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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023

Entrepreneur Profile , Alison Smith Dorvillier


With a background in architecture, Alison Dorvillier, founder of Design Inplace Inc., a full-service interior design studio specializing in kitchen and bathroom designs and interior architecture, has turned her passion for design into a $1.5 million a year business.


Name: Alison Smith Dorvillier.

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Title: President.

Company: Design Inplace Inc.

Company address: 7739 Fay Ave., La Jolla 92037.

Company phone: (858) 454-7397.

Year founded: 2000.

Prior business experience: Partner in Bennett & Smith Architects from 1998 to 2001.

Average hours worked weekly: 40 in the studio many, many more thinking about details.

Source of startup capital: A former client.

2006 revenue: $1.5 million.

2005 revenue: $1.275 million.

Number of employees: Two.

Web site: www.inplacestudio.com.


Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: Bachelor of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University.

Age: 37.

Current residence: University City.

Family: Husband and business partner, Andy; daughter, Ava, 7; son, Andrew, 5.

Hobbies: Traveling, cooking.


Reason for getting into business: Inplace was a logical progression for our thriving architectural practice. It enabled us to provide a complete package of architecture, interiors and materials to our existing clients as well as a broader market.

How I plan to grow the business: Our plan has never been to be a big shop. We’ll grow the business by continuing to attract premium assignments that let us showcase our creativity, craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Biggest plus of business ownership: Flexibility! I love the ability to revise what I am doing and be selective of the projects that I would like to work on.

Biggest drawback: Wearing so many hats principal designer, human resources, marketing, etc.

Biggest business strengths: Reputation and referral network.

Biggest business weakness: Time. It would be great to be able to do every project that came to us, but there just isn’t enough time to do them all.

Biggest risk: We are a very small shop, so anything is risky.

Smartest business decision: Downsizing and outsourcing. When we started out, we had 15-20 employees and manufactured our own product line. We were quickly heading down the road to burnout, so we started to outsource cabinets, installation and use subcontractors or consultants to offset our workload.

Biggest business mistake: Although certainly not “mistakes,” it was challenging to have two kids during a very difficult startup period.

Toughest career decision: To leave the practice of architecture. I am passionate about designing houses and it was a difficult choice when I realized Inplace needed my undivided attention and that I could no longer be part of the architecture firm.

Biggest ongoing challenge: Making sure that the projects run smoothly and that the results exceed my clients’ expectations.

The most important part of my business: The synergy between me and my husband.

My business works best when: We have a steady flow of projects and are not too busy.

Best way to stay competitive: Offer my clients innovative design solutions and a broad range of unique products to choose from.

How I measure success: Delighted clients!


Goals yet to be achieved: I would like to have a studio in another location, perhaps in downtown or North County, which would be devoted to the SieMatic cabinet line that we carry. I would also like to design and produce a line of custom hardware and furniture.

My five-year business plan: Keep honing my design skills and searching for the best products and craftsmen for my projects.

I would sell my business only if: Someone really wanted to buy it.

Guiding principles I will continue to follow: Do what is best for the project.


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