Bob Kraemer, principal and co-founder of Kraemer Design Group, an architectural and interior design firm in downtown Detroit, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the company’s role in renovating the David Whitney Building and the growth opportunities in new, multi-family housing in the city.
1. DDN: What’s it like to work on an architectural icon?
BK: The David Whitney Building (located at Woodward and Park) is actually a really good example of our work. We had one client, The Roxbury Group, interested in multi-family housing, and another client, a hotel developer and management company, that we introduced together for the project (the building will include 135 apartments, a 135-room Aloft Hotel, two restaurants, and commercial space. It is expected to open later this year). We’re the architects on the building, and we’re also the interior designers. The project is half-hotel and half-residential, and we are designing both. We also have a sister firm that supplies all of the furniture and internal furnishings for the building. We are also the historical consultants, which is an independent role as an architect dealing with tax credits and a lot of paperwork. We are involved in every design aspect of that building.
2. DDN: How does working on historical renovation differ from your other projects?
BK: I think the difference is that we do very little ground-up work. They tend to be arguably easier because we don’t have any constraints, but they also tend to be much more technically focused on things like the frame of the building, the interior of the building, (and) waterproofing. When you’re dealing with an existing building, it’s a whole different mindset, because you’re stuck — I tend to think in a good way — with the framework of existing buildings and then trying to use that as a starting point. I think it’s a challenge and one that I like. People who know me know that the worse the building is, the more excited I am about the project.
3. DDN: What trends are you seeing in the design industry?
BK: Detroit has a really interesting trend emerging. Young people want to be in Detroit, and it’s sustainable. The millennial generation has a desire to create a sense of community and be in an urban environment, as well as a tendency to buy and support locally. There really isn’t anything (housing) available. It’s not about being cheap — they are definitely spending money — they just don’t want a huge apartment, they just want a good apartment. We’re seeing a need for smaller and smaller apartments, in the range of 700 square feet or less. From a construction and design standpoint, that’s a really good size and it’s what the clients want.
The other trend that is emerging is the need for two-bedroom units. Tenants want a real second bedroom. They don’t want one master bedroom and a secondary room, so the units truly need two full bedrooms, two full baths, so they both are equal. There is also a need for three-bedroom units, and you really can’t find any. We’re starting to see a demand for them. The older millenniums that are caring for children, and the empty nesters, want to be near the action downtown. The Detroit Opera House, the stadiums, all of the entertainment; they are seeing this as a very viable option. For now, they are renting rather than buying, but there could be a change. These are both good (trends) because we can really start getting a mix of people downtown, both young and old.
4. DDN: Your business is known for its strong workplace culture. What do you attribute that to?
BK: I think it really starts from the fact that my business partner is my wife (Maureen). We’re a family business, and all along, because we spend so much time at work, we really wanted to have work be a comfortable place. We’ve always had what we feel to be nice offices, (we provide) a good place to work (and we) supply everything from chips and soda and pop for employees when it wasn’t necessarily trendy to do that. We really encourage family, we try to be particularly mindful of family or school needs.
What we find interesting is that we are made up of predominately women. We have more women — by far — than any other firm I know, from technical architects to interior designers. Just recently we were hiring for a position, and of the qualified resumes, 80 to 90 percent were females. It’s an oddity because the programs at schools are only at about 50/50 in terms of male-female. So we don’t know why, but it definitely contributes to our culture. We certainly enjoy it. Our staff tends to be more Type-B personalities, which lends itself to great work.
5. DDN: What growth opportunities do you see looking forward?
BK: For us, as a business, we think the next growth will be new construction multi-family housing. The good buildings that currently exist are really running dry: there aren’t really any good candidates for multi-family housing renovations. I think you’ll see Corktown becoming the next emerging area, because they have a lot of land and buildings that can be repurposed. Midtown is dealing with parking issues, and a lot of the buildings that are good candidates for renovations have already been bought up.