Meet FRCH: An Interview With Tom Horwitz

Tom Horwitz, the head of FRCH’s Hospitality Studio, is also known for his comedic presentations, attention to detail, and love of spreadsheets. I had a chance to ask him a couple of questions about his career and he had several smart and witty things to say:

For the readers who don’t already know you, how do you describe what you do? What is a typical day at FRCH for you? As the Hospitality Studio Leader, I’m a symphony conductor of sorts. I’m not, and never will be, the first chair violinist or the featured soloist.  That’s Kyle Kieper, Jim Stapleton, Mike Davin and Angela Denney, and many others. I just try to keep us all together, on stage, on the beat, in harmony, playing interesting music – so to speak. And, like a symphony conductor, I think I get too much credit for the amazing “music” that they create. I haven’t had a typical day yet, I need to get back to you on that one.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a designer? Probably around age five, I was always building something. My sister, a University of Cincinnati -DAA Urban Planning student made me walk the architecture floor one night when I was 16, and it was a done deal by the time we got back to the car. Thank you, Elizabeth.

Did you have any key figures or mentors at any point during your education or career?  Three – Barb Fabing formerly of UC and FRCH, Cincinnati architects Ray Gephart of PDT and John Russell of C+RA. All great teachers, mentors and friends.

What was the biggest challenge or obstacle that you encountered in getting to where you are today? Some people will tell you that you can’t go where you want to go, or you can’t be who you want to be. Therefore, you simply have to believe in yourself enough to get where and what you want. That can be really hard at numerous points in the journey, but you just have to work harder than most everyone else, and persevere. After you’ve proved that to yourself, the rest takes care of itself.

What is the best part of your job? Creating important opportunities for younger people, and then seeing and helping them succeed and get their recognition for it. Followed closely by winning an enormously large and important new project. Followed closely by continuing to build the Hospitality Studio in partnership with so many great people. Followed closely by the autonomy we’re allowed to earn for ourselves in the studio.  Followed closely by some great client relationships that have become great friendships, followed closely by…this interview!

FRCH truly values the family lives of its employees. With your busy schedule, how do you manage to balance family and work? The kids are grown and mostly gone and mostly off the payroll. My wife understands what it takes for me to do this job, and has always been the key ingredient to making the family formula work. Thank you, Nancy.

What inspires you?  As an interior designer, Las Vegas, the land of unlimited design budgets, has always inspired me. They’re fantastic risk takers, and they constantly try totally new ideas. There’s something new there every time
I go.

How do you inspire your team? Indirectly, by making them feel that the big picture is under control, so that they can do what they came here to do, with a minimal amount of distraction or worry. I try to create an organized, predictable, safe haven for the free-spirited design professional to do what they do best.

Do you ever hit creative roadblocks? How do you get past them?  Well, my “creative” agenda lives more in the strategic thinking and problem solving realms. So, I spend a day writing down, in a stream of consciousness fashion, everything I can think of – relative to the roadblock.  Then I get up at 4 am the next day, make a giant pot of coffee, organize my notes and chart a path through the problem. It works nearly every time.

What qualities make someone a great designer? What is your most valued asset as a designer? Neither my wife nor my staff really let me call myself a “designer”, but I do on my IRS forms, because they don’t know any better. The “Great Designers” I have worked with all have a plan and a reason for starting where they choose to start. Then they explore, then they pause and assess the situation, then explore what they missed the first time. They do this until they find what they’re looking for, be it somewhat predictable or highly unexpected. If this explanation doesn’t make sense, then just watch Kyle, because it’s what he does.

How has design technology changed over your time spent in the field? In what ways have these changes affected the design process and end product? I’m not seeing many of the balsa wood models that I saw in DAA in 1970, if that’s what you mean. But it’s still the students who are mostly the change agents. However, few I’ve met are better than Phillip Freer at blending new technology with the timeless art of hand drawing. He is the personified answer to your question.

What trends do you see happening in retail design today? What do you see happening in the future?
E-Commerce is a “hard trend” that will forever gain momentum. On the flip side, experiential shopping will never go away either. The future is at the crossroads. Smart, informed shoppers will go to places they like to go, knowing what they’re looking for. I also see retail environments and F&B environments merging together more
all the time.

We all know what brands like Apple have done in terms of innovation. What up-and-coming brands do you recognize pushing boundaries today?  In 1994, I bought my first computer, an Apple notebook, because the firm didn’t supply you with a computer at the time – and I felt I was behind the curve of this new “computer thing”. I’m still buying Apple products. I’m still buying Craftsman, Toyota, Dell and Sony products.  The latest really meaningful “new” product I have would be my Kindle.

Favorite sports team:  A Reds fan, all my life.
Favorite city: I’ve been here 57 years, but I think I could also live in Scottsdale, AZ or Jerusalem.  And I need to see Stockholm again.
Ideal Friday evening: My favorite Friday night is actually a Saturday night, a drink on my porch, dinner with Nancy, maybe a play…
Favorite product: I’m currently focused on the IDEA Tech V3 Steel Hybrid/Iron Set, but it won’t mean much unless I stop 3-putting. I’m guessing that wasn’t the answer you were looking for.  TiVo and big HDTV’s?
Favorite color: easy, black
Hobby (outside of design): That nutty Canadian ice sport where they, I mean we, push that heavy pot and then brush the ice with brooms, that one, I love that. I play some golf, too. I want to join a bridge club, just don’t have the time.
Favorite designer: Besides Paul Lechleiter? John Portman or Paul Rudolf.
Now onto the REALLY important stuff…If you were a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be?  We were having fun, until now. Really?
If FRCH were a flavor of ice cream, what would it be? OK. Sort of a peanut butter chocolate chip, gummy bear, rocky road and rainbow sherbet fudge swirl, if you know what I mean.

One Response to Meet FRCH: An Interview With Tom Horwitz

  1. Dannielle says:

    Great Read!!

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