Last year, we had a baby and started our own firm – all within the span of about 2 1/2 months. Needless to say, work-life balance has been a major part of our first year in business.
Being your own boss is challenging and sometimes stressful but it also completely awesome. We sometimes joke about working in sweat pants or happy hours at 4:30 and while there are certainly lots of perks to calling your own shots, the biggest perk has been our ability to stretch and grow during this first year of business and parenthood. Which brings us to our first topic:
For us, this might be the magic word when it comes to achieving an effective work-life balance. Staying flexible has allowed us to thrive in what has been a year of fast-paced changes and growth. We set goals and deadlines, but build in buffers for when things don’t go quite according to plan. We also see our days in 24 hour increments – which can mean going to the grocery store at 2:00 in the afternoon while hosting client meetings in the evenings after Avery goes to bed. If Avery decides to take an extra long nap one day, I keep chugging away knowing that tomorrow she may wake up early. Some days we work more, some days less (which feels like a more natural flow for our project-based profession anyway) – but at the end of the month it usually balances out. We’ve found that although schedule is important (see next section), allowing ourselves some wiggle room keeps us moving forward.
+ Schedule vs. Non-Schedule
I think at first there was an appeal in doing away with the idea of a set schedule. But as Avery went from newborn to baby I quickly realized that her schedule was my schedule and I needed to learn to accommodate it. That was all fine and dandy, but you see – as much as a schedule was important for her, it never stayed the same for very long. This was frustrating at times and for the first 8 months or so I felt like I was constantly re-adapting to her sleeping and feeding schedule. However, as she needed less feedings during the day and we hired some childcare help (more on that below!) things were much more predictable and I was able to create an effective schedule that worked. Now that she’s transitioned to one nap a day I feel like we’re in a sweet spot that will work for the next year or so. Also, I take Wednesdays off (in theory at least!), which gives me the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with Avery. In the mornings, we meet up a group of seven or so mamas and kiddos (we’ve been getting together weekly since our toddlers were newborns!). It’s 2 hours a week, but the support is invaluable.
Now, Kyle also has a schedule but it’s not the same as mine. We eventually realized that we function best on slightly shifted clocks so instead of fighting it, we embraced it. In a nutshell, I get up earlier in the morning and he goes to bed later. Although it was a schedule that evolved over the last year, we realized that it gave us something that is hard to come by when you work from home (with your spouse!)(with a kiddo!) – personal downtime. I love having a bit of quiet time in the morning, then making breakfast for Avery and me when she wakes up. For Kyle he has that sliver of quiet time at night to finish up some work, unwind with Netflix or meet up with guy friends. It’s a small thing but has a big impact.
One year in, the takeaway for us is that a schedule is important, but it doesn’t have to be the 8-5 that we were used to. Now that it gets dark at 4:30 (bahhhhh!) we’re finding that we need to probably tweak our schedules yet again – meaning we should really take a break to get outside during the day then consider a second shift of sorts after Avery goes to bed. (I think one of the biggest adjustments to parenthood is simply being home bound by 7:00 each night!)
+ Divide and Delegate
Before forming Studio Zerbey, my plan was to work part-time while taking care of Avery. Childcare is crazy expensive in Seattle (if you can get in!) so this was a plan that made a lot of sense for us. When Kyle joined the firm, we decided that he would continue with his full-time schedule and we would see how it all panned out. This worked fine while Avery was quite young and either slept most of the day or was otherwise content with immobility. (I should also mention that she has been a good sleeper and that alone is HUGE.) Around 8 or 9 months though, we knew we needed to make a change. Although we have prided ourselves in our DIY approach to most everything, we needed some backup. So, we hired a nanny. And a house cleaning service. BEST MOVES EVER.
At first I was reluctant to shell out the extra money, but when you’re self-employed you think about your time in a whole new way. Time is money. You gotta spend money to make money. You get the idea. At first our nanny came 4 hours a day, 3 days a week – filling the time between Avery’s morning and afternoon nap. A few months later we added the 4th day and when Avery dropped to one nap last month we increased the hours to 20 per week. Because we both work from home (and Avery is usually a reliable napper), our nanny is able to leave after putting Avery down for her nap, which in theory gives me 6-7 hours of work time each day. (Of course, there are days when she doesn’t nap as long – see “flexibility” above.)
