While driving back to New York from Connecticut a few 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 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 built. 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 their 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 right after college (1987-1988). At that 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 about them and the work, but it wasn’t a party. Embarrassing as it may be, DFA has five wine refrigerators in the office – they are small under-counter models, but still, there are five and we try to keep them full. In 2017, I looked up our orders for wine, and that year twenty-eight cases of wine were 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, if do the math, 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 provide informal spousal mediation – always in an affirmative manner as we design ideal homes. We practice this art very socially. Our office occupies two floors of a townhouse that feels more residential than commercial, 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 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 that our greatest asset really is our people, and to capitalize on the asset, we feel it is better to spend time together. This is true during our Monday morning meeting, during the workday, and at happy hour. One of the many things we like to talk about during happy hour is planning larger parties. Every year we host two very large events. The first comes right after Labor Day and is known as the New York Architects’ Regatta. We have co-hosted this two-day party for the last dozen years, growing the event from a boondoggle to a meaningful community event connecting architects, businesses and charities. At year’s end, 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 find yourself 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 we’ll have a lot of fun along the way.