Building from the Ground Up | Interior Designer Casey Burgess

Most people are scared to take a leap of faith, but not Casey Burgess. After embarking on a world trip with her husband, she found herself in Hong Kong and expanded on her love for architecture and design. Fast forward to today, Casey is now at the helm of her own company, Ply Architecture. Read her interview with MISSBISH below and learn more about this fearless, creative woman.

Who is Casey Burgess?
I grew up in Canada (Calgary, Alberta to be specific). After completing my design degree, I was keen to move on and travel. My now-husband and I packed up and left on an around-the-world trip. This sparked an unending appetite for exploring cities, different cultures and cuisines. I love a big city and the list of places I would travel to is endless. I find the experiences I’ve had abroad to be an essential influence on my work as a designer.

Have you always been infatuated with architecture and design?
I was first introduced to architecture in a high school drafting class when, despite a grumbly instructor, I discovered an innate interest in design. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for thoughtful interior and urban environments, whether they are manifested through intentional process or haphazard conditions. My obsession lies in the minute details. I openly geek out over thoughtful design details and strive to emulate them in my own work.

How did your journey lead you to where you are now?
The conclusion of our traveling endeavors landed us in Hong Kong. I fell in love with the local culture, the city’s pace, and the hustle both in work and play. I really valued the global mentality of everyone I met and the willingness and openness to connect. Professionally, I appreciated the opportunities to experiment with design. Clients were willing to take more risks, which I found very refreshing. Energized from our experiences abroad, my business partner and husband, Arnold Chan, chose to move to Vancouver and start up Ply Architecture.

You're more than a designer, you're an entrepreneur. What has it been like to create such an intricate business from the ground up?
We feel incredibly fortunate to work with the clients and collaborators we’ve met since establishing Ply. They have been essential contributors in building our business. My most succinct advice on starting a new business would be to keep your values at heart but remain flexible. My father-in-law, who has been a small business owner for 40 years, always says that you need to work hard, and have some luck. I have to say I agree. You also have to be prepared to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the beginning stages of building the company? How did you push through?
I love what I do, which helps a lot when you’re working those late nights and weekends. But I’ve also learned the importance of giving yourself permission to turn it off. I’m still learning how to do that, but I’ve realized that downtime is essential to creativity.

What makes Ply Architecture unique?
Our approach. We aim to approach each project from a unique place without any pre-conceived ideas of what it will become.

“I am often in awe of our clients' ability to see past the hot mess of a construction project to a thriving business on the other side. Their drive and vision is a constant inspiration."

Can you walk us through the process of tackling a project at Ply Architecture?
At the start of each project we emphasize getting to know our clients and fully understanding what the intention and passion is behind their project. This process is vastly different for each project. We may be meeting with a seasoned food and beverage industry veteran with a highly tuned vision, or a fresh entrepreneur in the midst of refining their new venture’s identity. We ask a lot of questions, and when answered, they form the basis for each project’s conceptual roots. From there we undergo a rigorous process of testing ideas against the concept with the goal of arriving at an impactful design contextualized with the site.  We spend a lot of time on site, monitoring and refining design execution - a process we believe is an essential part of project execution.

Ply's portfolio of work seems to have common themes of modernity, intricate lines and risk-taking designs. What common themes would you say are most important to your aesthetic?
I wouldn’t say we have a common theme or defining aesthetic. A common process to all of our projects is staying rooted in a well-established narrative. We often experiment with materials, and welcome the challenge of taking something readily available to discover an unconventional way of using it. We aim for our designs to be grounded both conceptually and physically.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Working with entrepreneurs and collaborators. I am often in awe of our clients' ability to see past the hot mess of a construction project to a thriving business on the other side. Their drive and vision is a constant inspiration. We highly value the collaborations with trades and craftspeople when bringing a concept to life.

What does a normal day in the life of Casey Burgess look like?
I’m an early riser. Most days I’m up for a 6am morning sweat at Tight Club Athletics or Lagree West. I always make time for a decent breakfast because my days are often unpredictable. As a small business owner, you have to be flexible with your schedule throughout the day and be prepared that the quiet studio day you had planned might very well be interrupted. We often find ourselves running off to city hall or a construction site for coordination.

What do you see for the future of Ply Architecture? Do you envision it to always be a small, close to home company?
My partner and I appreciate the level of involvement we have with our projects and plan to keep our studio at a manageable size for us to maintain that. We recognize this might change over time. Ultimately, as a small business, we aim to remain adaptable to the opportunities afforded to us.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH provides space for empowered women to celebrate and share their individual experiences. MISSBISHes are driven women forging their own path while also recognizing the power of building a community.

Photographer: Jeremy Jude Lee

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