It is not uncommon for architects to keep business in the family by forming partnerships with their spouses, children, or siblings. Below, several practitioners offer advice for managing these personal relationships in the office.

Play To Your Strengths
For Stanley Felderman and Nancy Keatinge, partners in life and at Culver City, Calif.–based Felderman Keatinge + Associates, consciously acting as teammates has ensured long-term success. “We have made it a point to emphasize that we work together,” Felderman says of their 15-person design practice, which they founded in the mid-1980s. “I think the key to success is to bring each other into the fold.” In 1994, a pivotal project that solidified the practice was an office for MTV Networks. Though three firms were already shortlisted, Keatinge convinced MTV to give them an opportunity and they ultimately won the project.

“Stanley has been incredibly supportive of me finding my voice,” Keatinge says. “That’s given me confidence, because I do have something of value to share.”

“We come from different places," Felderman adds. "Nancy’s background is in theater and research, and she puts people and emotion as well as utility and functionality first, and I value that.” With Keatinge focused on these pragmatic aspects of a project, Felderman says he can hone his artistic vision.

Andrew and Jodi Batay-Csorba, the husband–wife duo behind Toronto-based practice Batay-Csorba Architects, report that capitalizing on their dual roles as designers and husband and wife this can be particularly beneficial when working on residential projects with clients who are also couples. “It’s disarming for people to know that those types of discussions are OK,” Andrew says of the conversations that evolve around daily routines and lifestyle. “Domestic space becomes so personal, so to have the people doing the design also sharing that same relationship adds something.”

Strike a Balance (Or Try To)
For those in family businesses, it can be challenging to manage emotions, opinions, and biases stemming from the office and from home. “When two people argue in an architecture office, you never think twice about it since [design is] so emotional anyway,” Andrew says. “But I’m particularly conscious of it as a husband and wife.”

He explains that it’s essential to maintain open communication by harnessing family trust, thereby reducing opportunities for disputes. And by lessening conflict, you have more time to enjoy life beyond the office “We’ve been working together so long that the biggest thing for us is trying to find time for non-work things,” Andrew Batay-Csorba says. “Our son is the healthiest thing that ever happened to us. Spending time with him allows us to step away.”

Practitioners who are married or related to their partners generally tend to accept that work and personal life blend together from the start. In many cases, the professional collaboration began simultaneously with the relationship.

“It’s very hard to balance a relationship on a personal level with business,” Felderman acknowledges. “I think ours happened naturally—we just worked together from the beginning. We’ve never been afraid to voice our opinions.” However, he does advise that married partners avoid discussing finance and such topics in the evening.

Leverage Your Connection
Many design couples also report that their intimacy facilitates candor in their work, ultimately improving client relationships and final products. “In a lot of relationships, when you’re in love with the person, you’re a little more cautious,” Felderman says. “But we are not afraid to challenge each other [or even] our clients, so they get to be part of our discovery process.”

Keatinge and Felderman often bring their dogs to the office and their daughters stop by and do homework, creating a family-oriented environment that also resonates in client meetings: “There’s something about presenting together that we really can feed off of one another, and we show the passion that we have for our work,” Keatinge says. “That connection comes across in our presentations and makes us more attractive to clients.”

For Anda French, AIA, and Jenny French, sisters and principals at Boston-based practice French 2D, “a bizarre twin mindset” facilitates fluid communication and collaboration. “We share a shorthand,” Anda French says. “We can just say a couple words and get to an idea really quickly.” The two are also daughters of architects who practiced together, and while they learned much from their parents (who studied with Louis Kahn), they have made it a point to approach architecture their own way.

“We’re more committed than a married-couple firm," Anda French says. "They can get divorced!”