LPA Interior Design Leader Karen Thomas Announces Retirement

LPA Principal Karen Thomas is retiring after almost 40 years of helping to reshape the role of interior design in architecture.

Thomas launched LPA’s interiors practice in 1985 and has been a leader in developing a new model for an integrated firm, making interior design a key player in an “inside-out” approach to commercial architecture. Her work covers more than 30 million square feet of completed projects with over $1.5 billion in construction value, including the headquarters for Blizzard Entertainment, Mazda and Western Digital.

Thomas also led LPA’s team in the development of the Civic Center Facilities Strategic Plan for the County of Orange, an eight-year planning effort to reposition, renovate and replace the County’s aging real estate assets. The first phase of the strategic plan, a new six-story County Administration South project by LPA, opened in November; the second phase, County Administration North, is under construction.

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Mazda North American Headquarters

“We’ve got an amazing group of emerging leaders and I feel like I’m making way for others to step up and make it their own,” Thomas says. “I’m excited for the next generation.”

A graduate of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Thomas was 29 years old when she was hired by LPA to start their interior design practice. Over the last three decades, she built the interiors practice into a multi-faceted team working across multiple sectors, including commercial, education, healthcare and sports and recreation. Her influence has extended to LPA’s Northern California and Dallas studios, as well.

“Karen has been a key part of our culture, brand and business,” says LPA President Dan Heinfeld. “She has been a model for mentorship for our firm and demonstrated the power of coupling passion with a commitment to teamwork and collaboration.”

News Karen Retires
Her early influence in the ‘80s broke down stereotypes of “interior decorators”.

We’ve got an amazing group of emerging leaders and I feel like I’m making way for others to step up and make it their own,” Thomas says. “I’m excited for the next generation.”

Thomas helped make interior design a key part of the design process, as LPA developed as an integrated firm. Her early influence in the ‘80s broke down stereotypes of “interior decorators” to establish interior design as integral part of the process, allowing programming to drive architectural decisions.

“Early on it was about convincing our clients that we design from the inside out,” Thomas says. “It was a whole new way of looking at architectural design.” Under the LPA approach, interior designers were able to influence designs from the start of the process.

“Interiors had a seat at the table from the first day,” Thomas says. “From the very first kickoff meeting we were there for programming, visioning and strategic planning.”

Thomas’ projects won awards and changed communities, but her most endearing legacy may be the relationships she formed throughout the industry. More than 90 percent of her work came from repeat clients or direct referrals. She worked with many of her clients for more than 20 years, including Blizzard and Western Digital.

Asics Headquarters and Fitness Center

“Karen’s smile and enthusiasm will be missed,” says LPA chief executive officer Wendy Rogers. “Her attention to detail and client service made her an invaluable leader in large, complicated projects.”

Thomas credits her success with an ability to anticipate problems. Her approach was to bring strategic thinking, pro-active communication and a focus on value-added design to every project, regardless of size or scale.

“LPA sets a really high bar for all of us for excellence, quality and creativity,” Thomas says. “The heart and soul of the firm is a really amazing group of people who collaborate so well together – and we have fun doing it! It’s unlike any firm out there.”

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County of Orange, County Administration South

Thomas plans to spend the next chapter exploring the country with her husband of 37 years in their RV. While she is ready for the break, she says she will miss working on the creative process of design with clients and her fellow designers; her new creative outlet will be plein-air painting throughout the Western U.S.

“The opportunity to work hand-in-hand with clients, to build amazing projects and long-term relationships, has been the most satisfying aspect of my career,” Thomas says. “Our secret sauce has always been our people, and I will miss working with everyone on the LPA team.”