Apartment Therapy Offline: Judy Ross, Tina Roth Eisenberg & Sandy Chilewich

Apartment Therapy Offline: Judy Ross, Tina Roth Eisenberg & Sandy Chilewich

Aaron Able
Feb 1, 2011

What: Apartment Therapy's New York Design Meetup
Panel: Judy Ross, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Sandy Chilewich
Topic: Balancing Family & Business: How 3 Designers Make it Work!
AT Offline: The NY Design Meetup
Attendance: 140+


We started this month's Meetup with another "warm up" series, hearing from three young designers who
described their design product to the crowd in five minutes or less. This series is becoming very popular,
as it provides exposure for talented designers to the far-reaching Apartment Therapy community, where
they get noticed and hopefully get a chance to make connections with people who want to purchase their
work (or feature it in an editorial, as Martha Stewart's team did with Jeremy Pickett's BRANN Pendant
Lights). Sign up to present your idea during our monthly Meetups to gain access to Apartment Therapy's
far-reaching audience!


April Hannah presented her Tree Table Collection, a habitat.com editor's choice at the Brooklyn Designs 2010 show. The Collection was developed when April could not find a suitable desk surface area for her six year-old son's growing furniture needs. The collection is made of one-inch plywood and soy-based glue, and comes in both a rectangular (47" x 32") or round (32") option, both of which are 23" in height, perfect for the toddler and young adult crowd.


Jill Peterson presented the Flat File, a laser-cut birch plywood product designed to use the least amount of product to create a sustainable and easy-to-ship product. The bracket-shaped pieces form the structure for the fabric-made files. You can see an instructional video demonstrating how to construct the files at Jill Allyn | Flat File.


Tracy Steele was watching TLC's "Little People, Big World" one evening when a thought came to her — after working for an interior designer for 15 years, she was aware of the difficulties certain people have with finding appropriately-scaled furniture. She called up Little People of America and asked to work with them to learn more about Little People and their everyday living situations. After two years of research,
she developed Little People, BIG DESIGN, a line of furniture for little people and the short-statured community. Her furnishings allow sophisticated adults to enjoy the beauty of furniture options other than children's furnishings. She shared a line of chairs, stools and benches that are beautifully designed and recognize a previously unrecognized market.


Balancing Family & Business: How 3 Designers Make it Work

The Panelists

    TINA ROTH EISENBERG Tina Roth Eisenberg is the Founder of Swiss Miss, a design blog / studio. Her company was founded six years ago. She has a girl (5 years old) and son (11 months).
    JUDY ROSS Judy Ross, Founder of Judy Ross Textiles, started her company 22 years ago. She has two sons, 14 years old and 8½ years old.
    SANDY CHILEWICH Sandy Chilewich has founded two companies: the first, HUE, 33 years ago, and the second one, Chilewich, 14 years ago. She has two sons, 23 years old and 16 years old.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: As many of you know, Sara Kate and I have a four year-old, and when she was born Apartment Therapy was just starting to take off. In the past few years, we've struggled with keeping up with work and home demands, and often wonder how other self-employed individuals make it work. Tonight's guests are going to share a little bit about that, and we chose them because not only are they women business owners, but each of them has two children. Was that planned? Did work demands change as the children grew? We're going to hear from each of them individually, and then open it up for our first-ever panel discussion to learn more about how these women make it work.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Each panelist will speak a bit about their business before we open it up to the panel discussion.


MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Tina is a graphic designer who moved to NYC from Switzerland in 1999. She was Design Director at Thinkmap before starting Swiss Miss 6 years ago, which is now up to one million unique visitors per month. She also teaches at Parsons. Welcome, Tina.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Thank you. So as Maxwell said, I grew up in Switzerland. This slide is an image of what I saw outside my window every morning. It's a beautiful place, but in 1999 I decided to move to NYC. I am now married to a New Yorker, so I guess I'm staying here!

