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In conversation with Charlie Caswell: On flying solo and acing your portfolio

Charlie spent 10 years exercising as an architect. Now, as a business owner and property developer, there's plenty of tips to share

Render of a living room by Charlie Caswell
August 8, 2022
Charlie Caswell

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Hi Charlie, nice to see you again! For those who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself?

Sure! I’m Charlie Caswell and I currently run a boutique property development company called Caswell&Dainow. Prior to that I spent the last 10 years working in Super Prime residential for the likes of Candy&Candy and Carlisle Design Studio, as well as setting up the London office for HBA’s luxury Residential arm.  

What advice would you give to new architects?

Where to start! I guess whenever I lecture or give talks my fundamental message is for people to find what their strength is. Architecture at university is usually a beauty parade with the prettiest pictures getting the highest grades, but any successful architectural practice needs a whole range of skill sets such as people who can present and communicate ideas, people who can maintain relationships to create new business, people who can run, manage and motivate teams, people who are detail focused, people who are financially and entrepreneurially minded etc. Once you’ve identified what elements you do best, get really good at them, specialize and become indispensable. Architecture is too broad an industry to be great at everything.

In your time, you’ve probably seen thousands of portfolios and updated yours many times. Do you have any pointers for designers starting out?

Essentially a portfolio is a sales brochure so understand who you’re selling to and how to sell yourself. If you’re interviewing, what are they going to want from you and need you for? Do you have evidence of that in your portfolio? As with the previous question, what’s your key skill and how do you get that across? I would always try and show a breadth of skills over too much of one thing as you never know what might peak people’s interest or catch their eye.

Beyond the actual design of a space, budgeting and project management are important factors to consider. Do you have any tips for those building these skills?

There’s nothing like doing your own project to understand the importance of budgeting. When it's someone else’s money it’s all too easy to become flippant, but when it's your cash it keeps you laser focused. This has obvious barriers to entry, but it should always be part of your brief from day one and continually referenced in your milestone deliveries. Is it beautiful, check, is it within budget, check… I’ve seen so many beautiful projects get massacred at Stage 4 because no one was keeping tabs on costs.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve ever worked on?

I’ve been very fortunate to lead some amazing projects across the globe, but my two favorites are probably: 1. A series of mega villas in Thailand, as it involved numerous trips to see construction progress and the only way to reach the site was by a dune buggy across the beach.  2. This is the total opposite and is a recent development we sold through Caswell&Dainow. We bought a tight triangular garden site in South London and worked with the planners and neighbors to develop a unique modern house that stood as a reinterpretation of the Victorian end of terrace. After so many years in Super Prime, creating real houses accessible to normal people really gives me a buzz.  

Of course, congratulations on starting your own company! When did you realise you wanted to build something of your own?

Thank you! I’ve been developing property since I went to university so it's been quite a natural process of growth.

My business partner and I bought our first house together 10 years ago so the concept for the business was born out of a shared hobby and I guess it's everyone’s dream to work with their best friend and turn their hobby into a day job. Luckily that’s what I’ve been able to do with Caswell&Dainow.

What has been the biggest challenge when setting up your company?

Every industry has its specific challenges, but the subjectivity of the planning process has been our biggest hurdle. Our projects can take a long time and people and policies change, so what was compliant or agreed to one day with one individual may not be the next.

If you could visit yourself just before flying solo, what advice would you give them?

Maybe ask me again in 5 years!

To round off, could you share your favourite Portaire products?

Thank you for chatting to us! Where can people find you and your business?

Follow our Instagram account for all the latest news or visit our website.

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