Designer Spotlight

Owning a Design Firm with your Spouse

September 22, 2022

Introduction - tell us about how long you’ve been married/ together, where you live, kids, etc.

Devon and Michael met in Boston and attended school together where they began dating. Their love grew which led them married for three years and counting. Currently, they live in the South Loop, but are renovating their next dream home in Lincoln Park! Devon started Devon Grace Interiors, which led Michael to join the business a few years after. “This was something we never anticipated doing.”

Marli and Michael met in college and then moved out to the West Coast where Marli started her career in design. Michael, at the time, was a sports broadcaster which is a totally different career before transitioning to Rebel House Design with his wife. They have been together for 13 years and have been married for 8. They have an 18 month old son, which has made life as a working couple very interesting! The couple moved themselves to a massive renovation in North Shore and once COVID-19 struck, they moved their business Rebel House Design to North Shore as well for a closer commute.

Devon + Marli - how you got started in design, and how you decided to start your firm?

Devon started working at a family friends Architecture Firm during high school. She fell in love with it from there and went to school in Boston for architecture. Devon got to experience a co-op program where she can take six months off and go work which was an immersive experience in the industry. She worked at a few firms in New York and Boston and during that time realized that she wanted to pivot a little bit towards interior design. After graduating, she went to grad school for interiors and worked at small and larger firms. Ultimately, Devon followed Michael out to Chicago to work which led her to get a job at Perkins where she was working more on corporate interiors and loved the experience there. Devon wanted to get into residential design more. “I just wanted to kind of get back to a more intimate relationship with design.”  This led her to quit her job and grow from there.

Marli graduated college in a recession and the job market was really bad. She looked at pursuing interior design, which is a path she always wanted to take part in, but didn’t have the guts to go after it for undergrad. She moved out to the West Coast because the market was doing well and for a change of scenery. Marli went out to San Francisco to get her masters in interior architecture. She worked for some incredible designers which allowed her to move very quickly. While discussing marriage with Michael, the couple felt it was best to move back to Chicago which led Marli to land a senior design position at a real estate investment company that was launching a boutique line of hotels. “I was one of three hires running the design of this line of hotels and it was amazing. I learned so much and loved every second of it, but I was getting calls to do Residential design like crazy, now that I'm back in Chicago, and ended up making a tough call to open my own business in 2015-2016.”

Eventual transitions of your husbands into the business - how was that decision made?

DEVON AND MICHAEL: Michael’s background had nothing to do with interior design. Naturally when Devon started her own business, the two of them would talk about it endlessly at night and the challenges she was facing, client relation, and monetary things. Michael’s background is Consulting. He has an engineering degree and was consulting for large businesses to implement new technologies. He was working for Autodesk prior to joining Devon Grace Interiors. From Monday to Thursday, he would be traveling and although it was great, at the same time Devon was really starting to get insanely busy and he would be exhausted from traveling all the time. The big moment came when Devon said she wanted to open an office which led Michael to present her the most impressive business case for it. “Oh my God. I got an office and a partner!”

MARLI AND MICHAEL: Michael worked in sports media. Working in sports is a nights and weekends kind of gig. It's a passion industry similar to Interior Design where people are willing to put a lot into it. He was planning on moving into marketing or into a different industry that would allow him a little bit more work life balance. He ended up helping Marli, but at the same time making a change as Marli’s company was taking off. Marli was extremely busy as she was thinking of needing help to run the business. She was managing the business, placing orders, organizing the finances, and doing all the accounting solo with the help of Michael. "Well this is a lot better.” Marli stated “if there's anyone that I'm going to choose to trust to help me run this business, it's the person I'm spending my life with.”

What did you consider in terms of positives and negatives / how did you decide it was time?

DEVON AND MICHAEL: “You’re either the couple that have the DNA to do it or not.”

MARLI AND MICHAEL: “Before working together we did everything together… it’s not like we were sick of each other.”  

What’s the split in responsibilities?

DEVON AND MICHAEL: Devon is in charge of the creative and design portion of the business because of her tremendous technical background. However, Michael comes from a business ops optimization background so he manages the finance and the project management team. This naturally evolved into their company structure which has been really helpful.

MARLI AND MICHAEL: Marli focuses on client service and the creative portion of the business whereas Michael is in charge of organizing, project managing, dealing with accounting and the finances part of the equation. It really runs through him as the face of the business and that keeps Marli being the face of the creative which is a revolutionary change. “We're a really good yin and yang I would say in terms of how we handle everything.”

What has surprised you the most about working together?

DEVON AND MICHAEL: What surprised Devon the most about working together was how much their personal relationship grew. “You're learning how this person is on work emails and on calls and dealing with clients and how they work day to day which you don't necessarily see if you're not working together.” The couple have grown a huge amount of respect for each other. What surprised Michael was “watching Devon grow her skill sets. She can do better than me, better than anyone. A businesswoman, business manager, kick ass boss lady owner!”

MARLI AND MICHAEL: What surprised Michael the most about working together was seeing how much Marli flourishes in anything she does. “Working together is insane to see how much she knows about how many things and that's inherent in the industry.” What surprised Marli the most was how much Michael thinks on a complex level. “He'll sit down with our employees and organize them and be like, alright, let's talk through your deliverables for the week and for the month. He sat me down today and talked through all of our meeting schedules because it's crazy and he's just thinking in what he likes to say in 3D.”

Any tips on partnering with a spouse on business in this industry? Anything you’ve learned that you would say is key?

MICHAEL WEGMAN: “Define your swimlanes.” You’re going to have all sorts of life issues that you disagree on. Disagreeing with a lot of things can really help. Give them a reason to acknowledge that these are your responsibilities and if push comes to shove, you’re obviously the decision maker for this.

MICHAEL KREUSER: “Having each other's backs before anything ever goes wrong.” If anything were to go wrong, you want to be really clear what that looks like. “You're riding different roller coasters.”

DEVON WEGMAN: Turning work off. “There are going to be so many areas where your work life and your personal life just blend and the lines blur and it's so hard to separate them and kind of keep things apart. You do have to definitely work hard at still maintaining a romantic relationship and turning work off.”

MARLI JONES: “Do it clear headed.” Every piece of this is an opportunity for you to either work together or work against each other and then you have to come home together.