If you ask Stuart Debowsky about what he does for a living, it’s likely you won’t hear about his role as founder of Miami’s most innovative architecture and interiors firm within the first few minutes! He’s a guy who measures his success by the happiness levels of his family, friends, professional partners, and clients; so conversations with Stuart usually involve him asking a lot of questions about you and others.
We turned the tables on him, though, and asked him to take center stage for once. (Full Disclosure: We may have threatened to boycott work until he complied.)
Our clients and partners know him as the heart of our company, but that’s an understatement. He’s the heart and soul. If you’ve ever had the chance to work alongside him, you’ll know what we mean. And if you haven’t, you should really make it happen!
We’re so proud to introduce you to Stuart. Take it away, Chief.
Hi, everyone. I was born in New York City, but as the saying goes, I got here as fast as I could. Those of us who live in Florida understand the pull of this gorgeous area. My family started off on the west coast in Clearwater, but once I hit Miami for college, the search for home was over.
I love everything about this town. As an architecture student in the 90s and a young professional in the early 2000s, it’s been so inspiring to see this metropolitan city mature into a true world capital.
After college, I lived in Coconut Grove while I earned my Master’s degree in Construction Management from FIU at night, working as an architectural intern by day. As soon as I got a better paying job, I moved to a little house in North Coral Gables.
In 2006, my wife and I got married, and two short years later I started construction on that little house so that it could one day become home sweet home to our future children. Dreams come true, and that same little house was soon transformed into a big house. Today, it’s home to our son Benjamin, who is almost eight, and our daughter Elizabeth, who turns five this summer. It was the first project I completed on my own, and it was the springboard toward opening my own firm in 2009.
Looking back, I can’t believe I built a home, had a child, and started my own business within weeks. I guess I’ve always been drawn to a good challenge.
The summer of 2009, you may recall, was marked by a national economic disaster when layoffs were rampant and housing values drastically diminished overnight. On paper, this would not seem to be the opportune time to start a new business.
But I had an idea.
What if I could provide a desperately needed service to all those homeowners forced to stay in their homes because of upside-down mortgages and the sinking real estate market? What if I was able to turn their aging properties into enjoyed investments until the economy righted itself again? And what if my clients could enjoy the process, afford the process, and fall in love with their homes again?
It was a crazy concept.
But my base clientele – those in their late-fifties who had been eagerly anticipating their empty nests so they could swap their sprawling Pinecrest home for a hip downtown loft – were open to adding equity to their properties and staying a bit longer. In fact, they were excited by the possibility of coming out of the burst housing bubble in better financial shape than ever before.
While most in my industry focused on the crash, I chose to turn all my attention toward the bounce-back. Sure, what goes up must certainly go down…but the opposite is true, too.
Part of my secret to success was keeping a low overhead. I was on my own, working from home, with just one assistant. The early days, almost eight years ago, were pretty simple. I completed a dozen projects a year and earned enough money to pay myself a decent salary, help out with the parenting of our son, and carve out some personal time. Yes, simple is the best way to describe it.
To set myself apart – I focused on what was important to me both as a professional and as an individual. I’ve always been interested in sustainability strategies for environmental awareness and aging in place; to that end, I am LEED certified as well as certified in CAPS. A keen eye for interiors added even more value to the list of services I could offer back then.
Slowly, we grew.
We worked hard on our reputation and got involved in our community. It didn’t matter that our PR budget was the size of a shoestring; our word-of-mouth marketing rivaled the rate of a large ad agency. My wife kept up the website and the accounting. We welcomed Lizzie. There was an upswing in the economy that inspired bigger undertakings. We added professionals to our team who had bold ideas.
By the end of 2014, Debowsky Design Group absorbed another small firm into ours, and we’ve kept a half-dozen people very busy ever since.
Life is good. No, it’s great.
My true passion in this business has always been about the human experience. Our work has never been exclusively about the form of the structure, but rather we focus hard on the emotional experience of the user. We want our clients to feel a rush when they’re in one of our rooms: a burst of inspiration, an air of excitement, a wave of pride…any emotion that moves them to a better place.
Our clients love it. And, as a result, we win more awards for our customer satisfaction than design. We’re okay with that.
We spend a lot of time talking about shepherding our clients through every step, handholding all the way to the finish line. All too often the glamour of HGTV is the set expectation, so our team devotes our efforts toward the reality of the endeavor. There are some funny memes making the rounds, like “If you could stop making people think kitchen and bathroom remodels only take three days, that would be great.”
Our philosophy of loving where you live is as much about the process as the result. If the experience of designing, selecting, permitting, and building is horrific, it’s virtually impossible to have warm fuzzies about the home.
We are creative and stylish, our drawings are technical, and the relationships we have with local material vendors are cherished. No matter how many tiles we lay, walls we demo, or paint colors we swatch, we’re in the business of relationships. Good ones. I never get tired of walking through the job at the end, recounting with clients the path we took together to make their dreams real.
These days, I spend most days finding rewarding work and making sure our existing clients are over the moon about their homes. I’m way too addicted to my iPhone, and Alexa is my favorite new toy; if she made Cuban coffee, we’d be in a serious relationship.
Ultimately, my roles as husband, father, son, brother, friend, and trusted colleague and advisor fulfill me like nothing else.
I have learned to genuinely appreciate my relationship with my parents, now in their early seventies. My mom is a retired bookkeeper, and my dad still works as a handyman/contractor, so our discussions a few times a week shift between left-brained workouts and trade talk. I treasure it all. I should note that my younger brother is a dentist in Atlanta; his success makes him my parents’ favorite, but that’s perfectly fine with me. He’s my favorite, too.
My most cherished part of any day is any opportunity when I’m able to be an active dad. Every decision along the way has been so I could attend my kids’ games, or be the class reader on a random Wednesday, or just pick them up and go to the park on a whim. My sense of wealth comes from the independence to be a major part of their lives and not just the guy married to their mother.
Nothing makes me more proud than when someone comes up to us at the supermarket, or temple, or a restaurant, and tells my kids that their dad made them love coming home.
Yes, those are the magic moments. The ones that connect me to our community in a way that teaches Ben and Lizzie that our work has purpose.
I didn’t save anyone’s life, but I sure made it better.
And that is all I want my children to know about their father: that he improved the lives of those that he worked for, plain and simple.
I guess I’m pretty boring. But we’re building a nice little business, and I want others to know the value of loving where you live.
While Stuart may think he’s a bit boring, we think he’s pretty remarkable.
As we like to say at Debowsky Design Group, a house is not a home unless you love where you live, and the same goes for your business or storefront. We believe wherever you’re spending a lot of your time should be time beautifully spent. We can help you with that.
4 years Ago