From Shea and Syd to Chip and Joanna to Nate and Jeremiah, the design industry is full of couples turned business partners teaming up their skills. But running a successful design business while maintaining a relationship (and sanity!) can be easier said than done. To give us a little insight, we asked Brett and Kara Phillips of High Street Homes about their experience as a husband-wife design duo, and they absolutely delivered. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Brett and Kara are sharing eight secrets to building a design business with your spouse, plus how to stay in love through the process.
Photography: Jen Burner
First, we’d love to hear how you got started in home building + interior design and how High Street Homes was born.
We started shortly after we got married in 2010. We saved Kara’s salary for an entire year (by living with my in-laws) for a down payment on an open piece of land. We designed the home by working with a builder and unintentionally fell in love with the process. The wheels started turning, and we sold the house after only being there for five months. There was another piece of land in the neighborhood where we built our first speculative home, so we started to build custom homes shortly after that one sold. The timing of it all seems a little crazy because we were young and ambitious. Kara has a degree in Finance and Real Estate (with a father who was a land developer), and I have a degree in Marketing Communication with a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership. We used those skills to leverage relationships and teach us what we didn’t know.
Was it always your intention to work together as a couple, or did that happen organically?
We are an enneagram 3 (Kara) and an enneagram 7 (Brett), so our life has always been about the possibilities. The working together piece was a natural opportunity. We are both energized by entrepreneurship—creating something from nothing and taking on challenges. Designing and building a home is best done in partnership.
The best part about working with your significant other?
All the time together and flexibility. We went for a mid-day walk today to chat through some big goals and opportunities that are happening in our business and life. We have the opportunity to design our days and weave intentional time. Also, getting to see your significant other excel daily in their role is very fulfilling. Plus, it’s nice to be able to call your work wife, your actual wife.
Make sure there are easy ways to divvy up tasks and responsibilities. When we step on each other’s toes, we have not set clear enough guidelines for who makes the final call. With those guidelines in place, also be sure to review your responsibilities quarterly.
There is only so much time in the day. Being a small team means you have to utilize your best skill sets that make you money and outsource the tasks that send you down a rabbit hole. For example, we recently purchased a website template from the IDCO Studio and are in the process of getting that implemented!
Make sure to read books, engage with various articles, listen to interesting podcasts, and generally learn new things to chat about. The brilliant business idea that comes to your mind at 9:00 pm can wait. We keep phones out of the bedroom, too.
We have made many rushed decisions and chatted via breakfast (while getting our three boys out the door for school) only to realize we weren’t on the same page. Put important dates on your calendar to make sure you have focused, distraction-free time to come to a decision. Sometimes not making a decision is still a decision. Also, one person should set the agenda to help keep the decision on task.
When you work together, the stress of the job or a client becomes the stress of the couple. Sometimes, your significant other doesn’t need to get the firing squad of emotion when things go wrong at work or when a trade messes up. Write it down, take some deep breaths, and find some stress management outside of your partner.
This sounds simple and totally practical because it is. Listen to each other and make time for intimacy—your life will be better, we promise. Never let work get between your relationship, especially if it leads to building resentment over a decision or something that’s frustrating you. Be open and direct, and good fruit will come from it.
Interior Design: High Street Homes
Shove the phone in a drawer, send that last text in the car, and make sure your attention is on your family. Phones are very good at tricking us into giving them our attention, and we have been learning the art of being present.
Find a few ways that each of your likes to be celebrated. It could be a surprise date night out (or in). Or a gift for a job well-done that shows you are thinking about your significant other. Remember that the accounts payable, the email response and the Instagram post can wait until after the celebratory moment. There are so many challenges in running a small business, and each win should be honored.
Photography: Jen Morley
Create opportunities for each of you to have autonomy and have a hobby. There is a thing called “too much time together,” and having independence helps create a healthy balance. We both have separate workout communities, which provide a nice physical and social outlet. Also, don’t forget to celebrate and play. When you and your spouse are partners in so many things, life can quickly become about work.
A million thanks to Brett and Kara for all their transparency and words of wisdom! Have a question you’d still love answered? Leave a comment below!
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IDCO Studio is a full-service creative studio for interior designers and boutique lifestyle brands. Offering bespoke branding, web design and social media content creation, we help brands built around beautiful living elevate their digital presence to represent the physical spaces they design. Our recently launched limited-release website templates are the perfect way for interior designers to get a luxury website on a budget. These templates allow designers to maintain control of their content. Want to work together? Shoot us an inquiry here.
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