Linda Morey Smith, Principal Director and Founder of MoreySmith on looking at things differently and encouraging women in design and architecture to go beyond the expected to find success

Coca-Cola HQ in London

Linda Morey Smith is Principal Director and founder of MoreySmith, which she established in 1993. Linda’s expertise lies in interior design and architecture, most notably in workplace design, where she is committed to addressing the psychological needs of the workforce in tandem with its physical and operational needs. Her clients span the full spectrum of business; from high-end residential projects to major entertainment and consumer brands, including her recent work on Coca-Cola’s new UK headquarters in London. 

Linda Morey Smith

Linda Morey Smith

“…lead, don’t follow! You don’t have to be like everyone else to succeed. You can be yourself and create your own niche…”

Linda, please can you tell us about your career history to date and how you founded MoreySmith?

Coca-Cola roof gardenI went to Berkshire College of Art and Design where studied Three Dimensional Design as it was the longest course (four years), and I loved every minute of my time there. After graduating I was taken on by two of my tutors and worked freelance for 18 months, including stints at AID and Fitch.

I then moved on to spend three and a half years with David Leon and Partners, leaving them to follow a more architecturally driven career at TTSP.  Here, as a Senior Associate, I was the most senior female employee, then I was headhunted to be Design Director of Chadwick International.

After a year, with the encouragement of many of clients, I decided it was time to start my own business. I think, as a woman, it was easier to create an environment I could thrive in creatively and successfully than many of the male dominated practises I had experienced. And so, with just my PA, a designer and a tremendous amount of support, I set up MoreySmith. With the country coming out of recession it was a steep learning curve to say the least!

In 1994 we worked on our first major project, Capital Radio’s new home on Leicester Square / Charing Cross Road, which was quickly followed by designing the interiors for the Royal Commonwealth Society and projects for Sony Music and Warner Music. 21 years later I have been lucky enough to work on some really inspiring projects that have allowed MoreySmith to grow into the 25 strong team that it is today – incidentally I have purposely kept at this size and resisted the temptation to be hundreds of people!

What inspired you to get into architecture and design?

It was only really in the last year of my studies that spatial and architectural design became my passion. I love to work with old buildings and taking them back to being a shell and recreate environments people love to be in.

I was very creative at school and only wanted to go to art college despite being encouraged by my school, a large comprehensive outside Reading, to go and work in an insurance office or be a policewoman! My family were also very against me going on to study, especially in the creative arena. I suppose you could say this made me even more determined to succeed!

How do you stay creative?

I feel creative in everything I do – it’s the only way I can think and live. I’m passionate about encouraging people to look at things differently, to think outside the box and always go beyond the expected in everything they do.

I travel extensively and my husband is an art consultant so, even in my leisure time, I am visiting galleries and exhibitions. I don’t particularly like being in an office, so we have more of a studio feel to MoreySmith, with music playing and an almost residential atmosphere.

Most of my time is spent out looking at buildings, with clients or reviewing designs in the studio, or wandering round Borough Market (very close to our office), and having a quick Monmouth coffee, getting inspiration from taking in the streets of London!

Please can you tell us about some of the corporate projects you have worked on?

Coca-Cola HQ in LondonThe corporate projects we work on tend to be very brand led, such as Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Moet-Hennessey, Arup and Primark. The common thread in the briefs of all of these corporate giants is the people – HR is the biggest concern for employees, and the need to attract and retain good quality staff is paramount.

The work we are doing for Primark in Dublin is very exciting. Here we are creating a workplace for 650 people complete with amazing cafés, coffee bars, creative and team areas, auditoriums, Knowledge Centres for staff training and yoga and aerobic studios.

The work we completed earlier this year with Coca-Cola has been a huge success too. Designing the 60,000 sq. ft. building that is housed in one of London’s oldest concrete structures, we wanted to encourage collaboration, celebrate the brand’s history and promote their place in the market today. It is very domestic in its style with home hubs, a central café, coffee bar, touchdown hub and a series of open plan workspaces.

How do you ensure your work goes above and beyond the physical and operational needs of the brief to help meet the psychological needs of the people who work there?

I design for people. I love to get to know our clients very well, their business objectives their team and their aspirations. Whilst everything must be functionally and ergonomically perfect, there is an atmosphere of inspiration and a feel-good factor in the interiors we create. We often have people hugging us at the end of a project and saying it’s the happiest space they’ve ever worked in!

Quite a lot of this is the result of intuition, but there are basic principles we work with across all of our projects – access to natural daylight, creation of big volumes of space and height, cool and visible vertical circulation, great social spaces and use of textures and colour.

How can architecture / engineering / design / construction encourage more women to join?

Coca-Cola HQ in LondonMost architectural, design and engineering firms are run by men, which is a setback to start with. I still find the hunting, shooting, fishing, golf days etc. quite exclusive to men and we need to find ways to encourage women to be more confident without having to act and behave like men, and we need to find other sports or social activities where we can meet and socialise and support each other with men, not exclusively women necessarily!

I have at least 50% women in my team and the only thing I’ve learnt over the 21 years is that they work harder and are often more reliable and committed than male employees, (my key male key employees aside) but they just need more encouragement and support to be as confident as they should be.

Of course, they need understanding and flexibility of working hours during the years of having children (I mostly have one to three women on maternity leave at any one time) but, being a mother of three myself, this is something I am very supportive of.

Is the industry more welcoming to women than it used to be? If so, in what way?

I see more and more women in design and architecture these days, although not many in senior positions and much less in architecture and engineering. Our industry is still male dominated; you just have to look at the BCO (British Council for Offices) and most property-led events to see that women are still really token.

What was the best career advice you received?

I’m not sure if I ever got any great advice, but what I’ve learnt along the way and what advice I’d give to others is to always aim high, no idea is too big or too daunting and lead, don’t follow! You don’t have to be like everyone else to succeed. You can be yourself and create your own niche. Make sure you get a healthy work, life balance but most importantly, WORK HARD. Success doesn’t come to you – you have to go out and get it!

What projects have you got coming up?

We have got a number of exciting projects at various stages of development across the retail, residential, commercial and hospitality sectors.

Working with British Land and Primark, we are transforming their respective offices to create inspirational spaces that promote creativity and collaboration, whilst our work with the Battersea Power Station Development Company includes concept designs for the company’s offices and the developments common areas, spa, events space and residential marketing suite. We are also working with a Bath Hotel, upgrading a trio of Grade 1 Listed terraced houses to create a high-end boutique hotel, due for completion in summer 2015.

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