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Carlson of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects continues to cultivate a culture of creativity and development

Amherst Holdings offices on Madison Avenue - New York, NY
Amherst Holdings offices on Madison Avenue - New York, NY

Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, 53rd floor at One Chase Manhattan Plaza - New York, NY
Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, 53rd floor at One Chase Manhattan Plaza - New York, NY

Suzanne Carlson, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects
Suzanne Carlson, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects

New York, NY As a 105 year old firm, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects has seen its fair share of market fluxuations, trends and reinventions. "We have had the opportunity to be one of the pioneers of interior design as an industry," said Suzanne Carlson, current principal of Swanke's interior design group. She sees the current climate as yet another opportunity to redefine Swanke within the interior design industry. "We can't use the word 'trend' anymore. It doesn't suggest the magnitude of what we are experiencing in our company, our industry or our world. This is an evolution." As second generation at Swanke Hayden Connell, Carlson was raised in the business. Her father, Richard Carlson, ran the interiors group at Swanke for 40 years.

Throughout Carlson's childhood, she became more and more aware of some of the significant projects her father was involved in. In high school, Carlson worked in the slide library when Swanke was located at 400 Park Avenue. "If that doesn't date you, nothing will! I'm sure that there are plenty of young designers who have never even seen a slide." It was an amazing experience though. It allowed Carlson to become intimately familiar with the history of projects at Swanke. "Projects that stood out for me were The American Express headquarters, which encompassed 2.2 million s/f in the brand new World Financial Center. I remember walking through the construction site and being amazed at the enormity of it; and of course, the Statue of Liberty restoration. Seeing my father's photo taken in front of her face - beginning to understand the importance that architecture and design has in our world, was an amazing turning point."

When Carlson began her career at Swanke, 13 years ago, she and her father were not sure it would work out. On her first day in the office, her father took her around, introduced her and told everyone to make sure not to make it easy on her because she was his daughter. "If anything, he told people to make it harder for me. Looking back on that, as annoyed as I was with him at the time, he did me a favor. There are very few free rides in this world, and when you take them, you dismiss the importance of the journey," Carlson said.

Suzanne and Richard ended up being able to work very successfully together. As a team they delivered 300,000 s/f for the law firm of Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy. They went on to work together on the restoration of a c.1826 town home and are currently working on the re-stack of a major financial institution. "My father always encouraged creative problem solving. He was a master at it himself. If there wasn't a product on the market that responded to a client's requirements, then he and his team developed it. Some of the products we use every day are a result of a project that Swanke Hayden Connell designed."

Continuing to cultivate a culture of creativity and development, Carlson and her team work with clients to provide customized design solutions. This does not translate as added dollars, it translates as added intelligence. Using Swanke's Worksmart process, they become intimately familiar with the client's psychology and drivers. "We don't make assumptions. Companies and their cultures are as individual as people. Solution number 422 is not what we provide. We get to know a client from the inside out and make their business, our business."

Understanding how much is to be gained from the perspective of Swanke as a "family business," it's more important to envision Swanke as a force in the future. Over the last decade, Swanke has undergone significant changes. Some of the changes have been due to leadership transitions, and some have been caused by market conditions. "Where we are now is wonderfully exciting. We have some of the most talented people in our industry, many of whom have been with us for years. I believe that they stay with us because we honor that talent. We believe in giving them freedom in expressing that talent and make every effort to support it."

With the support of her father and Richard Hayden, Carlson and her co-managing partners, Jim Case and Joe Aliotta are charting the future course for Swanke. "I grew up with an extraordinary example of partnership. Ed Connell, Richard Hayden and my father were family. They built a firm based on integrity and quality. This was entirely reliant on their trust and belief in one another." As Carlson, Aliotta, and Case move forward their goals are similar. "It's not the same world that they knew at all. It's our world. There is so much potential. I am very proud of our history here at Swanke. I am equally proud of the potential for our future."BlackRock's 250-seat trading floor - New York, NY