Case Studies

Gary Lee Partners

Leading interior design firm expands into furniture design and sales

Founded in 1993, Gary Lee Partners is an independent interior design firm based in Chicago. The company’s unique approach to interior design includes an emphasis on understanding and supporting a client’s office culture, environment and projects goals as a means of delivering the best possible design solutions.

The Chicago-based company completes work for clients across a range of industry sectors, including professional service, technology, agencies, legal, hospitality and residential. Known for its clean, contemporary approach to interior design, Gary Lee Partners has worked throughout the Chicagoland area, with ventures in luxury markets around the country and the world, including London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

Gary Lee Partners:

The company’s main focus has long been on the commercial interiors market, but in a bid to grow its vertical integration, Gary Lee Partners has recently expanded into the world of furniture design, launching two new companies to extend the company’s brand beyond the realm of interior design.

“Custom furniture pieces for clients had long been a mainstay of our firm’s services,” says David Grout, Principal at Gary Lee Partners. “At the time we realized we were creating pieces that were missing in the market. We assembled our favorites along with brand new pieces and created our first collection. We then took the next step and opened a furniture showroom, which allowed us to not only showcase our own pieces, but to represent other exciting artists and manufacturers that we admire.”

Located in Chicago’s Merchandise Market, Atelier Gary Lee offers a curated collection of furnishings, accessories and artwork selected by Lee. Based on the founder’s own experience in the world of international architecture, interior and product design, the store carries the work of renowned designers including Richard Wrightman and Tondelli Arredamenti.

“By having different types of clients from different sectors, we’re able to blend our experience to  better serve all our clients.” — David Grout, principal.

Atelier Gary Lee also carries products designed by Gary Lee Partners itself. Founded in 2011, Chai Ming Studios is a private label design firm producing modern furniture inspired by classical forms, melding the two styles as a means of producing work with a truly timeless quality. Employing an extensive network of vendors, suppliers, craftsmen and artisans, each piece from Chai Ming Studios is designed and produced in the U.S.

“The pieces tend to span a wide array of different styles, all while keeping the look and feel consistent. They are higher-end pieces with premium materials that feel at home in a host of diverse environments,” says Grout.

Gary Lee Partners has opened Chai Ming Studios in a number of locations across the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Denver. “It is interesting where our product has gained traction outside of Chicago,” says Grout of the company’s forays into furniture.

At home in hospitality

The company’s expansion into the furniture market is just one factor driving growth at Gary Lee Partners. The company has recently completed a number of high-end residential projects in the Chicago areas, including a number of luxury condominiums and residential rental buildings.

On the commercial side, Gary Lee Partners has completed a number of marquee projects in recent years for some of Chicago’s largest financial and law firms. The company recently handled the interior design of McDermott Will and Emery, an international law firm based in Chicago that occupies more than seven floors of a major office building.

Gary Lee Partners has also completed work on Chairman’s Suites at The Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and the Hyatt Centric in Chicago, a new brand in a 1920s-era Art Deco skyscraper aimed at hurried modern travelers.

“The hotel itself is a renovated historic office building. Since brand was still in its incipient stage, we basically had to tailor the design to the location and the profile of customers Hyatt sought to attract, and overlay the brand component later,” says Grout.

With Chicago in the midst of a construction boom, Grout sees a lot of potential in the city’s interior design market. “There are three new office buildings going up in the city, which opens up many opportunities,” he says.

While the economic recession was a difficult time in the industry, Grout says the downturn gave the company the opportunity to diversify its client base. That diversification has not only led to new opportunities and projects, but increased the company’s overall expertise. “By having different types of clients, we’re able to blend our experience to better serve all our clients,” Grout explains.

A next generation workforce

At Gary Lee Partners, Grout says success is measured almost entirely through customer satisfaction. “If our clients are happy, we’re happy. We approach design in a much different way than many firms, but  our main  philosophy  is making sure it’s the best we can do,” he says.

The company is currently working to integrate the next generation into its workforce. While the average tenure at Gary Lee Partners is between 10 and 12 years, some of the company’s older staff members have begun to be supplemented by a younger set of workers with a distinct work philosophy.

“When I started 25 years ago, it was a different world. There was no discussion of work/life balance then, but it’s more important to millennials,” says Grout.

While their expectations around work/life balance might be different, Grout says that their technical skills are an exciting new asset for the company. “Their approach to technology and the tools they are proficient in are quite exciting,” he explains.

Still, the company is faced with many of the same staffing challenges common to many businesses. To alleviate the problem, the company entrusts even its youngest employees with ample opportunities and responsibilities to create a rewarding work environment. “We’re also not part of a larger firm, so we have to be able to let people tackle jobs like project management early in their careers, thankfully our junior staff rises to the occasion,” he says.

With a strong reputation in the Chicago market, a growing national presence and an expansion into the furniture market, Gary Lee Partners will continue to offer leading interior design solutions to commercial, residential and hospitality clients across Chicago and beyond.

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