Name: Kelly Smith
Graduation Year: 2003
Degree received: BS in Architecture
Hometown: Woodbridge, VA
How did you educational experience prepare you for work on the field?
My educational background in architecture and design, and my own research and professional development, has provided me the specific knowledge and experience to work with architects, designers, and contractors to provide innovative solutions to common (and uncommon) design challenges. The co-op experience that I had while in the architecture program prepared me for the realities of day-to-day design, and the program solidified my ability to think through design challenges creatively.
Where do you work now?
I am the Vice President of Design at Spinneybeck | FilzFelt, a specialty business of Knoll. Our creative and marketing team is based in Boston and we work in the Boston offices of Knoll in the Fort Point neighborhood.
How is this different than being on coop?
It’s very different. . . although my first co-op job was working in the materials library at BH+A and then I worked with their marketing team on a subsequent co-op. Both of these things are quite relevant to what I do now—marketing natural materials for interior design, but now I am on the manufacturer’s side of it with the designers being our customers.
What is it about Architecture that drives you? Or if you are not strictly doing architecture, can you talk about how your training, experiences lead you to what you are doing now?
It’s a long story. I was working as an architectural intern at Machado Silvetti full-time, and began designing and fabricating home goods and accessories out of a 100% wool felt that I sourced from Germany. The first thing I made was a simple, elegant bag for laptops and books. Several people in the studio loved them and asked me to make custom bags for them. So in a sense my colleagues at the office were my first customers! That turned into a business, etcetera media, which I ran for 4 years with my (now) husband. It filled in gaps in my education, especially in areas around sustaining a business. The suppliers in Germany inquired about distributing the product in North America, and I reached out to an interior designer friend, Traci Roloff, who partnered with me in 2008 to found FilzFelt. We began importing and customizing the felt for interior applications and began working on custom projects with architects, interior designers, manufacturers, product designers and furniture companies. Three years into the business, we received an email from the CEO of Knoll expressing interest in talking about potential collaboration with FilzFelt, and by the end of the year, we had completed an acquisition agreement, and joined team Knoll! In 2014, we took on the design and marketing for our sister company, (upholstery leather supplier) Spinneybeck, which included a rebranding which was a massive year-long undertaking that was almost like starting a new business in itself—new graphics, photography, website, printed materials for sampling and a shifted focus on architectural products made from leather.
How do you think the curriculum at NU helped you advance in the field?
I came to Northeastern as an undecided major, and after taking two elective courses in art and architecture, I discovered that architecture was the profession that I wanted to pursue. The intensity of the design studio, the long nights drawing and trying to get all of my other classwork done was certainly a shock. I was also playing soccer for the Huskies, traveling all around the east coast representing the school. I think having such a busy schedule helped me figure out how to better prioritize and manage my time, which is one of my greater strengths today.
What are some the most interesting projects that you have had the opportunity to work on?
The mill we work with in Germany has been using the same equipment to make felt for over 150 years and it is a magical place, and inspirational to see how this unique product is fabricated. This material has inspired several collaborations with designers and architects to develop new products made from felt and leather, which is the favorite part of my job. In the past three years we have collaborated with Ruckstuhl, a Swiss rug manufacturer, Ayse Birsel, an amazing thinker and industrial designer, Erwin Hauer, a legendary sculptor, and the architects at Architecture Research Office (ARO) on developing and bringing to launch products that are very architectural, and can be applied to interior walls, ceilings and everywhere in between.
What is something you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out in school?
Study abroad if you can. I took advantage of this and went to Florence in my third year and worked at a small architecture office in Madrid the summer of my fourth year, while also taking language classes. Being submerged in completely different cultures while in an educational or working environment was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It made me fearless in reaching out to the felt suppliers in Germany, and look what happened!