he said/she said: designing together

by Amy Azzarito

We get to meet lots of creative couples at Design*Sponge, and I’m always curious about what it’s like to work creatively with your partner. One of my favorite brands, 3M, (seriously, those command hooks are life changing) is exploring the humor that often arises when couples try to work on DIY projects together, to the tune of a contest with a $5,000 grand prize and a chance to win $250 daily. So, to inspire you to submit your own story, we’re going to take a look at some couples who work well together creatively. Susan and William Brinson are just one of those couples that creatively speak the same language. They were high-school sweethearts who jointly attended the Savannah College of Art and Design. The couple has a passion for food, styling and photography. They document their work on their blog, House of Brinson. We got a sneak peek into their NYC home last year, and now they’re lifting the cover on their working partnership. (Let me know, if you know of other creative couple whom you’d like to hear from and I’ll see what I can do!)— Amy A.

All photographs by William Brinson

*Brought to you by 3M Frameworks, the collection of 3M’s suite of home improvement products that can help you start and perfect any DIY project.

When did you start working creatively together?
He said: We have always collaborated as long as we have known each other, no matter what jobs we had. We always seem to come together on something.

She said: Our blog is the first public collaboration. We have always worked with each other in the background and been involved in each other’s work behind the scenes. We really needed to establish ourselves as individual creatives before we could create a large-scale, full-blown collaboration. I think this adds to the confidence of our creative selves when we collaborate.

What’s your favorite aspect of working on projects as a couple?
He said: I really know Susan’s taste and how to push her buttons, and she knows how to push mine right back! It makes me expand my thinking on the creative aspect of each shoot.

She said: Two heads are better than one! I love having Will to bounce ideas off of. I tend to be an off-the-cuff, abstract thinker, and he really pushes me to make sure my ideas are solid before pursuing them. We help each other edit, edit, edit to make sure we are producing our best work.

What’s the first step in beginning a project together?
He said: We bounce ideas off each other until we come up with a list of what’s important.

She said: I start by saying: Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could ____? Then Will has a different idea, and back and forth we go.

How do you resolve aesthetic differences?
He said: I am always right! Oh wait, was that out loud? Honestly we defend our points to see what holds up.

She said: Did he just say he was always right?! We do talk about it, and it can get heated. We try to be fair to each other’s points of view, and honestly, if we can convince each other, it is a solid idea.

What would be your dream project to work on together?
He said: I would like to shoot a dark and sexy campaign.

She said: I would like to rebrand a major company, everything about their visual aesthetic. From photography, styling, typography, brand elements and positioning. It involves my whole creative life, from the design to the styling to the creative direction of the impression of that brand. I would love the work with a company like Williams-Sonoma to give them a new look for a new generation of home cooks.

Do you have a favorite tool?
He said: My Maymia RZ for the studio and my Cannon for location.

She said: I am an old-fashioned pencil-and-paper kinda gal. I love Evernote for digital things.

How do you organize your tools?
He said: Susan bought an industrial cart from a shipping store going out of business, and I put vintage bins on it for all my gear.

She said: My tools are props, mostly, and I sprinkle them throughout our loft, wherever they fit. Because we shoot a lot of food, I have had to stock up on dishes, so they are pretty much everywhere!

How do you structure your off time so that you’re definitely not working?
He said: What’s that? Not working? I am always inspired by what is around me, and I try to make note of it and come back to my notes later.

She said: I think we are really horrible at this. You can find us shooting at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. We are always talking about creative ideas; it doesn’t really feel like work to me, which is why I think I don’t mind “working” all the time.

What’s been on repeat?
He said: Rolling Stones and The Bravery.

She said: Oh, this is where opposites attract. I have been into Gucci Mane lately, and you can always find Nina Simone on repeat when I am around.

Do you find that you each take the lead in different aspects of a project?
He said: Sure, there are some things that I am better at, and some things that Susan is better at, but we always have an opinion about what each other is doing.

