Willa and Marni Blank never intended to go into business together. They were just too different, and they were nervous it would put a strain on their relationship. But while they were working on ideas for separate businesses, they started to realize that their differences were actually complementary – and maybe they had something special together.
Marni and Willa Blank are a sister team, owners and operators of Blank Studio NYC and The Blank Farmhouse.
Marni: Just like any relationship, a business partnership is a lot of work, especially when you’re related. And I, and we’ve worked really hard to get to a place where we move through fights faster. It doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that we don’t disagree and that we don’t have, you know, moments, but we move through those feelings a lot faster and we’ve, we’ve really tried to hone those skills. And so, so we don’t yeah, revert back to our teenage angsty selves.
Dana: Welcome to Hustle and Gather, a podcast about inspiring the everyday entrepreneur to take the leap. I’m Dana
Courtney: and I’m Courtney.
Dana: And we are two sisters who have started multiple businesses together. And yes, it is as messy as you think. Because we know that starting a business isn’t easy.
Courtney: We’ve done it four times. And on this show, we talk about the ups and downs of the hustle and the reward at the end of the journey.
Dana: And we love helping small businesses succeed. Whether it’s through our venue consulting, speaking, or team training, we love to motivate others to take that really big leap.
Courtney: Or you could just use our misadventures to normalize the crazy that is being an entrepreneur, because every entrepreneur makes mistakes.
Dana: And we like to call those unsuccessful attempts around here.
Courtney: And we know it’s just part of the process. And today we’re learning from Marni and Willa Blank, a sister duo team, yay, that owns and operates Blank Studio NYC, a creative studio space, and the Blank Farmhouse, a beautiful 103-year-old farmhouse in Western Cochecton, Marni and Willa. Welcome to hustle and gather.
Willa: Thank you.
Courtney: Yeah. We’re so excited to talk to some sisters.
Dana: I know it’s our first real sister interview.
Marni: Always fun to see the different dynamics between the sisters, which one of you is older?
Dana: That one over there.
Courtney: I know I look younger.
Dana: She says that all the time, but you know, we’re only two years apart. So you just say, we look the same age, is sufficient.
Courtney: Yeah. Obviously we know your sister’s three and a half years apart, but Marni, you were originally a lawyer and a real estate agent right before starting business and Willa you were a fashion designer for 10 years.
Marni: Yeah, we. definitely took different paths in, in school and in different passions. And yes, I was a lawyer for about five years before I decided that it wasn’t for me. I was at that point where I was waking up every day, wishing my day away. And at 31, I just felt like that’s not what I want to be doing with my life there. There’s got to be something more out there.
Marni: And it sort of led me on a journey where I left, I still have my law degree, but, I did my little, eat, pray love around the world for seven months. I rented out my, my apartment. I sold a lot of my, my things and I put my stuff in a backpack. and did a lot of, solo travel which was pretty amazing. and I got, back and I was sort of like, what, what do I do now? and so I ended up getting my real estate license and started at a startup company with that and kind of getting my feet wet in that. And I’ll let Willa sort of take it from there, but it’s when our, our paths sort of overlapped in work.
Willa: Yeah. So I, I studied fashion design. I worked in New York for about 10 years and design women’s wear and doing a little interior design also on the side. My path though always zig zags into other avenues. But I was in a job that I hated when Marni got back and she was doing real estate and I was on set for a photo shoot on the brand side and started asking our producer, like, how much are we paying for this rental space?
Like, what is the process of doing all this? I started talking to studio managers when I was on set, just out of curiosity and realized they were renting studio spaces for events and for other things, and that there was kind of a bigger market there. So despite my better judgment, I approached Marni about looking for spaces without, honestly, without the intention of working together, because I kind of never thought that that would be a good idea.
We kind of always talked about different businesses, but and even with the advice of my therapist was like, this would be a bad idea. Like somehow this would go south. But when I had this idea for the studio and we started looking at spaces, I realized like we really have opposite skillsets that complement each other.
