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A+D Partner Spotlight: An Interview with Christie Porter

ONE NINE Architecture CEO, Christie Porter, sat down for an interview with G|M to share her path into becoming a business owner, her passion for philanthropy, and thriving despite the odds.

Christie Porter Headshot 01 4x3

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I spent most of my life living in Downey CA. I am half Italian and half Armenian. My mom was born in Germany so English wasn’t her first language. My dad’s father immigrated from Italy and both of my parents were born and raised in LA & Montebello. I was the first in my family to go to a university, I felt so blessed and grateful to be able to attend Cal State Long Beach where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Architecture. The road to getting my degree wasn’t easy, I worked 3 jobs while in college and supported my family financially for most of my life. My first job was at Kinko’s (now Fed Ex Office) where I worked for 10 years. I worked there while interning at firms and started a small photography company in the early 2000s. That company gave me the flexibility to take on weddings and small events to help support myself and my parents while I was in college. While in college I worked at a small architecture firm until eventually becoming employed at another firm called IA Interior Architects where I spent 9 years of my career. After departing from IA, I worked for a smaller firm before finally taking the leap to open my own firm, One Nine Architecture in 2018. We just celebrated five years and that is where I am today! It’s been a journey, but we have come a long way. I have been in architecture for nearly 20 years, which is crazy to say out loud (laughing). It goes by so fast!

2. How exciting! What made you take the leap to start your own firm?

I wanted the freedom to help others with the skills I had used over the course of my career. I also wanted the freedom to volunteer my time or my team's time to support others and those in need. I had spent the bulk of my career working 80 – 90 hours a week and felt so limited. After starting an architecture department at a small company, one of the nonprofits I volunteered with, Frontline Missions, had an opportunity to buy land in Mexico next to a young boy’s home where I had served many times. Frontline came to me for help and advice, and I knew I couldn’t do it all alone. After much thought and consideration, I realized it was time to step away and take that leap to start my own company. Without Frontline Missions coming to me for help and support I am not sure I would have taken such a huge leap of faith. Frontline Missions | Doers of God's Word (frontline-missions.org)

Porter 12 Boys Home Mexico

3. That is amazing! I’m sure starting your own firm has had its ups and downs. Can you share your journey with us?

I started my business in 2018 and I knew that I did not want to use any type of business loan, so this meant that I had to dump all my life savings in and hustle. Our first year in business was challenging. Our first office was shared, Travis with Cal Coast Flooring allowed us to use his warehouse space for free. For a long time, all we had was a few folding tables and chairs. We had part of the team coming into the office daily while the rest worked remotely since we only had room for 5 people. We began to outgrow our space and found a new space in 2020 just before covid hit, which threw a wrench in things. We finally moved in at the end of that year. Around that time a few of my former team members from a global firm I spent the bulk of my career at decided to join our team. It was an incredible blessing because it felt like our team was reunited and so many of our clients were excited to have us back together. With them joining our team grew and we were running out of space again. Towards the end of 2022, we found out our building had sold, and we would need to find another office. Thankfully, Ethan (my husband & CFO) found an amazing spot in Fullerton. It was much bigger and took a lot of faith to commit to it, but it became the best move for us as we grew again and needed more space for our expanding team. We feel so thankful to continue to grow and for the amazing team who has worked so hard to make all this possible.

Porter 05 First Office

4. What is the hardest part about being a business owner?

Being the sole person responsible for all your team members. You feel a lot of pressure when you need to ensure you bring in enough work every month to support your team financially. Starting the business alone with no partners and only a small amount of savings puts more pressure on just me. While that has been challenging, I am thankful for what we have been able to accomplish in just 5 years. Being a female has also been challenging. While so many have been supportive, others have not been. It has made me incredibly thankful for everyone who has come alongside me, partnered with us, and been willing to work with us regardless of our predominately female staff.

5. How did you come up with the name of your architecture firm?

I was studying the verse Joshua 1:9 which says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” I was so scared to take the leap of faith to start my own firm and knew I didn’t want to name the firm after me since what we do takes a team. One of my team members at the time suggested I look at the verse and after some brainstorming with her and others, I decided on ONE NINE Architecture. It’s a constant reminder for me that God will be with me no matter where I go and that I no longer need to be scared.

