Sutton Suzuki
Elizabeth Suzuki, co-owner of Sutton Suzuki Architects.


ONE-ON-ONE WITH Elizabeth Suzuki, owner of Sutton Suzuki Architects

Interviewed by: Danna Lewis on March 2, 2023


On a beautiful (almost spring) afternoon, I stopped by Sutton Suzuki Architects to get to know long-time Mill Valley resident and business owner Elizabeth Suzuki.

Danna: It’s so nice to get to sit and talk with you. And, since our story centers around life in Marin and Mill Valley, Elizabeth, how did you end up here? 
Elizabeth: My husband and I moved here 1985 from the city. I had gotten to know Marin because I had worked in Tiburon for a while.  We looked in the East Bay and Marin for a house, because I still worked in Tiburon and my husband worked in the city, this made sense. We landed here and we have two kids who went through the school system here. I don’t think I’m ever leaving.
A group of friends whom we got together with regularly, have all left. They sold high and did,  but we are here to stay. We love it. My husband is from The Peninsula so it’s close enough to see his family, and mine are in the Midwest and love visiting us.
My husband and I have been married for 43 years. My business partner and I have worked together since 1989. Having a business partnership gives me more freedom to choose the jobs I want to work on, big or small. I love the flexibility and that extends to our employees- a few work remotely, some are local, some were local but have moved away. It comes down to good communication, just like in sales, that is what life is about.

Danna: It’s such a good feeling to walk through town and see people you know, stop and talk with them, and feel that sense of connection to the bigger community. So how did you decide to open your business here?
Elizabeth: We’d been working together in Tiburon and wanted to be close to the freeway so clients could get to us easily. We looked from Sausalito upward. This space used to be a Ford Motor Dealership in the 1920’s then (much) later became Artisans, an artist cooperative. Some very prominent people were on their board. There was also a Dojo upstairs. You could hear them in the Dojo thumping on the floor with their moves, luckily classes started after 5pm, usually as our work day was ending.
After a while, Artisans got tired of the turnover of the various rentals, so we took over all of the other spaces combined and cohabitated with Artisans for years. While it wasn’t as close as we wanted to be to the freeway, we just loved it here, we loved the sense of small town and community. We, and our staff, could run errands during lunch and enjoy the ambience of downtown Mill Valley.  We’ve also had little annexes throughout the years when we’ve had big projects and had to hire more staff… we had one in the DeMartini building, one in the space behind Gravity, and others. 

Danna:  What do you feel is unique about your business?
Elizabeth: I think that we are very focused and hands-on. We pay as much attention to the actual service as the design. We have a very good reputation with the folks at the Planning and Building Commissions. Occasionally we get phone calls from people who have been having difficulties with the approval process and I will offer some advice and guidance.
Also, we do our homework with the Design Review. We meet with neighbors. Our clients are going to live there and we want to create harmony with their neighbors and not have it be adversarial because of the construction process. We’re involved from start to finish, we include all environmental considerations, from basic site planning to all the latest technology and methods of construction.

Danna: What has surprised you about your business, or your clients?
Elizabeth: I’m surprised constantly. Sometimes it’s interesting what’s important to people. People do expect us to offer our thoughts – to not let them do something crazy and  to take resale in mind. Regardless, I know that 90% of people are thinking about resale in the back of their mind. You have to get into what’s important to people.

Danna: What delights you about your customers?
Elizabeth: When they are nice. Knowing it’s a team effort and it’s a very collaborative approach. We want and need their feedback.                    

Danna: What are three things about your personal life that bring you joy and or inspire you that customers/the community may not know? 

  1. I’m an avid birder.
  2. I play golf. We tend to play at Mill Valley Golf Course because I really only have time for 9 holes. You just can’t beat the MV Golf Course, I come around the 5th hole and there’s that view of Mt Tam, it’s priceless.
  3. I also do deep water aerobics in an outdoor pool in Strawberry. Recently, with the weather that’s been happening, it hailed. We got pelted but we kept going!

Danna: Is there a business within Mill Valley that you’d like to give a shout out to for a great experience you’ve had? 
Elizabeth: I love the Lumber Yard. We were here when it was a working lumber yard and people would complain about the trucks and parking. When Matt and Jan were going through their approvals, we heard people complaining about that same thing, but it worked out nicely. The Lumber yard brings so much quality of life to Mill Valley, we are very lucky to have it.


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