We had the good fortune of connecting with Livia Shi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Livia, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk taking has been a key component in my success as a business woman thus far in my career. I believe most entrepreneurs have risk taking as an innate character trait built in their DNA. When I first started out in the architecture world, I was a young, naïve girl fresh out of college. I took my first job in West LA at a small architecture firm with only six employees. I really didn’t know what to expect as a working professional in the industry. However, I quickly became jaded with the low pay, long hours, and hostile work environments that I experienced at that firm & others that I worked for in my ten year career as an employee.
Finally, after a decade of being a dutiful employee, I decided to take the leap of faith and become my own boss. I let go of the security of a regular pay check for the uncertainty of life as a female business owner in a male dominated industry. Suddenly, as a business owner, I was responsible for all of my decisions and had no one to blame except myself if things went awry. However, without a doubt, this risky move was something I needed to do to move onto the next stepping stone towards fulfilling my dreams. Admittedly, while starting up my business, I was lucky enough to have a family support system to fall back on in case I got into a financial rut. However, gone were the days where I could go on shopping sprees and fancy trips. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that, looking back, the risk that I took to become a business owner has been one of the best decisions of my life. My dreams are coming true and I love being in charge of every aspect of my professional career.
In life, I also follow a mantra of calculated risk. Taking a risk means getting out of your comfort zone, but not doing something that is reckless. When you decide to pursue something risky, think about all scenarios that could happen and always have a backup plan. Sky diving or bungee jumping is a reckless risk to me. However, leaving your cushy office job to open a restaurant with some savings to back you up, is a smart risk that I would endorse.
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?
Atelier LSM2 Inc. is a design-oriented, Los Angeles based, architecture & furniture design studio specializing in commercial, residential, institutional, civic and hospitality projects. Our focus is on the conception and delivery of exceptionally design projects which exceed our client’s expectations. At Atelier LSM2, we make sure our client’s needs are addressed on every level and we create our designs to adapt to the ever-changing global environment. We believe that good design not only comes from innovation from our staff’s design expertise but also from collaboration with our client’s agenda. Each design is unique and blends in harmoniously with its surrounding environment. Whether the project is for a new building or furniture piece, at Atelier LSM2 Inc., our goal is to provide friendly and quality professional service. We strive to create exciting designs that are cutting edge yet cost-effective, buildable, and feasible. Our designs are unique and tailor made to a customer’s needs. This is what sets our design services apart from our competitors. We make sure that each project is delivered on schedule and budget. Through extensive survey of existing conditions, we come up with creative solutions that are customized for each particular site. Atelier LSM2 staff also have considerable experience in providing construction management services. The firm utilizes prime engineering consulting, computer graphics and rigorous quality control standards to ensure success of every single project. Most of all, we give confidence to our clients that no project is a daunting feat; the only limitation is our infinite imagination and ability to create a unique, timeless design. Furthermore, at Atelier LSM2 Inc., we are dedicated to serving our client’s best interests and strive to create a building that is not only beautiful but safe. We make every effort to apply the latest codes and standards to ensure the best quality design work for our clients. We consider each project to be our best advertisement and every client to be our best potential reference for future work.
Although I’m excited about each project that my company undertakes, I’m most proud of the projects that have achieved recognition through publications. A modern glass eagle-winged gazebo that I designed in the San Fernando Valley was featured in high profile magazines like Azure, Inhabitat and also included in Interior Design Magazine’s Decade of Design hardback publication. Furthermore, a high end coffee table that was prototyped in my Defying Gravity furniture line was also recognized in various online publications like Interior Design Magazine’s Fall Market Tabloid and Archello. Aside from publications, I was particularly excited about a three story commercial building that I designed for a project in the Woodland Hills, CA. The third story of the building was to house a high end restaurant, so I designed a very futuristic curved looking structure to showcase this eatery. A majestic waterfall entrance to the building added a magical touch to the inherently spectacular design. I’m also particularly proud of two recent designs that I devised for a new apartment building in the Los Angeles area and also a new custom ocean view home in Ventura.
After finishing my undergraduate degree in architecture at UC Berkeley, I immediately moved back to the LA area where I grew up. For the next ten years, I worked for companies and acquired the skills to be a competent architectural professional. In 2007, I decided to open up my own design practice, Livia Shi Designer, which focused on the design of custom single family residences & furniture design. As my own boss, I found a freedom that I didn’t have before when I worked for others. I really enjoyed interacting with my clients on a daily basis, listening to their ideas and coming up with a collaborative design without having to worry about office politics or answering to anyone but myself in terms of project decisions.
Eventually, in 2015 my sole proprietorship morphed into Atelier LSM2 Inc., a full-service architecture & furniture design firm based in the San Fernando Valley. Atelier LSM2 Inc. is comprised of a small, but skilled staff of experienced architects & designers. As Principal of the firm, I oversee the company’s business opportunities & day-to-day operations of firm. As Director of Design of the firm, I generate each project’s overall conceptual design and unique vision. I make sure that the design theme is carried through from conception through construction. Although we do all types of projects, I’m most proud of our residential architecture & furniture design projects which have been featured in magazines like Azure, Inhabitat, Archello, Re-Thinking the Future, Valley Scene Magazine, Interior Design Magazine’s Fall Market Tabloid, & Interior Design Magazine’s Decade of Design Book. For the record, I was also a founding partner of Architecture LS3, Inc. from 2011-2015, a bi-coastal architecture & design firm headquartered in Los Angeles.
