FUNchitecture has an office inside Flint’s Plaza One building on Court Street, but owner Shannon Easter White prefers to leave her desk behind for meetings.
Today, she’s had two appointments at the Flint Farmers’ Market, which has its perks. For one, it’s an effective way to showcase her work. After all, the sole-proprietor spent more than a year designing the layout of the new location, which opened in June 2014.
“The community planning aspect of the market was fabulous,” says the Carman-Ainsworth and University of Michigan alumna. “All of the vendors represented their own, individual businesses, so it was like having 50 small clients within one big client. It was a major team effort.”
And, truly, the public space is the perfect example of the kind of work Easter White is after – the kind that challenges her creatively while also making an impact in the community.
You spent nearly a decade working for THA Architects & Engineers. What inspired you to break off on your own?
I went on maternity leave the day before my daughter was born (in 2009). I told my office I’d be back in 12 weeks, but in that time, I recognized I had a new baby who was dependent on me for everything. I wanted to be home with her much more than what my job would allow me. It totally changed my work philosophy.
When I started my business, I promised myself I would only take on projects that were fun and meaningful to me. It needed to be something that was bettering the community or really making a difference for the client. It also needed to allow me to exercise my creativity. And if it wasn't all of those things, it wasn't worth taking the time away from my family.
Can you tell us about a mistake you’ve made and learned from?
What advice can you offer to fellow and future business owners in Flint?
Community involvement is key. If you don't know what’s going on in the community, then how can you best service the needs here?
You’re on the boards of several nonprofits. How do you decide which organizations to support?
I try to pick causes that I’m passionate about. There’s such great need everywhere that it’s easy to become enchanted with lots of different causes. It has to be something that matters personally to me. I now have small children, so I’ve volunteered a bit of time with Whaley (Children’s Center) recently for that reason.
Where do you shop in Genesee County?
I’ve had Chyrsa – a tailor (at 522 Saginaw Street) in downtown Flint – make some articles of clothing for me. I’m of the mentality that if I’m going to live here, I need to support the businesses here. I hope that business owners choose to use local architects when they’re considering a project, so I try to reciprocate the best I can for other industries as well.
How would you describe this city to an outsider?
I think Flint is resilient. If people weren’t so proud and didn’t take so much ownership of their hometown, everybody would have already left. But there are so many people here working to make it a better place. It’s really a community. So for me, it’s important to be part of the solution and not the problem — to be a doer and not a complainer.
To learn more about FUNchitecture, visit www.funarchitecture.com.