Every month, we will introduce a member of our team. First up is Associate Principal Deborah Sylva, who leads our retail and commercial practices. If there’s one word to describe Deb, it’s “driven.” She’s constantly seeking change and improvement, both personally and professionally. In her view, each new project in the fast-paced practices she runs provides great opportunity for design and management improvements. Her goal is for herself and her team to be well-known retail and commercial architecture experts. “I like to be the go-to person,” she says, “for people to say, you want a retail space done, you go and see Deb.”
Deb’s roots are in California. She grew up in San Jose and attended U.C. Berkeley. She started her retail architecture career designing for Gap, Inc. Then she lived for several years in Nashville, Tennessee, where she continued architectural work for national retailers building throughout the southeast. There, Deb gained a greater understanding of how designs are conceived and implemented across the country. Deb’s experience designing and delivering all types of retail spaces, from small boutiques to large stores to multiple rollouts informs her work today. She still enjoys the challenge of looking at the retailer’s product, determining what they are trying to sell, and figuring out the best design solution. Experience has taught her how to balance all the elements of a successful project: “If the operations of the store don’t work in concert with the design, you’ve created a failure. You want a store to be beautiful, but also stand out in terms of flow, logistics, loss prevention, lighting, product placement.”
Deb finds the processes she’s learned in branded retail can be translated into design opportunities that come with boutique ventures and commercial spaces. Both types of projects are fast-paced and many times involve working with savvy clients who are experienced with construction. But with new retailers, restaurants, and commercial clients, she says it’s fun to dig in to what they are about, and use that information to play with the design.
A couple of recent WDA projects stand out to Deb. First is the redesign of retail space for Day One Baby, a company that assists new parents with products and classes. “It’s almost complete, and I’m excited to see them use their space based on the design input we’ve been able to provide.” And, a recent airport proposal involved the unusual design challenge of a 360 degree interior retail space, where customers can enter from all around. It presented significant challenges in terms of loss prevention and creating visual interest for potential customers walking through the concourse.
Outside the office, Deb also continues to challenge herself to grow. She’s owned a Bay Area transport business, One Size Ride, with her husband for the past four years. Over that time, she’s learned even more about the importance of organization, being realistic about where you are at the moment, and enjoying the pride of working hard on something that’s all your own and seeing it thrive. She’s also a musician and songwriter who’s hard at work on setting up a home studio. Before she records there, she wants the environment to be just right, so she’s creating wall-hung backgrounds for her electric guitars and her husband’s drums.
In everything she does, Deb displays the power of hard work and creativity in creating something new:
“It’s all connected to me: architecture, music, painting. I blur the lines between art and the design portion of what we do and the management, because you can’t do one without the other. You can’t design without being able to produce that design. You can’t write a song and hope to listen to it without being able to record it and having it documented somewhere. Successful architects design well plus manage well; they access both their right brains and left brains. Some of it’s subconscious, some is intentional, and some is just setting up the right environment for that creativity to happen. Since I need to be creative on the spot, I have to set up my space where I can be comfortable, or not, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes constraints are helpful. That’s architecture in a nutshell.”