“Being a married couple in architecture may be the most difficult, the most satisfying and the most successful approach at being small firm architects. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but I wouldn’t trade my life as an architect with my wife and partner Annmarie for anything. How we’ve established our roles and responsibilities for both our firm and our family is how we’ve become successful.”
This week at EntreArchitect Podcast, Mark R. LePage speaks with Claire and Cavin Costello from The Ranch Mine to share their story about How to Succeed as a Married Couple in Architecture.
Cavin’s Origin Story
Cavin is originally from Connecticut and attended Northeastern University for his undergraduate and graduate degree while working over two years in firms in Connecticut and Boston. After graduating, he felt a change was necessary and he packed up and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. A friend introduced him to Claire the first day he arrived, and the rest is history.
Listen to episode 138 to hear Cavin’s full origin story and How To Design and Sell Modern Architecture.
Claire’s Origin Story
Claire was born and raised in Phoenix, and grew up studying furniture catalogues. Her grandfather built his own home and farm in Indiana; the pride he had and the stories he told about the building process painted a dialogue about creating a home. Similarly, her uncle in Tucson built a rammed earth house and, during a visit, she learned a lot about that process. Both people played a big part in fostering an interest in Claire about creating a home.
Her degrees are in English and communication, but her personal relationships followed the design world. A mutual friend introduced her to Cavin, who was obviously very rooted in architecture, and the conversations they had about the built environment and what someone could do with design drew her in.
They took a leap to purchase and renovate a foreclosure, and having survived that challenge early on makes other challenges that come their way surmountable.
Would you recommend a foreclosure renovation to other married couples?
The sequence of building their own designs was such a hands-on experience that Claire found a lot of value in the experience, though it did put them through the wringer. Cavin remembers the process being taxing from both a financial and emotional standpoint, and mixing both of those strains is not for the faint of heart. Jumping into the most difficult thing accelerated their growth and made everything down the road possible. For the Costellos, it was easier to take the risk at the beginning.
By diving straight in, do you feel you were able to get some systems in place?
It was eye-opening to see the architectural components of moving walls and doing additions, and then you have the interiors of cabinets, tiles, and other finished items. Some things don’t have to be decided at the design part, which they learned along the way. Now, there’s two sets of documents the clients receive including the architectural construction documents and the interior specifications book, which is easily changed if needed. It’s more manageable for clients to have all of the information in front of them with a timeline of the decisions and priorities.
How is The Ranch Mine business structured?
The Ranch Mine includes Cavin as the Registered Architect and Claire as the Chief Executive. Cavin is the lead on design, but the Costellos collaborate a lot by visiting projects for initial visits, working to wrap both of their heads around existing conditions, and joining together for different design elements. They work with independent contractors on certain projects from time to time.
If there are hard choices to be made, if it’s a business decision Claire has the final say and if it’s an architecture decision then Cavin has the final say. Cavin usually starts from the big picture and Claire starts from the details and the perspective of the homeowner, and then the work to meet in the middle. The flexibility comes from the thought that each project is geared more towards their clients’ needs than what Claire or Cavin might personally prefer in the end. Differences of opinion often give their clients two different viewpoints to choose from and push both of them to challenge each other along the process.
If you didn’t meet, do you think you would have succeeded as quickly?
If Cavin and Claire didn’t meet, Cavin doubts he would have been able to make the business end of it work as well. The success in how fast they’ve grown wouldn’t have been the same, because the speed, efficiency and growth is a direct result of their relationship. The mixing of alternating strengths has been a huge benefit.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
At the beginning of their partnership, the business took over and it was hard to create boundaries. After a few years, they started getting more firm about boundaries and began to create time for themselves on evenings and weekends. During working hours, Cavin and Claire work in their own spaces to complete their own work. They’ve also found that it helps to find activities that they both enjoy outside of work to disengage.
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Be grounded in the right projects for you and what those criterion would be. Be empowered to turn down projects that aren’t the right fit. Identify your ideal projects and what those terms are. Then, find a network, including a landscape architect or an interior designer, so that when you say no to a project for whatever reason, you can still be a resource because you have a network of people you feel comfortable referring to.” – Claire Costello
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