I was hesitant about finding a good nanny and how that dynamic would work with us at home, but I’m happy to say that the arrangement has exceeded our expectations. We have actually had two fantastic nannies that Avery adores and somehow we all function in our small house. I’m able to focus on my work, even with the sounds of playing and laughing coming from the main floor. Someone gave me this advice early on and it’s so true – you simple have to hire someone that you trust and then TRUST them. Also, it’s ok to take it slow – in the beginning I would take a break at lunch to prepare Avery’s food, but over time I’ve relaxed my involvement and it’s been totally fine.
Now, the house. We love ol’ chezerbey but she does get dirty. I blame the toddler. And the golden retriever. Oh, and the two adults who are home 90% of the time. (But mostly the golden retriever.) So, we got some help in the form of every-other-week cleaning. Guys, it’s awesome and our entire house is clean in an hour. Granted, there’s still regular tasks that we have to do ourselves, but it’s been both a practical and psychological relief to be able to delegate that out so we can instead focus on our business or our family.
+ Make Time for Yourself and Each Other
When you simultaneously become a new parent and a new business owner, this one can be tough. Admittedly, we have only been on four dates since Avery was born but we’re getting better. (It still feels odd to plan them in advance, but so worth it.) Since we’re together most of the time and regularly go out to dinner as a family, I think we underestimated the need for the occasional date night. And then we went on one and oh hey! there’s not that little human that requires a percentage of your attention at all times. And yes, we totally talk about work during date nights, but more in the vein of hopes and dreams rather than “so, did you figure out that scupper detail?”.
Also, make time for yourself. It can be easy to back-burner that pedicure or time at the gym, but it’s time well-spent. For me, this means working out at least twice a week and getting out of the house by myself(!) at least a couple of times a month.
+ Get Out of the House!
This is another tough one for work-at-home parents, especially during the cold, rainy months. (In fact, we would appreciate any suggestions on this subject!) So far, we’ve found that getting out for an early dinner is effective, or we’ll tag team it in the evenings to grab a drink with friends. If we want to get fancy and get out during daylight, then there’s usually a small sliver of time after Avery’s nap where we’ll head to the library or run errands. We also try to take advantage of the weekends, doing things together as a family.
Doing as-builts (in the rain) for a new project when Avery was about 3 1/2 months old. Also, it looks like I am wearing a stuffed animal.
+ Focus on the Awesome
Y’know, it’s easy to knit-pick the details when you’re your own boss. For me, I often feel like I’m straddling a line between SAHM and WAHM, sometimes feeling inadequate for either not spending enough time with Avery or not working enough. There are days that are challenging and days where everything falls into place and I feel like I’m doing awesome at both jobs. And I think that’s the key – focus on the awesome. Kyle and I regularly find ourselves stepping away from a particular situation and taking a moment to feel thankful for what we have. It’s a perspective shift that only takes a second but re-motivates us to keep pushing forward as architects and parents.
So there you have it – our strategies for making it all work (thus far!). We’d love to hear what has worked for other parents/business owners!
Yesterday, I painted swatches of the four bluish-gray colors we’re considering for the bedroom walls.
(They are, from left to right: “silver streak”, “eclipse”, “smoke gray” and “ashland slate”. All Benjamin Moore.)
Drastic differences, huh? Kyle and I laughed at the idea of a serious blog post about what color we should choose (though it’s not as comical as our choices for Avery’s nursery!), especially given that colors can vary from monitor to monitor. But, if you do have an opinion feel free to weigh in! (At this point, we don’t have a clear favorite.) Back in 2008 we painted the room white because it only has one window (north-facing) and tends to feel darker than the rest of the house. However, after living with it for a few years we’ve decided to embrace the lack of light and go more cave-mode. We love how cozy Avery’s room feels, but decided to lighten things up a bit for this space.
We’re going to give it a few days before we make a decision, but anything will be an improvement over the yellow-tinged white paint that’s there now. (Lesson learned, never buy off-the-shelf “white” paint.) Slowly but surely we’re chipping away at this room. Maybe a post-Thanksgiving bedroom charrette? What could be better!?
