Perspective with Kristoff DuBose

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Kristoff DuBose is the epitome of the new breed of interior designer. Charismatic, energetic and incredibly knowledgeable. Kristoff has recently completed the ultimate design trinity of traditional global firm, fast-moving D&B company and, now, Founder of his own exciting new venture – Cirkularis8. We ask him about his journey.

Hi Kristoff. We’re guessing from both the name and the accent that you’re not originally from London?

I’m originally from Austin, Texas, but you couldn’t know that from the accent. I was educated in New York, at Pratt Institute School of Architecture, but I have been in London for 13 years, arriving back when Mix was just getting some momentum!

Tell us how you found your way to London and about the career path.

It’s a funny story, but Gensler interrupted the path I was on. I was supposed to join a global partner of the firm I was with at the time, in New York. In those days it was an exhilarating time to be with the firm. London was booming after the ’03 recession (remember that?) and the international work was also hot. Couldn’t have asked for a better pedigree. From offices to retail, hospitality and restaurants – it was a fast-paced and widely varied portfolio of work that I took on at Gensler. Then came the ’09 recession and it all came crashing down. By 2013 I lost a lot of clients to the D&B sector, which was a dirty word in my circles. Then a recruiter called…I was curious, so I answered. The rest is (bumpy) history.

What will Cirkularis8 offer clients?

Look. Design & Build is a sales-driven model. Let’s not beat around the bush here. And I’ve got no problem telling clients we need to make money to survive in a way that doesn’t insult their intelligence. However, what you do get with Cirkularis8 is a relentless commitment to good design, even on a tight budget. The conversation around value is a big one with us. One of the many things I learned while working with Alan Yau is not to generate profit by cutting costs – instead do it by creating excellence. To this day we still focus on excellence with every project and every budget. We don’t take on work if we can’t give clients that value proposition.

What is the USP?

Do you know how many people want to know that? Some aspects of it are already being poorly imitated out there, so forgive me if I practice discretion on that question. The hint is in the name however.

Why now?

Because there is never a good time. I’ve just had a kid, bought a house, got married (again) so there’s a lot on and I figured, why the hell not? Also, clients have asked me to set up on my own in various ways. Some did it with subtlety, some not so much.

What will you take with you from both Gensler and D&B?

At Gensler I learned how to fundamentally evaluate a client’s needs. Designing without getting under their skin is now something totally foreign to me. It’s like the difference between being a designer and being a stylist. If you can’t plug into the client’s story and communicate to their clients, it’s not there. With D&B it was great to work with sub-contractors directly. The best stuff happened when we partnered with the team to create something unique, with speed.

Having worked across both, which is better –  traditional or D&B?

I could spend all day on this question alone. Suffice to say, one is good for quick facsimile and the other is the way to generate something new and generate a space that is conducive to the future goals and ambitions of the client. With D&B you get there quickly. But you have to consider if the ‘there’ is the right place in the first instance! One tech firm I’m working with right now has to rip out their D&B fit-out and do it again after only nine months. The questions the two ask are remarkably different. Good D&B will give clients whatever they want. A good architect will stretch clients to envision the future critically. Cirkularis8 is about nothing less than unifying those two strengths while eliminating the weaknesses of each.

What are the ambitions for the next 12 months?

We’re in a major growth phase right now. However, we are creating a brand name here that we hope becomes synonymous in this market, with excellent value and a hard working team. We intend to achieve nothing less than a big splash in the market.

What workplace design trends do you see emerging in 2018?

Open plan, that oft loved and cursed aspect of office design today, isn’t going anywhere. With rents where they are, especially in London, there is little luxury for heavy office to desk ratios. Even law firms are taking this on. One patent firm I worked with recently was quite courageous in pursuit of collegiality. However, we’re finding that the desk is not a place for focus work because people know where to find you. Watch out for the rise and rise of the focus pod for 2018!

What are the biggest issues facing the industry right now?

We’ve used WeWork to house our little start-up and have seen something remarkable. While the industry is wondering what Millennials want (who are now having kids and becoming more senior in their positions), Gen Z has a whole new set of criteria and expectations that the industry isn’t even close to ready for. It’s going to take a bold designer (or a mad person) and a willing set of clients to catch that wave.

Where does the name come from (Cirkularis, not DuBose!)?

Cirkularis8 is two things really. There are 8 RIBA work stages, which we think is a great way to organise things, but we go 1-8 instead of 0-7.

Cirkularis is Latin for circular, and there is a real frustration from clients that they get dropped like a bad habit once the project is finished. The focus is all wrong in the industry. OK, you do have to chase sales, turnover and profit to survive, but when you look at it, there’s a lot left on the table in just sticking with people after their move. Design is a continuous process not a linear journey. ‘Better by Design’ hints at that infinite dedication to the process. Our non-circular economy has also produced a lot of waste and it needn’t be that way.

Your #stairobsession series on LinkedIn has been gaining some momentum. What inspired that?

Far too often we take a utilitarian approach to design, especially in the D&B sector. The stairs I’ve done at Apple stores across the UK and Hakkasan and Kate Spade (among others) all had strategic importance. The element that is so fundamental to our built environment comes packed with meaning and significance and that’s lost if we’re just trying to ‘fit it in’. Call it an awareness campaign.