"We’re a very, very hands-on company," says Jeremy Shamrowicz, cofounder of Flux Design.

Round up a diverse group of graphic designers, sculptors, architects, printmakers, and builders in a 20,000-square-foot warehouse, and you get Flux Design, Ltd. Based in Milwaukee, the firm started up in 2000 when designers Jeremy Shamrowicz and Jesse Meyer went on an urban-camping and dumpster-diving adventure for materials. What quickly began as one of the busiest furniture-art-sculpture galleries in the city has grown into a full-service firm with a reputation for ultra-creative restaurants and bars—with a hands-on approach and a focus on reclaimed natural materials. Shamrowicz, who sees himself as the firm’s art director, speaks candidly about the (sometimes less traditional) strategies that have helped the firm come so far so quickly.  

Seek diversity. You need a team effort. One unique thing is that my main design staff has been here 10 years. We have someone who ran a metal shop for 15 years. We have a master woodwork man and a licensed building inspector in-house, which is huge. Our crew has a great deal of experience in both designing and building restaurants and bars, and almost every week we get a call to work on one. We’re growing fast, and just last year we added 20 new employees.

Use your hands. We’re a very, very hands-on company; everything is done with jigsaws and cutters. We do a lot of woodwork. It’s all about the craftsmanship, and we don’t use faux materials because we like to build things as true as we can.

Shamrowicz practices what he preaches, here using a grinder to create a piece of art from scrap materials for a fundraiser.

For Swig, a restaurant in Milwaukee, Flux Design used reclaimed wood and utilized a number of other green-building methods.

Play hard. We work extremely hard, but we also play very hard. We have a colorful, creative space in the front with an air-hockey table, ping-pong, Nerf dart guns, video games. So it’s a fun atmosphere, a great stress reliever during a very intense workday. We use the pool table as our conference table. And since it’s a huge space of 20,000 square feet, everyone moves around on scooters, skateboards, or bikes.

Share inspiration. I had the employees see all three Lord of the Rings movies in one day, so we all shared this creative energy together. How can you not be influenced by the styles of films like Harry Potter or Star Wars? Take those styles of Old World and high tech, and you get steam punk—we’re still waiting for the one client who wants to do a steam-punk space. I’m also taking the entire crew to the renaissance fair. It’s largely about fashion, an entirely different media, but one that has a huge influence on our work. So I want us to observe something that we don’t do. We all come away with different versions of the same story.

Engage everyone. I don’t want anyone to work here who doesn’t enjoy their job. There’s nothing worse than being bored all day—it’s painful, it’s miserable, and it’s going to show. That doesn’t mean you’re constantly in love with what you do. It’s why we switch everyone’s tasks around—because you don’t love staining or sanding all the time, and everyone’s always got something going in their lives. If someone’s having a rough day after a birthday party or has a cold, I just say, ‘Why don’t you go home for the day, because everyone needs you at full strength.’

This motley crew is multitalented. Flux Design’s cast includes a master carpenter, a 15-year metalworking veteran, and a host of other specialists.

Outdo your heroes. We’ve built 40 bars and restaurants in the last 8 years, so when I meet a client, they know us through word of mouth—98 percent of our clients are from a referral. But to keep up with the size of our firm, we need to go beyond our usual word-of-mouth approach and get people in the rest of the country to see what styles and materials we are working in. That’s what design is: study the masters, and make your own version—but make it yours, make it better.