BUILDING A HOME WITH MR & MRS WHITE
What do you get when you mix a graphic design major, with a shipwright apprentice? Apparently, timeless handmade pieces of furniture and homewares — built and created in Sydney — reflective of a desire to live in simple beauty, brought to us by ‘Mr and Mrs White’. The effortlessly cool couple, who claimed to have had “no idea what we were doing or where we were heading” but just went about life as if they did, and figured it out as they went along.
A tactic that seems to have worked out pretty well for the parents of three little girls, Selah, Oak and Clay. They somehow work seamlessly together, running operations between their workshop and their home, to create bespoke pieces, recurring product lines and even shop fit-outs. The two work together a little like chalk and cheese, with both partners citing their differences around need (or lack thereof) for structure and routine — but they figure it out. They’ve “learnt to work with and around each other’s strengths and weaknesses” (according to Mr White). And rather than feeling defeated by challenges along the way, accept that there will always be some, to “learn and grow from.” We were so inspired by their uber cool style, and loved hearing a little about their journey so far…
We design, craft and manufacture timber furniture out of our Sydney factory and showroom. We also provide a bespoke service where we can create one-off pieces for clients, as well as design and craft shop fit-outs for the retail and commercial sectors. Nathan and I are husband and wife. We started the business a few years after getting married in 2008 and of course named it ‘Mr and Mrs White’ (our actual name). We just recently celebrated 12 years of marriage and have 3 daughters — Selah (9), Oak (6) and Clay (3). Our responsibilities have developed and adjusted over the years as our family has grown but Nathan manages the factory side of things, which includes: production, materials, manufacturing and staff. My role has been more creative director, managing our media presence, website design and creative direction in photo shoots etc. We are both involved in all design aspects, including new product pieces/ranges as well as coming up with shop fit-out concepts for clients.
In my current season of life with 3 young kids I am so grateful that Nathan, along with his brother (Josh White) who is our Showroom Manager, look after the day-to-day of the business and keep it flowing. This allows me to focus on what I am passionate about, which is the creative direction and design. Having these roles allows me to work from home more and be there for my kids. I also love that when Nathan comes home from work he is quick to take off his ‘work’ hat and just be ‘dad’ and ‘husband’. We have found this to be so important running a business together.
My personality doesn’t like routine, I work off the cuff and get inspiration at random times. I get frustrated if I am home all the time but I also get bored if I am in the office all day everyday. Nathan is the opposite, he loves routine. This has been a challenge over the years but I think it has also been a positive thing. I have recognised where I need more routine in my life and likewise Nathan has adapted to the strengths that come with a less structured life.
Throughout our journey, we haven’t had just one ‘ah-ha’ moment. I feel like it’s a continual journey of discovery and change and adjustment. I can’t even begin to explain how much we have learnt over the years. What I have found has really helped through each season is simply at the end of the day, having a glass of wine at the kitchen bench together and touching base about our day. I might be making dinner, kids are doing homework or eating dinner and Nathan and I spend time catching up about work, about the kids and everything in-between. It’s not a fancy night out, it’s just something we have done to keep our relationship grounded and on the same page.
From the beginning we started our business more as a life decision opposed to a business decision. We are in this for the long run and that also goes for our family. I’ve realised recently that all of it is beautiful and hard and challenging and amazing. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not. I don’t know if this is advice or just ramblings from our journey so far but I guess my one comment would be — love what you do and love those around you while you’re doing it.
At Mr and Mrs White, we love creating pieces that we would enjoy in our own home. Most of our designs have been a combination of ideas and experiments between Sash and I, so we share the responsibility of the design aspect of each piece. Our responsibilities of the day-to-day of the business have developed and adjusted over the years as our family has grown. I manage the factory side of things, Sash is pretty much our creative director. Her love for the home and the simple beauty of how that feels, is what our business was built on.
Sash is passionate about the simple things, which flows into the way she has created our brand’s design and overall feel of our business and life. Our biggest challenge in terms of building our brand and working together, is our difference in the way we work. I like structure and routine… Sash does not haha. But we have learnt to work with and around each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If Sash starts to annoy me I just go into the factory and make something haha.
The development of our brand has been gradual, I don’t think we’ve had one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments. Each day I am just learning when to take off the work hat and put on the husband and father hat. If you can do that, it makes working and living together a lot smoother. There are always challenges but you learn and grow from them.
When planning for the future, we hope to continue to build a strong family business that one day our girls will be proud to be a part of, or at least enjoy visiting us.
Running your own business is a tough gig, but If I were to give advice — it would be to find the love in what you do or you will regret doing it. And, to build something that you are proud of, that your family can be a part of and not neglected because of it. Try to find a good work, life balance… still working on that one ha, but getting better at it.
COMPANIES THAT GET BETTER WITH AGE…
These family businesses have survived through centuries of turmoil and change, and here’s how…read more
THE WORLD OF WINE — 60 SECONDS WITH BRUCE TYRRELL
The Tyrrell family have been growing and harvesting grapes for over 150 years. It’s respect for the land and a few family secrets that have seen them through unpredictable times…read more