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6. Do you remember what made you interested in architecture?

Ever since I was very little I have been fascinated by architecture. I loved building things out of Legos and Lincoln logs and dreamed of doing that in real life one day. When I was young, we became homeless and needed to live with my aunt and uncle for a few years. While losing everything including my home was difficult, I feel blessed to have gotten exposure to my cousin’s work from her classes at FIDM where she studied interior design. My cousin was the first one in my entire family to go to college and her passion for design and willingness to answer my questions as a kid greatly impacted my future. As I got older my best friend’s dad was a contractor and I was able to witness his projects and he loved sharing with me his drawings and took time to answer my questions. He saw that I wanted to pursue it but didn’t feel smart enough because of the lack of support at home. He, along with my friend, helped me figure out how to apply to college, and with their help, I was able to get full coverage of my education at Cal State University, Long Beach.

7. Can you share more about your family dynamics growing up?

I grew up in a very unstable household. We struggled with poverty and homelessness, and due to that, we moved constantly or stayed with relatives when necessary. We rarely had enough money for necessities like clothes, shoes, food, or other care items. In addition to that my parents were verbally and on occasion physically abusive, which added to the instability. Additionally, I believe the stress the financial issues put on my parents to care for me and my siblings made them resent my existence and as I grew older, they became less and less interested in raising me. While also dealing with many other types of traumas, I was desperate for change. It made me very independent and crave a better life. In high school, I knew I wanted to go to college and create a better life for myself but didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, with the help of a teacher and my childhood friends’ parents, they guided me and showed me how to apply and figure out what college would be the best for me. It’s hard to put into words the emotion I felt when I got into Cal State Long Beach.

8. Do you have a favorite project?

Right now, we are designing a 45-acre site for a nonprofit organization called Together Freedom. They provide long-term care and support for American girls rescued from child sex slavery. We feel so blessed to be able to work alongside the staff to design this campus for these amazing girls. They have also asked me to mentor the girls, so every few months I head out there to share my story, mentor, and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

9. That is amazing! Do you do any other types of philanthropy?

As a company, we donate 10 – 30% of our time every week to nonprofits we align with. That varies from site studies, to free architectural or interior design services, etc. Additionally, we formed a nonprofit organization ONE NINE for Humanity. Through that organization, we collect a variety of products that would have gone into the landfill such as new or gently used furniture, and find those in need or minority-owned companies to give that furniture to at no cost. One program I am particularly proud of is our initiative to do kids’ bedroom makeovers for those in need. Our goal next year is to do 5-bedroom makeovers in honor of our 5-year anniversary as a company. In addition to the bedroom makeover, we mentor each kid, help provide them with school supplies, and other items to help better their lives, and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Outside of that, I volunteer at a few treatment facilities that house girls rescued from sex trafficking. I mentor the girls, share my story, and provide clothing and necessities for the girls as needed.

Boys Bedroom Makeover 4x3
Girls Bedroom Makeover 2020

10. Love that. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love going on walks, hikes, traveling, or playing sports like basketball to de-stress. My husband and I also go to Island’s every Friday and do a fry cheer since I don’t drink.

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11. Do you have any pets?

I have a giant schnauzer puppy named Kobe; he turns 2 in December. My husband suggested we get him so that we can train him to be my service dog because of my struggles with my trauma and PTSD. I was scared at first because I never grew up with pets and feared dogs. I had no idea how much I would love him. He has blessed my life so much and I am just so thankful for him.

Porter 10 Kobe Service Pup

12. Favorite TV show?

It's a tie between Parks & Recreation and The Office.

13. Any favorite travel destinations?

Banff might be my favorite destination so far, it was breathtaking.

14. Anywhere you haven’t been that you’d like to visit?

I have always wanted to go to Europe. Next year I am hoping to visit Italy and then spend some time traveling through Europe.

15. Anything you are looking forward to this year?

This year is full of milestones! My company celebrated 5 years in business, I turn 40 on 6/30 and I am so excited to celebrate my 5 year wedding anniversary with my husband.

Porter 13 ONE NINE Summer BBQ 2022
One Nine Architecture Summer BBQ 2022

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