May 08, 2020
The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.
This week, we catch up with Lisa Tvrdy, creative director at the Chicago-based interior design and architecture firm Partners By Design, on how she’s navigating the juggle of work and life as a new mother. We spoke to Lisa just as she was scheduled to return from maternity leave—a transition that segued into the office’s new remote work policy, as shelter-in-place orders began to take place in the Windy City.
Lisa Tvrdy is Creative Director at Partners By Design, a Chicago based Interior Design and Architecture firm. She believes in designing spaces that are thoughtful, have purpose, and bring joy. Her current quarantine routine includes cappuccinos, natural color dyeing, and her new baby Hank.
How would you describe your role at Partners By Design, and how has your day-to-day changed since the pandemic hit the U.S.?
I’ve been at Partners By Design for about ten years now. Moving most recently into the role of creative director, my work has gone from being heads-down focused at my desk, to more of a collaborative role, being a part of every team: all of the client and design industry networking, as well as helping to guide the big-picture ideas of the firm. There’s always a bit of a buzz in our office. We sit in open benching, and everybody—the founders, the partners, all of our designers—sits at the same desk. We also rotate seats every six months, just to sit by a new neighbor and partner with our teams. We’ve always been in this very collaborative little community.
My role involves a lot of meetings with the team internally, as well as externally with our clients, so suddenly being home has been very different. For me, it’s also extra different because I was on maternity leave when COVID-19 started affecting us here in Chicago. I was at the three-month point of my leave when the whole world began to go on pause. It was interesting timing, because all of these ways that I was already kind of working through—mentally being at home and still communicating and staying in touch—is now something everyone has had to go through as they transitioned to working remotely from home.
As a new mom, how are you finding ways to balance all of these new changes at once?
Well, it has been very interesting, I will say. My husband is in the Army National Guard and was deployed to help with the local COVID crisis here in Chicago, so just seeing this through the eyes of a single parent, even temporarily, I have complete mad respect for all the moms and dads out there. I have no idea how people are homeschooling on their daily jobs. As a new mom, I find my day is completely unpredictable and broken up into five or fifteen-minute increments of focus time, if I’m lucky. It’s very, very difficult but thankfully, my husband is now back home, so I’m able to have some baby-free moments throughout the day.
Pictured (Left): WFH Space 1 – The Jungle // My husband runs a sustainable furniture company so he works in our home office setup, which is fine because I prefer this room most often because of all the natural light. Bringing the power of nature in and designing with soft sculptural lighting is key in all my designs.
Pictured (Right): WFH Space 2 – The place with the snacks // I mix it up and sit in the kitchen. Let’s face it, as a new mom my entire day is multi-tasking and also, this just brings me closer to the snacks. Inspired by a fellow pbd designer, Ian (and his husband), last night this island became our favorite family-owned sushi bar.
How have you been managing the double transition—back to work, but into this new period of remote working?
At work, we have Monday morning Zoom calls to kick off each week, as well as a call on Friday mornings with the partners, where everyone can just call in and ask questions and see how everyone’s doing. It’s a lot of constantly talking and seeing each other’s faces.
We do miss having our materials library, and just having each other around to take a gut check and ask each other’s opinions as we sketch and create palettes. I’ve been telling people to just FaceTime me so we can just talk and sketch together on our notepads. In design, there’s this constant collaborative conversation at work. Especially for me, and for creative directors and design directors in general, you’re really trying to help guide and mentor, and you hope that you’re approachable enough that someone can just pick up the phone or say, “Hey, I want to share my screen with you really quick!”
How have the closures affected your projects, given the physical nature of interior design and architecture?
We are lucky at Partners By Design, in that we’ve already been through working remotely with people across the country, and are able to jump on these calls very seamlessly. Everything in design is tactile, so to communicate our designs to our clients, it’s about packaging things up, labeling them carefully, and trying to make things very easy to understand and review.
We design a lot of offices, and specifically tech firms. Working with Twitter several years ago, the client was in San Francisco and we were in Chicago, and we met in person only a few times. Much of the design work for that project was conducted remotely. For every box of samples we sent the client, we would also try to include something with a personal touch, or something to strike up a conversation, like PBD coffee mugs, and when we’d videoconference to go over the finishes, we’d all use the same mugs to pretend like we were in the same room. Little things like that can lift your spirits up and keep you connected, which is so important right now.
Pictured: WFH coworkers! // My current WFH coworkers are both bossy and sassy, and often fall asleep on the job! Being a new mom provides interesting challenges because let’s face it, this is a 24/7 job that breaks the day up into 15-minute intervals of getting nothing done.
How is this prolonged period of remote work changing the way you think about office spaces, and how they might evolve when they eventually reopen?
We also work with a lot of logistics companies, and their goal, basically, is density: figuring out how many people they can pack into this space, with five-foot desks, five feet apart. They thrive in that energy and want that buzz and that noise. It’s those kinds of clients that we’ve been talking a lot to, seeing how they’re doing, and how they might want to change or want to stay. Across the board, we’ve had some companies say, “Hey, we actually didn’t expect this, but our productivity levels have gone up, with everyone working from home.” They don’t have to commute, which adds back time into the day, and maybe face fewer social distractions throughout the day. With that, we’re really looking hard at how we make the comeback to the office, through flexible schedules, flexible furniture, increased spacing, and how you can still add those elements of comfort that people are going to need when they return.
Pictured: WFH desk // (Clockwise from top left) New mom tools; Yield’s terra-cotta french press; Basil from my indoor herb garden; Artwork by Kristina Micotti that just arrived in the mail; Workaday Handmade ceramic mug, Live edge bowl from a family friend with coffee m&m’s; Taco mousepad from a dear friend; A mask sewn from my friend Lynette’s upcycled clothes and bra straps, Norman Copenhagen notebook and the sharpie I actually write with; Painted City, a book about street art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood; Last, Finn, never one to miss out on a treat! (Or show his ears on a zoom call!)
Any hobbies or activities that are helping you to stay positive through this time of uncertainty?
I’m on Instagram too often, but I’ve started following @tanksgoodnews and the good news movement. There are a couple of outlets that focus on positive news—and honestly, a lot of the time, it’s more bittersweet than completely positive, but they are really beautiful stories.
Then, as a person that’s very visual and hands-on, one of the things I love to do, but haven’t had as much time to do in the past several years, is weaving. It’s just one of those things that’s simple and calming, and offers a release, because it doesn’t have to be perfect. Usually if something doesn’t turn out well, I’ll get upset with myself, and I need something right now that’s not upsetting, so weaving has been great: You learn to embrace the imperfect pieces, which end up being the most beautiful and the most interesting.
Pictured: Weaving and natural dyeing // I love the calming effect of weaving and also that I can create something that is perfectly imperfect. I just tried natural dyeing after being inspired by Cindy Zell’s lovely pieces. They have an effortless sophistication that I’m striving for.