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STEVE SMITH
Living the Dream


By Christine Imbs

Steve Smith knows a thing or two about dreams. As CEO of Lawrence Group, one of St. Louis’ largest architectural firms, he helps clients achieve theirs everyday.

“Our mission statement is, helping clients to realize their dreams,” he says. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s deeply felt. Everyday we are asked to help a client envision a future. And that’s what architecture is all about—envisioning a future in a physical way.”

Smith had a clear vision of his future at a very young age. He was in sixth grade when his teacher told his parents, “Steve would make a good architect.”

“I was good in math and art,” Smith says. “And when we took a field trip to see the new Temple Israel, he told my parents how much I noted the building. Since an authority figure said I’d make a good architect, I said, ‘Then that’s what I’ll be.’”

It was a natural course to take. Smith’s father was a successful painting contractor. And at the time there were houses being built everywhere near their home in Bridgeton. With plenty of scrap lumber at their disposal, Smith and his brothers spent their time building their own buildings.

“We built one that was taller than our house. It was a three-story-high, ramshackle thing. You could climb out of it onto the roof of our house,” he says. “But I think we had more fun building them, than actually using them.”

Smith worked in construction throughout high school and college. He had a union apprentice painter card and did the grunt work the painters wouldn’t do. “But I learned something about being on a construction site,” he says. “And later, when I graduated from the University of Kansas, I renovated several buildings myself. So I learned a lot about building buildings, as well as designing them.”

While attending the University of Kansas, Smith met fellow St Louisan Paul Doerner. Together they’d travel highway 70 between Lawrence, Kan. and St. Louis. It was during these four-hour trips that Smith said the two dreamed of creating an architectural “super firm.”

“We were idealistic college students. And we wanted to do everything,” Smith says. “We wanted to design buildings and furniture, build buildings, do interior design, you name it.”

Dave Ohlemeyer, another architectural dreamer from St. Louis, soon joined the duo. Although they all ended up working for different firms after graduation, the dream of owning their own firm never died. So in 1983 they took a leap of faith. Calling themselves The Lawrence Group, the three friends began working out of Smith’s home in Lafayette Square. Of course, in the beginning all they could do was small residential projects, because none of them had a license to practice architecture. But by the end of the year, Smith had achieved his and the others soon followed. Then in 1984, the super firm began to take shape when interior designer Linda Loewenstein came on board.

Today what Smith and his cohorts imagined 25 years ago as “idealistic college students,” has become a reality. Not only does Lawrence Group do building and interior design, but the firm sells both commercial and residential furniture, and does building and construction management. They have over 200 employees, and offices in Colorado, Texas, New York, and North Carolina. And they are currently doing a complete renovation of their headquarters in the historic Security Building in downtown St. Louis. It’s a far cry from Smith’s dining room table at his home in Lafayette Square.

“We are living our dreams, there’s no question about it,” he says. “I love it. I pursue my dream everyday. It’s all about being emboldened to dream big. And if the dream’s passionate, it can happen.”

 
TalkingPOINTS

FAMILY: Wife, Phoebe; two sons ages 23 and 14; twin daughters age 12
BORN:
Bridgeton, Mo.
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Environmental Design and Bachelor of Architecture, University of Kansas
HOBBIES: Racing motorcycles, restoring very rare motorcycles and working at his new Moto Museum.
THOUGHTS ON ST. LOUIS: “There’s so much opportunity to make a difference, especially in the City.”
 

 

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Carmele Hall and Leon Henderson
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