As Director of Design & Development for Sloss Real Estate, Callan Childs is continuously evaluating the form and function of the spaces she oversees. In fact, mid-interview, she graciously excused herself from our curbside table at The Red Cat Coffee House to capture footage of a semi-truck pulling into a loading dock — simply to see how it might affect the pedestrian experience at this popular Pepper Place thoroughfare. Needless to say, her wheels are always turning.
The Birmingham native and Indian Springs grad spent four years in St. Louis, at Washington University for architecture school, followed by graduate school in Los Angeles, California. And her diverse design acumen has seemingly found the perfect home in Birmingham’s burgeoning downtown scene. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of Birmingham, Callan Childs.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom, which gave her time to be very active in our lives. When I was in high school, my mom was able to take the opportunity later in life to launch a career for herself, which was fantastic to observe. She started out working with a friend, Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar & Grill, as the front of house manager. Then a couple of years later, she opened iiis. an optical shop, which has been in Five Points South for more than 25 years. She taught me that it’s never too late to start something new. It reminds me that it’s great to be open to possibilities and never be afraid to try something different.
My dad’s career as a doctor and medical researcher provided many opportunities for us to travel during our childhood. I attribute these adventures to my decision to study and live in so many different parts of the country and world. But passion and appreciation for Birmingham are what ultimately brought our family back South.
What is your role at Sloss Real Estate? Describe your typical day.
Hmm … that’s not so easy, as every day is different. My official role is Director of Design & Development, so I oversee design, whether that involves architecture, interior design or graphics. I also manage our development projects, which includes identifying development and redevelopment opportunities, determining budgets, assisting with financial models, selecting an architect and contractor, and then managing the construction.
So, a sample day might involve answering emails, having a design meeting with an architect and contractor, a phone call with the planning and zoning department with the City of Birmingham, drawing a programming plan for a tenant, visiting a job site, and reviewing our latest digital magazine in the works.
Tell us a bit about your professional journey, and how your path led you to and equipped you for what you do today.
I’m a licensed architect, but when I lived in Los Angeles for graduate school, I had an opportunity to work for a couple of interior designers, including Kelly Wearstler, which helped spark a passion for interior design. It helped me better understand the relationship between [interior design] and architecture. I discovered a passion for working in boutique hotel and restaurant design, and this exposure reinforced the importance of the experience of a place and its details. Next, in Boulder, Colorado, I worked for an architecture firm on several master planning projects for developers, which provided exposure to the world of development and what it’s like to work in real estate.
What has been extremely beneficial about this experience is that I now tend to work on a very micro and macro scale. I really enjoy it, because being able to work back and forth between the big picture and the minutiae enables you to look at a macro project through a microlens and vice versa, and I think that helps put things in perspective.
You are integral to the vision and planning of Pepper Place Entertainment District. Tell us about the exciting recent developments and give us some sneak peeks of what we can expect in the future.
Billy Reid and Yellowhammer Creative are our two newest retail shops to open. Both have been very involved in participating in events that take advantage of our Entertainment District designation, which allows you to walk around the property with an alcoholic beverage in a designated Pepper Place Entertainment District cup. So, you can get a glass of wine at OvenBird and stroll over to Billy Reid while you’re waiting for your table.
And speaking of OvenBird, their sister restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club, will open later this month in the Martin Biscuit building. We can’t wait for them to join Bettola, The Lumbar and Red Cat as part of the 29th Street culinary scene. Food is an important part of Pepper Place — clearly, that is felt on Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market. It’s great how even our design and home-oriented tenants contribute — from cooking classes and demonstrations by Cyndy Cantley, who has recently reopened inside of Design Supply, to food-themed events in FarmStand by Stone Hollow Farmstead.
In the spring, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream will open its first Alabama scoop shop. They will be in a new structure at the corner of 3rd Avenue South and 29th Street, a main entrance into Pepper Place, and this covered pavilion will have ample room for gathering and socializing outdoors.
What is most rewarding about your work?
As an architect, it is extremely rewarding getting the opportunity to design spaces. And, in my current position, I get the opportunity to really live in these spaces, the neighborhood and community that we’ve created. I’m able to see how people interact with the places we’re building and with the tenants that we attract. That’s probably one of the most fulfilling things — observing how much people enjoy being in Pepper Place and at Sloss Docks. It’s very rewarding to be able to work in a place, help improve the built environment, and then get to constantly spend time with the people who are enjoying it.
What do you like to do when not working?
I love traveling, hiking, mountain biking and always look forward to our Friday family game night — it’s one of my favorite traditions!
Do you have a mentor or role model, and if so, what have they taught you?
Absolutely — my sister, Pilar! She is an incredibly bright and successful businesswoman who travels for her job but has been able to figure out how to have a great work-life balance with her husband and son when she is home. She knows how to prioritize and focus on each independently, and when they must overlap, she is careful to give each the time it deserves without compromising the other. She is also an incredible communicator — I’ve had the opportunity to observe her with clients and coworkers, and she is like a laser beam, able to focus and effectively keep folks on task and always respectful in how she speaks to them.
What is something that some people might be surprised to learn about you?
As a kid, my hero was the Incredible Hulk. I was completely obsessed with him. One Christmas, the only thing I asked for from Santa was Incredible Hulk clothing and action figures. [Laughs] My daughters love him too, and I still have an action figure!
What’s your best piece of advice?
Be open to possibilities and taking risks, and never be afraid to try something different — both of my parents have instilled this in me. And do your best to keep eye contact with someone while having a conversation with them; it helps them know that you’re listening and that they are important to you. I’m still working on both!
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you can’t live without.
YORK Peppermint Patties, sunglasses and OOFOS shoes — these are the most comfortable lounging shoes you’ll ever wear!
Thanks, Callan! 2020 should see lots of great programming around the Pepper Place Entertainment District, so follow along on social media — Facebook and Instagram — and sign up for the newsletter to keep up-to-date on all upcoming events. And thank you to Eric & Jamie Photography, for the beautiful photos.
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