Feature Life

You Can Have it All: How Acre Architects Founding Partners Manage Work and Life

Monica and Stephen in one of their elements (Image: Scott Munn)

As partners in both life and business – they’re husband and wife and founders of Acre Architects – Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp are no strangers to juggling work life and home life and everything in between.

We wanted to know how they manage it all and how we can have it as together as they do…so we asked.

Work life balance. We talk about it, but how are entrepreneurs like yourselves really doing it?

Monica: I don’t think that we live a balanced life. I think we have a little bit of luxury in terms of the fact that we both work together. When we’re off-balance, we’re off-balance together. We don’t really take the conventional order of things as a given so when we think of work and then life, we make our work our home. Our kids came to work with us for the first years, from 0 – 1 or a little over 1. We just make our work our life.

Stephen: Just for a little context, we’re approaching our fifth year of business so we’re still emerging. At some point hopefully we’ll have emerged but with this part of owning a business. It is tiring to have a young family and a young business but it won’t always be like that so we’re okay that it is a little wilder and we’re just having fun with it. Owning the business, we could talk about work until one of us falls asleep so…

Monica: I do, Stephen doesn’t. I’ll wake Stephen up in the middle of the night.

Stephen: You do have to make an effort to not be on the phone, not be talking about that all the time because wherever you are, you want to be in that moment.

Monica: We also use our work as a way to explore life. We have a practice of storied architecture so we’re trying to inspire people to live great lives and for us that also means our own life. Through all the projects, we are living and questioning how our clients can live better. We’re trying to think about that at the same time. Our goal I wouldn’t say is to keep that balance, but it’s to make sure that it’s fulfilling and that we’re caring for the relationships that we’re involved in.

Stephen: Our vision is working around a family. I think it’s better to work hard at work and be happy, even if it’s longer hours than be miserable at work. It’s a better image to convey to kids, to do what you love.

How do you divide your time so that everything gets enough attention?

Monica: I don’t sleep much. I’d say we put ourselves last for a long time, so we’re trying to be more like Air Canada and put our own mask on first before helping others. I think we work harder to meet those. We’ve probably had to work more efficiently to be able to do that over the years. That’s what we’re trying to do: work harder but work smarter. I realized that when I had the baby at work and I had fewer hours than I did before, I still managed to get the same work done. You probably just become more efficient. We talk a lot about compressed time, so whatever time you’re given you’re going to work within those parameters. We have a huge support network. The grandparents of our children are great. Our team here at The Acre helps us out. We have a great group of friends. It takes a lot of people to be able to succeed in any of the things that we try for.

Stephen: We’ve also looked at our life, we constantly do, as we do with the business and say “what could be better, what could be easier, what do we not want to do?” Monica’s brother started a business called Nourish NB so we get food delivered at the office, a lunch and a supper. Cooking and groceries were just impossible. Although we love cooking, that’s not our thing right now.

Monica: When we have work travel, we try to bring our kids. We’re going to Nanaimo in three weeks to present at the Royal Architecture Institute Conference and we’re going to bring our kids and make it a family trip so at the same time if we have to go somewhere, it’s about how to make our lives work with that. We recently went to London and we brought Valentino, our youngest son. In a way it’s making memories. If we don’t think of life as a balance but think of it as a timeline of what you want to remember in this world; we’re trying to focus on making sure that those things are fulfilled and important and we’ll find ways around that to make that happen.

What challenges have you faced with managing both?

Stephen: Everything is still challenging. We’re both in the prime of our career. We have a lot of energy. If we didn’t have kids we’d probably be working all the time. It is challenging to find a time slot each day when to do things, when you have your most creative energy. You can’t wait until after everyone’s in bed and then work for two hours. That works sometimes but sometimes you just have to realize when you’re creative, when you need rest.

Monica: And then making sure that you take time to exercise you and do those things that energize you. You have to do those things so that you can give at that capacity.

Stephen: It is easy to forget about yourself, like exercise…

Monica: …showering, hygiene. We’re also revisiting it all the time so we don’t have it together by any means but we’re willing to re-evaluate. It was different when Valentino was a baby and didn’t need as much. Now we want to be present. We’ll shift around. It’s balancing what needs attention and not balancing the two as in equals but constantly negotiating in terms of what needs the most from us and where can we give. We don’t have it figured out but we’re always asking.

Do you have any advice for those struggling to strike a balance?

Monica: Nourish NB. We just finished talking about it. There’s another entrepreneur here in our space and we were just saying it’s the best thing that’s happened to us. He’s the CEO of an IT company and it’s just bought us time. Time is something you can’t really buy.

Stephen: Especially since those are key times, like after you pick the kids up from school or daycare, that’s suppertime.

Monica: That is a real practical one.

Stephen: There’s no perfect formula. There’s no wrong way to go about it. You can’t do everything great.

Monica: Stephen always tells me, “Monica, you can do anything but you can’t do everything.” I don’t believe that. It’s nice to think about what you want to do well.

Stephen: You figure out like the three things that are challenging and then try to figure out if you can get help with any of those. Those are obvious ones to tackle, but living and working in the moment. If you do that, I think you’ll enjoy you life more, your kids more, work more.

Monica: It’s the same way with our architecture. We say “what can you do to live better?” Wherever you are, if you believe you can then you’ll put that energy into making sure that that has to happen.

You’re obviously a team. What different about your teamwork at the workplace versus that at home?

Stephen: I’d say the flow of things is pretty seamless, and a lot of people who hang around us can’t quite tell when we’re working or not working.

Monica: We designed our family crest when we got married and because I didn’t change my name, we wanted something that would combine us together. The top of the crest is a two-headed deer. People used to say that we’re like the two-headed beast. It is pretty seamless.

Stephen: Personality-wise, you’re more of a details person.

Monica: We’re not one person, that’s for sure. We’re very different. Steve’s very cool, calm and collected and I’m a fire head. I think I’m calmer at home.

Stephen: I think it’s probably pretty similar. It’s all just living our lives. We’re playful here and there. We’re pretty serious here and there.

Monica: People have core values for their business, ours are for our life and that is also our business. I’d say they match. That doesn’t change at home or at work.

Any other thoughts?

Stephen: One thing that kids at this age do is they really get you outside, which is fantastic. It’s a great way to recharge. Going by the river or going to a park. Kids force you to do that because they have to run around. If we didn’t have that, we would just be working at a computer.

Monica: We do try to make things matter.