From the bustling Woodhouse Blending & Brewing microbrewery in Santa Cruz to the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland that is comfy for both felines and humans, Synapse Design Studio meets all sorts of architectural needs for businesses big and small. At the heart of this successful, visionary firm is California-licensed architect and educator Rebecca Friedberg, whom we recently caught up with to learn more about her business, projects, and connection to the GGBA.
GGBA: Please tell us about Synapse Design Studio and its mission.
Rebecca Friedberg: Synapse Design Studio is an architecture and design practice with projects throughout Northern California. Our mission is to create public-facing spaces that bring people together and cultivate community. Our motto is: “Build What You Believe In.”
We specialize in small to midsized commercial work, mostly public-facing: retail, restaurants, bars, spa/beauty/wellness, cannabis, office, and small multi-family. We love working with other small business owners to develop and distill the vision for their space. We design the space, create the drawings, and advocate for owners throughout the permitting process so they can relax, knowing we’re working hard to get their project approved.
I worked in public health and education before becoming an architect, and I believe that good design is critical to our well-being as individuals, communities, and as a planet. How places are designed affects who feels welcome and who feels kept out—and I think that’s something we need to pay close attention to. The built environment directly impacts our physical and mental well-being, and that knowledge guides every design decision I make.
GGBA: What led you to go into architecture and to create your business?
Rebecca Friedberg: I started Synapse Design Studio because I wanted to work on projects most aligned with my core values, serving communities I care about. Plus, I love wearing the many hats of a small business owner! Some days I’m drawing and designing beautiful spaces; other days I’m on a job site discussing construction details with a builder; still other times I get to connect and build relationships with potential clients or other bosses in the small-business community. Every day is different, and I appreciate that I never get bored.
GGBA: Why did you choose to call your firm the Synapse Design Studio? What does that mean?
Rebecca Friedberg: This gets a little nerdy. I did my B.A. in psychology and was most fascinated by neuropsych, the biology of the brain and nervous system. A synapse is the place two neurons meet, a space filled with electrochemical activity, where information is passed between cells. I imagine this as a metaphor for the design process—the interaction of creative minds sharing ideas, generating visions for the physical spaces where we live, work, and play.
GGBA: Who are some of your role models, and especially those who helped to influence your business?
Rebecca Friedberg: When I started my business, I thought a lot about my matriarchal grandmother. She was a little bit of a rebel and kind of a bad-ass for her time. She worked in a factory during WWII, experienced a heartbreaking amount of loss, and several true loves. She had a lot of courage and grit, and I think she would’ve supported my striking out on my own in a male-dominated industry. Architect role models? Superstarchitect Zaha Hadid, of course. And also, all the other women-architects I’ve met in the six years since starting my business.
GGBA: Why did you decide to join the GGBA, and how long have you been a member?
Rebecca Friedberg: I joined the GGBA because part of my mission is to serve the communities I care about, one of which is my local LGBTQ+ community. I love working with clients who share my values and world view—it’s just more fun. The design, permitting, and construction world is daunting to navigate, and I see it as my responsibility to make the process smoother and more enjoyable for my clients. I hope to meet more LGBTQ+ business owners, both for the professional and personal camaraderie and also, hopefully, to do business together.
GGBA: How has being a member of GGBA helped your business so far?
Rebecca Friedberg: I’ve only had the chance to attend one Make Contact event so far, but already feel like I met some wonderful people whom I look forward to getting to know better—and hopefully to do business with! I feel excited and also a kind of relief to be part of the LGBTQ+ business community. Our shared life experiences on multiple levels means we have great capacity to support one another in growing successful businesses while having fun doing it.
GGBA: What other advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business?
Rebecca Friedberg: It’s all about relationships and integrity. Most of us aren’t doing something completely new in the world, so it’s the way we do it that matters. It’s critical to act with integrity, hold onto your vision and values, and nurture professional relationships that can grow and last—not just to grow our businesses, but also to build community, feel supported, and not burn out.
Also, it’s a hustle and there’s a lot of uncertainty starting out! Be ready to hustle, be flexible, and take a lot of deep breaths.
GGBA: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Rebecca Friedberg: Synapse Design Studio is still young, and I hope to one day evolve into a business that also offers sliding scale/low bono services for under-funded clients and nonprofits who have great gifts to offer the world. I know it’s important to keep envisioning how our businesses will grow over time, and not just get buried in all the day-to-day work and deadlines. I remind myself often to keep the founding vision and mission in mind: Build What You Believe In!
Lear more at: synapsedesignstudio.com
Published by San Francisco Bay Times