve. One thing that does come very naturally for me is deeply caring for my client’s needs and translating that into custom architecture. The process of designing and creating a building involves many phases, some are quite thrilling and others are very challenging. One of the most rewarding phases is when construction begins and the architectural vision starts coming to life. Very few experiences compare to seeing a client enjoy a custom home that was tailored to meet their needs. Knowing that I designed that home is a uniquely gratifying experience.

Practicing architecture, like other professions, often requires choosing a field in which to specialize. In my case I developed my expertise in luxury, high‐end custom residential architecture. More established firms in this niche market have a higher overhead and require large profit. This means they typically focus on large projects with extremely generous budgets. When starting my firm, I hoped to bring high end design services, that are usually reserved for an affluent community, to a broader range of homeowners regardless of income or budget. As the Principal of a smaller boutique firm, I have the flexibility to take on both homes with complex needs and homes with more modest budgets. Large profit margins are not required at Studio Allen Architects. Instead, my primary focus is to align my values and services with clients that truly care for crafting high quality homes. I am extremely proud of this. I also believe that an architect must be well rounded and capable of doing all tasks, even those that seem less glamorous. My husband Jarod is also a licensed architect and a builder. Together we are restoring a 1908 Craftsman home in West Adams. While we don’t have the budget to restore everything at once, the hands‐on experience allows us to continue learning a wide variety of ways to achieve high quality results within our very humble budget. Friends think we are crazy to take on a restoration of this scale and I can’t say I disagree. But improving a home like this in the part of LA I grew up in and knowing that we contributed to the beauty of this neighborhood for many years to come, well that is all the reward I could ask for.

The values that define Studio Allen Architects revolve around a deep understanding of my client’s lifestyles and specific needs that only a custom home can address. In order to achieve this, I don’t require my clients to spend beyond their means. I see my role as an architect to advise my clients on how to best use the budget they have. I’d like to clarify that custom design and building is not the cheapest option. A custom built home is a big investment and cannot be compared to the costs developer or flippers deliver. With custom homes the finished results often yield financial benefits through the inherent value of well-crafted homes. Studio Allen Architects strives for architecture grounded with a strong foundation in of traditional and classical design. Because of this goal, I have been involved with the Institute of Classical Art & Architecture and after many years of taking their great courses, I completed my Certificate in Classical Architecture. A solid understanding of proportion and detailing is an essential foundation to create strong design in any style.

In this field I am still a relatively young professional in this industry and have a healthy thirst to continue learning. The building industry is constantly evolving and new technology is important to embrace. For example, new technologies to lower our energy consumption and protect our environment are constantly emerging. I also find that by carefully aligning myself with people who share similar values I am able to achieve my best work. This includes collaborating with clients, team mates and also participating in organizations that allow me to network naturally on shared interests. My approach to the work I do is to share knowledge with clients. Empowering them with knowledge allows them to make well informed choices. In design there are very few things I say no to. I strive to help clients avoid poor decisions throughout the process, but quite often fulfilling a client’s needs can be creatively achieved in endless ways.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love my city and it hurts to hear anyone say they didn’t enjoy their time in LA. Actually, When I met my husband, he had just moved here from New York and he was considering moving to Denver. I took this as a challenge to share my LA with him. My experience of growing up in LA has oddly always involved having one foot in the inner city and one foot in other more affluent neighborhoods. It gives me so much joy to share the gritty and glitzy sides of LA. If I had a week with a dear friend visiting in LA they would leave exhausted.

Our week would start with the LA Conservancy tours of Old Movie Theaters along Broadway, followed by lunch at Grand Central Market, then a walk across the street to the Bradbury Building and a visit to the Last Bookstore. The next day we’d hike up to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook to enjoy LA vistas, then head over to check out the design book selection at Arcana Bookstore and finish the day partaking in authentic Northern Italian food at Pasta Sisters, a family owned restaurant. For a relaxing day, we’d walk to Surfas for coffee with croissants and check out the ridiculously wonderful selection of cooking ingredients. Our neighborhood of West Adams is enjoying a cuisine renaissance and a place I’d love for everyone to try is Mizlala. In the afternoon we’d visit the Neutra VDL House designed by Richard Neutra. If it’s summer, nothing beats getting take out from Pollo a La Brasa on Western and taking it to a Cinespia Hollywood Forever Cemetery movie screening or Hollywood Bowl Concert. A Gamble House tour or the Huntington Library Gardens with out-of-town guests is a must, followed by bowling and food at Highland Park Bowl would be really fun. One place that has a special place in my heart is the Fairfax district. I love taking out of town friends to the Original Farmers Market for a yummy lunch. To end their stay in LA we’d have a morning hike through Franklin Canyon and for the evening I’d plan a relaxing bonfire at Dockweiler Beach, planes flying overhead and catching the sunset never gets old.

Have I mentioned how much I love LA???

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

There are so many incredible people and opportunities that contributed to where and who I am today. I owe them all a debt of gratitude. My first exposure to the world of architecture design and building was through my grandfather Armando Lobo, a self‐taught developer of custom homes. I spent my early childhood in Costa Rica and my grandfather would show me the construction documents and renderings his architects submitted for his review. He also took me to construction sites where the sights and smells of construction enthralled me. At the age of four we moved to West Adams in Los Angeles and I was able to attend the Arts Magnet program at Fairfax High School. In my junior year, I informed my school counselor that I was curious about living abroad. She put me in touch with the American Field Service (AFS). AFS places students with volunteering host families all over the world. At 17 my parents thought I was too young for this and the financial expense was steep. I struck a deal with my parents that if I could find a way to cover the year-long program fee, they would allow me to participate. They didn’t think I’d be able to raise the $15K fee, but I had to try. I wrote to local businesses to share my interest and asked for their support. One of my letters reached then Executive Vice President of Paramount Pictures, the late Richard Lindheim, who was a former Fairfax graduate. After learning about my situation Mr. Lindheim stated “My wife, Elaine, and I have been hoping to financially support a student to enjoy an experience like this.” To this day, I remain ever grateful to Richard and Elaine Lindheim for the ability to live in Udine, Italy with a loving family that owned an architecture firm. My host family opened my eyes to old world architecture, taught me the Italian language, cuisine and culture. We’ve kept in touch these past 29 year and I’m meeting up with my host mom and sister in Barcelona later this year.

I also owe thanks to the late Randell Makinson from the USC School of Architecture for helping to establish the Gamble House Scholar in Residence Fellowship. Being the recipient of this Fellowship allowed me to live at this historic residential museum for a year where I learned to appreciate custom residential design crafted by master architects Greene & Greene. The experience led me to focus on custom home design and left me with a deep respect for historic architecture. I have also been fortunate to have some incredible unofficial women mentors in my field. These amazing ladies include Historical Expert Laura Meyers, who 10 years ago told my City Council members to appoint me to our neighborhood’s HPOZ Board. Designer Extraordinaire Karen Haas, who not only manages her own practice, is a wonderful Mom but also quietly and tirelessly strives to make our community better. Karen’s mindset helps me focus on the big picture of contributing to our community. I also continue to learn so much about design by collaborating with the talented Interior Designer Kishani Perera. Lastly, my folks Michael and Alicia Chacon, deserve a lot of credit for putting up with a creative and stubborn daughter who went against every traditional expectation they might have had. I know I was a very different child than my family might have expected.

Website: https://www.studio-allen.com/

Instagram: @studioallen.architects

Image Credits
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