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Hidden Gems: Meet Megan Elcrat of Present Company

Photo by Warner Balk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Elcrat. 

Hi Megan, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I moved to Baltimore nearly 20 years ago. I hadn’t been expecting my life to take me so far from where I grew up but when I arrived here it felt like home. After working in restaurants and coffee shops for 5 years after graduating college, Baltimore offered me a job in my field and my career in architecture began. Initially, I was happy to be working and even remember remarking that I would never want to be in charge. To be responsible for so many aspects of a project. And yet, as time moved on, I felt a strong desire to make more of an impact, more of a difference in Baltimore City. I saw barriers in how architecture was delivered to clients and I was interested in redefining that process. In 2010 I struck out on my own and began what is now the architecture firm Present Company. 

By 2014 my husband became a partner and we have been working together since, focusing on small commercial projects, historic restoration or reuse, and residential development work within the city limits. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I was once told that the first year on your own might be a deceptively good year, and that proved true. When you first leave, clients follow and the decision feels reaffirmed. Which is great! But in year two, when your initial launch projects are complete you find that you are in charge of not just delivering high-quality service, but also marketing, accounting, HR, PR, and everything in between. It can be overwhelming; it takes you away from your primary purpose, in my case, architecture. But in time, you begin to know what to take on and what to turn down. You gain confidence on what you are good at and most importantly what you care about. 

The pandemic actually taught me a lot about what types of projects I wanted us to focus on. While I always knew we wanted to work with clients that were passionate and engaged in the city, prior to the pandemic there was always a professional pressure towards growth, larger-scale projects, higher-profile clients. Now, we realize we are happy to continue to serve “the little guy” because we are also the little guy. And in doing so we are actually making a bigger impact than ever. 

We’ve been impressed with Present Company, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I would say we are a community-based firm. A few years ago, we rebranded. We had operated under a name that was based on my initials, and I didn’t like that it was focused on me as an individual. I wanted the firm itself to have a name, rather than reference founders or partners. Working through that brainstorming process was challenging! We had a lot of fun ideas, weird ideas, all that in their own way did reflect the culture of the firm. But in the end, while driving to a meeting it hit me, no matter what is going on with a project, we show up for our clients. We are here for them. We feel connected to each project, the project pains and project rewards all feel very real to us. When we consult on decisions, we think about them as though it is our budget they affect, our use, our building. And this connection to the work creates lasting relationships with our clients. One year, after helping open a bakery and a winery I received a bottle of wine and a fresh loaf of bread as gifts. We joked that all we needed was a cheesemonger client and we’d be set for life! In sharing our skills and having our clients share their skills in return, the work feels a lot less like a transaction and a lot more like building community.

We’d love to hear about any fond memories you have from when you were growing up?
That’s a tough question! I have a lot of stories I like to tell depending on the occasion or the person I want to talk about. Most of my fondest memories are from Christmas time and revolve around my family. I was raised by my father and the holiday season meant a lot to him. I always enjoyed celebrating with him, lighting luminaries, and watching the same movies year after year. These traditions mean even more to me now that I am sharing them with my own kids. 

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