Marni has this like, experience in contracts and operations and all of that kind of side of the business that I have no interest in and that they could really complement each other well. So as we were looking at spaces to see what was available, what rent really costs, and if this was possible, I was like, you know what, actually, she’s the perfect business partner to get this off the ground. And yeah, so we found a space eventually and with blind faith, go ahead
Marni: I was also very nervous about going into business together. You know, you’ve heard all the horror stories. I mean, you guys are sisters, you know, there are many ways in which, it can go horribly wrong.
Willa: We had both, worked for siblings, previously, that didn’t go so well. We, I worked for a sister duo and Marni worked for two twins, a brother duo.
Willa: And saw like those relationships go south.
Marni: And so I was really nervous about committing to that. And, you know, we didn’t always grow up close. We sort of became closer when we were not in the house together. And we both took time to really thinking, think about like, is this right for us? Does this make sense? What are, what are we going to do to make sure that we keep this our personal relationship healthy, and grow the business relationship.
And so we definitely both talked to our, our each have our own therapists that we both have extensive conversations about that. And then really came into the business as if we weren’t sisters. Like we, we did the operation agreement, we did a partnership agreement. We really took the time to think about all the things to make sure that we really solidified
Willa: Our roles
Marni: and business plan to make sure that we didn’t fuck it up from the beginning, excuse my language.
Dana: No, that’s fine.
Courtney: that’s amazing advice, advice that we didn’t take, but we were like mid to young twenties when we started working together. So, you know, we were always great friends growing up. Like we had options to share a room or not to share a room. We always shared rooms. We shared clothes. I can think of like the fights we had on like maybe one hand, like, so we always just got along and really thought that that’s going to sustain you through business.
And really it doesn’t actually, you know, I mean, there’s definitely something about the sister relationship that can take a lot, has a lot of like tenacity and can bounce back because you know that person, because you grew up with that person. But definitely great, great advice with that. Starting with that partnership agreement and whatnot. Yeah, our young twenties self-did not think that that was a thing. It was just going to be fine. Yeah.
Dana: Well, I’m curious, you said you worked for siblings before. Like what, what were some lessons that you learned from them?
Marni: I think for me, it was be able to separate in some way when you’re at the office from when you’re home in terms of how you’re communicating together, especially in front of staff or other people, like there has to be some level of professionalism, respect. And Willa and I haven’t had that problem for the most part because we don’t have, we have freelancers who work for us, but we don’t have other people, but we still try to model that, you know, we take the time to really.
If one of us is having an issue with the other, we don’t let it fester. We talk about it; we talk about it right away. And sometimes we need a moment to, to get over it. But there’s always that feeling like you said that, you know each other so well that I trust her implicitly, and that’s why this works. But you also have to bring that level of respect and professionalism to, to the workplace, which I think, not everyone does.
Willa: Yeah, I had the exact same experience. It was really about how the dynamic at work and treating each other with respect and not bickering, not being, just like not going back to your childhood self-kind of thing. Like it’s so easy with a sibling, and I think the other thing that we didn’t have right away, but I think we’re in such a good stride with is like, I know how to push all of her buttons.
I know how to like really dig into her, and I worked so hard to choose not to do that because I respect her. I know I need her. I am in awe of like everything she does for our business. And so like, I have to, I’m choosing constantly to just be supportive and be like the best partner for her. And it has nothing to do with being her sister that can be, you know, for our personal time.
Dana: That’s very mature.
Marni: Yeah. well, we, it, it has taken a lot of work. I mean, I think that’s the other thing, like, just like any relationship, a business partnership is a lot of work, especially when you’re related. And I, and we’ve worked really hard to get to a place where we move through fights faster. It doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that we don’t disagree and that we don’t have, you know, moments, but we move through those feelings a lot faster and we’ve, we’ve done some emotional intelligence courses together and other sorts of leadership training and which we’ve really tried to hone those skills. And so, so we don’t yeah, revert back to our teenage angsty selves.
Courtney: So easy to do, it really is.
Dana: it is. And it’s so easy just to fall into like natural roles too. Like, and I think that’s the thing I love about just growing up in general, like just where you learn a little bit more about who you are. And I feel like every year I learn more and more about who I am, what I really care about how I tick and there’s things that, like I realized by myself and Courtney, it’s like, I’ve always known that I was like, yeah, but I didn’t believe you.
