Cornerstone Architects Starts New Firm

February 7, 2008
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Widely known and appropriately honored for the many historical renovations it has designed, Cornerstone Architects Inc. decided to enter another commercial field when the firm opened Visual Biscuit last month.

Restaurant owners have nothing to fear: Visual Biscuit isn’t a new place to eat. But Cornerstone Architects Principal and President Tom Nemitz hopes that restaurant owners — along with developers, builders, manufacturers, engineers and others — will eat up what Visual Biscuit has on its virtual menu.

The new business, which debuted in January, offers its customers 3-D, computer-generated images of many things, including autos, homes, commercial buildings, boats, engine parts, aircraft and first-ever prototype products, among others. And the renderings appear to have a virtual life of their own, as the graphics can be rotated in any direction and viewed from every angle.

The idea behind the drawings is to let customers know what their product or building will look like and how it will operate. The renderings can be done at a fraction of what it would cost to physically build a model of the item. Customers can then take the visual models to their department heads for approval, or to their customers and investors for the sale.

“The outcropping from our firm is buildings, both the exterior and interior. And it looks like we have the potential to expand into product design by basically doing renderings and modeling of prototypes before they would actually build them to get market perception and response to them,” said Nemitz of the new enterprise.

“So things like boats and boat interiors, automotive parts, dashboard design, door panel design and those kinds of things — we can basically model it in three dimensions, spin it, turn it and look underneath it to kind of give a visual impression of what it would be, to get a reaction from the market before they spend a lot of money on it,” he added.

Nemitz said the idea for Visual Biscuit came from the work Cornerstone designer Sean Sommerfield has done. His renderings drew notice from those outside the construction field, the firm’s primary customer base, and that led Sommerfield to talk with Nemitz about designing items other than buildings.

“It grew to the point where he suggested doing it full-time as a business, as kind of a subsidiary of us. It came about in a pretty big hurry because he wanted to get things up and running by 2008. So we said, ‘Yeah, let’s give it a shot.’”

Although Visual Biscuit officially began doing business on Jan. 2, Sommerfield was producing graphics for the firm before that date. As for the company’s unique name, Nemitz said that was Sommerfield’s idea, too. Sommerfield thought calling the firm Visual Biscuit would generate some curiosity about what the business did and, in turn, draw attention to it.

Nemitz said the 3-D, computer-generated graphics and modeling that Visual Biscuit produces will be available from both the Grand Rapids and Traverse City offices. He hopes the new business will generate from $350,000 to $500,000 of revenue in its first year. If it does, the chances are good that a few more designers will be added to the staff later this year. In the meantime, Sommerfield and a contracted colleague will man the computers.

“We are hoping that it grows pretty quickly, and that by the end of the year we have anywhere from three to five people involved in it,” said Nemitz.

But over the next few months, Nemitz said Visual Biscuit will be looking for customers, a search that will eventually stretch across the globe.

“We’re actually intending to look a little bit more into the product design end of things on a more globally positioned scale. The automotive industry has a big use for it. Boating was just kind of a natural outcropping of one of my partner’s interest in boats,” said Nemitz, referring to John Dancer, who heads the firm’s office in Traverse City.

“(We’ll also look at) other architectural firms who want photo-realistic renderings done on buildings, either the exteriors or interiors, but probably not in our own market, (rather) outside of our market.” CQX

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