Francisca Alonso, the co-founder and CEO of AV Architects + Builders of Northern Virginia, is dedicated to helping people in her community love their homes again. Her passion for her incredible architecture and design work are highlighted in her popular Talk Radio blog, 360 Homes, as well as through web videos and social media. A dedicated mother of four, Alonso was awarded the 2012-2013 Hot Mommas Project STEM award for her work empowering young women to enter STEM fields.
KC: Can you discuss how you came to co-found AV Architects + Builders and share a bit about your company?
FA: In 2002 I co-founded AV Architects with my husband, architect Antonio Alonso, as a way of pursuing my dream to practice architecture and also have the freedom to raise a family. The motive was simple: I wanted to have a business and be a mom too. We deliver true design/build services to homeowners in the DC Metro area, and we also build custom, luxury homes with our sister company, AV Builders. I love helping families, and I have a passion for design. With our business, I can do both.
Currently, we’re building a house in McLean that showcases our 360 Home Concept very clearly. We believe a home should be both beautiful and functional for the family that lives in it. Our home designs, builds and remodels focus on serving the inhabitants by providing a comfortable, functional environment; not necessarily more space, but better space.
As residential architects, we have the privilege of helping our clients achieve happiness through their homes.
KC: Was there a specific moment or a culmination of experiences that guided you toward architecture?
FA: I come from a family of architects. My father, Melvin Villarroel, was an internationally acclaimed architect who worked as a master planner and designer of luxury resorts in Marbella, Spain for more than 35 years. His office – his legacy – continues to deliver unique projects now under the leadership of my two architect brothers, Pablo and Matias Villarroel. My sister, Antonia Villarroel, who recently moved to South Africa with her family, has her own residential architecture studio and designs and builds custom homes.
I guess architecture was ‘in the water’ for us. Not only have we each dedicated our lives to it – we love it. My entire life revolves around the positive influence of architecture on other people.
My father loved his profession, and his happiness and success was what initially attracted me to follow in his footsteps. In that way, my core mission in life has become the pursuit of happiness. It was the happiness in my household that motivated my siblings and me to pursue architecture. Now, I want to share this same happiness with our clients by creating and building beautiful homes that fit their lifestyles and needs.
KC: What were some of the biggest hurdles you faced during or after your move from Spain to the United States? Did those challenges aid you in any way with your current line of work?
FA: Being born in Santiago, Chile, being raised in Southern Spain and then living in Washington, DC since 1986 has given me the ability to appreciate many ways of life. I never looked at moving from Spain to DC as “immigrating,” as we travel back and forth often and are very connected with our roots. I think that thanks to today’s technology, “immigration” has become an antiquated term. The world has become so much smaller, and many people are able to move easily from country to country.
I think the fact that I have a diverse background from exposure to multiple cultures (Bolivian, Chilean, German, Spanish and American) has only helped me. I love the fact that here in DC you can find people from all over the world. It is this level of cultural diversity that makes this city so unique and successful.
I embrace that. I can relate to everyone because of my upbringing, and this is an asset to me as an entrepreneur.
KC: The Hot Mommas Project recently honored you with a STEM award for your vested interest in empowering young women to pursue interests and employment in STEM-related fields. In what ways do you work to empower young women for that purpose?
FA: I was so proud to receive that award and to share my story with other young women. When I co-founded AV Architects more than a decade ago, my goal was to practice architecture and raise a family at the same time. I know – work-life balance. It’s a daunting task. Fast-forward 10 years later, and I have four teenagers and a growing design/build firm, and I feel very lucky. It has not been easy, and I’m still learning every day how to better manage my time. But the phrase ‘work-life balance’ is wrong. It should be called ‘work-life integration,’ as we attempt each day to achieve the integration of these two pursuits. It’s about balance.
After meeting hundreds of women over the years who are trying to achieve the same thing, I realized that this is truly the top priority of working moms. I want young girls to know that a STEM-related field like architecture can not only be very rewarding, it can also be combined with raising a family. One way of doing this is by becoming an entrepreneur. I started my own business so I could have the freedom to integrate my kids’ lives into my work schedule. I want to share my experience with other young women so they feel empowered to do this as well. You don’t have to choose, you can integrate both – work and family.