podcast | Jun 5, 2024 |
Christopher Courts and Edel Legaspi on navigating a professional uncoupling

It’s been nearly 13 years since husband-and-wife team Christopher Courts and Edel Legaspi launched their Los Angeles–based full-service interior design and architecture studio. During that time, their vision—for design and for their business—was completely intertwined.

But this year they decided it was time to split up (not their marriage, just their design firm). It wasn’t that their working relationship had soured, or communication had gone south—in fact, their partnership was so strong that to the rest of the industry, their creative processes seemed inseparable. In reality, their firm had grown from a two-person, one-stop-shop to two creatives each with their own networks of collaborators.

“One interior designer called me out of the blue one day and said, ‘I have an interesting project I’m working on, and I need some help with the interior architecture of it and wanted to see if you could help me out with that—do you need to ask Edel if that’s OK?’” Courts tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I was like, ‘No, I’m working with four or five other interior designers right now, and Edel’s working with four or five other architects.’ We started thinking: ‘Are we missing out on other potential jobs out there?’”

From the start, the pair each had their own project preferences that didn’t always overlap—Courts specialized in high-end residential architecture, while Legaspi leaned toward a mix of residential and commercial interiors. In order to let their individual creative perspectives flourish, they realized it was time to explore the industry as solopreneurs.

“That was really the reason for professionally uncoupling our firm: Chris working with other interior designers, and me working with other architects, it just makes us better at what we do,” says Legaspi. “Even though we work really well together, we definitely have our own points of view. This way, it allows for both of our voices to be out there.”

Elsewhere in the episode, they share how they’re now thinking about differentiating themselves from other firms, and the one soft skill they require of every new hire.

Crucial insight: Both Legaspi and Courts agree that the majority of their projects come from referrals. Maintaining that pipeline means upholding a certain level of client experience—and ensuring that incoming team members can also carry that torch. “You can be great at AutoCAD and Photoshop, but if you can’t write an email, or you don’t know how to talk to a vendor on the phone, we’re not going to be able to provide that [level of] service [that we seek],” says Legaspi. “I’m always looking for someone that maybe had restaurant experience or customer service experience. It doesn’t have to do with design—it has to do with being in front of a client.”

Key quote: “As business owners, you have to be ready to pivot,” says Courts. “Not everything is going to go exactly as you planned, and you have to be ready to massage things or move things around—we’re always trying to be flexible in our office and see where it goes.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Room & Board.

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