VOA’s New York office

How INARCH became VOA New York

This week, we’re looking back on key moments in the history of VOA. Today, we learn how INARCH became VOA New York. 

We started INARCH in 1997 with just two people. It was a test to see if I could actually run a business on my own with a couple of clients that were willing to take the leap and work with me, though they had worked with me for a long time. It was my first foray into that.

With INARCH, the work was largely workplace design, but over the years I developed good relationships with luxury brands like LVMH, Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan. From those, we had enough of a portfolio that we got this opportunity to do the first TopShop in NYC. We did that project prior to joining VOA.

We had long-term clients with repeat business, doing projects from the east coast to the west coast and in the UK. Most of the clients were based in New York City. New York was a gateway city to other places.


Fourteen years had gone by, and we had 16 or 17 people staff members in the office. I had largely accomplished what I set out to do: I was running a company and able to manage that. For our next chapter, we were looking for partners that might be interested in what we were doing and where it would be a nice fit.

We had been approached many times by different players, both large scale and small firms that wanted to purchase us, but those ideas and offers didn’t interest me. I decided to look on my own with a headhunter to identify firms that I’d like to work with that would be a good match for us.

One of the firms was VOA. VOA had always wanted to be in New York, but didn’t know how to accomplish it. Growing a practice organically is difficult, so having a presence however small, made it a win-win.

I met Mike Toolis and was impressed by him. He came to meet me at a restaurant on Memorial Day 2010 while I was in Chicago researching sites for TopShop, which we eventually won. I liked Mike immediately and he seemed like the right person to work with. I decided to hire VOA to work with INARCH on TopShop. Through the first TopShop project, I got to know everybody and learned how Chicago worked and shared how New York worked. We decided to close the merger/acquisition in 2011 based on that positive experience. We went on to do more TopShops with VOA. It was just a great foundation to build upon.

With the acquisition by VOA, all of our clients and all of our employees stayed on—that says a lot. We like to say we have a “family feel” here. We all work together to accomplish a goal. When someone is under a deadline or suffering on a project, we tend to gather like a family to help each other out. The familial atmosphere also means being critical and honest about certain things when we need to be. We’ve carried that over to VOA.

We started at VOA in 2011, within a year and so many months, we landed our first significant base building project. We intentionally expanded into buildings. We showcased work we had done in VOA. We hadn’t done a building to this scale in NYC. We had a client that trusted us to do it and helped take them to the next level.

We’re now twice the size and have grown the business revenue 75% from where we were as INARCH. That’s a tremendous jump.

Virgin Hotels New York started out as a standard development project for twin buildings. The twin building was then stacked into one building, and became Virgin Hotels two years after we began planning for the site.

We continue to do workplace and retail. Now we are adding multifamily residential as we add expertise and people to the office. It is sort of a triple threat of holding on to the business you have, developing new business and getting into architecture. Those three things came together and resulted in our growth over the past five years.


Working in New York
In architecture and design, as with theater or music, the expectation in New York is all around excellence. If you are going to see or experience art and design in New York, the standards are very high. New Yorkers will be disappointed if these expectations aren’t met and they’ll talk about it.

Some of our toughest clients are from outside New York. They may have stores or offices elsewhere, for example, but they want to apply a much higher standard when they come to New York. Their NYC space needs to be built to a higher level for customer experience or needs to tell a story about the brand.

Our goal in the New York office is to have a team built on design excellence. We want to lead by example for the rest of the firm. We’ve done that with VOA and will continue doing that with Stantec.

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