We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachelle Domingo-Rogers and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachelle, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I’ve always wanted to start my own business. I decided after watching my dad, who’s a Civil Engineer and owned his own business, when I was much younger. I worked in his office when I was 12 years old, learned AutoCAD at that age, and was taught how to design roads and underground infrastructure. As I got older, he tried to encourage me to take over his business one day, but I realized that Engineering was not for me – it did have its take-aways though. I ended up leaving home right after high school to explore what life has to offer, because I was stubborn, rebellious, and wanted my independence. I went to SDSU for for a couple of years, studying fine arts and psychology, and lived in a dungeon-y old studio apartment near school with cockroaches and dead animals in the walls, and helicopters flying overhead often for crime and murders happening around my block. I was just about to turn 18. I worked 2 jobs and went to school full time. When I eventually got into Architecture back in 1998, and transferred into Newschool of Architecture, I worked for various types of firms to holistically explore all aspects, like Government jobs, High-End Residential, Multifamily Residential, Commercial (i.e. Churches, Fire Stations, Car Dealerships, Big Box, Strip mall retail centers, etc.), and Hospitality (i.e. restaurants, hotels, etc.). I literally wanted to experience all of it, so I can fully understand the areas of architecture that I really connected with, and where I’d like to pursue my focus. I look back and still can’t figure out why the hell I worked while pursuing my 5-year bachelor’s in Architecture where my classmates and I would be staying up working on studio projects until 4a . I worked extremely hard everywhere I went, and at the last firm I worked at, prior to opening up my own business, there were nights I’d stay until past midnight grinding away at major deadlines, along with some of my other hard working co-workers. There was even a point in that office situation that I was dubbed my own team, while my other co-workers had real teams composed of 3-4 people, with actual “team names”, and my team name was “Team Rachelle”! We all just laughed about it and made fun of the whole situation. It was stressful at times, but it was kind of fun and I kind of liked it, because I am a masochist by nature and I did everything from design, construction administration, CAD drafting, 3D modeling, consultant coordination and meeting with clients. I was actually a workaholic for as long as I can remember. Eventually, I realized it was time. After my long journey in this industry, from getting paid minimum wage at the first few firms starting out, up until the last one, I woke up on a Wednesday, and made the decision to quit my job. I found my new office that Thursday, and quit that Friday – all in the same week. As impulsive as that sounds, I felt it in my gut. I felt the energy that surged my mind every time I thought about having my own company, and it felt GOOD. If I worked this hard for someone else’s dream, there’s no reason why I couldn’t work for mine! Trust your Gut!
What should our readers know about your business?
I’ve had my own firm now for about 5 years, and have experienced all of the ups and downs of running a business, on top of trying to balance family life, most importantly, being a mother to a child with special needs. I’ve learned to change things up for the betterment of the process. I’ve fallen on my face several times, and hindsight it’s a blessing in disguise. While I’m overly critical of myself and everything I do, I will always welcome challenge, adversity, and learning from my mistakes, because with that, comes growth. I will never allow myself to feel stuck, because there’s always a solution to every problem. I’m proud of what I built; however, I didn’t do it alone. I had multiple people work with me (not under me, because we are a team among equals), who ALWAYS became my family for life. I try to mentor and be a part of the lives of the younger ones in the industry who’ve worked with me, while juggling the everyday work grind. I’ve pushed them to their limits at times but have always taken pride in and congratulated their efforts, because I want to see them learn and grow too, not only in their career, but in their lives. I’m extremely proud when we conquer some of the most difficult projects together as a team. Some of the hardest lessons I’ve learned along the way were having to work with incompatible personalities, whether that be Clients, General Contractors, etc., but mainly having to satisfy certain clientele. It’s challenging enough that we have to be the head of every project – not only in design, but coordinating all of the consultants/contractors, do all of the code research and production work, navigate through permitting agencies, etc., but I feel that trying to satisfy a client, who is at odds with the process and lacking trust in their designer, can weigh heavy on the duration of the project, to be completely candid and honest. These days, I really try to seek out clients who are aligned with our fun, design-loving office culture, trust us and want to indulge in the rewarding “end result” as a team, clinking champagne flutes at the end. I’m not saying everything has to be picture perfect through the process, because those in this industry know that is a long shot, but I have learned that it is really important that the relationship between a client, GC and architect/designer from day one has to ultimately be compatible and symbiotic, because the project duration can be long, so you gotta get along and troubleshoot