Last summer, Albertsson Hansen Architecture seemed on track for one of its best years ever. The Minneapolis firm had found a niche designing residential remodels and new houses, and had added staff each year since its start in 2000. Husband-and-wife owners Todd P. Hansen, AIA, and Christine L. Albertsson, AIA, considered moving the office into a larger space, but decided against it.
That turned out to be a wise choice. When the financial crisis shook global markets last September, it also rattled the psyches (and investments) of the firm's clientele. One customer whose house had just started construction pulled out, and so did one whose addition was about to break ground. Many others with projects in earlier phases opted to postpone. “It happened very suddenly,” Hansen remembers. “We had a very high number of calls and interviews in [early] September. Some have gone ahead, but most are putting it off until this fall.” And the cost-estimation process has grown longer as current clients search for lower prices. Albertsson and Hansen have laid off a few employees and asked the rest to work 80 percent of their usual hours. “Our priority had been to try to retain as much of our staff as possible,” Albertsson says. “But the severity of the downturn is proving to be far too great for that to happen.”
She and Hansen are looking to make their services more accessible by offering varying levels of design involvement at different price points. And they're exploring—in very preliminary fashion—the ideas of selling house plans and writing a book. They're also trying to stay flexible in the face of uncertainty. “It's difficult to know how long of a slowdown to prepare for,” Hansen says, echoing the concerns of peers across the country.
age of firm: 9 years
firm specialty: Custom homes, residential remodeling, and churches
staff: 9, including 3 part-time (2005); 11, including 3 part-time (2008); 7, all part-time (2009, projected)
total revenue: $614,600 (2005); $986,000 (2008); $500,000 (2009, projected)
completed projects: 9 (2005); 17 (2008); 9 to 12 (2009, projected)