Judging by telephone calls to Andrew Shields' Wellington Street office, the second-hand property market is booming. Inquiries from owners looking to rejuvenate ageing flats are coming in almost daily - a far cry from the handful of contracts the architectural design company secured last year. The impact of Sars on local investment nearly drove the four-year-old Building Design Studio (BDS) to the wall. 'We were very close to not surviving,' says Mr Shields. The firm turned to a business consultant for help. As part of a restructuring that followed, BDS launched a new website ( www.bds.com.hk ) and published a coffee-table book on interior design that was distributed through local book stores. It also buffed up its media relations, soliciting project coverage on the pages of local home design and architecture publications. 'Architects may have inspirational ideas when it comes to design, but marketing is not a major area when studying for your degree, so a crash course in how to promote ourselves was on the cards,' he says. More than a year later, BDS is swamped with more work than its five-member design staff can handle and Mr Shields intends to hire new creative and office staff in coming weeks. 'We are doing a fair amount of residential - people are buying flats and doing them up - and there is also a steady stream of commercial work coming in,' says Mr Shields, a Glaswegian who completed his architectural training in London. After a brief stint in Tokyo he moved to Hong Kong for work. He launched the firm in 1999 in partnership with Sean Niem, working out of the front room of a rented flat on Lamma Island. The firm's design scope includes furniture, residential and commercial interiors and some home design, with several projects built in the New Territories. His previous job with a large design firm in London gave him experience in large corporate projects, but little in the daily grind of meeting monthly cash-flow targets, schmoozing clients, or managing internal office issues. The firm has also signed a contract to design and oversee the interior decoration work on a number of show homes in a new residential project in Beijing. He says a few years ago local architects avoided mainland projects owing to difficulties in collecting fees and design piracy. 'It is still a little tricky, but is a lot better,' he says. The firm is on track to make a profit this year, but Mr Shields says he earns about half what he would working for a big design agency. 'It is very stressful, but I could never imagine going back to work for someone else,' he says. 'If I couldn't be doing what I am doing now, I wouldn't go and work for somebody else, I would find something entirely different to do.'