He Has Designs on Your Office

michael kleinberg He Has Designs on Your Office

The Commercial Observer

: Calling MKDA an interior-design firm seems to oversimplify what the firm actually does. Can you illuminate your business?

Mr. Kleinberg: It is very much an oversimplification. I started in the business 32 years ago, and like almost any profession, our business has evolved. The profession used to be much simpler back then. Now it’s certainly more than interior design. It’s interesting because many times people will ask, ‘What do you do?’ so I may say corporate interior architect. If I say interior design, they’re thinking of colors and fabrics, and yeah, that’s a piece of the business, but the overall is really one of designing corporate interiors from beginning to end.

 

So how early on do you come into the process?

Very early on. It does vary, but the earlier the better because if we aren’t there in the beginning, the client may be looking for the wrong space. So we put together a program that lists the square footages by each employee, special-use needs, what kind of space they should be looking at, what their rentable square footage needs are, the number of windows they need, column spacing. All of this we call the foundation. If you have a strong foundation, everything else will be fine. If you have a weak foundation, you’re going to have a problem.

 

Are you working with everyone from the city’s largest landlords to small boutiques?

Our practice is split between landlord and tenant. About half our business is landlord-based. We represent about 20 major landlords in Manhattan, and we’re on call for a variety of different needs. A broker may come and say, ‘I have a 10,000-footer and we need a space layout.’ We do it for Vornado and Durst and Silverstein and companies like that, and we prepare these layouts; but then it goes much further into representing them when they’re meeting with a prospective tenant.

 

What are you seeing more of?

There are a lot of prebuilt spaces that are still on the market just because there’s space around. But what we do see is the prebuilt space being a vehicle for turnkey space. For instance, one of many we’re doing right now is a law firm going into 850 Third Avenue, which is a Shorenstein building. They took that space because they saw the prebuilts that we did-Cushman, Shorenstein and us-at 850. They said, ‘Wow, these are great prebuilts. Can you do this for us?’ So there’s a 25,000-foot law firm that’s going in and the landlord is basically duplicating whatever layout they require, the same finishes for that law firm. So it’s a win-win for everyone.

 

What trends are you seeing, perhaps because of the recession?

The past 18 months have been very tricky. Certainly the first six months of last year were very, very slow, and then there was a pent-up demand that came in the second part of 2009 and coming into ’10 now. What I would say is our clients are still cautious. Everyone is watching as far as the money goes, and they’re watching how they spend the money. Everyone is still looking for the best deal.

 

Are people looking for more modest workspace?

Some landlords are trying to simplify the space because that comes right down to the bottom line. And I see many tenants who are O.K. with that also. You can’t generalize, but there are tenants out there who are looking to the bottom line, and they say, ‘O.K., if I don’t have a high-end sheetrock ceiling with pendant lighting and spotlights or whatever, it’s O.K. I’ll take version B, and if I can get it for the amount of money that I want, that’s fine.’