(Painting these swatches reminded us of our first go-around with picking colors for this room. Yikes, our house was scary.)
Studio Zerbey has officially been in business for over a year now! We haven’t taken much time to reflect on that milestone, so I’m glad for the opportunity to do so here. Starting a new business is no easy feat, but one that has been incredibly rewarding for us so far. To commemorate, we’ll be posting a three-part series on year one. This first post will cover an overall look at our firm – what this last year has included and what we’re planning for the future. In the next posts, we’ll talk about work-life balance and get into specifics about the type of projects we’re working on.
+ Start Up: For the first few months our time was divided between new projects and start-up tasks. (The photo above was taken during our first week, before we had ordered our new work stations or set up our offices!) We took care of the basics first: forming an LLC, obtaining state and city business licenses (and later amending those documents after Kyle joined), professional liability insurance, health insurance, setting up a business banking account, creating a website and business cards (thanks to Anna!), seeking out a competent attorney, hiring an accountant and purchasing bookkeeping software. Those tasks weren’t necessarily difficult, but there was quite a bit of legwork to find the right resources, make the appropriate phone calls and review the different options. Actually, I completed many of these tasks during the first few months after Avery was born – ahh, maternity leave for the self-employed! After we were all legit, we focused on hardware and software. Because we provide a professional service in lieu of a product, our overhead is rather low. That said, our computers and digital storage are one of the most vital aspects of our business. We chose to buy the best we could, creating an efficiency that could be passed along to our clients. Additional expenses included some office supplies, reference books and bulking up our materials library. Now that we have what we need, we feel like we’re running a pretty tight ship over here at Studio Zerbey and will have only minimal overhead expenses during year two.
+ Working Together: I was a little hesitant about what it would be like working together, but one year in we’re doing great. One of the big realizations we had is that having career fulfillment is WAY more important to how happy we are as a couple than any challenge or hurdle we’ve faced running a business together. We don’t always agree on everything, but in the grand scheme of things we’re always on the same page, playing for the same team. Last December, we talked about our strategies for working together and we’ve stuck to them. We each have our own office spaces and for the most part manage our own projects – though we also regularly collaborate or help each other out. In addition to dividing our work load, we’ve also developed a good strategy for dividing all those non-billable tasks. For instance, Kyle handles contracts and any IT issues, while I do the bookkeeping, invoicing and website upkeep. Again, these tasks came from a natural extension of what our individual strengths are, so there was never any squabbling over who got to do what. In fact, it’s a similar approach to how we handled the remodel and our work-life balance in general (which we’ll get into more in the next post!). Not only has this strategy worked well for us as husband-and-wife architects, but it’s an added efficiency that allows us more time to focus on our clients.
Our two offices, as of about 15 minutes ago. (I tried to use my camera’s timer to include myself in a shot, but the results were comical.) I think it’s funny how Kyle and I are on two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to office seating, but I really do love that yellow stool! Also, our two extra dining chairs serve as useful “spouse seats”.
+ Spreading the Word: We’ve spent a good amount of time this past year thinking about and brainstorming ideas for marketing. Right now, about half of our work is in the Seattle area and half in other parts of the U.S., which makes us think differently about how we promote our firm. Referrals and word-of-mouth are still incredibly important resources for getting new work, but we’re also exploring other avenues to get our names out there (such as Houzz and the Seattle chapter of the AIA). But after tracking visitors to our website over the last year, we’ve realized that our biggest marketing tool by far is this blog. (Hi!) We have had the privilege of talking to and working with so many people that came to us through the blog. Oh, and while we’re on the subject – a huge thank you to our clients. Seriously, it is amazing to work with so many smart and thoughtful people on a regular basis.
+ Personal Satisfaction and The Road Ahead: I don’t mean to sound like everything is puppies and bunnies all the time (we definitely have challenging days!), but overall we are making a living doing what we love and it’s hard to top that. So yes, personal satisfaction is high. That said, we’ve also worked really hard to get to this point in our careers. The timing was right, we made the leap and we haven’t looked back since. So what’s ahead for Studio Zerbey? We’re looking forward to expanding our list of projects and seeing some move into construction in the next year. Although we’re in a nice groove of just the two of us working from home – we haven’t ruled out the possibility of hiring employees or getting an office space at some point. Those are two major decisions and ones that we’d give considerable thought to before making any changes. For now, our focus is on the quality of our work.
