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Meet Chris Hallisey of Balboa Design Group in Normal Heights

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chris Hallisey.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I entered the design industry as a bright-eyed boy in my early twenties. I had no formal education or practical experience in design, but I just had this certainty in my soul that I was meant to be doing something creative! Up until this point, I had been living in LA working for Southern California Edison reading electric meters. It paid well for a young kid without many expenses, but I just felt trapped – like I should be doing something greater. I remember, while working that job, one of my routes was smack dab in the middle of the West Hollywood Design District. I was in such awe of all the beautiful showrooms full of high-end furniture, tile, and finishes. This was where I was supposed to be! So, I came up with a plan. I was going to head back there in my best “designer” outfit, and go showroom to showroom asking if anyone needed an intern.

As fate would have it, I met the woman who would become my mentor (and lifelong friend) at the very first showroom I walked in to. It was a very high-end Italian furniture showroom, and Carla Sofia was the showroom director. I managed to reduce my hours at the electric company, and would come in to the showroom on my off days. Carla taught me how to draw floor plans to scale. How to choose finishes, fixtures, and furniture, but mostly I just got coffee and lunch, and I think kept her company in that place – haha! It was one of those showrooms with like three pieces of furniture on the floor, all of which were ridiculously over-priced. So, we didn’t have much foot traffic or many sales, but it allowed plenty of time for her to teach me everything she knew about design. I absolutely LOVED every minute!

As you’d probably expect, that showroom eventually closed due to its lack of sales. Carla then got hired to run a furniture showroom for a new startup company called Environment Furniture. They were at the forefront of the reclaimed wood trend that was about to sweep the industry. Carla hired me as the first salesperson in that showroom, and I was thrilled! We were one of the only furniture companies at that time making high-end furniture from recycled materials. It was a huge hit, and we were wildly successful! Fabulous parties with celebrity clientele, write-ups in fancy design magazines, etc., etc.

We expanded rapidly, and I was intricately involved with helping to open four more showrooms across the country. Completely overwhelmed with sales, I saw the need to create my own position as logistics manager – controlling and ordering inventory for all of our showrooms. I excelled in that role, learning all of the intricacies of manufacturing furniture for a retail operation. Creating formulas that eventually acted as a homemade supply chain, I was able to ensure that we kept up with the demand. It was exciting and stressful, and exhausting! I learned so much about business in that role, and I think it definitely helped me to develop the skills that I would eventually need to run my own business. But I still felt unfulfilled. I was working for a very hip and trendy, creative company, but not in a very creative role. I was basically sitting at a desk day-in-day-out, updating spreadsheets.

So, I decided to go back to school. I enrolled in the UCLA Extension’s Interior Architecture program, taking classes at night. I was in an exciting environment with other creative people and just felt excited again to pursue this dream of being a designer. So, I decided to take another leap of faith. I left my desk job and took a position as Staging Director with Interior Illusions. Which meant I would be staging multi-million dollar properties with furniture, art, and accessories to help them sell quickly and for top dollar. Basically, designing these giant empty houses to look more like homes so people could actually imagine themselves living there. It was great – I was working in a creative capacity every day, and loving every minute of it!

And then… I met a boy… who lived in San Diego. Meeting Evan was another one of those pivotal moments in my life where I just knew deep down inside that the universe was presenting me an amazing opportunity. This time it was for love. So, I decided to pick up my entire life and pursue it. Once I made that decision, it was amazing how quickly everything fell into place. In making the decision to move to San Diego, I feel that I also opened myself up to the opportunity of owning my own company and working for myself. I often tell people it’s just the experiment that keeps working. In fact, 2019 has been our best fiscal year ever at Balboa Design Group! Evan and I have been together for six years now. We have a beautiful home in Normal Heights, with two adorable doggies – Jax and Willie.

I really feel that my story is an example of just saying yes to the opportunities that were presented to me, and then following the next indicated steps. Carla always used to tell me, “We breathe in opportunity every day” and I really believe it’s just a matter of following your intuition, pursuing the opportunities that feel right.

Has it been a smooth road?
Yes and no.

I will say that I have been very blessed with the clients that I have had so far, and that always makes things easier. As far as the business aspect… absolutely not. I have had to learn A LOT of things the hard way. I’ve also had a lot of help from people who have walked the path before me. I think, as a creative person, I’m probably not as good at the day-to-day tasks of running a business, but I’ve been willing to learn and continue to be willing to ask for help when I encounter something I don’t know how to do. One of the most important lessons I have learned is how to say, “I don’t know” to clients, to business partners, to my accountants. and to ask for help! I would love to have all the right answers… for people to feel like they can trust and depend on me for everything. And I’ve tried to operate like I did have all the answers, and knew everything about everything.. and I failed miserably. What I’ve learned is that people actually respect and trust me even more as a business person if I am up-front and honest about my limitations. I don’t know everything, but I will definitely do my best to find the answers, or to find the person who has the answer. That’s really all we can do.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Balboa Design Group story. Tell us more about the business.
Balboa Design Group is a remodeling and design firm, specializing in modern, eco-conscious design solutions. We are well versed in full-scale residential, commercial, and office remodels. I’m a firm believer in function over form. When approaching a project, I am constantly asking myself every step of the way, “how can this space function better to meet my client’s needs?” I am a minimalist at heart, and it’s extremely important to me that every aspect of a remodel, down to the very finest detail, serves a purpose, and was chosen for a reason. I don’t think you will ever hear me utter the words, “that’s fine” or “that’s good enough.” I strive for greatness in all I do (sometimes to my detriment) and I expect the same from my partners.

I think this is most evident in my conceptual design drawings. When I sit down to do renderings for a new project, I’m always thinking about the actual construction of the space. Having briefly worked with a contractor during my transition to starting Balboa Design Group, I learned how things get built and installed. From walls to cabinets, to tile. I am always taking those things into consideration when designing a space. As a result, contractors and I are able to speak the same language. I can hand over my plans to a contractor, and they know how to start building out the project without having to do any additional renderings or shop drawings. It’s very beneficial for client, designer, and contractor to be on the same page from the very onset of a project, and I pride myself on how many of my completed projects looks almost identical, in real life, to the original conceptual drawings that I presented in the beginning.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I think the design/build industry is ever-changing! We always have to be ready to adapt to shifts in the housing market, changes in the economy, and new trends in design and building practices. I really think there’s going to be a big shift toward carbon neutral building practices and cruelty-free design (vegan design) within the next five years. I’m personally thrilled by this! I think we need to do everything possible to protect the environment while building for our modern human needs.

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