Like, I just thought you were like giving me a label, but like, yeah, that is how I am. And it’s so easy sometimes for me, especially when I’m digging in to just dig into dig in. And I have to make myself pause and say, you know what, that’s a good idea and you’re right, and that’d be the end of the sentence as opposed to like, wanting to be right and wanting to prove my point.
Courtney: Are you oldest and youngest, or as someone in the middle?
Willa: No, just the two of us.
Marni: Just us.
Courtney: Yeah, so Dana is a middle, there’s a brother that’s younger. So there’s a lot of like middle childness that like comes out in our conversation. And then, and Dana is a go getter. Like she is an Enneagram eight, you know, like she just works and works and works and can do and do and do, but definitely that like middle child of, I need to be recognized or like my idea, it needs to be validated, like comes up in our conversations.
Willa: Everybody wants that, you know, everyone wants to be recognized and validated. And if your siblings, it’s harder to give that because you just, you do, you just keep going, you keep moving past it and don’t always stop to recognize.
Courtney: And don’t you think Marni and correct me if I’m wrong, cause I think being the oldest can go one of two ways. Like I always find myself to be like the facilitator, right? Like I’m the person that like, I will try to make peace or like, oh, that ideas, fine. Or I’ll discount what I’m bringing to the table.
Oh, we’ll just go with what she, I was always that way, like growing up, like it’s, it’s just make that person happy. What does this person need? You know, kind of smoothing everything over, and I find myself like that in business as well, where it’s like, okay, no, actually what I have to say is valid. And just because you have an idea and I have a different idea, it doesn’t mean we have to go with that idea because it’s the easiest path, right?
Like sometimes it’s like, I’m going to fight for this idea. Actually, this is what I think we should do and how it should look. But I tend to be a little more like,
Marni: A hundred percent, a hundred percent. I am definitely a people pleaser. I definitely want to make other people happy. And, and I also trust Willa’s opinion a lot where sometimes, like you’re saying I sometimes can in, in ways, defer to her because at the studio, at least it’s really her realm. like it’s the creative realm.
I came from a law background and it’s not that I’m not creative, but these are Willa’s people. And its sort of, so in many ways, I do put my, my thoughts or my, opinions on certain things aside, but also we we’re in a situation where if, if it’s in her realm, I let her take the lead. And if it’s in my lane then I will be the one to say, you know, I actually think that this is the way we should go. And I think that we should go with my idea. but there is definitely, especially with clients, I often.
They will ask for something above and beyond what we normally offer, or they will, you know, push on certain things, just like in the hospitality industry, in what you guys do I’m sure, you know, you want to be accommodating. You want to give. them what they want and also there are certain things that you need to sort of be firmer about and it’s really walking a, a fine line.
Willa: Charge extra for it.
Marni: We’re bad about that, but we’re getting better. We’re getting better.
Dana: So tell us a little bit about like what exactly Blank Studio does and then a little bit about that journey of getting started and having some of those hard conversations and, how you kind of made your mark in this industry in New York.
Willa: So Blank Studio is a rental photography studio primarily, but because it is an 1800 square foot loft, open loft in Soho, New York and downtown New York, it is a really versatile space. So we rent it to clients for corporate off-sites. They’ll do quarterly reviews, marketing brainstorms, showroom clients for market week appointments. Yoga classes, team-building things, you know, it’s a, it’s a flex space. We’ve had a wedding, two weddings. We’ve had two weddings. There were, you know, like 10 people during COVID. But yeah, it’s a rental space that basically you can do whatever you can dream up in.
When we started, it was a total blind leap of faith. I convinced Marni somehow that I had enough connections in the industry, like friends who are photographers or producers or directors that we could get this off the ground, just by word of mouth. And somehow that happened. We had our first shoot, before we were even done renovating the space. It was for Rag and Bone, actually a good friend of mine was the art director there and they wanted a raw space and it was literally a raw construction site that they had the photo shoot, and it was like wires coming out of the wall. Like they did a walk through the space and they were, and there was, you know, coffee cups and garbage from the, from the workers. And they were like, don’t move anything, leave everything exactly as it is. And I was like, great.
