Monday, May 10, 2010

Married to the Job, and Each Other

Answer: Margaritas and salt. Shoes and socks. Peanut butter and jelly. Question: Name things that go together unconditionally.

When DCMUD approached three area husband-and-wife architect teams about their formula for combining work and marriage, we wondered if for them, the concept was also unconditional.

Checks and Balances

For Jane Treacy and Phillip Eagleburger of Treacy & Eagleburger Architects PC, working together was a natural expression of their relationship, though marriage came four years after the professional partnership. Introduced to each other as fledgling architects by other married architects who all frequented DuPont Circle watering holes around 1985 (Treacy, who had worked in several East Coast cities, was working for Hord Coplan Macht in Baltimore and drove in for D.C.’s social life), the Eagleburger’s found that for them compatibility had many faces.
“I think it’s peculiar to the profession that architects kind of live with their work, more so than other professions,” said Eagleburger. “I think that’s why you get a lot of architects married to architects, because they understand what the situation is.”

Formed in 1989, Treacy & Eagleburger, with a staff of four, focuses primarily on regional residential projects, though their award-winning work extends to Massachusetts’ toney Cape and Islands as well. With Eagleburger preferring “edgier design,” explaining that their firm walks the line between traditional and contemporary, he is admittedly “more of a polemic,” something he attributes to his academic and jury experience. Eagleburger credits his wife’s more pragmatic style with reigning him in at all the right times, however.

Speaking to their modus operandi, Treacy explained that when a project comes in to the office, typically one principal and one staff member take it. “We do tag team things though,” she added. “We pretty much split the work: We’re both involved in the business end and in the architectural/design end, each acting as consultant” to the other principal. “We know all the time what’s going on with the other partner,” Treacy affirmed, though the client may not realize it.

At home, and even after a long day together at the office, Treacy, who often finishes her husband's sentences (the reverse is also true), said they spend a lot of their personal time together, dividing up activities, with dinner duty falling to her husband whom she concedes is “the better cook.”

“If Jane gets too involved in the kitchen, I kind of kick her out,” Eagleburger quipped, conceding that Treacy is better at cleaning.

Victoria is in the Details

Douglas and Victoria Rixey of Rixey-Rixey Architects met at University of Virginia School of Architecture just before Douglas graduated. Marrying soon after, each obtained a masters degree (Douglas from UVA and Victoria from Rice University) and worked separately for various firms such as Hartman-Cox and Bowie Gridley. Opening their own office in 1985, Douglas Rixey explained that because they’ve been working together so long, it’s no longer as hard as it may have been early on.

“At any firm, no matter how big the project, there’s really one person running that project,” he said, acknowledging that possession of one’s own project is key in their joint stewardship of the practice. That said, the opportunity for them to solicit the other’s input or critique is also invaluable.

The Rixey's, who specialize in high-end residential work and operate without a staff, pride themselves on the boutique aspect of their firm (nothing can be relegated to a junior associate, Douglas said). Both agreed Victoria is better at the details, and Douglas is more interested in the big picture.

Raised in a cutting edge Ohio home on a wooded bank designed and built by her industrial design engineer father (lots of cantilevers and soaring ceilings), Victoria said she and Douglas both love modern architecture but in their own practice in the region, gravitate toward more traditional or transitional work – and lots of it.

“Work used to be everything,” Douglas Rixey said. “And it’s just too much.’

With that in mind, the couple wraps up any discussion of the day on the trip home, talk of drawings, structure, fenestration and cost yielding perhaps to the evening’s menu and movie choices.

“That’s always been the easiest part of the relationship,” Victoria said. “There’s never been any friction related to housework, cooking, taking out the trash, laundry, any of that. It just kind of magically gets split up – I think very evenly,” she added. “We really enjoy being together all the time.”

Yours, Mine and Ours

For Elizabeth (Beth) Reader and Charles (Chuck) Swartz of Reader & Swartz Architects, PC in Winchester, Va., working together is not only a couples’ affair, but a family affair.

“Our kids (Ella, 13, and Jake, 10) get dropped off from the school bus into our office and do their homework,” Swartz said, recalling that from the earliest ages, they got their parents’ old models to glue and play with. “They go on site visits with us.”

Meeting at Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design in 1986 and marrying the following year, Reader and Swartz returned to Winchester, the latter’s home town, briefly working in the same office together and opening their own firm, currently with a staff of five, in 1990. With a substantial number of cutting edge commercial and residential projects on their dance card, Reader and Swartz have observed a kind of manifest destiny of late in their client base: D.C. ex-patriots finding their way to areas such as Winchester, building weekend or retirement homes.

“We pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner and see each other all the time,” Swartz said of their relationship, qualifying their actions by adding that “because (they’ve) done it for so long, it doesn’t seem strange.”

According to Reader, who is credited with running more of the firm’s business side of things, she takes her work home all the time and hasn’t found a way to separate it. “Our kids even complain about it,” she admitted.

In support of his wife’s shop talk predilection, Swartz, who enjoys the casual moniker of “spiritual leader” (translation: he keeps everyone going), said he and his wife “love doing architecture and don’t know how to do anything else. We get a lot of positive stuff riding down the road,” he explained.

Close to Home

When queried about conflict, the couples wasted no time in bringing up renovations of their own homes and/or the building of their own vacation home.

“We joked that maybe we should have divided up the rooms,” Phil Eagleburger said, reflecting on a renovation of their Cleveland Park home five years ago.

“It took us nearly two years before we could even start construction,” said Douglas Rixey of the couple’s vacation home in the northern neck of Virginia, “And it wasn’t so much that we disagreed on solutions,” he added. “We just couldn’t decide.”

According to Chuck Swartz, the way he and his wife deal with disagreements is to trust and respect one another. “The bigger difficulty was when we did our own house – the client was us as married people. There were a lot of people in the room all at one time,” he said. But in the end, he realized that “together, we make a pretty good architect.”

Photography of Reader & Swartz home by Hoachlander Davis Photography, couple's portrait by Nathan Webb


Anonymous said...

This is a cool article.

Anonymous said...

That house with the wall of books is amazing!

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