While driving back to New York from Connecticut a couple of years ago, our young kids Buddy and Nelle, asked the following question from their booster seats, “Daddy, why do we always have the party at our house?” My answer, delivered with a wide smile, was simple; we built a party house.
Our house was completed in 2015, and it took a while to settle in and become the house we imagined and designed. Now, on any given evening, there may be six people or forty elbowing for space around the kitchen island. Our kids have the run of the place, and parents are encouraged to bring the kids with them. Whichever the season, and whatever the scale of the party, it seems there are always people around, and everyone is having a good time.
Similarly, at DFA, we’ve been hosting the party since we moved to our townhouse office in 1993. This may at least be in part a response to my brief experience working for others (1987-1988). At the firm, a strict division was maintained between principals and staff. I know the principals cared about me (we are still friends), and I cared very much for them and about the work, but it wasn’t a party. Embarrassing as it may seem, DFA has five wine refrigerators in the office – they are small under-counter models, but still, there are five. In 2017, I looked up our orders for wine, and that year we had twenty-eight cases of wine delivered, and this did not include the dozen or so cases we laid down for the holiday party. Ten to twelve people, forty cases of wine, you do the math, as they say, and you’ll quickly realize we have a lot of friends. Before we judge ourselves too harshly, it seems reasonable to study and understand our culture.
We don’t operate heavy machinery and we don’t use scalpels. We do practice a lay form of psychology and even psychiatry, but always an affirmative form as we are trying to help people by designing their perfect home. We practice this art very socially. Our office occupies two floors of a townhouse and feels residential, and we have a relaxed ambiance – something very unusual in such a competitive and high-stress industry. Our motive for creating such a familial atmosphere is one of simple hospitality. A welcoming and relaxed environment breeds better work, and better relationships.
It sounds like something out of a self-help business management book, but our greatest asset really is our people, and to capitalize on that asset, we feel it is better if we spend time together. This is true both during our Monday morning meeting and at happy hour. One of the many things we like to talk about during happy hour is planning larger parties. We host three very large parties every year. The first is in May and is a casino night benefit for charity. To be fair, we are one of many hosts, but we pour our hearts into it, and enjoy the benefits of both philanthropy and a great party. The second comes after Labor Day and is known as the New York Architects’ Regatta. We have co-hosted this event for the last ten years, growing the event from a boondoggle to a meaningful community event connecting architects, businesses and charities. Finally, we host an annual holiday party, bringing together our friends, clients, contractors, consultants and vendors. We bond over the planning and the invitations, so much so that we have a gallery wall with framed invitations from the many years of parties.
If you are in midtown, please come visit. We’ll turn up the music, pour some wine and get to know each other. Together, we might better the world, or at least our little corner of it, and have fun doing so.