together as a team! Team relationships throughout any project is extremely important and key to a successful project. Our culture a.k.a. “brand”, is we’re just a fun group of people who love to design. We’re not the “black turtle-neck with black rimmed glasses” type of architects/designers. Nor are we the “dress to impress in a pencil skirt and stilettos, or spit-shine shoes and blazers” type either. We’re the everyday, casual, roll-up-your-sleeves, ready to get down and dirty type of people. We also try to integrate ourselves with humanitarian efforts when we can. Prior to running my business, I had the opportunity to co-design kit shelters during the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, and presented them to the United Nations in NYC, alongside an amazing organization, Icology Group (now known as TreeCycling). Shortly after that, we (Icology Group) translated our shelters to others in need, and have done builds of our shelters in Tecate, Mexico under another organization called Corazon, who provides housing to those families who have also greatly contributed to their own communities. We have also attempted to bring the shelter concepts into San Diego for transitional housing for the homeless communities, especially for women and children, to provide sense of security. Also, a good friend of mine who serves on the executive board of HGH, Home of Guiding Hands, an organization that houses and provides services for developmental disabilities, took me to an HGH event one evening, then convinced me to be a part of one of their committees to design housing. Because my son is on the Autism Spectrum, it hit pretty close to my heart, so I proudly took it on, with intentions to also strengthen my knowledge on environmental psychology, which was actually one of my favorite subjects at NewSchool of Architecture. In my younger years, I always had a desire to design and build houses and villages for 3rd world countries, so when I can get my hands on these types of philanthropic project opportunities, it truly puts me back into my place of why I started my business to begin with, and it ignites an energy in me that’s unstoppable. Overall, my experiences in school, non-profit organizations, and in professional practice have truly strengthened and defined the success and foundation of my business.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Because I’m a native San Diegan, it’s hard to really define what’s fun for me anymore, since I spend most of my days at home (especially during COVID time) working and taking care of the family, but there are a ton of things San Diego has to offer for those who visit. There’s something for everyone here! We have some of the best beaches on the West Coast for those “in-landers” who need a little bit of extra negative ions from the ocean. If you want to party on the beach, Mission Beach all the way to Pacific Beach seems to be the beach vibe for the youth to college-age folk. There are also more family-oriented beach areas like La Jolla Cove/Shores, Del Mar beach and Moonlight beach in Encinitas. Balboa Park is a also a popular spot to take a walk through a corridor of museums. If you’re in San Diego looking for a spot to eat, I will of course, solicit all of my fabulous restaurant client projects! Definitely check out Cloak & Petal – their food is amazing, and it was also nominated for an Orchid under San Diego Architectural Foundations Orchids & Onions Awards 2018. People also come to San Diego for arguably the best Mexican food throughout the entire U.S.! Grab a carne asada burrito or some tacos at Lolita’s Restaurant locations throughout San Diego. Like Pizza? Indulge at URBN Pizza at One Paseo for some authentic east coast pies brought to the west coast. If you need to cool things down a bit, and sweeten up your palette, hit up Bobboi Natural Gelato in Little Italy! And last but not least, if you want some delicious breakfast & brunch, get it at the Trails Eatery in San Carlos, Chef Stacey Poon-Kinney is one of my dearest of friends, and has been featured on the FoodNetwork a few times, but I’m not being biased, she is legit, and makes some BOMB food, and her restaurant is a must-try if you’re here!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, my family is the foundation to my support. Secondly, my closest and “best-est” of friends – In fact, I recall my 1st day gone from the old job. I woke up, laid in bed a little longer, and called up my best friend, Leia. She asked what I was doing, I told her I was in bed, and she yelled and said “You better get your a$$ up and start working, you’re on your own now!!” So I abruptly and immediately complied. I also give a shout out to some of my most favorite colleagues whom I’ve worked with, vented with, and of course partied with, throughout the years in this profession. The old “BlueMotif Crew” & “Ziebarth Crew” (old firms I worked at), and of course my best friends from NewSchool of Architecture. Then I can recall a couple of important mentors in my career, some notable and respected Architects I’ve worked for, like Darrold Davis of CCBG Architects, Reggie Reyes from Island Architects, among others. Some of my professors inspired me as well, when I was at Newschool or Architecture, such as Kurt Hunker, Matt Whitaker and Mike Stepner (who was Dean of our school at the time). The non-profits I worked for, I send my love out to Elizabeth O’Malley at AIA San Diego, Leslee Schaffer at SD Architectural Foundation, and Chris Scott & Jacky Vel (Icology Group). So many people have supported me, joined me in this crazy adventure in our industry, and paved my path to a successful career, and I am deeply appreciative for it, because “No WO/man is an Island”, we all require a village to lean on through some of the biggest decisions in life.