he said/he said: designing together

by Amy Azzarito

Over the last few weeks, in honor of 3M’s contest, which looks at the humor that frequently arises when couples attempt to communicate their creative vision to each other, we’ve been examining the working relationships of some favorite Design*Sponge creative couples such as filmmakers Mark and Angela Walley and super-creative photographer and styling duo William and Susan Brinson. Today we’re hoping to inspire you to submit your own story by delving into the creative relationship of Jesse James and Kostas Anagnopoulos (known to friends and family as Gus). Jesse is the founder and creative director of Aesthetic Movement (A/M), a multi-disciplinary design firm and creative consultancy, and Gus is A/M’s style director.

They were both born and raised in the city of Chicago. They attended the same tiny high school for the arts, and by chance, they also later attended Bard College in upstate New York. But as they were four years apart in age, they never actually crossed paths until a mutual friend introduced them at a party in the East Village 15 years ago. They’ve been together ever since, and they have a 4.5-year-old daughter named Olympia Baltimore. (A few weeks ago, we got a sneak peek into their vacation home.) Together, they’ve done everything from styling homes to renovation projects to product design and even collaborating on daughter Olympia’s Halloween costume. — Amy A.

*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.

Image above: The dining table in Jesse and Gus’ apartment in the historic district of Jackson Heights, Queens. All shots of the apartment were photographed by Philip Ficks and styled by Pam Morris for Aesthetic Movement.

What’s your favorite aspect of working on projects as a couple?

GUS: That we don’t always start by seeing the same thing, but we usually come to agreement in the end. We spend so much time together, and although we often arrive at the same conclusion separately, it’s the freedom to explore a different creative path that provides us with autonomy, and a healthy distance.

JESSE: The unconditional trust and loyalty. And that no idea is too out there.

Image above: The couple’s apartment in Jackson Heights. Image by Philip Ficks

What’s the first step in beginning a project together?

GUS: I like to ask whom it is that we are creating for, and then figure out what their first impression should be.

JESSE: We both have a constant flow of ideas, and we have a lot going on at any given time. Projects start off as a conversation, and then another, and another. The good stuff usually catches steam and rises to the top.

Image above: Halloween costumes for daughter Olympia

What’s been your favorite project to work on together?

GUS: I’m sure I should say something work related . . . but in all honesty, it would have to be collaborating on our daughter Olympia’s Halloween costumes. At age one, she was a potted fern, then at two she was a paper doll, and at three she was the UPS lady, and last year, at age four, she was a very French pastry chef. This year she’s into the idea of being Cyndi Lauper, circa 1984. She recently saw the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video and was immediately enamored.

JESSE: Without hesitation, it has been the raising of our daughter. The most important, challenging, creative, and rewarding project you could ever want or imagine.

Image above: The Aesthetic Movement’s New York showroom and design studio is located in Long Island City, Queens, in a building that was originally a cigar factory. It’s one of three showrooms. The other two are in Atlanta and Chicago. Photographed by Keturah Davis for Aesthetic Movement.

How do you structure your workday?

GUS: Morning time is devoted to myself, and it’s when I do my writing. Then the bulk of the day is about reacting. Late nights are for catching up on things I couldn’t get to during the day.

JESSE: Most days are quite booked as I have a lot of people to meet with, and I try to keep a day or two open each week for the inevitable surprises. I like to work late into the evening, when the phone isn’t ringing and everyone else has got to sleep.

Image above: A/M’s stationery system, produced in Brooklyn by Coeur Noir, incorporates foil stamping and letterpress onto chipboard, onionskin and recycled papers.

How do you resolve aesthetic differences?

GUS: By listening.

JESSE: By arguing.

Image above: A recent A/M branding and packaging project, Further is a line that repurposes depleted vegetable oil gathered from restaurants, in partnership with chefs like Mario Batali, into products including soap, lotion and candles.

What would be your dream project to work on together?

GUS: I try hard not to have expectations, so in some ways, I don’t really have a dream project. I am open, and everything is a lesson. That being said, I do wish we could all strive to do more domestically, using resources that can be replenished and that have as little a mark on the earth as possible.

JESSE: My dream is to create unique, small hotels. It encompasses every detail that we collectively love and care about . . . from location, design, and experience, to people, products, food, and service.

Image above: The couple’s apartment in Jackson Heights. Image by Philip Ficks

Do you have a favorite tool?

GUS: Time is my favorite tool, and the morning in particular, as I feel like I have the most clarity then. Time seems increasingly valuable and rare. I want more of it.

JESSE: Graph paper. And community. Gus’s mother always says, “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” I believe in that, and we set out to create a company that allows us to work with people and products that we love. Gus and I are certainly a team, but A/M is ultimately a family of 30+ individuals, and we celebrate that. Every project we undertake is ultimately developed and designed by consensus.

Image above: The recently opened Honor boutique in NYC’s Meatpacking District.

How do you organize your tools?

GUS: My mantra is to put like things with like things, and to keep surfaces clean.

JESSE: I tend to have duplicates of everything in multiple locations . . . and just to be safe, I carry my office with me everywhere.

Image above: For Honor, a new womenswear brand, Aesthetic Movement was hired to conceptualize and design the interior.

How do you structure your off-time so that you’re definitely NOT working?

GUS: I’m a bit old fashioned, and I’d like to slow down with all of the technological devices. On my down time, I really try to ignore things that require electricity.

JESSE: Ask me that in 10 years. Taking time off is not currently my strength, but when my head hits the pillow, I am officially off the clock.

Images above: Both from the Jackson Heights apartment, bottom photo: Daughter Olympia’s bedroom. Images by Philip Ficks

Do you find that you each take the lead in different aspects of a project?

GUS: It depends on the project, but I do a lot of scouting, and I’m definitely more of the dreamer. Apart from my work with Jesse and A/M, I’m also a poet, so I guess once something actually exists, I like to clarify and edit.

JESSE: I often think of myself as the driver. I like to keep moving forward, and to produce. For better or worse, I’m also the perfectionist, but I try to approach things from a pretty wide perspective — both sweating the details and frequently stepping back to take in the view.

Image above: Bulletin board in the Aesthetic Movement’s NYC showroom.

What’s been on repeat?

GUS: Bach has been on repeat for almost 20 years.

JESSE: I alternate between old stuff like Annette Hanshaw, Cleo Brown, or Billie Holiday, and contemporary catharsis like Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, or Antony & The Johnsons.

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