Peter Hapstak and Olvia Demetriou sit caddy corner to each other at a long table in the main reception room of their Georgetown office. Their dark clothes set off naturally graying hair in that sleek way that people immersed in the world of art and design often possess, and their easy composure is slightly at odds with their surroundings, which are going through an obvious state of transition.
The pair are the leaders of their namesake architecture and design firm, Hapstak Demetriou +,
a group that is at once a fresh, energetic up-start and a team of seasoned professionals. Hapstak, a former principal and founder of CORE architecture + design, is relatively new to this office at 3742 Q St. NW, but to Demetriou the space is familiar – it was formerly the headquarters of Adamstein & Demetriou, the architecture firm she started with her former husband, Theo. Now the office building that saw the passing of one firm is seeing the birth of a brand new venture within its walls.
Although the stenciled sign on the door has yet to be changed, plenty of businesses and residents across the city – as well as across the nation – have taken notice of their presence and lined up to have their space transformed by Hapstak Demetriou +. The firm truly hit the ground running. Almost immediately, they drummed up several dozen projects which are now all in various stages of progress and completion, backlogging the small but growing crew into next year.
Between their packed roster of projects and the familiarity with which they talk about their firm, their projects, clients and each other, it would be easy to believe that the duo has been working together for years.
Yet less than six months ago, the two had considered themselves business rivals. In fact, they hadn’t even exchanged more than five words to each other in passing at cocktail parties over the last 20 years. Serendipity, however, seemed to have other plans for the two architects.
“In a way we both had partnerships but I think we each felt very alone and we were kind of at forks in the road. And a very good consultant that we both work with said that I really need to speak to Peter and Peter really needs to speak to me,” says Demetriou. “So we got together for coffee and then suddenly realized wow, it was really a convergence of both of us needing someone like the other. And it’s been a real process of discovery.”
Although they both describe their partings from past ventures as amicable, their excitement and enthusiasm about their work and the future of Hapstak Demetriou + is palpable.
“My journey was starting in December of last year and we really did not sit down until February or the beginning of March,” says Hapstak, describing the point at which he started to rethink his career future.
“It was exactly the same timing for me,” Demetriou says, talking over him.
“So neither of us really knew until that March period,” Hapstak continues.
“Mid-February was the coffee,” Demetriou cuts in.
“And then within two weeks it was done,” Hapstak says. “I can’t believe to tell you how right this shoe fits; I mean this is amazing to me. And I really love what we’re doing. I’m just pinching myself, I can’t…I think we’re both going to ultimately going to have the firm we really both wanted to have, which was this creative, think-tank, boutique firm that is flexible and agile, that can move very much.”
Hapstak Demetriou + is what the pair describes as a full-service design firm, guiding their clients through architectural and interior design projects from inception to opening. They take on a varied array of projects, but estimate that their undertakings are divided up between residences, miscellaneous projects, hotels and restaurants at 15, 20, 25 and 40 percent, respectively.
One project that is in the final months of completion is a 300-seat restaurant on Duke Street in Old Town, a collaboration with Kendle Bryan called Ginny’s (a sit-down full service restaurant) and Esquire Dog (a small café-style beignet shop by day and hot dog stand by night), which will be reminiscent of an old-fashioned drive-in. Hapstak describes the renovation of the old building as a portrayal of the resteraunteur, a former lawyer turned CIA trained chef, putting his life and personality into architectural form.
“I think we’re both chameleons with our work. Our design really does adapt to the client and the client’s identity instead of seeing, you know, our print on any project,” Demetriou says. “But we each do have a different style and in a way I think they’ll complement each other, those styles. I tend to be more structured and ordered, maybe formalist, minimalist.”
“I’m all about chaos,” Hapstak says.
“And Peter’s passionate and creative, and a lot of adaptive re-use and so that adds an interesting dimension to his work,” Demetriou continues. “So, you know, he’ll loosen me up and…”
“And she’ll tighten me up a little bit, which is good,” Hapstak cuts in.
Although Demetriou says that one person generally takes the lead as a client’s main contact for each project, their efforts so far have been largely collaborative.
