The New York Build Expo recently tapped Blima Ehrentreu, CEO of The Designers Group (TDG), as their Women in Construction Ambassador – for the third time. The move underscores his reputation for promoting diversity in a field that men have traditionally led.
Since Ehrentreu founded TDG in 2009, the Toronto-based multidisciplinary interior design firm has evolved from focusing solely on residential properties to working with developers across the commercial real estate spectrum with new offices in Manhattan and Miami. In addition to expanding TDG, Ehrentreu has continued to mentor other women who are also looking to make their mark in the CRE space.
“The commercial real estate industry is definitely a male-dominated industry, but I’m thrilled that we’re a women-owned business and are leading the change,” Ehrentreu said. “I love having the opportunity to mentor other women and really be part of the change that is happening.”
TGD has tackled a wide variety of building design projects, including partnering with Citadel Care Centers to renovate several rehabilitation and nursing facilities along the East Coast, such as the Plaza Rehab & Nursing Center in the Bronx. The companies also teamed up recently to implement upgrades to the P&G Insurance office on 61st Street in Brooklyn.
Helping other women in the design and construction industries was always one of Ehrentreu’s goals when she started her business, shortly after earning her MFA from the Academy of Arts. arts from the University of San Francisco. She had previously worked in an architectural firm with the aim of gaining a technical knowledge of what goes on in design.
Ehrentreu’s mentorship has since evolved. She has hosted monthly Zoom networking get-togethers, and last summer her company launched what she calls TDG Insider. This encourages those interested in design careers to apply through a website for the opportunity to spend a day shadowing the company.
“We have an amazing program where they can see the different projects we’re working on and meet the designers and possibly have one of them mentor them and really open it up to people,” Ehrentreu said. “When I was in design school I thought I knew what design was, but working in the industry and being part of so many transformative projects has really changed the way I see things and I want people can see it.”
In addition to empowering future female leaders, Ehrentreu also prides itself on the diversity of its own team. It’s a workforce of people from different religions, ethnic backgrounds and countries, which she says helps bring more innovation while creating a more inclusive work environment. Its hiring process focuses not only on skills, but also on how candidates can enhance company culture through their unique backgrounds and perspectives.
Efforts to improve diversity in design both internally and externally align with Ehrentreu’s original goal of starting his own business. It was about helping to improve the world through design by striving for each project to have the greatest possible impact for the communities it serves. Ehrentreu said she pursues projects that promote equity such as affordable housing, urgent care centers and modernized education spaces in underserved communities.
When it comes to designing amenity spaces for multi-family, office, and healthcare buildings, Ehrentreu aims to “bring people together,” which has taken on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. with more contactless surfaces and voice activation programs. One of the company’s main specialties has become hotel design, which it says is increasingly prevalent in healthcare settings and assisted living facilities.
“I always tell our healthcare customers that we want the environment patients are in to match the level of care they receive. So when you walk in, people have to feel it immediately,” Ehrentreu said. “So many of the facilities we work on have these amazing doctors, but when you walk into the building you don’t feel that way because it’s run down and dreary and old. So we’ve really approached our healthcare projects from that kind of perspective where when you check in, you feel like you’re checking into a hotel.
Sustainable design is also becoming a high priority for Ehrentreu, as owners respond to growing demand from CRE investors to incorporate environmental features into their properties. She said that in addition to using durable materials for interior projects, the designs aim to ensure improvements last a long time without requiring ongoing upgrades.
Amid the challenges TDG has faced in recent years with changes in the CRE industry such as the growing trends of remote working for office buildings, Ehrentreu says she has always remembered that she entered in the construction profession to make a difference through its platform.
She has launched various charitable initiatives, including one in September 2020 called TDG Furniture Exchange, where she connects businesses in need of new furniture with those looking to donate items. The program has partnered with DUMBO Movers in New York to move the furniture for free and is in talks with another moving company in Miami about a similar arrangement.
“We were able to help offices, we were able to help people in their homes, and it’s just something very special for me to be able to be a part of it,” Ehrentreu said of the program. “I think design is about making the world a better place and that’s one of the reasons I chose design as a career. So using our company as a starting point for different charitable initiatives has always been very important to me. »
Andrew Coen can be reached at [email protected]