From there. It really did kind of have an organic build of word of mouth just from people in the industry. And our niche really is this beautiful, raw industrial space in Soho that has character. And, and I had spent a lot of time in photo studios from the renter’s side and they can be super sterile. You know, it’s typically a white box. Sometimes with no windows, no daylight, because you know, you’re shooting without daylight. You’re shooting with artificial lighting and you’re spending 10 hours of your day there. And so what we wanted was really a space that had character and had light, daylight was really important to us.
And we wanted it to be a versatile space that felt warm. So if you’re spending 10 hours of your day there you’re, you’re not dreading it. You’re like, wow, this is fun. I’m with my team, we’re building something. We have this creative vision and we have all of this. Beauty around us to inspire us. So it is a white box, but it has a beautiful brick wall.
It has these architectural columns. the building used to be a cardboard factory back in the day, and actually above us are all artists who’ve lived there since the seventies, you know, rent controlled and these beautiful artists loft spaces. So it’s really like, it’s a, it’s a feeling when you, when you walk in to our crooked staircase, up the stairs, and then you enter this beautiful space and people without fail every time comment on like, oh, the space is so beautiful. We love the space that, you know, everyone loves to be there. It’s like a, it’s a vibe.
Marni: And I’ll just add to that. Like Willa’s saying that when you walk in, people always comment on, it just feels like good energy. And that’s really what we’ve tried to put into it. And in the way that we have made a mark. A little different is that we Really wanted it to be a community space, a place that people felt that they could come, that they could create, that they could learn and they could be with others in community.
And so we started obviously pre COVID, like a monthly series where we would bring in speakers, in all different kinds of areas, but for the pillars were love and relationships, health and wellness, personal finance career. And then just sort of arts and crafts, getting your hands dirty and like something fun. And we would bring in speakers that we wanted to hear. And people really responded to that. People came, some came with friends, some came on their own, everyone left making a friend or a connection. And we did that for several years, obviously that has changed due to COVID but we’re slowly bringing that back in a lot of people miss that obviously. And, and that was something that we really loved and have missed in the last couple of years.
Willa: Yeah. And that grew out of your, like what you were talking about of like getting outside of our bubble. It’s really always been like; we are listening to what people want from us and what people want in their lives in general. And so, yeah. We knew that the core of our business is photo-shoots, but not everybody’s in that industry.
Not everyone has that need, like how can we offer the space to other people who just want to be in a creative space who want to meet interesting people, grow themselves and that’s led to so many interesting collaborations later on, like we’ve met people at those events that then we do an event with, or that we go and volunteer with. We’ve done a lot of fundraisers for causes that we care about and donated the space to people who can’t afford it or who have some new brainstorm idea. And that that always leads to business.
Dana: I know as I, we, I think every single team meeting, I have this conversation of like staying relevant, like how do we stay relevant? And how do you, how do you hit the different markets? So, you know, we, there are certain things we do really well. Like we, especially with the venue side of things, like we can book that Saturday client, like that’s not an issue, you know, but it’s how do we now extend that rental into like a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? Reach community members, how do we get into corporate?
And it’s not just because of money, revenue necessarily it’s for us, we have a deaf and big heart for like philanthropy and like, how do we reach our community? And we’re in a very unique community that we are this venue that’s kind of literally just stuck down in the middle of this very rural area and we love our neighbors and we love the community school.
We love the people around it and how can we serve them and make an enrich their lives and how can they enrich ours, right. Because that’s really what it is. It’s about a given a take. And then I think that that does bring so much relevance to, to your business when you can kind of look outside of that bubble.
Willa: Yeah, it’s such a gift to have space and to be able to offer it to people, creating that ecosystem for people who need the space and w in ways in which you can donate it back to your community is that’s amazing.
