Specialty: Hospitality, high-end residential and mid-sized corporate spaces

Management: Denise Corso and James Staicoff

Founded: 2006

Headquarters: Portland

2009 revenues : N/A

Projected 2010 revenues: $550,000 to $700,000

Major projects: Renovation of Hotel Murano, Tacoma; space planning, tenant improvements for Martel Wealth Advisors, Vancouver; upgrade of a Courtyard by Marriott, Portland

Photo courtesy of CorsoStaicoff
The lobby chandelier in Tacoma’s Hotel Murano is Venetian blown glass by Massimo Micheluzzi.

New Delhi, India, could be a gateway to 2010 and beyond for interior design firm CorsoStaicoff, which opened a Seattle office this year.

An alliance of CorsoStaicoff and two other local hospitality design firms has been short-listed to design a five-star hotel in India’s capital. “If we land it ... it would put us in another arena,” said Denise Corso, who declined to name the other firms until the project is awarded.

Before the economic downturn, aligning with competitors “would have seemed crazy,” said Corso, who opened the Seattle office. Now Corso and her business partner, James Staicoff, think alliances of smaller, more flexible firms offer clients the capacity of larger firms but with more diversity.

It’s not the first alliance for the firm. Responding to the recession, the company moved its Portland office to a smaller space that it shares with a design firm, Cohesion. The companies occasionally pool resources to go after work.

Tough year

It has been a difficult year for all design firms, including CorsoStaicoff, which has taken in $2 million in revenues since its 2006 launch. This year’s revenue is down about 60 percent compared to previous years, said Corso, who despite opening the firm’s Seattle office is not new to the city. After working for Ankrom Moison and NBBJ, she was hired by Provenance to design downtown Seattle’s Hotel Max. Later she joined a mentor and former colleague, James Staicoff, to form the current company. Staicoff remains at the Portland headquarters.

CorsoStaicoff is using contract workers as another way of navigating the recession. The firm went from a peak of nine full-time-equivalent workers to a current level of 3.5 FTEs, including the two principals.

“We could definitely use more bodies, but the economy just won’t support it,” said Corso. “If we land this project overseas, we’ll definitely staff up.”

Hotels spruce up

One trend that Corso sees in the hospitality sector is the “upscaling of lower-end brands.” Guests don’t want to feel as though they are staying in an economy property, so owners are investing money to spruce up hotels.

Also, owners are moving away from the boutique label in favor of “lifestyle or experiential” models.

A good example is Hotel Murano. CorsoStaicoff made a splash with the Tacoma project. A key tactic was turning to the local art community in general and the Museum of Glass in particular for inspiration. CorsoStaicoff used glass as the vehicle to link the hotel to the community. Each of the 21 guest floors is dedicated to an artist, whose work is displayed behind a glass wall etched with quotes from the artist.

For the coming year, CorsoStaicoff thinks the international market may provide more opportunities. “We are hearing the (local) market will begin to improve at the end of 2010, the first part of 2011,” Corso said. “We are making the proper adjustments to survive during this down time.”

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