Architect Rosario Mannino Gets the Last Word

Published: November 13, 2023

Rosario Mannino AIA, LEED AP is owner and principal architect of RS Mannino Architects + Builders. Based in Rutherford, N.J., he shares his perspective on building a successful design business.

How does your background influence the way you approach the design business?
Rosario Mannino: As an architect and business owner, I’m motivated by the unique opportunity for growth and success. While there may be occasional challenges, I view them as valuable learning experiences that contribute to long-term investment in our projects. I am confident that my decision to think long-term rather than think about the budgeted hours will pay for itself in the future. I believe we are investing in a luxury brand.

What has been your biggest design challenge – and how did you resolve it?
Rosario Mannino: A client approached us to reconfigure their space, which included positioning the kitchen on one side, the dining area in the middle, and the living room on the left side of the house.

As we worked on the design, we continually adjusted it in an attempt to create a kitchen that felt right within the layout. However, we encountered a persistent issue – the space felt too cramped. It took some time to realize that by solely adhering to the client’s directions, I was neglecting the “why” behind our client’s desires. With this new perspective, we flipped the design and centered the kitchen between the dining room on the right and the living room on the left. The moment we made this adjustment, everything fell into place perfectly. The clients were thrilled with the result.

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This experience taught me an invaluable lesson early in my career – I should never allow clients to solely dictate the design without knowing the reasoning behind their requests. As designers, our responsibility lies in understanding our clients’ lifestyles, wishes and goals. We must delve deeper, gather all the relevant information and then translate it onto paper.

I deviated from my usual pencil-to-paper approach and went straight to using pen and paper. The outcome was a harmonious and functional design that satisfied the client’s aspirations. Since then, I have prioritized understanding my clients’ needs before finalizing any design, ensuring that the end result is a true reflection of their vision.

What is the most important career lesson you’ve learned?
Rosario Mannino: The most important career lesson I’ve learned is to create compelling mission, vision and values statements for my business. When I’m faced with design or business challenges I refer to my guiding principles as they often hold the key to answering my pressing questions. By aligning my decisions with my mission, vision and values statements, I can stay focused, motivated and make choices aligned with my goals.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about entering the design business?
Rosario Mannino: 1. Build a safety net: It’s essential to have a financial cushion for slower periods. Creating a dedicated savings account will help you maintain your fees at a reasonable level, even when business is slow. This will provide you with stability and peace of mind.
2. Stand firm on your fees: Value your work and expertise. Instead of lowering your fees when faced with pushback, consider adjusting the scope of the project. By finding a middle ground that respects your worth while accommodating your clients’ needs, you can strike a balance that benefits both parties.
3. Recognize your value: Understand that your skills and talent have worth. When you value yourself and the quality you bring to your work, your clients will recognize and appreciate it more. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve, and be confident in negotiating fair compensation.
4. Embrace marketing: Remember that even if you’re an extraordinary designer, your success relies on effective marketing. Promote your work, build a strong online presence, and actively seek out opportunities to showcase your talents. A well-executed marketing strategy can make all the difference in attracting clients and growing your reputation.

What is your favorite thing to collect?
Rosario Mannino: I have a passion for collecting and reading books, particularly in the fields of design, architecture, history and business. I consider myself an old-school enthusiast who greatly appreciates the charm of hardcover editions. Even if I occasionally listen to audiobooks, I always make it a point to purchase the hardcover version. My ultimate dream is to build a magnificent mahogany library in my future home.

Photo credit: Blackstock Photography

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