For Canadian-born designers Kelly Morrison, Kate Allen, and Kristen Lien, Frank Architecture & Interiors started out of necessity. When they graduated from their master’s program in architecture at the University of Calgary in the early aughts, the economy was already deep in a recession. As luck would have it, an opportunity presented itself to Morrison when her former employer, Concorde Entertainment Group president and CEO Victor Choy, asked her to consult on the design of his new restaurant, Model Milk.
She approached Allen and Lien (who planned to obtain her professional designation first) to join her as business partners, leading to the formation of RAD, which rebranded as Frank Architecture & Interiors in 2016. “At the time, we didn’t have any staff and were doing everything ourselves,” says Allen. “We threw ourselves into the project and found the end result was very rewarding.” Within a year, they had four large-scale restaurant jobs lined up.
Despite their unconventional journey, design was always an integral part of their lives. By age 7, Morrison was drafting “blueprints” of buildings and rolling them up in Kodak film cases to sell to her relatives, while Allen had pursued painting before landing in architecture school, crediting her Danish father with helping her understand the value of good design. “I was fascinated by the idea that architecture could reframe the way we live, stretch us to see the world differently, and enhance our quality of life,” she says. For Lien, a family trip to the iconic Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta when she was 10 piqued her interest, which later turned into a full-fledged career after initially studying chemistry in college.
It’s fitting then that Fairmont approached the trio to update the Glacial Saloon at that same Lake Louise property. The restaurant characterizes what the firm does best, embedding itself in the history of a place and translating that into thoughtful interiors. “We poured our hearts into that project, and it was a very challenging space,” says Lien. “In the end, our work paid off, as it has led to many more notable projects with the brand.”
With a staff of 22, the threesome is busier than ever with the recent renovations of the Vermillion Room in the Banff Springs Hotel, the Hawthorn Dining Room and Bar at the Fairmont Palliser, and still to come, a 104-room boutique property in Calgary, the firm’s first full-scale hotel project. Whether they’re problem-solving or pushing design limits, “there is always something new to learn,” says Morrison. Adds Allen: “We love having the opportunity to punctuate everyday life with something unexpected and unique.”