Courtney: Okay. We got to do the yeah, the father-daughter dance for our local school. We get to do the eighth, eighth grade graduation. Cause it’s a K through eight school to have the community out. And it’s always like, they’re always just been such an off like, oh, we get to go with the Bradford. You know, it’s, it’s special to them too. So it’s really a lot of fun to be able to, to be able to provide that and do that. And cause I think sometimes you get stuck in like the business of it and be for more, like it can’t just be for the bottom line, you know, like you could do it, you could just have a job for that, right. But I think you have to be able to give back and make it feel like it’s more than just revenue generation.
Marni: Willa and I both could make more money at our respective other careers. We didn’t, we didn’t do that, like we did not choose this to like make the billions. We did it because it allowed us a lot of flexibility and freedom that we didn’t have in our other careers. And it also allowed us to be in a more community driven industry and meeting different people that we wouldn’t have other otherwise gotten to meet. And that was really important to us.
Dana: So how has your relationship changed? So you said before you guys weren’t like super close and you’re literally your paths kind of crossed. So from that first, you know, Willow, when you reached out, like I had this idea to now, like, how has your relationship evolved?
Willa: Well, I would say like, it’s been six years since we’ve been in business together. So first of all, like we are different people in general, we are more grown up. We are, and like you were saying, like, we know who we are more clearly. We know what we want and what’s important. So, that I think for some people informs our relationship today. I don’t even think that it has necessarily changed. It’s just like deepened in a way. Like we used to hang out a lot because we have a lot of friends that overlap in the city and we’re very close with our cousins who live in the city.
So we are always seeing each other for dinner or, or, you know, whatever it is, we kind of overlap. But I think it was not as deep of a relationship. Like I wouldn’t go to Marni to talk about an issue I was having, or a fight I had with a friend or whatever it was, you know, it was kind of just like we socialize beside each other, but then it was in and out kind of passing and our relationship today is just like, it’s codependent, let’s be honest. It’s very codependent.
Marni: Absolutely codependent.
Willa: like it’s a little bit creepy, but, she’s like my strongest relationship that I have, but I think that’s sometimes I hate that sometimes I love it. And that’s just the way it is.
Courtney: I feel that
Marni: I, I would say the same thing. Like, you know, the thing that has changed, I think is our being able to, to move through feelings faster. Like we’re never going to be the type of sisters who never fight and who like never have disagreements, that’s just not who we are. We’re very different people with different personalities.
Courtney: I don’t think those exist. Like if you spend enough time together, I don’t think those exist. We have what we call, like our bi-annual blowup. It happens like every six months, it’s like a pressure cooker. You work through it and then you’re good for six months, but you know it’s coming again. You don’t know what’s going to trigger it, but it’s going to happen.
Marni: It’s, it’s cyclical. there, there, there are moments where we’re like, you know what? We have spent a lot of time together recently. Why don’t we take a little time apart? Why don’t we just give ourselves a couple of days where we, you know, agree to just keep things to a minimum and that, that then like, you know, helps things move faster.
But I think that we, we really have done a lot of work on ourselves personally, and then together, to be able to work through things faster. And I think we also figure out ways, we were overlapping too much of the business where we were stepping on toes that led to arguments that weren’t really not necessary, and that when we figured out, okay, we could do this again and again, and again, and butt heads in the same exact way.
Or we can look at it differently or how, how can we change this dynamic and work through it. So, like my favorite example is Willa is a better cleaner than I am. I am just from growing up to now. Like my room was messier than Willa’s and just not as attention oriented, you know than She is. And we were literally cleaning this 1800 square foot space by hand, after every shoot. for, for a year because we couldn’t afford cleaning service.
And it led to Arguments because I would miss things that she, she saw and I would then get frustrated because I felt I was doing my best when it, the best was not to the level that it needed to be. and I was like, you know what, we need to make our first hire. And that needs to be a cleaning service. And you know what, it was the best thing. we’ve ever done for our relationship. Like, we took it off our plate, we let someone else do it professionally, and then we didn’t have to fight about it anymore. And I can admit that, you know.
Dana: I love that, I think that the codependency is actually a thing that I struggle with the most. It’s what I love, and it’s what I hate. And I remember we were at this networking event one time and someone was something, she was like, she was like, I love your makeup. And Courtney is like, yeah, we use blah, blah, blah. Cause we use the same like brand of makeup. And I was
Courtney: I introduced her to it.
