Every once in a while, an acquaintance will share a bon mote of wisdom that they “don’t do business with friends.” Predictably, this insight will come shortly after letting me know that they have undertaken a project, but due to our ‘friendship,’ have hired another firm.
This business of doing business with friends, or more precisely, not doing business with friends, is an odd thing. Is the world of business so mercurial that one expects the natural course of business relationships to turn acrimonious, and not be the predicate of great success? Maybe one should steer clear of the practice when hiring for an unsavory business like performing a contract hit or mediating a divorce. But when an individual or a family is fortunate enough to commission a custom home, expecting and accepting that the client-architect relationship will inevitably devolve and become adversarial is clearly counter to self-interest.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a great number of friends. I’ve lost one or two along the way, but probably not at a higher rate than other friendships which have faded over time. More often than not, our friendships have grown stronger by working together, and even more gratifyingly, we’ve made many new friends through project collaborations.
Residential architecture is founded on honesty, intimacy, personal exploration, and shared agendas, the same building blocks as friendship. I can’t imagine anyone better to work with when designing a home than a friend, and in my experience the deeper the friendship, the better the outcome. I have found this to be so universally true, that when someone claims to not want to work with friends, I reflexively question the quality and depth of their friendships.
Thinking about this has allowed us to identify a blind spot in that we tend to treat everyone as friends and to overextend ourselves, even when the chance of reciprocation may be slight. This culture became apparent recently when one of dear friends and general contractors pulled me aside and told me with great earnestness that I needed to know the difference between a ‘friend’ and an ‘acquaintance,’ and that not everyone can be offered the same level of intimacy. I am sure he is right, but if we have to sit on one side of this particular fence, I’ll pick the side of making and working with friends every day. And to those acquaintances who would rather not, I wish them well, but hope for their sake that they have a change of heart. Perhaps they might benefit from one more screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”