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No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

Alan Stuart sits alone in a big office. It’s filled with the basics for a 2010s office: creative books like Milton Glaser’s Graphic Design, sleek gold pencils in a cup, a portion of wall space covered in designy postcards, a large Apple computer, a Made In LA poster–all the essentials. This room and a conference room (that producer Amanda Law works in) is all the space boutique creative agency One Long House physically have–and it is the first physical space they’ve had. The rest of their property is online and in the cloud and in emails and in websites. The company is an international cooperative of designers, developers, and more that Alan started three and a half years ago. They are a lightweight creative agency that are as lean as a lone freelancer but have the heft of an entire team.

One Long House practices a very modern business model that comes from Alan’s need to move and inability to be tied down. “It scares the shit out of me to stay in one place because I see a finish line,” he says adjusting in his seat, perhaps even a mild squirm from the thought. “I’m thirty three years old and I don’t want to feel like this is it. I hope that I’m always able to travel. My wife and I always joke that we’re gypsies with a kid and a dog and we load up this gypsy caravan and move on. That’s just what we like. One of the most beautiful things about the Internet and communication in its form right now is that you can setup businesses to be virtual. We have that freedom.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

Alan has always lived by this idea of freedom and coming and going as he can. He obviously wants more than one place can give him. His history reflects this, too.  “I was born in Australia but my family left when I was one. We lived in New Jersey for a little but, since I was seven years old, I’ve been in LA. I went to high school in LA, attended UCLA’s design school, and I always loved Los Angeles and hated Los Angeles at the same time. I think a lot of people from LA are like that.”

During his time at UCLA, he started to shift how he lived and interacted with the city. “I sold my car and really didn’t want to stay in LA. I wanted to isolate myself, to make it feel like a different city. As soon as I graduated, I decided to move to New York and–two weeks later–it was September 11 and there were no jobs in sight. I really wanted to go into advertising as an art director but all of the agencies were tightening their belts and not hiring.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

He ended up working for a few magazines–New Yorker, Wired, Lucky, Martha Stewart, various Condé Nast fashion magazines–and making his rounds. He eventually was hired by Green Team, an agency where he worked as an Art Director. “I loved it. It was a small, really creative team.”

“Eight years later, I was married and we had a place in Brooklyn and we eventually got sick of New York and the rat race,” he continues. “So, we moved to France. We were there for a year, where my wife got pregnant and we decided to move back to Los Angeles to be nearer to family. That was two years ago and, business wise, that has been great too since my old connections and friends are still here and I know the city really well. It’s a great home base.”

Alan doesn’t settle for being content in one situation as you can see. This idea, this philosophy of freedom applies directly to One Long House as that is exactly how the creative company got going. Three and a half years ago in New York City, Alan and a few designers and developers no longer had jobs and wanted to do something new with their talents and new found independence. “A few of us got laid off and were standing around with nothing to do. We had a lot of talent and it was a beautiful summer in Brooklyn so we figured why don’t we put together our own agency. That must be a piece of cake! We tried that and noticed other agencies were messing things up by spending $16,000 on Fifth Avenue rent attempting to keep up this persona of being a big fancy agency. We said we didn’t want to make any of those mistakes.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

With these concepts of business in mind and his anti-idling personal mindset, One Long House has steered away from the pitfalls a new design firm can encounter. “I think it’s always been my fear to get either pigeonholed by clients you didn’t want to work with or just struggling and having to lay people off. Once your overhead is big, you have a machine to keep feeding. But if you keep it small and lean, you can really pick up and go. I did just that, too: I lived with my wife in France for a year and I ran the company from there. I then moved out to LA and we’ve been doing it here since. Who knows where we’ll be next! I like that freedom.”

This business model is super flexible, too. As mentioned previously, he and Amanda are the only part of their team in Los Angeles. The rest work remotely from parts of North America and Europe. “We’re based on a network of freelancers from around the world. We’re mostly in the US but we have some in Canada, Portland, San Francisco, New York, Bordeaux, and London. Some of these guys have full time jobs but most of them don’t. Most of them just like the freedom of being a freelancer. Us being a collective, a cooperative, we can get projects that no freelancer could ever get. Like the Made In LA project: a museum like the Hammer can’t trust one or two freelancers. And they don’t want to manage them, either. I think we have the ability of an agency but the freedom of a freelancer.”

This method does work and Alan is seeing it pay off for them in big ways. From single handedly directing how Made In LA worked online to the website for UCLA’s Ahmanson Translational Imagining Division, One Long House is moving forward very fast. “The last three years have been great. This last year was our best year yet, actually. We have some really big projects coming up and are doing a really big one right now too. We’re even doing packaging for a lingerie company–this Parisian, high end brand–as well as identity and their website.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

“I like working on different things so we always try to keep it broad. Keeping our overhead low has also afforded us the ability to say no to projects, which is a huge advantage. We turn down more projects that we take! That’s a great luxury that not that many people have.”

