Successful Women: Karen Pitsley

Founder and president, Transforming Architecture, Highland

What sparked your interest in your career field?
I am a registered architect with almost 20 years of experience but have been an architect my whole life. Since I was little, I have always loved building things. I got my first Lego set when I was 6. I always built houses, including all the room layouts. Since they were never perfect, I would take it apart and start all over again. Architecture was the only profession possible for me. It is the only one that combines math, science and art. I love them all, and I think something would be missing if I weren’t able to do all three. Yeah, I could have been an accountant, but my creative side would have starved or gotten me in trouble, as creative accounting isn’t always a good thing. I could have been an artist, but my statistical, linear side would have been left to wither. Architecture feeds my soul. I see the possibility in every space I am in.

What’s been your greatest professional challenge?
My greatest professional challenge has been the decision to only work in the residential sector. When I first got out of school, I worked on government projects and commercial projects and very few residential projects, but I found myself being so much more excited by a kitchen remodel or family room addition than I ever got working on an office building. Deciding to follow my passion and start my own residential firm was an obvious choice, but a little scary. Once I made the decision — with the help of my family and friends — I never regretted it. Now the firm has three full-time people, three part-time employees and some seasonal help. It’s been a fantastic learning experience and a great ride.

What’s most rewarding about your work?
I get to work with people to design their dreams. It’s an exciting process, and I get to be the translator. I translate my clients’ ideas into a buildable plan, and translate ideas to the client in a way he or she can understand it. The introduction of 3-D software allows clients who cannot read plans to truly understand what their new spaces will feel like before they are built. When I go back to the finished project to photograph it, clients are so excited to show off their new homes. The biggest disappointment I hear is “I wish we had done it sooner!” Their smiles and excitement are so rewarding.

What advice can you offer women trying to establish their careers?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to find a mentor in your field. Someone you can bounce ideas off of and discuss your future plans with. I have had wonderful mentors in my life. I know I can never repay those people, but I can pay it forward, so I mentor high school and college students interested in the field of architecture. To be honest, I learn just as much from the interns I mentor as they do from me.

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