Dana: she did. I was like, did you just realize that you answered that we use this, like, not that like I use this or whatever, but it was just that there are so, so together all the time that even we use the same foundation, you know, like it’s crazy. And, and there’s a lot of times, I think last year.
One of our biannual blowups was me like just feeling suffocated. Like I felt suffocated because there’s never a time when it’s just me. There’s always, it’s always C and D. It’s always Courtney and Dana there’s, you know, there’s always, if someone says something nice to you, they have to say something nice to your sister.
You know, like there’s never this feeling like you can just be you and break out into who you are in the industry. Cause we were so together or we were introduced together. We entered it together. We’re still in it together. There were always a package deal. And then, and it makes me like itchy. Like, it just makes me feel like I’m, I’m confined in a box and I can’t ever be who I am.
But it’s, but I also love that COVID was great for that because I didn’t have to go through it alone, and I’d have ranting raving person on the phone. I’d be like, I need to talk to my partner about that. Like, I can’t make this decision and I loved that co-dependence that I couldn’t go into it alone. So I don’t know. There’s pros and cons to it, but I, I think, yeah,
Courtney: I am of the mind. It’s not changing, lean into it. It is what it is, right. So it is. So, I mean, sometimes I passive, aggressively take my computer out to the general office. I’m like, I’m not sharing an office space with you right now. Like you’re suffocating me, sitting out here means I need some space and then I’ll be back the next day, you know?
Willa: Yeah, we have the exact same thing where it’s like, it’s always us together. And even like, even in our family, we’ll get like a wedding invite to like Marni and Willa. We do not live together, like it’s like married, we don’t live together. Like we’re always just lumped together. And yeah, sometimes that like creates like itchy. Like you said, it was like totally the feeling in your body, but then it’s like, whatever, who else would I want to be tied to like the, in this way? You embrace it and you fight it. And I think we just realized, like we’re spending so much more energy fighting this, that it’s not.
Courtney: Accepting it. I told Dana that I told Dana the other day, or I’m getting ready to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary. And I was like, we should have an anniversary party. Like we should celebrate annually when we went into business, coming on like 17 years or something. And it’s definitely like something to be celebrated, right?
Like, cause you’re really close. I say I’m closer than being married because I made all of it. All the families, like we have kids all are a year apart. So it’s like 13, 12, 11, 10, 8, you know, the last ones off, business together, all the things that we go through, like, why aren’t we celebrating this annually? We made it another year. Just like you do when you’re married.
Marni: I love that.
Dana: She wanted to do vows. That was like, I don’t know if I want to do vows.
Marni: The thing that Willa and I have sort of done to counteract all of the codependency is, you know, both of us have very different interests outside of our business. And I think what’s been amazing about the studio and the farmhouse is that we also have given ourselves this business where if I need, a couple of days off to work on a different project, Willa’s covering the studio and vice versa.
And so, you know, I started a business last year helping families and friends who want to get into business together create healthy partnerships called Work-related. And that’s something that I wanted to focus my energy on because I saw how much work it took to you know, work as a family together and get that off the ground in a, in a healthy way and over COVID I felt a real calling to become a death doula and start looking into creating something in the end-of-life space, which is something really near and dear to my heart.
And that’s something that I currently get to work on. And it’s something that is separate and apart from Willa. It’s important to me, but our partnership allows me to do that at the same time. And same with Willa. Willa is an incredible creative, and I will let Willa talk about her, her side business, but like, I love that, like she gets to create these gorgeous quilted quotes and these stockings for the holiday season and all these different things and, and her interior design business on the side, that I love getting to see what she does without me, as much as we spend time together.
Willa: Yeah And that creates our own little communities too, that are separate from what we do together, and then that all, again, weaves back into each other in some way, ends up at the studio or at the house, which is great. But yeah, I have a, like a, I curate home goods and make home goods, quilts, and curate vintage for, for clients who I do interior design work for, just for individuals purchasing called Blank Supply.
