An Eye for Design and a Head for Business
Interviewed and written by Claire Cole and Published in Asset Magazine (The commercial property magazine with substance), January / February 2016
Posted May 2016

Founded by brothers Quinton and Ricardo Abrahams and Maria Cowie, Pure Design has had an interesting growth path, and promises to grow in even more exciting ways in the future.

Marrying business sense with design sensitivity, and doing everything with the 'triple bottom line' in mind, is the driving philosophy of the work done by Pure Design, a Cape Town based interior architecture firm. Founded by brothers Quinton and Ricardo Abrahams and Maria Cowie, the firm has had an interesting growth path, and promises to grow in even more exciting ways in the future.

Quinton studied interior design, but was driven both by a need he perceived in the market and a passion for making things to open a designer furniture business. "At the time, in around the late 1990s there weren't many high-end, attractive furniture showrooms in Cape Town," he tells Asset. So OnQ Dezign was born, with the brothers hand-making prototypes in their dad's garage initially, and growing to include a small manufacturing arm.

Their furniture, which was primarily made for the corporate market, attracted international buyers after OnQ exhibited at IMM in Cologne, and soon they were exporting furniture to Denmark, Sweden and Finland, as well as to some customers in London and New York. In 2003, one of their sofas won the Nicola's Choice Award at Decorex in Johannesburg and since then OnQ has received a number of other awards.

Then, about nine years ago, Quinton and Ricardo teamed up with fellow designer Maria Cowie, whom Quinton had worked with on various projects before, and Pure Design was established. "We started doing interior architecture projects on request, and the business just grew from there. We started with a team of four people and have now grown to 12," he says. Although this is still a relatively small team, the various team members each bring a particular skill to the table, from projects and contract management to finance and administration, procurement, and of course, design.

"It takes much more than competitive rental rates to retain good tenants these days. In fact most tenants are happy to pay a premium to be in the building and environment that enhances their business."

This relatively young firm has already racked up some prestigious contracts, having completed interiors for clients such as Argon Asset Management, Johnson & Johnson, Mixit, Wesgro, Givenchy, Dior, Gimima and the advertising agency Y&R and many more.

At the core of Pure Design's success is the team's philosophy of getting into the heads of their clients and really understanding their needs. "If we don't understand our client's business models, if we don't enhance what they do as businesses, then we haven't done our job," Quinton maintains. We do interviews with all the team heads in our clients' companies to understand their structure, what they do, and how we can enhance the way they work in a way that will ultimately boost their bottom line. People spend eight hours a day or more in the workplace, so we really want to listen to their needs, remove their pain and give them an inspirational work space," he adds.

"If we don't understand our client's business models, if we don't enhance what they do as businesses, then we haven't done our job"

"Finding enough accommodation for your staff is not the only important criterion for an office .It's important to create an inspirational space for your team that will enhance their productivity and ultimately affect your bottom line positively."

"The design approach goes further than that," he says "in that it is crucial to integrate all the elements of people, buildings, and spaces, technology and furniture. You have only really succeeded if you're able to bring all elements together harmoniously," he comments. Add to this the obvious need to comply with all the normal regulations, the interaction with other members of the professional team on a building projects, and the budget constraint that most clients understandably have, and one has a complex and rather daunting task which the terms 'interiors design' or even 'interior architecture' don't always do justice to.

There is a second component to Pure Design business, which involves interior refurbishment of commercial buildings. For the most part, these are existing multi-storey buildings which require a complete interior facelift. With its design and construction management abilities, Pure Design undertakes the refurbishment of entrances, lift lobbies, restrooms and other common areas on all floors of a building. There has been a good market for this in Cape Town CBD, where much of the firm's work is focused.

"... older buildings ... often have high vacancies because the way people work these days is different from what it used to be 20 years ago, and the buildings simply don't cater for that,..."

"The landlords of many of the older buildings are not getting good rentals and the buildings often have high vacancies because the way people work these days is different from what it used to be 20 years ago, and the buildings simply don't cater for that," Quinton notes. "For a reasonable rate, we will upgrade a building to assist the landlord in attracting tenants, and we will do the tenant installation for them as well," he says. A facelift also has benefits for existing tenants, who get to enjoy an enhanced space as well.

The refurbishment of 14 Loop Street was a project that Pure Design undertook some five years back, during the course of which they worked with the landlord to implement many green measures such as grey water systems and the optimisation of natural lighting, among other things, at an affordable cost. "We were recently pleased to hear that the building is being used by one of the government departments as a flagship green building," he points out.

The team at Pure Design is happy with the way in which the business has grown in the past few years, and future plans involve diversification beyond the interior design and construction offerings. "We are really more entrepreneurs than designers in a way," muses Quinton, who clearly enjoys the excitement of developing a new business idea. Whatever line of business one is in, he firmly believes that being educated in business, and making and effort to acquaint oneself with a client's business, is critical to the way in which one executes a project of any kind, and to the ultimate success of that project - which must always be to enhance the client's business.

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