Dara Huang, Founder: Design Haus Liberty/ DH Liberty
I got my bachelor degree from the University of Florida and went on to get my masters at Harvard. During my time there, I won some national scholarships which allow me to travel around the world. I also interned at several well known architecture firms in New York and Tokyo. After graduation, I went on to teach studio at Harvard for the summer then work for Herzog De Meuron in Switzerland for a few years. I then moved to London and worked for Foster and Partners and a boutique firm in Chelsea. From there I was definitely ready to take that leap and start my own practice! Architecture is my greatest passion and its the area I spent many years studying and practicing. I appreciate interiors as this falls under the umbrella of design. My firm focuses on design on many scales: from large scale sub-structure all the way to furniture design.
How did you set up your company?
I made sure I had some savings built up and at least one client who wanted to work with me before saying my ‘goodbyes’ from my old firm. It was more of a mental thing, that I didn’t feel like I would start something with nothing to do- even though that was far from the truth. I had to set up a company, find an office, start a website- it all started quite small and grew from there. Clients started coming in surprisingly quickly from there, although it required significant networking. We are a new firm and don’t have a significant ‘built’ portfolio. The majority of our work is being built at the moment so I suppose we need to wait until these are completed before we can show finished product. Thankfully we’ve had a lot of our visions represented through great computer generated images, done in house by the team and I.
What would you consider to be some of your biggest accomplishments so far, and which ones do you feel most proud of?
We started less than a year ago with one employee. Now we are a team of ten and have projects all over the world. Having built a team of talented individuals with interesting projects to work on is certainly our biggest accomplishment to date. The first competition we embarked on was RIBA’s Forgotten Spaces 2013. We worked in collaboration with another studio and are now a finalist. The submission is being exhibited at the Somerset House later this year.
How do you measure your success?
Success to me is being satisfied with what has been accomplished and energised for what is on the horizon. No matter how big a firm can get, it should never lose these elements. We make things that excite us and that is success in its own right. I would love to reach a point where large clients from hospitality, retailing, public amenities, or large scale developers are seeking us out to create something unique.
Who would you consider a significant role model for you?
I have several role models. Most of them are entrepreneurial women who are self-made and able to have a healthy family life. Of course I deeply admire my parents, without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Design wise, I really admire the work of Peter Zumthor and Kengo Kuma.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“All I have to do is ask.” Sometimes we are paralysed with fear: fear of rejection or fear of asking a stupid question. When you think of it, there is no downside to asking: you either get a ‘no’ and move on, or get the answer you were looking for.
What advice would you give someone trying to start up their own company?
That being financially stable will sustain a company, but passion, zeal, and ambition is what will ultimately lead to its success.
What have you learnt along the way?
I have learned to you can’t always plan for things to happen, and not to expect things to always go your way, or else you will set yourself up for disappointment. Rather be appreciative if it happens, and if it doesn’t, keep going and move on to the next big thing!
What are your ultimate workwear wardrobe staples?
Pair of black trousers. As long as they are not bootcut, though who knows, fashion has a history of repeating itself. Black is professional and goes with everything. I have so many of them. My favorites are a pair from: Straight Leg Trousers from The Fold, Gucci and a baggy pair from Helmet Lang. I love baggy silk trousers with elastic ankles, they look stylish and are flowy.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
At this stage work takes precedence to working out or getting home at a reasonable hour, but I do go out socially at night at least once a week to keep my sanity, meet my friends, and hopefully also converse with interesting people that may or may not become future clients. I don’t consciously go out with a hand full of business cards or anything. Given the stage of our business set up, my personal life has tended to suffer. Vacations are nearly impossible, but you have to force yourself to unwind and de-stress. That’s important.
What are your wardrobe essentials?
For work, everything looks better with a skinny belt and accessories ie: earrings, bracelet, watch, and or necklace. If I have a serious meeting I add a blazer, heels and a stylish pair of glasses (as opposed to my contacts). I think its important to look fashionable and assertive if clients are to entrust you with the design/branding of their office/home. But usually I am in flats with a loose top- but always accessorised and never leaving home without putting some effort into maintaining the way I look.