Design October 22, 2015
by Lauren Festa
They say don’t mix business with pleasure, but for these creative couples, that’s just the perfect working formula between themselves and their clients in producing some of the best work in the industry today. For this series, we’re speaking to creative couples at the top of their game, running small design studios near and far, proving that there really is such thing as a better half. As for ‘who’ well, that depends on what day of the week it is.
Steve & Anne Truppe met the second day of college sharing a dorm and the same major (Architecture) Partnering on projects helped them learn early on they worked well together. 11 years later (five spent in marriage) they share TRU STUDIO, based out of Chicago, IL, After what seemed like years spent talking about it, the economic crash catapulted them into starting and running their own business. They’ve been making fireworks ever since.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Names: Steve & Anne Truppe
Ages: 30 and 29, respectively
Location: Chicago, IL
Company: TRU STUDIO
Working Titles: Partners, Photographers & Directors
ADC: Everyone here is (refreshingly) breaking the cardinal rule: Don’t date in the workplace. Do you think it’s time we changed this traditional sensibility?
Steve & Anne Truppe: From a business standpoint it seems reasonable to instate that rule because you want to avoid the drama or conflict that could potentially arise. But from a human standpoint, the heart wants what the heart wants! Hopefully people can keep their professionalism in tact, though, and not get caught making out in the break-out space.
ADC: Sometimes you end up liking the people you work with and I think that’s okay.
S&A: Totally! We are all human and it’s natural to be drawn to a person that we share similar interests and experiences with. And (added bonus) it motivates you to go into work that day!
ADC: Did you think this would work from the get go? Any doubts?
S&A: We had a very strong bond right from the beginning, but at the time we were only 18 and 19 years old and weren’t thinking long term. Our relationship continued to grow stronger the more time we spent together, and in the end it was the support we both needed to get through the rigorous architecture program and navigate the world of business together.
ADC: Has a client ever been skeptical to approach or have you ever been turned down work given the work dynamic? Some people feel like work may not get done, or there are too many emotions involved.
S&A: Not to our knowledge, but perhaps. We’ve received a range of facial reactions – from severe wincing to heart eye emoji faces – due to the fact that we work together. Usually people are supportive, but very intrigued with ‘how we like working with our spouse.’
ADC: How do your employees feel (if you have any) about the fact that their bosses are together?
S&A: We’ve often been told from our crew that they are surprised and very comfortable with the environment and vibe we have going on set. Apparently they have been placed in some awkward spousal situations before which we would never want to put our crew in the middle of! We’re on set to get a job done and make it fun for everyone involved, so we are very aware that if there is tension between us, people will feel that energy.
ADC: Is this something that “is not for everyone”?
S&A: It’s definitely not for everyone. Especially when the dynamic of working with your spouse also includes running your own business. It takes a special kind of relationship to be around your partner every day, all day, but we thoroughly enjoy it and wouldn’t want it to change.
ADC: Have you ever had a moment where you guys were like “that’s it, I quit!”
S&A: Yes to quitting the business, but never our relationship. We were together before our careers, and that always will come first.
ADC: What are some of the main differences between working in this dynamic (together as a couple), versus working in a larger agency setting with different people?
S&A: The conversation ‘at the water cooler’ is the same conversation at the dinner table.
ADC: How does it help each of you personally, to be able to work with someone you also cook with and do laundry with?
S&A: There’s nothing to hide, and we both know what the other is going through. We know exactly what the other is feeling, when we need to take a break, each other’s shortcomings, and how to play to each of our strengths. We often comment how lucky we are to always have a soundboard to bounce ideas off of. While we share a lot of the same skills and tasks, we each bring different strengths to the table and in the end we are a well rounded team because of it.
ADC: Any growing pains?
S&A: We are naturally very competitive people, so in the beginning comments came up like, “You have more photos on the website than me!” Over the years we have learned to be less about ‘me’ and more about ‘us.’ It’s been extremely rewarding to learn and grow together—to look back at where we started, where we’ve fumbled, and where we’ve excelled, knowing that we have both put in the same amount of work and gotten to where we are as a team. That journey is a point of pride for each of us.
ADC: Do you generally work together as a team or as individuals and have check-ins?
S&A: We work together as a team on all of our projects, but each of us have different tasks. On set we can both photograph and direct depending on the project. In the office, Anne is very detailed oriented and handles a lot of the scheduling and pre-production while Steve handles most of the post-production.
ADC: How do you balance the work/life thing? Do couples have a rule that when you aren’t at work you aren’t talking about work or does it blur into personal hours?
S&A: We try as hard as we can to turn off work when it’s not work time. That can be extremely difficult because sometimes it’s weighing heavily on our minds. We do our best to go out on dates and focus on our personal life. We really enjoy traveling so talking about that is usually a great distraction.
ADC: Do you give each other days off?
S&A: Most definitely. Being in the creative field can be draining, and some days we just aren’t feeling it. If there is a lull in our schedule, and we don’t feel like working, we’ve come to accept the fact that it’s usually more productive for us to take the afternoon off and recharge. When we’re ready to come back to it, we are far more creative and ready to get shit done.
ADC: Do you agree on most decisions or is there lots of debate and discussion?
S&A: For the most part we see eye to eye, but we do have our own opinions and ways of thinking through things. It’s an odd dynamic where we are very much the same, but our differences are just enough that makes the end result much stronger. Every once in awhile one of us throws out a crazy idea and the other knows to just goes with the flow until it’s flushed out or realized.
ADC: Do you have more freedom?
S&A: That’s a double-edged answer. On one hand we do have way more freedom, we can take a day off if we want to, go out to lunch with a friend, travel for as long as we would want or have time to afford. But that freedom comes with a price of not always knowing the next time you’ll be paid, or the fact that it’s all on your shoulders and if you aren’t working, no one is doing it for you. That can sometimes make us feel completely constrained.
ADC: It seems like the work came first and then the relationship. Does work still come first or has your perspective changed?
S&A: For us the relationship came first and will always remain that way. We truly enjoy working together but it’s just a bonus. We never want it to get in the way of our relationship.
ADC: What is one thing you wish people would understand about working as a creative couple?
S&A: That we chose this as our life and enjoy it. So often people look at us with a grimace on their face and ask “do you like working with one another? I could never do that.” It’s not a punishment, and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t like it! As we said before, this is not for everyone or every relationship, but it works really well for us. Our lives are so deeply intertwined and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.
ADC: Please fill in the blanks:I _______ working with my significant other because _________.
Steve: I am humbled by working with my significant other because we are on the same journey together.
Anne: I appreciate working with my significant other because I can be myself and have nothing to hide.