SWOON, the studio is a hands-on, multi-disciplinary design firm based in Dallas, TX. Founded in 2009 by Samantha Reitmayer Sano, Swoon originally focused on graphic design and branding. As the studio (and client roster) grew, so did Sam’s interests – and Swoon soon offered design services for residential interiors, retail windows, and events. She knew she needed someone to help the studio reach its full potential, and called in her dear friend Joslyn Taylor. Together, they have taken Swoon from a small firm to a bustling organization with 11 employees. We knew that a team this inspired was bound to have a beautiful office. Located in a residential condo, the women have transformed it into a fully functional office space that is ever-evolving – much like the company itself. We chatted with both Sam and Joslyn to learn more about the space, the firm, and staying continually creative.
Tell us about the actual space the office is in?
SAM: It’s a four-story building east of downtown. The open-plan design, floor-to-ceiling windows, and raw concrete floors make it a great backdrop for working on our varied projects.
How did you find it?
SAM: We branded the building when it initially opened in 2004.
The space is sprawling! We’d love to know more about the layout.
JOSLYN: The space is actually a residential condo with two main rooms. We mix the graphics and interiors teams with six of us in the front room where we also have our conference table and the kitchen and five of us in the back along with the two studio pups, Cash and Mary. Occasionally there might even be a kiddo or two in the mix.
Sounds lively – just the way we like it! How was the concept for Swoon born?
SAM: I started Swoon with one employee who came with me from my previous studio, Kevin Thomas, after starting my blog in 2009. The studio was primarily focused on graphic design and luxury branding, but we took on an experimental attitude towards design. We were fortunate enough to start Swoon with a well-respected client base, which gave us the flexibility to try new things like residential interiors, retail windows, and event design. At our core, we’re all artists and makers, so we were willing to try almost anything.
And when did Joslyn join the mix?
SAM: Joslyn and I met shortly after I started Swoon through our respective blogs. We immediately connected with similar interests, passions, and sensibilities, and our blog friendship quickly evolved into a sort of “soul sister” situation. Joslyn and I talked often about Swoon and work in general (she had recently left a 15-year corporate marketing career to join D Home as its Market Editor and launch a new magazine for the company, D Moms). At that point, Swoon had grown to five people, and the interior design business had become more than a full-time job in addition to graphic and other types of design.
I knew I needed to grow the leadership side of the business, and I was also pregnant with my first child (and overwhelmed)… I had to figure out if I was even going to keep doing interiors. One day, after a conversation with another editor friend, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Joslyn. Taylor. My dear friend. I totally trust her aesthetic. We are just completely in sync. I had to do whatever it took to convince her to not only join Swoon but to help build it. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity for both of us to grow this future in design together. Most days I still can’t believe we get to do it. It’s been a tremendous success. A year and a half later we now have 11 employees!
We love that! What’s it like working with a friend? Any tips – or things to avoid?
SAM: For me, it’s great. It makes me happy to see them happy (and sad to see them sad, which can make it a little harder on the rare bad day). Overall, there’s so much love and trust; it’s awesome. I would say avoid the temptation to just sweep things under the rug, be willing to communicate and then admit when something doesn’t go quite as it should. We’re really good about talking it out.
JOSLYN: Honestly it’s amazing. Working with Sam has turned the whole concept of work-life balance on its head since our careers and our friendship (and even our families) are so intertwined. There is just real joy in getting to do fulfilling, creative work alongside someone you love, respect, and genuinely care about. It adds a whole other dimension to the day. It can be hard to turn things off on weekends and evenings, but I’m not sure I would call that a pitfall. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
You describe Swoon as a “multi-disciplinary design concept.” Could you elaborate?
SAM: Our team has had a variety of professional experiences and boast a range of talents (past jobs held by varying team members include graphic designer, art director, magazine editor, writer, event planner, and marketing director to name a few), so for us it was really natural to offer cross-disciplinary design services. We’re makers, we love being hands-on, and we have a strong marketing background, so we approach everything with the mindset that good design, no matter the medium, is memorable, impactful, and evokes feeling.
The studio is loosely split into two core areas: graphics and interiors (residential and commercial). As founder, I also serve as overarching creative director for the studio. Joslyn oversees interiors and the brand for the studio itself, but we keep things very organic. While each member of the team is largely focused on either graphics or interiors, we’re not big on hierarchy and putting people too firmly into boxes. We look at each project on a case-by-case basis and decide how to assemble a team that brings the right skill set and freshest perspective to the work. It’s very common to have a graphic designer working on an interiors project and vice versa, and when we produce events, it’s pretty much all hands on deck.
What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learned in running your own firm?
SAM: Oh gosh, so much. Every day is a lesson. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that we’re human. We make mistakes and get overwhelmed. We’re all different in the way we communicate and work.
What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
SAM: These people. They are the greatest group of crazy, talented, risk taking creatives. All of them. They are good to their core and good at their jobs. That’s what makes this place great.
JOSLYN: That my daughters are really proud of my job. They’re always “designing” rooms at home and love coming to the studio every chance they get. I love that I’m showing them what it looks like to have a career that you truly love.
You’ve obviously been very successful, seemingly right off the bat. What do you attribute that to?
SAM: Hard. Work.
JOSLYN: I’d echo Sam here, we work our butts off, but we also have an amazing support system – incredible husbands and kids, and a handful of women (and men) who have served as our mentors, champions, and cheerleaders.
So, back to the office. What were your top design goals?
SAM: Our office design is a bit of an ever-evolving process, as we’ve grown so rapidly in the past year and a half. It’s an open floor plan, so that gives us lots of options for configuration.
JOSLYN: We like to switch things up, so the most important aspect in making the space work is staying flexible as things are moving around. We also swear by white IKEA desks, ample storage for samples, and lots of wall space for rotating mood boards.
Any challenges in making it work?
SAM: Since it’s an open floor plan, there’s very little privacy, so multiple people on the phone at once can be tough. We rented another unit next door and use that as a secondary conference area or just as a spot to get away when necessary.
Do you have a favorite spot in the office?
SAM: The front room, it’s filled with light and super pretty (and quiet, I like to work in quiet).
JOSLYN: The moodboards. I love looking up and seeing everything in progress. Just watching it come together from inspiration to end-result is incredibly exciting.
Finally, what is your top advice for making an office space inspiring and productive?
SAM: Keep it fun. Work hard. Play hard. We make a sincere and very successful effort to do both.
To learn more about SWOON, the studio, click here.