+ The Takeaway: Prior to forming Studio Zerbey I read dozens of blog posts and articles on the subject, often inspired by what other people were achieving. This post is in part a means to share what we’ve learned in the past year. When starting a new business, it’s easy to just dive in and work, work, work so one of the best pieces of advice we can give is get organized! For us, we have a few essential tools: a shared Google calendar that has everything in it (work and personal), individual time sheets that are then referenced into a master file that tracks project fees and overall billing data and weekly Monday meetings to discuss the week ahead and assign tasks if needed. (This also serves as a good time to check-in on the status of each project.) In other words, the small stuff adds up. Don’t cut corners.
Finally, make time for the things that fuel your work. This is a hard one for architects and can be even more challenging when you’re wearing all the hats of a business owner (and new parent!), but being a creative person means constantly finding inspiration and ideas outside of work. And although we’ve been licensed for nearly five years, you never stop learning either. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking extra courses or reading every design magazine out there, but more about being aware of your surroundings, always asking why and how, and continuing to go down the paths that are the most fulfilling.
Somehow, we’re always busy. In the past, busy meant working on the house weeknights and weekends – often staying up late to upload photos and share our progress on the blog. Nowadays, even though we’re still working on the house (sloooowly), we’re working on Studio Zerbey more. And that work doesn’t necessarily translate to direct blog posts.
(Oh, you did want to read a summary of interior insulation options for mass masonry wall assemblies?)
Actually, I have several blog post ideas floating around in my head, but they are either time-consuming or not quite ready for showtime. I’ve also been reluctant to write a “we’re still alive!” post, but here it is. We’re still alive! Our one year anniversary of starting Studio Zerbey (formally, as a team) is this month and I’ve been thinking of writing a series of posts that talk about what we’re working on, what it’s like running our own business and how we strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance. We also have some new Studio Zerbey projects in the works that we’ll be sharing in the next few weeks.
…and behold, we are still making progress on the bedroom!
We haven’t made a decision on paint color, but I’ve narrowed it down to
50 4 shades of gray. Now I just need to get sample quarts and see how the colors look in the space. (We’re thinking something in the mid-tones.) And a big thank you to all the feedback we received on our last post – we’re leaning towards option 3 but are still undecided on a few elements.
Avery and I took a short trip to the east coast last weekend and when I came back a new headboard was waiting for me! This is a teaser shot, but we’re really happy with how it turned out. Of course, we’ll have to take it back out to paint and such, but we’re enjoying it in the meantime. (I’ll take photos and give a full run-down of how it’s fabricated in a later post.)
Finally, we’ve also been busy with a certain toddler. Avery is walking all over the place and generally very busy doing busy toddler things. She was too young to get into Halloween last year, so this was our first attempt at trick-or-treating. (And because she’s only 15 months old, her candy = our candy! Yesssss!)
We kept it simple and went to our neighborhood’s downtown area, but she was understandably overwhelmed by it all. It wasn’t until we got home and gave her a few bites of candy that she put two and two together. Sugar rush, weeeeeee!
Well, it’s been about 8 months since we first talked about redoing the master bedroom and in that time we’ve been able to accomplish…approximately nothing. (Besides lots of thinking about the bedroom, which I suppose counts for something!)
But we’re not giving up! Our plan is to make all the decisions and buy all the materials up front (what a concept!) and then just knock it out in a weekend (plus or minus a few days). Now that we host client meetings in our house, sleeping on a mattress in our living room might not be the best idea. (Although, I’m sure Avery and Bailey would love it.)
So, in the spirit of moving forward and making progress, I assembled three different “idea boards” for colors/materials/products/etc. Really, I’m just trying to establish a direction that we can get excited about. You’ll notice some elements that are consistent throughout and that’s because we have made decisions on a few things, including:
+ Flooring: in 2008, we refinished the original fir floors but they were really never that nice and have since been trashed (ahem, Bailey) again. So last spring we bought these Flor carpet tiles on sale. (Psst, I just noticed Flor is having a big sale right now!) They look a little darker in the photos but the thing I like is that they have hints of gray, blue and brown so should easily match any direction we go with. To save money, we plan on installing them as a “reverse area rug” of sorts, omitting any tiles that would be completely under the bed.