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I worked at several great web design firms before starting Swiss Miss. Bookmarks didn't do it after a while, so in 2005 we created a way to keep a visual archive of data.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I started my company and got my first client (Museum of Modern Art) at the same time. I decided to rent office space which was way too big, so I rented out desk space. I now have seven people renting desks (writers, developers, interior designers). We've got great energy in this space.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I had a discussion with one of my studio mates a few years ago about To-Do lists, and how to make one that was more exciting. We got together and created Teux Deux, a simple, visual To-Do list, and last August we launched the iPhone App version.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Although we all work online, we know the importance of people meeting in-person. With kids, I find it almost impossible to go to evening events, so I started something called Creative Mornings, a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types. We're now in 3 cities, with San Francisco launching next month. We're very excited that we have Milton Glaser coming tomorrow, our largest event to-date.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Here I am with my husband and kids. My husband is a very talented kitchen designer.


MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Judy studied painting, but knew she needed to find a way to make a living. Having also studied textiles in her BFA program, she thought that would be a good avenue to explore. In 1989 she took a leave from her job and went to India. She met a textile designer there, and during this trip, she learned about the ancient art of "Chainstitch" embroidery. Inspired by this technique, she made a design on a piece of paper for a scarf and two weeks later he completed it. She loved it, and decided to return to the US, quit her job, and go back to India and live on a houseboat for two months while they worked on making her more scarves using this ancient technique with fabric and yarn.

JUDY ROSS: Thank you. The scarves were very popular back here in the US. This is a scarf I made in 1989, and in fact, I still make these scarves today.

JUDY ROSS: I moved into the home market in 1993. A lot of folks were leaving the garment center and going into home goods. I featured my products at "Accent on Design", which is part of the New York International Gift Fair. My products are now sold at many major retailers, including Barney's, ABC Carpet & Home, and Archipelago — to name a few.

JUDY ROSS: These are two of my rugs, "Lagoon" and "Carousel". The rugs are made in Nepal of wool and silk.

JUDY ROSS: I now have a full-fledged design studio, and we're launching an ecommerce site soon. I also work directly with architects and designers as well. The image on the right is a rug climbing the staircase in a doctor's home. The image on the left is from Indochine, a restaurant here in NYC. They've changed this seating since then, but it was there for quite a long time.


MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Sandy co-founded HUE in 1978, a women's leading legwear brand known for revolutionizing the legwear market with their innovative design, packaging, and merchandising (many people know HUE for their brightly colored hosiery). After selling HUE, she stayed on as co-president until 1994, at which time she continued to explore interesting materials and textiles. She developed the RayBowl in 1997, a metal frame covered in stretch netting usually used in lingerie. Her Raybowl, Raytray, and Rayboxes have won many awards. But it is her discovery of woven vinyl which got her excited about a new, underused material. She founded Chilewich | Sultan LLC in 2000 to develop her unique line of vinyl textiles, which today are sold around the world. Her husband, Joe Sultan, joined the firm in 2001 and created the first commercial-grade wall to wall vinyl flooring product.

SANDY CHILEWICH: Thank you. So as you can see from this timing, I started HUE in 1978 and my first son was born in 1987, so I was fairly into the business when he was born. I had no idea what I was doing with the business or where it was going when I started.

SANDY CHILEWICH: I sold HUE in 1991 but stayed on until 1994. My second son was born in 1997. I was looking for a second business, and knew that I liked to make things commercially. As Maxwell stated, the RayBowl was one of my first solo efforts.

SANDY CHILEWICH: I was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when I found this new product. I was totally inspired and decided that I wanted to design with this woven vinyl material. I had named the RayBowl after my first son, so my first product in this new material was called the
Harry Carry bag, after my second son — I've been working with this material since 2000.

SANDY CHILEWICH: My husband Joe was instrumental in developing our first flooring product. He continues to develop new flooring lines.

SANDY CHILEWICH: This is a new product we're working on, kind of faux bois-esque.


MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So, many questions came in to us regarding this evening's discussion. People clearly want details on how you make it work. I'm going to ask you a few of these questions before we open it up to the group.

Q: I am a mom with three children: 15, 5, and 2½ years old. I want to know who takes care of your children when you're working at home? Or on a sick day? How do you afford child care as a start up?

