It was a clear shot into design for Virginia Toledo. She grew up around home projects alongside her general contractor father, went on to earn her design degree and eventually landed a construction-centric gig at an Upper East Side design-build firm in New York. When her interests began to veer toward interiors, her boss even gave her the go-ahead to establish an interior design venture under the firm’s umbrella. Pretty soon, she put the call out with a job advertisement—and luckily, the right person was listening.
“The way she wrote it was just how she speaks,” Jessica Geller tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “It was like I could envision this person, and I was like, Oh, I think we would not only like working together, but we could be friends too.”
Geller’s own career was a much more winding road. Though she grew up with an eye for design, she instead pursued degrees in telecommunications and social work, eventually landing a position with a nonprofit. There, an assignment that included a remodeling project sent her back to school again, this time for design. She’d been slogging through a job at a kitchen cabinet company with a miserable work environment when she came across Toledo’s post.
Geller answered the ad and was quickly hired by Toledo—an easy decision, Toledo explains, as the chemistry was instant. Pretty soon, the pair left the firm to start their own joint design venture—but one year after that, the 2008 recession hit. Instead of giving up, the duo was ready to do whatever it took to keep their new firm afloat, including implementing a new business model targeting luxury renters instead of homeowners.
“That saved us, and we were able to maintain profit in the company. I mean, we did everything we had to do—we even took second jobs,” says Toledo. “For 10 years, it was really just me and Virginia,” Geller adds. “We would do everything together—there was nothing that was too big or too small for us.”
The strategy saved the firm and set it on course for a period of major growth in the years to follow. As their firm has swelled to a team of five, they’re learning to adapt again—this time, adjusting to a new normal as principals, with a support staff that’s taken over the day-to-day and allowed the business to level up. On this episode of the podcast, they explain the importance of leaving room for employees to grow, how hiring a business manager is helping them get back to design and why thinking of themselves as business owners first changed the way they worked.
Homepage image: Virginia Toledo and Jessica Geller of design firm Toledo Geller. | Courtesy of Toledo Geller