When Cathy Slater started her own building design firm from her parent’s home in 1980, the quietly spoken 23-year- old had no idea that ‘Plan 2000’ would grow to become the full service, award-winning architectural practice it is today.

She had not even considered her business future post 2000 let alone imagined that she would undertake years of study to become a registered architect in her forty’s, employ up to sixteen staff at one time and design some of the Central Coast’s most classic homes and medium density developments.

An advocate for best practice in the Australian architectural industry and a successful businesswoman in a male-dominated profession, Cathy is an inspiration, not only to women in traditionally male fields, but to all those who dare to take a leap of faith and start a business from scratch.

Cathy and her family immigrated to Australia from the UK, moving to the Central Coast when she was 14. A student at Erina High, Cathy had a particular flair for art and set her sights on becoming an artist.

While that dream wasn’t realised in a professional sense, she became an accomplished amateur artist who has entered numerous portraits in the coveted Archibald Prize, including portraits of Darrell Eastlake and Malcolm Brooks.

Painting more for enjoyment these days, some of her work hangs in the homes of her clients. Cathy’s first job was as a tracer with a local project home company. She gained a Certificate in Architectural Drafting from Sydney Technical College, returning to the Central Coast to work for a drafting and engineering firm.

She then gained her Building Clerk of Works qualification with a view to becoming a builder and used both qualifications to her advantage by design- ing and building her first home at the age of 19.

Four years later, Cathy started her own business, operating from her parents’ home for the first nine months before moving into a “tiny shop” in Terrigal, where she stayed for the next twelve months.

Cathy met her husband, Bill, while operating from her Terrigal office. He introduced her to a number of local developers, which, through networking, led to a broadening of her client base.

Slater Architects Sydney, Central Coast & Newcastle Team

She moved to Gosford, strategically choosing to share office space with a surveying firm; employed an apprentice draftsperson and secured her first major project – a 410-home community housing project In Wyong Shire.

It was the mid-1980s and the Central Coast was booming.

Cathy became so busy that by 1988 she led a team of sixteen, including Bill, who left a management role with the Express Advocate to oversee the administrative side of the business in 1985, following the birth of their first child, Rachael.

Four years later their son, Tim was born.

With Cathy only taking a few days off for each birth and often taking her children to work with her as babies, she says she couldn’t have managed without Bill’s support.

The business moved to larger premises at Erina in 1994 and Cathy evolved the nature of her work from project homes to bespoke homes and medium density residential projects in line with her passion for unique and intricate design work, especially for prestige coastal properties.

Her reputation for complex, high quality design was such that many would be surprised to learn that Cathy was not a registered architect until changed State

Planning Policies in 2003 required her to upgrade her qualifications in order to continue to design properties more than three storeys high.

After six years of study combined with running a business and motherhood, Cathy became a registered architect at the age of 48.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,”

said Cathy, who presented two boutique medium density residential projects – Lighthouse at Avoca and Peaston Gardens at Terrigal – to the Board of Architects to qualify.

Of the 400 applicants in the first intake, Cathy was one of just eight (and the only female) to be accepted.

Being a registered architect opened new doors for Cathy and allowed her to continue working on the type of projects she enjoyed most – those that gave her the greatest level of creative freedom.

She rebranded the business to Slater Architects and has since won a swag of architectural awards.

Her work has also been featured in numerous industry publications.

Cathy Slater

Very particular about proportion in all her work, Cathy draws inspiration from nature and appreciates the timeless beauty, shapes and strength of natural materials.

While Cathy’s unique style and attention to detail and quality have earned her a long and impressive list of clients and projects along the Eastern Seaboard even a few overseas), her business has not been immune to challenges.

When the GFC hit, many developers on the Central Coast were hit hard, creating a domino effect to associated industries.

“It was a very difficult time,” said Cathy. “We had some huge bad debts as developers were literally going broke around us. So, we had no choice but to downsize the team to seven and bring the staff home so we didn’t have to pay rent. We just consolidated and soldiered on.”

Once they had recovered, Slater Architects moved to an office in Erina before relocating to their current premises, which they purchased from John Stevens (The Stevens Group) ten years ago.

Today, Cathy employs two architects, each with their own specialty areas, an internal accountant and contex tual drafts people.

Including Bill, the team now stands at a “nice even ten”, a figure Cathy is comfortable with.

“Having a team this size with specialised skills allows us to offer a full service. It also allows me to deal directly with every owner and provide that personal touch that our clients appreciate and I enjoy,” said Cathy who still begins the design process for every client on paper.

Cathy credits her team as one of the keys to her success and looks after them like family.

Lyndell, one of her architects, who has been with her since 2005 is one of two staff who work from home two days a week to balance work with parenting young children.

Cathy treats her team to lunch (often home cooked) every Friday. The result of her efforts and care is a dedicated, hardworking team.

Cathy has also been very strategic in selecting staff who bring a broad range of skills to the table, from architecture, interior design, town planning and CAD, to environmental science, graphic design and carpentry.

Builders and clients appreciate this well-rounded approach, as it means Slater Architects is essentially a one-stop service.

Builders and architects ‘speak the same language’ reducing time and money due to miscommunication and clients take comfort in the knowledge that every aspect of their project, from the design to the custom joinery and colour selection, will be professionally managed by the one team.

“I believe it’s important to take control. It allows me to visualise the final result and manage the steps to get there in the best interest of my clients,” said Cathy.

Cathy and Bill are passionate rugby fans (Bill’s grandfather played for Australia). Cathy donated her time to design Terrigal Trojans Rugby clubhouse at The Haven and is now the club’s patron.

With John Stevens of the Stevens Group the driving force behind the construction of the venue and many other rugby fans sharing the building Slater Architects occupy, the ongoing management of the club is in good hands.

Indeed, close collaboration with other Central Coast construction-related companies is another contributing factor to the success of Slater Architects.

It’s not always easy working with your partner but Cathy and Bill have made it look effortless.

They make a good team. Bill summed it up well when he said, “Catherine is the design genius behind the business. She started the whole thing and I’m just one of the soldiers. She’s also a fantastic wife and my best mate”.

Cathy has come a long way since the days when she had to ignore male dominance on construction sites.

This article was first published in the CENTRAL COAST BUSINESS REVIEW APRIL 2018