CV woman puts touch on successful architectural firm

For an architect, to see something go from scribbles on paper to a building stretching against the sky is one fulfilling experience. Local architect Cheryl “Dennie” Smith has had 20 years worth of those kinds of experiences with the Carmel Valley company she founded, Smith Consulting Architects on El Camino Real.

Smith said it never gets old seeing a building she designed be built and occupied.

“It’s something that will stay standing perhaps longer than your life,” Smith said. “It makes you feel full of pride and accomplishment.”

Smith’s company is San Diego’s largest woman-owned architecture firm and offers planning and interior design in addition to their architectural services. For the last 20 years most of their work has been in corporate offices, biotech/research for companies like Callaway Golf and Qualcomm, but in the past few years they have done a lot more retail and mixed-use developments. Their latest project is the La Costa Town Square, the last major retail space in Carlsbad.

Smith’s “family” of employees, some have been with her for 20 years, see her as an architect who stays on top of market trends.

“Our clients appreciate her ability to stay out in front of design trends and deliver projects with a high degree of integrity and endurance,” said Mark Langan, vice president at Smith.

Always an architect

Being an architect is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Smith.

“I always wanted to do architecture,” said Smith. “Even when I was a kid I was always drawing floor plans of houses and schools.”

A Detroit native, Smith’s family moved to Palm Springs after she graduated high school. She briefly attended the College of the Desert before transferring to Arizona State University, where she got her degree in architecture. After tiring of creating stucco and tile buildings for four years at an Arizona firm, she moved to Strock Architects in Newport Beach, lured by the flashing glass cubes she saw in buildings there.

“My first project was a stucco and tile building in San Clemente,” Smith saidwith a laugh.

Things changed after she was sent to San Diego to open a branch office for Strock. She worked there for six months before deciding to break off and go into business for herself in 1988. Smith Consulting Architects’ first office was in Mira Mesa, 10 years ago they moved to their present location in the Del Mar Executive Center.

A lot of the work they do is speculative buildings - space built without a tenant. While a lot of their buildings can be seen in Carlsbad, they do have one Carmel Valley structure, a Kilroy building behind the Carmel Valley Scripps Clinic on Valley Centre Drive.

Smith said the best part about being an architect is “helping clients achieve their dreams.”

“It’s nice to see something you design turn into a reality and hopefully it pleases the client and everybody’s happy,” Smith said.

With the economy currently a little slow right now, Smith said everything is a bit “overbuilt” right now. The company is looking for different areas to develop, as their speculative buildings are really the firm’s “bread and butter.”

“Because land is so scarce in San Diego, we need to find another playground,” Smith said. “That’s the challenge right now.”

One area Smith really hopes to benefit from in the next wave of the economy is Palm Springs, where the firm has a branch office.

The ‘Dinosaur’ designer

The architecture field has changed quite a lot since Smith got started, mainly with the technology used to design buildings. The work is almost entirely done with computers now, using super-efficient Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs but Smith still likes to keep it old school.

“I’m the only dinosaur in the pack,” Smith said. “I still sketch by hand.”

But unlike in her childhood, she no longer busies herself drawing her dream home and doubts that she has the patience now to do it.

“You spend a lot of time pleasing other people, mainly doing what they want,” Smith said. “I don’t think I would even know what I would want. I would probably hire an architect.”

Learn more about Smith Consulting Architects by visiting