“The beauty of a small firm is that one of us is always involved,” Demetriou says. “We don’t just assign things to our younger staff.”
This sense of collaboration is one of the driving visions behind Hapstak Demetriou +. The pair envisions the firm as an open-minded and creative force producing fresh and innovative ideas, and is working to balance their artistic ambitions with the realities of the market.
“Being a design-strong firm in a world where you’re dealing with corporate clients and businesses that have bottom line issues, money making issues, deadlines you know – you’ve always got one foot in the art world, like he [Hapstak] said, the think tank, and another foot in the business world,” Demetriou says. “And I do think that we want to stay on the more creative side of doing really good work, exciting work and working with interesting people and having a chance for reinvention with each project.”
As often happens in businesses of any size, the attitudes of the bosses trickle down through the rest of the employees, setting the work climate of the office. In this case, Hapstak and Demetriou’s enthusiasm is mirrored in the relatively young staff of architects and designers that they currently employ.
The youthful energy provided by the ambitious staff of 10 will hopefully propel the firm to new heights – Hapstak says that their young staff is not only helping them produce innovative ideas, but also helping them to fully take advantage of all the new technologies that can help grow the business.
But with two seasoned professionals at the helm, Hapstak Demetriou + will be less likely to fall into some of the blunders that other ambitious start-ups get caught in. The two pointed out common examples that green-behind-the-ears architects are likely to make, such as not giving strong enough guidance to clients and promising more than can be delivered. Between the two of them, Demetriou and Hapstak have designed more than 200 hospitality, cultural, private and public spaces in the nation’s capital, and have the contacts, resources and savoir-faire to prove it.
“I think the other thing that comes from us too is there’s a level of professional experience that you just can’t get with a younger firm,” Hapstak says. “I mean, our repertoire and our knowledge and all this institutional memory that we have, it kind of gets us to this point.”
Yet the two are far from jaded, and still take deep personal satisfaction in seeing their projects appreciated and used.
“Any time we walk into a project and see it full of people we know we’ve been successful,”
For this reason, both Demetriou and Hapstak take a special pleasure in public projects such as restaurants. They both enjoy the feedback they receive from visitors and the satisfying feeling of seeing customers and the owners of the venues enjoying and making use of their work.
Demetriou describes her passion for designing restaurants: “Restaurants are – they’re theatre. They’re our main square, our town piazza, it’s where we all go, you know – what are you going to do? Let’s go out to eat. This is what people do to socialize and to gather and connect. And I think even both separately, before the alliance and now, it’s very much part of how we work. You try to create a space that delights people, excites people, reinforces that message, sometimes subliminally, sometimes not so subliminally,” she says. “There’s always a message, like Founding Farmers has a message, Zaytinya has a message. Each restaurant has built into it through the materials, through the forms, through iconographic references that kind of make people think about that food, that concept, the chef.”
But although the two take pride in their work in D.C., Demetriou and Hapstak plan on extending their firm out to the national architectural scene.
“I think what’s big for us now is a national draw, we see ourselves moving out of this market,” Hapstak says. “As much as this will always be our home and this will always be a priority for us because this is where we learned and so our greatest level of give back is here. But we are now on other people’s radar screens, which is really great for us, which allows us to continue to grow the firm, continue to expand what we’re doing.”
Although they say the plans are too premature to discuss any details, they do say that they’ve investigated possibilities in Vegas, that they have plans in the works in Miami, South Beach and Coconut Grove, and that they’ve been pursued by clients in New Orleans in addition to a couple projects they’re working on in the northeast. One project which is well enough along to mention is a collaboration with chef Robert Wiedmaier for a new restaurant in Atlantic City.
It seems that the advent of Hapstak Demetriou + is the turning of a leaf in both architects’ lives.
“Olvia and I are very similar,” Hapstak says. “I was out of a marriage and out of a business, but I have to tell you something, there’s nothing I’ve learned more than that the relationships [I’ve built] have been there for me. And that makes me value them even more and makes me want to perform for them at an even higher level.”