If you ask me honestly, if it has been a smooth road to my current success, I would definitely say no! From my college days as an architecture student at UC Berkeley, I had to learn how to stand my ground with my ideas quite early on. I was never the ‘A’ student, but the student who came up with eccentric designs for school projects. My projects never quite fit into the conservative design sense of the University’s architectural department and particularly with my professors or teacher assistants that were evaluating me. Nevertheless, I always stood firm with my ideology because I believed in creative expression over getting that ‘A’. Twenty four years later, out of all of my architecture friends in college, I am only one of two people in our circle still pursuing the profession.
Persistence and a positive attitude really pay off in the long run. Moving on past graduation, my entrance into the ‘real world’ was equally challenging as I entered into the architectural work force and encountered numerous obstacles. Most notably were the consequences of actions that I suffered from jealous female coworkers. Although there are more women in the profession now, we are still in the minority. Therefore, the competition amongst women in the industry is extremely high. At my first paying job at a West LA firm, I was deliberately made to feel unwelcome by older female architectural staff on my first day on the job. At another job later in my career, I was backstabbed by six women on my project team because they were jealous that I was hired in a superior role to theirs. They went to great lengths to try to get me removed from the company by fabricating stories about me. Yet through all of this negativity, I never lost faith that, even in my darkest days, I would come out successful in the end.
When I first started my own business, it was humbling and I was faced with new obstacles that I hadn’t encountered before as an employee. I was used to handling large projects like 14 acre retail centers, high rise dormitories, etc. at work. Suddenly, I had to start from the bottom by taking remodels of homes. I had to market myself by sending flyers door to door & making cold calls to potential clients. Initially, I took jobs for very low pay just to get the experience. Slowly but surely, I graduated from doing remodels to getting ground up projects. For the furniture aspect of my business, I started off doing a custom piece for my cousin’s condo in Long Beach. Gradually, over time, with the right marketing, furniture manufacturers started contacting me to design lines for them. I would definitely say the most important lesson that I have learned from all of my experiences is that if you are persistent, hard-working and carry an optimistic attitude, you will always come out on top! In the end, I want everyone to know that creating inspiring, cutting edge designs is just part of my brand or story. The most important thing I want readers to understand is that the success of your brand is all contingent on how you handle the journey along the way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many fun things to do in the LA area! I would definitely start off taking my friend on a day trip to the Getty Center off the 405 in Los Angeles. The Getty Center is the campus of the Getty museum, which houses many interesting art exhibits & has beautiful modern architecture. The sprawling campus is also filled with vibrant gardens and outdoors spaces for gathering. After checking out the museums and outdoors spaces, we would enjoy a delicious, gourmet lunch at their prized Restaurant at the Getty Center. The restaurant serves upscale dining with relatively affordable prices and magnificent views of the Center.
If my friend visited in the summer, I would definitely take my friend to visit some of the beaches in the LA area, like Paradise Cove in Malibu and enjoy a scrumptious casual lunch at their famous cafe. Point Dume State Beach is another must see beach stop in Malibu, so I would definitely take my friend there as well. A trip to Malibu wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Moonshadows, for another casual, yet elegant ocean view dining experience. At Moonshadows, you can dine al fresco, with the ocean waves literally just steps away from your table. For a little upscale indulgence, I would then take my friend to Geoffrey’s in Malibu for more delicious seafood and breath taking views of the sea. Since I’m a big fan of Japanese food, Nobu Malibu is another spectacular restaurant that we would definitely hit up for fine cuisine with astounding ocean views. Can you tell that I’m a big foodie?
Finally, a visit to LA wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Hollywood Bowl in the summer months. My friend and I would enjoy a classical music concert al fresco and dine beforehand in our box seating. We would soak up beautiful music and admire the stars of the night sky above. If my friend visited Fall-Spring when the Hollywood Bowl would be unavailable, we would alternatively visit the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The concert hall was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and is known for its curvy, spectacular, ultra-modern design. There, we would listen to a classical music concert with the LA Philharmonic and have an amazing seafood dinner at the downtown Water Grill restaurant beforehand. After the concert, we would enjoy a drink and some snacks at the Bonavista Revolving Lounge at the Bonaventure Hotel nearby. There, we would admire the night view of LA while the building rotates 360 degrees at a slow, easy pace.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d love to dedicate my Shoutout to my loving parents who have stood by me through thick and thin. They have provided all levels of unconditional support and I would not be where I am today professionally without them. I also want to dedicate my Shoutout to my two feathered babies – my beloved Sunny who was by my side for 18-1/2 years until his passing in December 2018 and also to my new baby Jesse, whom I adopted Fall 2019. My Sunny was with me when I first got out of college and provided unconditional love to me every day for the next 18-1/2 years, as I grew up both personally and professionally. Finally, I want to dedicate my Shoutout to all of my colleagues who have mentored me, given me countless referrals, and just plain believed in me throughout my professional journey thus far. You all know who you are and thanks a million!
Photographer John Linden – Glass Gazebo; Photographer Sarah Carmody – Ventura Custom Home