March 2018 | Sofia Simeonidou
Everything we do is part of the trajectory, which can lead exactly to where we always wanted to be. From engineering to IT and back to engineering, architecture, restorations, and business ownership. We talked about functionality, career decisions, and marketing. And we could talk for hours. Meet Francesca Puccio.
Francesca Puccio in a nutshell?
I'm Italian and I live in Brussels since 2000. I studied civil engineering and architecture and in 2010 I started my own company here in Brussels. I renovate houses, I do the design, the follow-up, and the supervision of the work.
Is it renovation work or decoration?
It’s big renovations, it's not styling. If people want additional styling advice then I work with a decorator.
How did you get to where you are now?
I studied engineering and immediately after my graduation I was offered a job in an American IT company here in Belgium. It was the time that mobile networks were growing fast. After working with the company for 3 years, and before I turned 30, I realised this wasn't what I wanted to do. I quit my job and went to Leuven for a 2-year postgraduate degree in heritage conservation. Then I was offered a job at a University as a project assistant for Architecture and in 2010 I started my own company.
Why not working in another architectural office/project as an employee?
Well, I’m a foreigner and this industry is very local, think municipalities, administration, the language barrier.
Was it easy to realise that this is what you wanted to do?
I had a long reflection period. I knew I wanted to use my talents but it took me a while to realise that what I studied was actually what I wanted to do in my life. It was there all along but I failed to see it. That’s also when I got to know Stephanie Ward. That's when I got into this business owner world and into growing a business. I still like the journey very much.
What are the challenges?
The challenge is to find good partners. At the moment, I’d very much like to have a project manager to help me on the project site and take care of all details. It’s difficult to find the right people, who are flexible enough. It’s a very unpredictable line of work. We don't sit behind our computers and things can't happen with the press of a button.
Is it a competitive business?
There are many architects and many contractors but most of the people who come to me come via word of mouth. They don't really shop around.
Do you do any marketing work?
I do. I do more than most in this business. I started some time ago, with the help of Stephanie Ward, who opened these marketing and entrepreneurial doors for me. So I have a newsletter that goes out every month, I try almost daily to be present on Social Media, and I write articles for a non-profit magazine for expat families.
Sounds like a lot of work. How much of your business time goes to marketing?
I’d say 10% of my time goes to marketing but I have support. I have a photographer for the pictures, a proofreader, and I also have social media support. I enjoy doing the marketing, and sometimes it’s one of the things I enjoy the most. I don't like putting everything together but I really like the idea of communicating with my clients.
And who would you be if not an architect?
I’d like to work and help entrepreneurs to find their passion, their business, and help them with the communication and the marketing. Right now I’m a complimentary mentor for a young girl and I really enjoy it. I love helping people understand what it is they want to do.
An architect or an entrepreneur?
A lot of architects see themselves as artists. But then they're confronted with a world that might be a bit more boring and bureaucratic. In my case, I really enjoy this journey into seeing myself as an entrepreneur rather than an architect. I look at my work as a business that needs to make a profit. It’s not easy and you can’t do it all so you have to put a team together and delegate what you’re not good at. Keep for yourself only the things you’re excellent at.
Do you have online clients?
That’s a good question because that’s what I’d like to do this year. I used to do consultations and give advice but I’d like to do that online now instead of me having to visit the place. My project is to launch this online service with online consultations where people will send me a video/photos of a space that doesn't work for them, have an interview, and then I'll develop a project with advice that they can implement. And I want to repurpose my articles and make it easier for people to find advice and free support online.
What do you like to work on most?
I love old houses with beautiful features. I want to give them their beauty back in a more contemporary and functional way.
Favourite colour palette?
I like greys, Farrow & Ball have these neutral nuances of red-brown and blue. And I’ve done a few houses with grey-green or grey-blue. Very neutral.
Ilse Crawford, she mixes old and new.
What happens if a client has a completely different idea/style?
I ask myself this question several times. It rarely happens because people who come to me know already my work. But I always try to understand what they want. If something doesn’t work, functionally, visually, or aesthetically, then I really say it and I’m not going to do it. You’re building something that stays and so it has to work. I have some clients who have no idea what they’re style is or what they want so they give me the freedom to decide. I like that. I also had clients whose style was so completely different from mine that it took me time to understand it. Once I understand their style I appreciate it also. So I like the discussion process just as much as I like to have the freedom to decide.
One on one work premium service and online consultations. My dream is my company to become The Place to go to when you need renovation or advice. I also want to write a book about the improving process so that people do it themselves. There are many websites about decoration but not about the renovation work, which is a bit less glamorous.