The only weirdness Alan sees is that he is back in Los Angeles, a place that he never anticipated moving back to. This is not a bad thing: it’s just an unexpected turn that he and his company would end up where he already spent much of his life. “It comes with a lot of baggage because I grew up here,” he explains. “My dad’s in the movie business and LA had always appeared that, if you weren’t in entertainment, then you didn’t need to be in LA. Coming back and realizing there are things like Silicon Beach and startups, you discover a lack of talent in creative agencies. There might be some really high end ones but there is a lack somewhere in the middle ground. It was a surprise to me–but it has been a great one.”

“LA is more creative than it has ever been. People are really embracing LA for what it is instead of harping on what it’s not. With that, we’re really applying that skill and diversity creatively to the city. Even for us, because there aren’t that many great creative agencies or development, it has been good since we can get clients in LA and have our developers in Canada or New York or wherever good developers are: they don’t have to be in LA. That’s been a big help for us.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

It’s also been useful that the city is so different than what Alan is immediately used to. Those things he was sick of have resurfaced but they’ve actually helped in some ways. “There’s a lot of history [here] for me, all those times I was sick of LA and wanted to leave and discover a new thing,” he says. “But that’s the thing: you may drive the same way to work every day and, one day, you may take a detour or are forced to because of an accident and you discover something that you never knew was there. In New York, you are discovering that all the time. Here, these are things you drive by all the time and may not have ever noticed. When you stop for one second, you start to notice these things that you didn’t know was there.”

“That was the fun thing about working on Made In LA and making the Soundmap: people started to discover these things. It was an audio tour of Los Angeles where you discover key points of the city by driving. We called them all Golden Nuggets because they are these surprises that just appear and you might never even know it was there. The Museum of Jurassic Technology or the Rampart Police Station: these are things you might not ever notice as you drive on by at forty miles an hour. That was really cool to take a project that we wanted to do for a client but add in our own concepts of what we want to share of LA.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

Los Angeles as a place and as a lifestyle provides for many experiences like this. We have our own style, a style that Alan is readjusting to. “When I first moved to New York, everybody at a particular job called me California for a while because it was very apparent to them that I had a different speed. Even my walking was slower and more relaxed, a saunter compared to the New York mode of transportation. Eventually I became more New York than LA.”

“Coming back has given me a unique perspective to different styles. It was really good for me to get my creative chops in New York because of that fast paced energy, where everyone is down for everything–but you have to move quickly because there may not be much time. Here, people are more relaxed and used to slower pacing. It has a lot to do with movies: movies takes a long time. They can take up to a year! Now, hopefully, we have a balance to accept when things go slower but we still have that urgency to push things faster.”

This new Los Angeles is good of Alan. It’s different but he likes change. He likes what it is doing for One Long House, too. “I think LA has been really great for our business. That’s been a surprise!” he says with a smile. “I can see us keeping a lot of clients and creatives here too. I think it’s been good because there’s a need for it. You go to Portland or even to Switzerland or Berlin and everything is designed. Even the shittiest Chinese food places have perfectly typeset menus! It makes you wonder if everyone is a designer. It’s a cultural thing: design is important to them and communication is important. LA is catching on to that. LA is a little bit more ahead on this and Minneapolis is crazy forward in that respect. Miami is, too!”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

“LA is such a hodgepodge. Sometimes it feels like everything is taped together since there are so many communities coming together. In New York, it mixes a little more and becomes a homogenous mixture. In LA, everything is separate. I don’t mean this in a bad way: everything becomes little pockets that are segregated. When you drive down to Little Tokyo, you almost feel like you are in Tokyo. Even the signs are in Japanese! From a design sense, it hasn’t mixed. It hasn’t become a melting pot as much as other close quarters cities, where you are forced into one space and it all melds together. From a design standpoint, this is really good for us because LA is really coming into its own in terms of design and aesthetic. It’s really embracing things like craftsman homes in Griffith Park instead of building new homes. That’s the interesting thing about LA: there is a lot of history. For a while, it seemed like we were denying ourselves of it–but now we’re coming back to it.”

“The city is getting more neighborhoody too,” Alan adds. “When I was growing up, Downtown was nothing. Santa Monica and Venice were always strong beach communities–but that was it. Now, even where I live in the Fairfax District, which doesn’t even really have a name, is now a neighborhood. Fairfax and Melrose and Beverly: no one knows what to call it but it is a neighborhood.”

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

Does Los Angeles changing and becoming more mature in a way make Alan want to stay here forever? Not necessarily. His fear of the finish line and of being done is too strong to keep him here. He needs to stay on the go. “I think, yes, we’ll move around,” Alan explains. “Los Angeles will always be here and I hope that it continues to grow like this. I don’t know where next is for us, though.”

For more on Alan and One Long House, give them a Like on Facebook, a follow on Instagram, and a follow on Twitter. If you would like to learn more about Alan and starting a similar enterprise, Alan will be teaching a class tomorrow evening at Santa Monica’s General assembly titled How To Start Your Own Creative Agency (With Zero Overhead). Sign up!

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

No Finish Line: An Interview With Alan Stuart Of One Long House

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