It all started as a college project when a group of students was tasked with creating and building a new vacation house. In his third year at the College of Waterloo, Graham Smith brought his friends and colleagues together to work on his parents' vacation house and provided jobs to the many college students struggling from the recent recession.
Kathy Garrido was in the same program as Smith; armed with grit and a passion for architecture, she helped Smith finish the project. The vacation house had to be a modern masterpiece—it was going to be the architects' catalyst into the industry.
Years later, when Smith was looking to build his firm’s reputation and needed another great architect, he reached out to the perfect partner, his former classmate. Garrido had a baby in tow and began to do all of the off-hours work in the evenings. She was simultaneously earning her license in Ontario. The two worked on multiple projects, building up the firm’s reputation as well as its core principle: creating a customer community.
Nearing its 25th anniversary, Altius is still creating and designing its customers' dream homes. With Garrido and Smith at the helm as co-CEOs, the firm has skyrocketed in popularity. The founders' “from the ground up” story has earned them great success in the company's home of Toronto as well as the surrounding areas.
“The Ron Tom house started when we were in the fourth year, finished up at the end of the fifth year when we were graduating," TK said. "It was really the springboard for the firm. It also set a lot of the kinds of architectural lessons that we learned early on.”
From building a new cottage on the lake to getting the perfect set of tableware for your new kitchen, the Altius team can do it all. The firm is trailblazing a path for new architects and firms to illustrate that great buildings are not the only skills needed to be a “master builder."
“You just have to dive in and do it and trust that you know enough to get through it," Garrido said. You have to work pretty hard and you have to be pretty committed. There's a lot of stress at different times, but you get through it."
Before designing and creating any project, the Altius team works closely with clients using a customer-facing methodology to build strong customer relationships. The key to a successful firm is actively listening to the wants of its customers and communicating regularly throughout the whole process, Garrido said. Altius’s customer-facing methodology has gained great success and created many long-lasting friendships along the way.
“You need to be a trusted adviser to these people," Garrido said. "So you have to carefully educate them about what you do and how you do it and why you do it, and really show them how you're looking out for their best interest and trying to meet their goals, and give them the things that they want.”
The firm’s diverse background gives it the opportunity to offer services such as architectural designs, landscape designs, interior design, and construction administration as well as management, Garrido said. That the firm is one of the few architectural firms that provide construction assistance and are able to do the whole project from beginning to end.
“So when we do a home for somebody, we're doing the architecture, the interiors, the landscaping, and the construction," TK said. "We're like one one-stop-shop; you kind of adapt to whatever your customers need.”
Altius is also paving the way for more “green buildings” in Toronto. The firm has integrated sustainable options into its projects since its beginning, Garrido said.
“We're very committed to working with individual properties and individual sites and designing around that site," Garrido said. "We were also very interested in sustainability from 25 years ago, when we, you know, we’re going through school. So we've always tried to make our buildings energy-efficient.”
After more than 20 years of working in Toronto and its surrounding areas, Altius has a vast and devoted clientele.
Garrido looks forward to a post-pandemic future where the team can go back to working together. In the more distant future, she and her colleagues aim to work on more projects that will give back to their community.
“It'll be interesting to see what happens in the next three to five years when this is all over and done with and we all get to go back to normal life," Garrido said. "I would like to do some project that has a bigger impact on the community.”
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