What It Really Takes to Build a Satellite Office Abroad, According to Jessica Helgerson

Speaking of a challenge, you recently opened the doors to a new office in Paris. What was your experience setting up your first satellite office—and internationally at that?

Well, there have been nothing but obstacles. The thing that makes it possible for us is that we had an intern in our office almost a decade ago, Mathieu Bonnard, who I’d stayed in touch with. Three years ago, my daughter and I were in France for her semester abroad, and I met him for dinner and he said, ‘I’d love to come work for you again.’ A day or two after that, I saw this little space for lease. It was so cute and charming, and I thought, let’s just call and see what it runs. It wasn’t that bad, so I pushed my Portland office to help make it happen.

I had expected it would happen fairly quickly and be pretty straightforward, and it turns out that the French bureaucracy is for real. It took about a year of paperwork—the fact that I’m bilingual was incredibly helpful. My cousin in France is also an attorney who deals with tax law, so there were many fortuitous and necessary ingredients, and yet it was still more complicated than expected.

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The Rue Sala chandelier, a fixture from Helgerson’s lighting collections with Roll & Hill, welcomes guests to the studio.

Photo: Aaron Leitz

Is there one hire that made the difference in the process?

Mathieu being there full time is the way it hangs together. I’m there a quarter of the time right now, and we’re trying to send staff from the office there to enjoy the perk and keep him company. But I would say that without a doubt, he is the most important ingredient in the whole thing.

Also—one second. Hey Stephen, can I use you for one second? [Editor’s note: Stephen Pierce, the studio’s bookkeeping consultant, joins the call.] Stephen has become our international office problem figure-outer. He’s shielded me from some of the things that have come up.

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