There are no hard and fast rules to being a successful property developer.
Development is one of those unique disciplines that opens its arms to people from all walks of life and how a developer leaves their mark on the industry is usually indicative of their prevailing skill sets and personal journey.
Joel Hutchines and Rory Spence, the two young developers behind Studio Workshop on the Gold Coast, have had a particularly unorthodox entry into the world of development.
The Urban Developer sat down with the guys to delve further into how these first-time developers have come to their current position and how they intend to leave their mark on the industry.
The Long Apprenticeship; Learning and Relearning The Art Of Building.
There really is no formal education for those wishing to enter property development, but rather a prevailing approach in the industry that the only school worth attending is the ‘school of hard knocks’.
The men behind Studio Workshop, Joel Hutchines and Rory Spence can certainly vouch for this.
It was after completing apprenticeships in carpentry and plumbing, respectively, that the pair independently recognised the value of their practical skills in the broader context of construction and development.
Independently, the pair enrolled into a Bachelor of Architecture at Bond University.
“I hit a crossroad in plumbing where I was asking myself if I loved it enough to go out on my own or to try something else. I loved the construction industry but I also loved art and design, I found architecture was the nexus between the two. It was a natural progression from there.” said Spence.
It was a combined appreciation of construction and architecture that brought the pair together on a journey towards property development.
“For both of us, developing became a greater motivation when we started studying architecture. We believed that by having a good construction and design knowledge that we’d be able to have more control when it came to developing property.” he said.
After a stint in Tokyo with Pritzker-prize winning architect Shigeru Ban, Hutchines knew the time was right, returned home and launched Studio Workshop with his partner, Spence.
From Little Things, Big Things Grow; How Furniture Became The Jumpoff Point For Architecture
Before Studio Workshop moved into the realms of architecture and development it’s humble beginnings started through the design and construction of furniture and installations.
“We always romanticised about the idea of having a fully functional design studio and workshop with CNC machinery that would work in unison together.” said Spence.
At the time, the pair survived on borrowings and income from small construction projects such as building decks, and ploughed everything into the expansion of their workshop.
“We were only making furniture and taking on small fitouts as a way to get exposure and really experiment with what we could actually do with the tools we’d invested in. We knew we had a different style and approach to most so it was only a matter of time before we started to get noticed.” said Spence.
CNC routing which stands for Computer Numerical Control is the process of combining computational design and digital fabrication with hand construction. The use of CNC machinery would form the basis for and play a pivotal part in how Studio Workshop evolved. For an example of the CNC process see below.
From their earliest work Studio Workshop are most noted for a series of credenzas designed and constructed for private clients, as well as an installation piece for Foxtel’s Robina office.
How The Perception Of Development Changed Since Entering The Game
By their own admission, Hutchines and Spence acknowledge they were quick to judge others before truly understanding the challenges of managing a project.
“There is a constant push and pull between the design and cost in development. We are constantly asking ourselves questions from a developer point of view, design point of view and construction point of view to optimise the best outcome.” says Spence.
“There are a lot of factors that go into a development and inevitably force the product into becoming what it is. I think the market is starting to drive more towards a design focus but that being said, I don’t think the successful developer is driven purely by design or finance, they have to be across it all and willing to push the boundaries a little.” says Hutchines.
The affinity for innovation through construction is what most inspires Studio Workshop.
8 Albatross Ave; Studio Workshop’s First Mark On The World Of Development
The Project Specifics:
8 Albatross Ave is the pair’s first development – a duplex townhouse project on a 405m2 site in Mermaid Beach.
Unlike the standard side-by-side duplex, the design offers a split-level building where each unit features one full-width floor and a double height void hosting mature plants and green infrastructure.
The project consists of two three-bedroom units split over four floors, each rising to its own rooftop garden.
An additional unique feature of the design is the operable rainscreen occupying the front façade, constantly adapting to give hints of how the occupants live whilst also providing privacy and shading.
How The Project Was Financed:
To finance 8 Albatross Ave, Studio Workshop secured a mortgage with the help of an investor to guarantee the loan. Balancing income and cash flow with their other projects has been the biggest challenge they’ve encountered as first time developers.
What Have Been Some Of The Challenges And Opportunities With The Site:
Having such a prominent location on The Gold Coast and a strong aspect the site came with plenty of potential however also a series of challenges.
The biggest challenge was the site’s 12-metre frontage which were further constrained by an additional setback requirement of 2m on each side from the boundary.
“We looked extensively into how we’d approached the design outcome using a more lightweight construction, and keeping it compliant with a lower level of town planning assessment, but honestly thought the site justified more,” says Spence.
I think our backgrounds allowed us to analyse and make informed decisions along the way and not get too far ahead without understanding and realising the potential complexities or ramifications of our design outcomes.” says Hutchines.
What Is The Biggest Lessons Learnt From Your First Development:
Hutchines and Spence acknowledge that their biggest lesson learnt has been around the time and efficiency needed in getting the project going.
“We now have a great team of consultants and will be able to streamline the process much more effectively,” says Hutchines.
The images below illustrate the operable rainscreen occupying the front façade at various stages of operation.
What Is Next For Studio Workshop?
At this stage Hutchines and Spence are focused on getting Albatross Ave built and sold or sold and built, whichever comes first.
The team have also set out on doing another similar development in the same area whilst looking into projects of a larger scale.
“We are getting a lot more design work now, particularly in the residential sector. Working with developers is a space we could really see ourselves operating within. We have also taken on a consultancy role with a few larger building companies helping them to refine prefabrication and building techniques. This is great for us as it allows us to constantly review our own processes and consider how we might do our next developments,” says Hutchines.
When asked about the path to date and the future journey, Hutchines was honest and reflective.
“This whole process has happened very organically. We are both the type of guys who don’t die wondering and are always seeking more. The fact that we both took a very similar yet unique journey exemplifies that.”
Rory Spence, Founder and Director At Studio Workshop
Joel Hutchines, Founder and Director At Studio Workshop