That was one positive thing in COVID, which we both were like, all right. Our business is dead in the water. We, we have this physical space to gather people together, which is the one thing that we cannot do right now. And, when we weren’t in completely stressed out about how to pay our rent, we, you know, took time for ourselves and got to really dive into other interests and other projects, which are still around today, even though our other businesses are still up and running.
Courtney: We like to ask everybody this question, like in the course of your business, whether it was launching Blank Studio or Blank Farmhouse did you guys ever have like an oh shit moment where you were like, what have we done? How are we going to get out of this? Like I’m questioning my life choices right now.
Willa: I never had that with the studio, but during COVID when we had this business that was centered around community and gathering and in person creative work, and we couldn’t do that at all. We were like, is this an irrelevant in history? Like, what is the pivot? And actually we were in negotiations for a second lease when COVID in March of 2020. we were about to sign a lease for a second studio space. That was our big growth strategy we had had the best year we’d ever had in 2019.
And we were like, we’re going to put, we’re going to invest money into a new space and a marketing strategy and all of this stuff. And then we were like, something weird is happening. Let’s stall negotiations, and then, you know, fortunately we didn’t take on a second lease because that would have bankrupted the business for sure.
Um, and the oh shit moment was definitely. Like, how are we going to afford to pay this rent where landlord is not being compassionate and, you know, it was dark days for a while. And, and what does pivoting look like now? Like, do we ever want to hold a second lease on a space in New York city when this is now a reality of our world, and that is really how the pivot to the house happened like Marni is, you know, still works in real estate. So does commercial deals in the city and has always been interested in rent that, purchasing property, upstate or land doing something like that. And this kind of seems like the perfect pivot, which was like, we had this low lined up for a second studio space.
What if we pivot it into buying a house that we now own when everybody in New York city is trying to flee the city for more space, private space. And yeah and, and, and can we leverage our community? Maybe they want to have photo-shoots upstate. Maybe they have home goods that they want to shoot in a home space that we can’t offer in the studio space. And it really birthed this fun, new venture of having a rental home that then we got to furnish and we got to photograph and market, offered to our community something completely different that we had never even considered previously.
Marni: But I would say the, oh, shit moment there was, oh shit. Now we have a hundred and three-year-old farmhouse where the people who owned it prior to us did not treat it the way it should have been treated, it was not in the condition that, you know, they had marketed it and we were left with a lot of big repairs that we were not prepared for, know,
Willa: bought it in the winter when the decks were covered in snow, didn’t realize that those needed to be totally replaced.
Marni: Or you know, we got, you know, they said that there was never any flooding in the basement and that, you know, even the inspector said that that basement was sound, oh no, every time it rains, it weeps in our basement to a point where we couldn’t, you know, we had to completely waterproof the basement. Things that, you know, there were a lot of oh shit like what did we sign up for? We didn’t prepare for this properly. But we’ve taken we have learned a whole lot and it hasn’t stopped us from wanting to do it again sometime, or maybe I, I I’m still ready to do another one. Maybe Willa’s, Willa still has a little PTSD from the whole thing, but yeah.
Courtney: It’s so funny. Very similarly. We were in negotiation for a lease in February, March, right before COVID and it was leased out from under us which is we were angry about at the time. But then looking back, we were like, thankful Lord, like trying to keep one venue going with all of our staff and employees.
Like what if we had to pay for this lease as well? So it really, I felt kind of like protected in that way. Like the universe is helping me out, you know but definitely did make us a little gun shy at that time. Like, is this something that we ever want to do? Like maybe I want to take a step back and plateau for a minute before moving on to the next thing or, you know, research, some other personal projects that we’ve talked about doing as opposed to putting the money into maybe another space right now, which is the direction that we decided to go.
Dana: Yeah. I think it’s just so hard to like, when you have one success with doing something it’s hard not to want to just replicate that success. And I think that there, you know, there’s value in that. Yes. But it’s also kind of what you said is, is taking a piece of that and pivoting it to something maybe a little bit different and rethinking that idea in that concept. And that’s kind of like, I think for us, like it’s really hard and it was really hard in 2020, and even in 2021.
