The secret to sharing a working space

Four creative couples offer their top tips

Image: Getty Images

Couples are spending a lot more time together – and working from home side by side into the bargain. For most, this presents a new challenge. For some, however, working with a partner is an everyday part of life. “At first I used to help and criticise things she was doing, and then she would help and criticise things I was doing… Then, gradually, things begin to sort of entropy…” So said design maverick Charles Eames in 1952 of working with his wife Ray. The duo’s creative partnership has been the subject of numerous books and exhibitions; it’s a shining example of a relationship being both romantic and professional. But how do modern-day creative couples feel about working in close quarters?

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien | Image: Chris Sturman, Trunk Archive
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Tod Williams and Billie Tsien

New York-based architect couple Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have been working together since 1977, creating buildings such as the Asia Society Hong Kong Center and the planned Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. “Strangely enough, this crisis hasn’t changed the way we work,” says Tsien. “We have always worked in one room and spend all of our days and nights essentially together.” If anything, their lockdown rhythm is more rigid. “The pace of the day is now punctuated by formal Zoom meetings. It is a lot less organic than simply walking by and having a chat with someone at their desk.” Tsien recommends carving out time alone. “I sometimes need to escape from the other person, when I no longer want to talk about work – that’s what my Kindle and the bathtub are for.” Williams finds respite by heading outdoors. “Right now, we are staying in a remote spot outside the city, in an old military building on an island with no more than 500 others. We encounter very few people. Due to this, my mind wanders into the rhythms of nature. Often the rest of me follows.” twbta.com

Paul Noble and Georgina Starr

Noble and Starr, who have been together for many years, work in adjoining studio spaces in Hackney. Starr makes performance, film, sound and installation works; Noble, who is represented by Gagosian, is known for his intensely rendered drawings. They make their side-by-side set-up work with boundaries. “I was apprehensive when Paul first moved in,” says Starr. “I like being alone. But as soon as Paul’s in his studio, he’s locked into his own world. We do have lunch together most days though.” Do they provide input into each other’s work? “We don’t make work together, but I love having daily access to Paul’s brain,” says Starr. “I am lucky to have found someone who lives this way and encourages it in me.” Noble concurs. His tip for juggling professional proximity? “Only comment when asked.” gagosian.com. georginastarr.com

Georgina Starr and Paul Noble
Georgina Starr and Paul Noble
Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom
Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom | Image: Saulo Jamiriqueli

Yunus and Eliza

For jewellery designers Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom, working together is fundamental to their creative process, hand-carving sculptural metalwork. “When we work all night, put on music and find the flow, we nearly always have lots of fun,” says Ascott. “There are rages and tantrums to be sure, but we don’t take them too seriously anymore. We leave that to our kids now.” Their advice for working together is good organisation. “Have clear homes for tools. There is little more annoying than your partner stealing your best bit of kit and failing to put it back.” yunus-eliza.co.uk

Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger-Brill
Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger-Brill
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Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger-Brill 

Artists Patrick Brill (aka Bob and Roberta Smith) and Jessica Voorsanger-Brill both admit to not being very relaxed or easy-going. “But we have learnt how to be together,” says Brill. “We have been practising for this moment for 30 years.” Before lockdown, they were both so busy they barely saw each other. “Now I am working mostly on the top floor of our house; Jessie has the first floor. We are quite lucky and happy in isolation so far,” says Brill. “My advice on the whole is: Keep out of each other’s way. Make your partner a cup of coffee at 11am and tea at 4pm, and offer them a nice biscuit. Usually this brings a smile.” As well as the added bonus of 4pm biscuits, Voorsanger-Brill sees the current shift as an opportunity. “In terms of creativity, what could be better than loads of time with no deadlines?” bobandrobertasmith.co.uk. jessicavoorsanger.co.uk

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