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Without our nanny, it wouldn't work. In fact, she was out sick for two days last week and we were lost without her.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Did you know she'd be such an integral part of your family?

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: We knew we needed someone, as we don't have any family here. It makes sense that we'd have someone that has become such an integral part of how our family works.

SANDY CHILEWICH: I agree. There is a prerequisite that there is a sense of safety, that your kids are okay. Hiring someone or bringing in family help is key — you need that level of comfort to feel like you can fully focus on your business.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I've had points in time where we'd lose a nanny, and it was always messy. And yes, it's expensive, but it's worth it.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What role do your spouse's play?

JUDY ROSS: I've been divorced since my eldest son was 7 and my second son was 2 years old. I remember when I was finally able to hire help, and I hired a bus walker, someone to walk the kids to the bus. It was an amazing moment. There are definitely more perks as the business grows.

SANDY CHILEWICH: Spouses definitely make it easier. It provides someone to partner with for all of those family responsibilities.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I agree — my husband is unbelievable. I couldn't do what I do without him.

SANDY CHILEWICH: To be honest, the idea of being someone else's employee is very anxiety-ridden. Having the freedom you have as a self-employed person is huge.

Q: Do any of you have to travel a lot?

SANDY CHILEWICH: It's a juggling act with or without a spouse, but luckily I don't travel a lot.

JUDY ROSS: Before my first son was born, I went to India five times a year. After that, I worked with them via fax. Actually, I didn't go to India for 12 years — I just started going again 2 years ago.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Did you ever think about not having children?

SANDY CHILEWICH: I didn't think about it strongly either way, it wasn't top of mind or a concern that it had to be done (or not done) by a certain time.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I was very determined to have kids.

JUDY ROSS: It was very important to me that I find myself. I was very determined. Things were all worked out, and then at 38 I started thinking about having kids. I had my first at 40 and my second at 45. I remember hiding my second pregnancy from my parents. I thought they would think I couldn't handle it.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: For me it happened very quickly. I met my husband — nine months later we were engaged, nine months later we were married, and nine months later we had our first child.

Q: Knowing other people's stories, what the vibe out there regarding having kids?

SANDY CHILEWICH: It's still not as good as it should be.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: One of the questions we received was from someone who said they had very bad experiences with people's perceptions of her having a kid.

SANDY CHILEWICH: I think it's true. Everyone needs to be a bit more enlightened about this subject.

Q: In my company we have people who leave early for kids' activities, and do it often. Do you think it's fair for everyone to have that? I don't have kids, but I have dogs. Shouldn't everyone be allowed to have the same freedom to take care of personal activities, regardless of what they are?

SANDY CHILEWICH: Yes, it's worth examining this.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Flexibility in a business is vital.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I was freelancing full time for a while. But instinctively, I always worked for small firms. If I was working at a firm again, I'd make sure the owners have kids. A level of understanding is there that doesn't exist everywhere.

JUDY ROSS: My manager goes home to walk a friend's dog almost every day, so we definitely recognize flexibility in personal responsibilities.

Q: I'm a designer, and I'm curious about how you each find space for yourself at the end of the day? How do you nurture your creative side to keep things fresh, given that daily responsibilities in running a business are not always inspiring?

SANDY CHILEWICH: I feel very satisfied creatively during the day. But I do find it hard to relax after work hours.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I love my work day. It's very inspiring to me.

JUDY ROSS: It's tough because you spend a lot of time running your business, taking away from creative time. It's important to schedule time after work, and find a work-life balance, but many times that balance is off.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: Having a young child, I often feel out of it when studio mates talk about going out and having fun. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing out. But then I go home and do an art project with my daughter and that feels fulfilling.

Q: I don't have kids, so I'm having trouble grasping the difficulty between running a business and having kids. What is the problem?

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: I don't think the panelists see it as a problem; it's just finding that work-life balance that can be difficult at times.