Cause when 2021 came, you know, obviously we’re still dealing with dealing with the pandemic, but we’re dealing with in the most insane amount of work that you don’t really have time to do anything, but just literally tread water that you lose the ability to dream. Like you lose the ability to say. Okay.
Like, what is next? What is our next role? What is our next venture? And I think that’s what is so beautiful about a partnership. And I don’t know if it’s sister partnership or what it is that where your kind of, you get that from each other. Like, I feel like there’s a lot of times when I, what I dream about it’s because of something like Courtney has thought of, or that she mentioned in passing and it’s like, put that little spark or that bug, you know, in my head, I’m like, oh, this is, yeah, like, let’s do it. Like I’m, I’m ready to follow you again because that’s how it all, I always just follow it. Like I’m a follower. I’m not the leader when it comes to those crazy ideas.
Willa: Yeah. I also like the partnership aspect of it is you don’t always have to be on your A-game. Like we are constantly on different pages. And that kind of seems like a negative, but I think it’s positive because when Marni is like full blazing, like going, going, going, executing, inspired, like all these ideas and I’m like, you know, less over here, like with zero inspiration, she can like float us and bring me back up.
And when I’m in that place and she’s kind of like in a different Headspace, like I can also buoy her also. And we don’t, we don’t always have to be at a hundred percent. And that’s, I think the difference like being, I can imagine being a solopreneur, I think that would be so hard. And like you were saying during COVID, like, those were really hard times and figuring out like the PPP loans and figuring out like, you know, every, everything, like, we just didn’t know what to do and feeling like you weren’t alone in that was so, was vital.
Dana: I totally agree.
Courtney: So what, anything new and exciting coming down the pipeline that you want to share before we wrap up here?
Marni: Really this year is about getting the studio back to its former glory. And I think that we’re also looking for another project upstate. It may not take the form of another rental house. We’ve been entertaining, the idea of doing a flip and trying our hand at that. We’re buying a piece of land and sort of dreaming big, like you said, sort of what, what is the bigger vision here?
What can we create with other people? maybe it’s a collaborative project or maybe it’s the two of us, but I think that we both feel called to spend more time out of the city and in nature. And how do we incorporate that? And that wellbeing portion of our lives, more at the forefront, but for, for the studio, we’re really excited about hopefully eventually bringing in-person events back and bringing new creatives in. And, then just getting back on track.
Willa: I didn’t want to say it, but I’m going to knock up some blood, but actually 2022 has been like January and February will be our second and number one month to date of the business. So I was feeling like this was going to be a build back year, but I think. Maybe last year was the year that we were like really putting everything into motion, to like re bloom in the studio. And I think we did take a lot of energy away from the studio when it was in the lull to bring this house back up, to where we wanted it for rental. And now I think like it’ll be re nurturing this, this, the core of, you know, our business and giving that new life again, and then seeing what comes from that, because that seems to be the thing that everything sprouts off of. So I’m excited once this is booming, again, like what’s going to come from that.
Dana: Thanks everyone for gathering with us today to talk about the hustle. For our episode with Willa and Marni, we are drinking a Manhattan, Willa’s favorite. We hope you get the chance to make it this week and cheers to sister partnerships. To learn more and connect with Marni and Willa, you can visit their business on Instagram at theblankfarmhouse and at blankstudionyc. You can also learn more by visiting blankstudionyc.com and theblankfarmhouse.com.
Courtney: To learn more about our hustles, you can check us out on the gram at canddevents at thebradfordnc and at hustleandgather. If you’re interested in our speaking training or consulting, please look us up at hustleandgather.com
Dana: Also, if you love us and you love the show, we’d be more than honored if you left us a rating and a review.
Courtney: This podcast is a production of Earfluence. I’m Courtney.
Dana: and I’m Dana.
Courtney: And we’ll talk with you next time on Hustle and Gather.
Hustle and Gather is hosted by Courtney Hopper and Dana Kadwell, and is produced by Earfluence. Courtney and Dana’s hustles include C&D Events, Hustle and Gather, and The Bradford Wedding Venue.