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Ideas & Observations

Behind the entrepreneur: ALT STUDIOS

Tell us about ALT STUDIOS?

Paul: We are a design-led architectural and interior design studio, consisting of a growing team of unconventional designers with a collective belief in thinking hard rather than following the herd. Our current work spans the UK; from the capital to the Lake District and Yorkshire, right up to a Glen in the West Highlands – with our largest commission in Northern Ireland.

Despite such diversity in scale, sector and location, what they all have in common are that the clients genuinely value design and our process. Thinking out loud, and this could just be a coincidence to date, but every project is in a sensitive and predominantly challenging site – which inherently makes them even more exciting, requiring research-rich design responses.

Scott: Our mission statement outlines our ethos, which is to passionately experiment and identify alternative approaches and outcomes which go beyond expectation in all our projects. This should not be mistaken for doing things differently for the sake of it but recognised as having the confidence and ability to challenge preconceptions and conventional methods. To support such ambition, we have established and continue to expand upon our network of like-minded collaborators.

In addition to our architectural and interior design expertise, we do provide other services such as urban design, joint venture collaborations, development appraisals, in-use design care and have recently being undertaking several, what we call ‘critical friend’ commissions.

What inspired the brand, values and mission?

Paul: I don’t think we could distil it down to something explicit as it was more process driven, which involved many hours of Scott and I reflecting upon and critically reviewing our experiences within and beyond the built environment profession. It’s simplified in the crudest sense with the ‘less’ ‘more’ dichotomies on our website, this ironically was an early in-house exercise, never intended for marketing, but the resulting graphic was visually powerful, and its refined simplicity echoed our design approach, hence it came to the fore. Naturally, we expand upon this as you navigate the website, but our perspective sits somewhere between manifesto, accumulated professional life-learnings and the guidelines for which we conduct our practice.

Scott: Once we had pooled together all our thoughts and experiences, we worked closely with renowned Melbourne communication design practice M.Giesser for around a year, creating what you see today, which in fairness is only a small portion of the collateral we developed for the practice. We share the belief everything no matter how banal is an extension of ALT STUDIOS, so our attention to detail was applied to everything; from web development, intelligent documentation templates, to letterpress printing – ultimately mirroring our daily approach to project work.

How did you navigate launching a start-up business during the pandemic?

Paul: In simple terms we stuck to our guns. Yes, the pandemic highlighted more than ever that things can change for better or worse in the blink of an eye, and while we needed to be quick on our feet and shrewd with it – we greatly benefitted from sticking to our values and being ourselves!

Scott: Paul’s right, integrity played a key part during such un-precedented times. We setup with several hospitality fit-out projects in the pipeline – design-led, yet quick hits in terms of programme. This was to have generated some realised work under the company name in a relatively short time frame. The pandemic hit and this sector stopped overnight, we pivoted and proceeded to undertake a diverse range of feasibility and viability commissions for primarily private commercial clients. These larger projects, some with initially undefined deliverables resulted in further work and many remain on the books today, some growing arms and legs as we speak.

Paul: I guess in that respect patience has been equally important. All of our decisions rightly or wrongly were considered and strategic, we held off from formally launching the business until we felt the timing was right, essentially when we could engage effectively with people in person. Real insight comes from meeting people, exchanging ideas, being present and seeking answers – we’re now enjoying building organically that genuine ALT community!

Scott: To elaborate Paul’s point further we are setup where we can easily work from home, but some connections and serendipity happen when we’re together that you just can’t replicate online. In all honesty we found quickly during the pandemic remote working lacks the creative energy of being together, so we spent as much time in the studio as possible – yes there is an unavoidable rebalancing in place but ultimately some things need to be said, sold or solved in person.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

Paul: Short term…coupled with further establishing our name, it would be to continue the natural flow of interest, followers and subsequent diverse commissions aligned with our design ethos – this will coincide with the growth of our close-knit team and collaborators. Not to mention we are actively looking for a larger studio space which could in itself be a potential development project we undertake – any local leads welcome.

Scott: Long term…it is very much about diversifying our income streams, primarily increasing the number and scale of in-house developments or joint ventures for that matter – in time, creating an equal split between private commissions and our own entrepreneurial ventures. We are often asked about our ambition in terms of practice size, and to remain true to our ethos and desired studio environment we do not see ourselves exceeding a team ten or twelve tops.

What advice would you give to someone with a business idea?

Paul: Be brave, yet thorough! Don’t forget that it’s a big world, therefore it’s unlikely an idea or the essence of one is completely unique…explore it, test it, refine it, better it! Look to other markets and disciplines for inspiration, don’t be afraid to reach out, seek advice or help, find a mentor or two, and be patient, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment.

Scott: Look beyond the core idea, ask yourself what and who is required to get it off the ground so to speak. Surround yourself with a strong team of consultants but don’t distance yourself from their role and responsibilities. From the outset and like most start-ups we both consciously wore many hats and still do due to the infancy of our business – but by being more hands-on and educating ourselves in law, finance and marketing to name a few it makes for more fruitful and dynamic discussions with the essential consultants now associated with our business.

“Be brave, yet thorough! Don’t forget that it’s a big world, therefore it’s unlikely an idea or the essence of one is completely unique… explore it, test it, refine it, better it! Look to other markets and disciplines for inspiration, don’t be afraid to reach out, seek advice or help, find a mentor or two, and be patient, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment.” Paul Milner, ALT STUDIOS



Pictured (L-R): Scott Savin and Paul Milner