She said: I hope that we don’t scare others when they see us work together because we both have things that we do without thinking about it! I tend to be more the “creative manager,” and Will seems more “analytical creative” to me, and I like that balance he provides.

How do you structure your workday?
He said: Lists, lists, lists. We love Evernote. We compile what we have to do for the day and each take on parts of it.

She said: Our structure is a lot of evenings and weekends. We have to work around our professional job/client schedules and often shoot together after hours. We like to shoot daylight, so that translated into a lot of weekend time.

Image above: Susan and William Brinson

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  • Susan and Will are such lovely people. I had the pleasure of meeting them while in NYC for Blogfest and they are so welcoming and genuine. They opened up their gorgeous loft to us and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip! They really are just as you described, a great collaboration.

  • Love this! My husband spend many hours working together on our blog, and it’s nice to peek inside the working relationship of another couple. It’s not always easy to work together, but I think that challenge gives energy and life to the project.

  • I was just thinking about creative couples. A friend calls my husband and I the “dynamic duo” with our art of mosaic and stained glass, and so it is very cool to read an interview with another dynamic duo!

  • Great post, Amy. I love reading about designer couples! I know you guys have featured some posts about Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom from The Curiosity Shoppe and Nathan Strandberg and Katie Kirk of 8 Hour Day, but I’d love to see a post about these couples that focuses on what it’s like to work together.

    • Oooh! Good ideas, Melanie! Thanks! Nathan and Katie would be super interesting – particularly as they’re on a big cross-country trip now! -Amy

  • Loved reading this! It’s so nice to hear how other couples work together. My husband and I run a graphic design studio in Brooklyn. People are always amazed when they realize we’re around each other all the time – for work and for fun! But we love it. Glad to see we’re not the only ones!

  • I love this post, but those Command hooks are awful! Maybe it’s because I live in a climate that has major hot/humid-cold/frigid mood swings, but I have yet to use one that hasn’t fallen off the wall within hours of putting it up, often with something as light as a tiny calendar. The Kraken rum, on the other hand, is exquisite.

    • Hi Kate – bummer that they haven’t worked for you but I’d swear by Command hooks – I used them to create an entire gallery wall – on a brick surface. They’ve stayed up for two years – even through the major temperature fluctuations in a NYC.

  • Love this post! I can see myself in so many of the issues they discussed. Much of the creative work I do is with my husbands vision, support, etc – seeing others and how they work together is inspiring!

  • Ahh I’m so happy to see someone else exploring this subject. As a fairly newly wedded gal I’m always anxious to peer into another’s marriage as well as snoop around their pretty home, now we can do both!!

    Thanks gals keep the posts coming!

  • Kate — I find the trick with Command strips is to do as it says on the box and let them sit for at least an hour before you hang anything from them. They also work better out of direct sunlight. I have them all over my apartment, and the only spot I ever have trouble with is a wall that has moisture issues from the AC pipes inside it.

  • My favorite time is working together with someone in the garage on a project. I cherish those moments, whether it is my dad, granddad, or boyfriend. I love working with my hands and sharing that with a loved one makes it all that more special achieving that goal/accomplishment.

  • Thank you all for the kind words. It’s a pleasure working with someone who gets what your thinking, before you even have to say it and vice versa.
    Btw the straws are from Fish’s Eddy

  • This is awesome! I’m so happy to have found this, my boyfriend and I both just started a design job together as a team, and all of our friends and family were worried and thought we were crazy. It’s been great so far and it’s so encouraging to see other couples working creatively together!

  • This was such a neat post, and those photos are exquisite!

    My boyfriend and I don’t work together, per se, but we share a studio, and I think we inspire one other. I know he inspires me. I have worked as a production assistant on some of his projects, and he lets me bounce my own ideas off of him.

    He’s a musician, and I’m a visual artist, writer, and photographer. I did the photo shoot for his first album.

    It’s amazing living with another artist, even if you don’t work directly together. Our house is so fun and creative!