+ Bedding: the downside to owning a CA king is that it’s hard to find sheets. We have one set of light blue/gray ones that we plan on working with for the time being. We also recently bought a new dark blue/gray duvet cover from IKEA. I haven’t had the best luck with IKEA duvets in the past, but I must say I’m impressed with this one so far (and it was much more affordable than similar versions I’ve seen). Although I don’t own it yet, I’ve also been eyeing these coverlets from West Elm. I admit I’m partial to the yellow but think any color could work.
+ Headboard: the plan is make a built-in headboard from a sheet of maple plywood (which is currently residing in our shop).
+ Lighting: we plan on keeping the Artemide Tolomeo sconces and Modern Fan Co. fan/light combo.
+ Wardrobe: the IKEA PAX wardrobe will be staying but in lieu of adding custom doors (an idea we’d been tossing around) we plan on replacing the existing brown curtains and IKEA tension rod with something new and more functional.
+ Chair: I have a simple IKEA chair (that we bought in the as-is section years ago) that I use as a glorified clothes holder. (Y’know, for the stuff that needs to be hung back up.) It was pretty beat up when we bought it (for $5 I think?) and I don’t necessarily need to replace it, but then I saw this West Elm chair that Dana put in her bedroom and I WANT. Again, maybe it’s ridiculous since I rarely sit in this chair, but I’m thinking we could use it as extra seating when we have big groups over for dinner? (Also, Kyle says I’m good at rationalizing.)
+ Walls: part of the original motivation to redo the bedroom was that we hated our off-the-shelf “white” walls. First we thought we’d repaint to match the rest of the house (BM’s “Super White”) but we love the dark walls of the nursery so much that we’re now thinking more in that direction (though a bit lighter or less saturated perhaps).
Anyway, design options!
Funny enough, the biggest design obstacle I’m having with this space is NIGHTSTANDS. I feel like I have searched and searched (as seen on my Pinterest board for this room) but have yet to find the right thing. The nightstands shown in this first scheme are IKEA, but the actual color is a much brighter yellow and not quite the vibe we’re going with here.
I’m also still hunting for fabric for the wardrobe curtains (I’m thinking fabric will be a better route as standard curtain widths aren’t quite enough). I found this pattern on Tonic Living. In my mind we’ll do something with a small print and some color (but not too much!) so maybe this could work. I think whatever fabric we choose will help determine the wall color – in this scheme I’m thinking a lighter (yet warmer) gray to compliment the darker gray in the fabric. (The pillow is West Elm.)
In this second scheme, I chose a brighter, more playful curtain fabric (also from Tonic Living) with a more blue-gray wall color and these end tables from Target (which I think may be too blue in real life). In general, we like to use color for accessories and other elements that are easily changeable (like curtains and free-standing furniture), but color also tends to become a focal point so making the right decision can be tricky.
The third scheme delves a bit more into neutral territory, but there’s something calming about it. The curtains (we’d had to buy 4 panels) are from Crate&Barrel and the pillow is from West Elm. I found the nightstand on Makers Alley. (Anyone ever purchased something from there? I hadn’t heard of it before.) The concept is similar to our current nightstands (discontinued Offi TV stands that no longer fit with our bigger bed) and I like that, but I’m also thinking it could also be a DIY project. Though with the maple plywood headboard as a backdrop, I think I’d be inclined to make the box part a color. I suppose the good news in all of this is that nightstands are the one thing that could be added later.
So this is where we’re at. Design-minded friends, what do you think? Maybe there are some more options out there that we have overlooked? I would say we could go ahead and get started but I feel like we need to have a fabric or curtain picked out before we commit to a wall color. Oh, and then there are accessories and artwork. One step at a time.
FYI – I’m not being paid by anyone for the content in this post. Just hours and hours of good ol’ fashioned brainstorming and interweb searching.