In the spirit of Relationships Month here at the Atelier, I thought it’d be fun to conduct a bit of investigative journalism into my own parents’ relationship! After all, they’ve been together since they were 16, married since they were 24, and in business together since I can remember. I like to joke that they’re the real life Chip and Joanna Gaines (of HGTV Fixer Upper fame). My dad builds the houses and my mom decorates them! Though their work bickering was cause for many an eye roll exchange between my brother and me at the dinner table growing up, it has never been more abundantly clear that their teamwork is a finessed practice, only capable by two individuals whose lives are overwhelmingly intertwined and whose respect for one another is unbounded. On a chilly October night, from the couch in my tiny NYC apartment, I called them on their couch in the Ohio home I grew up in…
Linne: So, you’ve been married for 27 years. What’s that like?
Jeff: We don’t know how to do it any other way. I pretty much do what mom tells me to do so that I don’t get in trouble. Put that in the headline! (laughs).
Stacie: As long as he does things my way, everything is good!
But seriously, we’ve been through a lot together—ups and downs. We’ve been together since we were sixteen!
Jeff: We’ve experienced all different stages of life together. High school, our college years, our early careers, getting married, having children, building a family! We’ve also been through some pretty awful things. Her dad passed away when we were in our twenties, I got sick for a bit. These are things that, early on in a marriage, can break you. But, we got through them!
Stacie: Just like a house has a foundation, we have a foundation that we’ve built upon.
Linne: Aw, haha. Cuuute metaphor!
Jeff: If you build your foundation on bad soil, it’ll fall apart. But, if you build it the right way, your home can withstand the test of time. Those things that we went through helped us to realize that there isn’t anything we can’t get through together.
Linne: How did you start working together?
Stacie: Well, dad needed a model home decorated and Grammy (my dad’s mother, my paternal grandmother) used to design them for him, but she was too busy to do this one. So, I offered! Then, people started contacting us, wanting me to decorate their homes and I was like, ‘No, no, no, I just design the models.’
The first project that I really did was for Charles Oakley (former NBA player). I said that I could introduce him to some interior designers. He was like, ‘Well can’t you just do it?’ and I was like, “Well, I’m not an interior designer, but ya I could do it.’ So, I furnished his entire house, from the plumbing and tile to the furniture, bedding, pots and pans. I even set up his files! He literally just needed to move his clothes in! It was a lot of fun for me and I started doing it more and more. I learned on the job. I learned how to do electrical things! I always had a vision of how I liked things. It feels really meant to be.
Linne: Do you feel like you balance each other out, bring different things to the table?
Jeff: We definitely balance each other at work because there are things that I do that mom doesn’t know how to do and there are other things that I don’t know how to do that mom is really good at.
I know construction, how things fit together structurally. Mom is focused on the aesthetic, how it looks and feels. Most of our clients say, “Oh, you’re just the one building the house. We want to talk to your wife.”
We’re not nearly as good without each other. If mom worked with another builder or I worked with another designer, we wouldn’t be able to create what we do because that mutual understanding wouldn’t be there.
But at home, we’re always coming from the same place, the same point of view.
If I wasn’t around, things in our family wouldn’t be any different. I mean, granted, things would be different if neither one of us were here, but our goals would be the same, the way we want to raise our family would be completely the same.
Stacie: We’re a good team!
Linne: Austy and I are out of the house now. You’re empty nesters! People say that relationships change after the kids are grown. But, you guys still have a common project…
Stacie: We would love for you both to be around and we miss you terribly, but honestly, we are busier than ever at work! It keeps us very occupied. We’re working nights and weekends, which is fine because it’s what we love, and we get to do it together. So, being empty nesters doesn’t necessarily effect our relationship because we’re still working towards something day-to-day together.
Jeff: If mom was off doing her own thing and I was doing my thing I think it’d be really hard. But, we have so many common bonds beyond you guys. When we became empty nesters, it was sad because we miss you guys, but we have other things going on that are intertwined for us.
Linne: Is it annoying that your work, quite literally, follows you home? You can’t turn it off because you live together…
Stacie: Well, I think it’s a different world these days with email on phones and people having access to work 24/7, no matter what business you’re in! But, when dad has to work at night or if I have to work at night, we totally understand because we know exactly what has to get done for a project. It’s not a situation where one of us is going off and doing this other job where we don’t understand what’s going on.
For me, Papa Arnie and Nana (my mom’s parents, my maternal grandparents) always worked together. At a time when women, and moms especially, weren’t working. The two of them were always working and I think it was very inspiring to me. I grew up with that example of work ethic. They made it look easy. It’s not as easy for dad and me. We argue a lot, but we get through it.
Jeff: And it’s about finding something you love to do! The long hours and bringing it home are just part of getting it done, but it’s never like, ‘Ugh, I have to do this,’ it’s just part of finishing the project. And there is a mutual respect for each other’s part of the project and giving each other the time to do their work.
Stacie: If I’m working late, dad will wait for me to watch our shows!
Jeff: Yeah, she tends to watch ahead and then re-watch them with me without telling me she’s skipped ahead!
Stacie: But usually, I’m the one in the office longer! I’ll get on a role. I get a second wind at night!
Jeff: I haven’t been to bed before 3am in like a week because I wait for her for the shows!
Linne: Oy! Haha.
What’s the best thing about working together?
Jeff: I get to do it with her! At the end of the day, we do it together. It’s not me, it’s not her, it’s us.
Stacie: It’s fun creating something together. It’s nice to know that we’ve built a reputation with our clients for our product and our service, and we live up to it.
Jeff: And what we do makes other people happy and gives them a special place to raise their families!
Stacie: And it really helps that dad is a team player with me. There were times when I had a client meeting, but you kids needed to be somewhere and dad would jump in, or vice versa. We had to work together to get everything done that needed done.
Jeff: Working together allowed us to make it work for our family together!