JUDY ROSS: It's also being successful at both roles, which is challenging.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I know that if I didn't do my thing, and have my business, I wouldn't feel as fulfilled. After three weeks in Europe in the summer, I'm ready to go back to work. I think if a parent is happy and fulfilled, that is reflected to the children.

Q: In November, I lost my job as a VP at a design firm that I had been with for 13 years. I was divorced, yet I met a wonderful man, and we have now merged our families (two children each). I'm wondering how to choose at this point. My husband has a great career in advertising. Now I can do textile design exactly as I want, as a sole proprietor. So, what do I do? How do I start? I did run a business within a company, but how do I do it on my own?

JUDY ROSS: Some of it is finding a void in the marketplace. Sandy made multi-colored hosiery. I made pillows. You have to find that niche, and then you find the momentum to do it from there.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: I don't think it's random that each of these women started their own business. Starting older, or after a long career, can sometimes be easier. You see all aspects of the marketplace, and have a better sense of what will succeed and what won't.

Q: How did you all learn to promote yourself? How do you learn to wear so many hats?

SANDY CHILEWICH: I did a billion things wrong. Everyone does. You don't know what you're doing until you start doing it, and then you learn as you go.

JUDY ROSS: I think it's better to start a bit naïve. It's too overwhelming if you don't.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I keep telling my students — now is the time. There is so much exposure for young designers — Etsy, SupermarketHQ. It's easier than it's ever been. The web allows for that, so it's a perfect time to take advantage of it.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Yes, right now is a perfect time to find an audience.

Q: Do you feel your businesses would have been more successful if you didn't have children?

SANDY CHILEWICH: You become less egocentric when you have children. Everything is scaled back. You make compromises. In the end, it's an intangible contribution that becomes an everyday part of what you do. One thing that I always did — I always had nannies that had young kids themselves. They had to leave at 4:30pm every day, which meant I had to be home at that time. I had to be productive in the work hours that I had.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I totally agree — having kids forces you to stop working. I love working and would do it all the time, but kids provide structure to prevent that.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN:Why not have three kids?

JUDY ROSS: My friend owns French Bull, and has three kids — they go everywhere with her.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I grew up with a mom who was a businesswoman. She's my role model. Many of my friends who are business owners had similar role models.

SANDY CHILEWICH: My father was my business role model. He loved his work, and I absorbed that passion.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: I do believe that we are doing our children a great service by following our passion. They see us finding pleasure in our work, which is very important.

JUDY ROSS: My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I picked up making things by hand from her, but I really had no business role model. Every woman does it differently — some start their business first, and then have kids. Some find themselves first, as I did, then start their business, then have kids. It just depends on what works for you — but that's the most important thing, is doing what works for you, not for others.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Speaking of role models — who were your role models if they weren't family members? Role models in either business or design?

JUDY ROSS: Betsy Johnson is one of my role models. She has one daughter, and she's always out there doing stuff. Diane Von Furstenberg is another role model. I always wanted to create something that was mine, and represented who I am. I think both of these women do that very well.

Q: All of you chose to have children when you were older. Do you think it's too hard to have them when you're young? Is it riskier?

SANDY CHILEWICH: I didn't know what I was doing when I was young. That's it. If I did, or if I had more of a plan, it may have all worked out differently.

MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: You never know when it's going to take off. At 28, if you have an opportunity, go for it.

Q: I'm more familiar with the garment industry, where, even though women populate it, men still rise to the top. Is this true the design field, and in interior design specifically?

SANDY CHILEWICH: It's true everywhere. It's still an unsupportive atmosphere for successful women overall.

TINA ROTH EISENBERG: It's so much better in Europe. I have a friend in the US who worked crazy hours at a law firm. She now lives in Germany and was forced to stop working 6 weeks before her 2nd kid was born. She was bored at home! She just wasn't used to it.

Thank You!

• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!

• Special thanks to Knoll for welcoming our Meetup to their showroom!

• Special thanks to our wine sponsor, September Wine & Spirits!

NEXT MEETUP: February 16th, 2011 Ouef. Please note that next month's Meetup is moving to ABC Carpet & Home. Many thanks to Knoll for hosting us for all of our many Meetups.

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