It's hard to start a business in the Bay Area. And even harder to make it successful. We're inspired by the couples who have done it together and have decided to highlight them every week in our new "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series. Check back on Fridays for Q&A's with the couples who run some of our favorite local businesses.
We're kicking off our first edition with Matt & Lena Reynoso of the Compound Gallery and Art in a Box, which we highlighted in this year's Best of the City: Design.
Matt & Lena Reynoso started the artist-run space and community, Compound Studios & Gallery, back in 2008. It's a place where artists can share ideas and communally work in almost any medium imaginable, from digital printing to etching to ceramics to silkscreening to sculpture to wood and metal working. Their new sprawling 8,000 square foot space in North Oakland houses a permanent artists' gallery showcasing the work of Compound Studio artists and serves as project headquarters for their awesome monthly art subscription service, Art in a Box (get one piece of art by a local artist per month).
Matt has a background as a custom metal and wood furniture maker and muralist and Lena (who is also working on her doctoral degree at UC Berkeley) is a painter and printer. Together, the Reynosos' dedication to cultivating high art standards is stirring up the East Bay arts scene with their great-minds-think-alike approach.
What are the best and worst parts of working together at Compound Gallery and on Art in a Box?
Neither of us could do all that we have done as a team alone. We recognize our strengths and appreciate our different abilities. It’s like taking two people with their own unique skill sets and putting them together to make a super-entrepreneur! Both The Compound Gallery and Art in a Box are like giant art projects for us, and it is wonderful to be doing something we love together.
Working together really reveals how much we are on parallel paths in life. We have similar passions and believe in nurturing and supporting the arts, even though we approach the arts differently.
Our business is such a big part of our lives, which can be gratifying and problematic. We rarely have time off outside our work environment (we even live across the street), we work extremely long hours, and we are always thinking about ‘work’. It can be very difficult because Matt has a day job as well as commission jobs and Lena is finishing her PhD at UC Berkeley while simultaneously trying to get her personal art career going. Every time we get consumed by work, we try to step back and look at the big picture and be grateful we are able to follow our dreams together.
What do you each bring to the table?
Matt is a Renaissance Man. He is really good at building and has a vast amount of knowledge with different art media. He can conceptualize an idea and materialize it and brings an interdisciplinary approach to our business. He can come up with a plan for a movable wall, a built in record player, or a sign and then weld, chop, paint, and customize the entire project to completion.
Lena is brilliant and organized, as well as a great writer. She does all the official paperwork, etc. and keeps things going behind the scenes. She does all the marketing for the gallery and Art in a Box. We are both creative, a little obsessive, and determined. We don’t settle for half ass.
Do you have any words of advice for couples that work together (or want to).
If a couple has been together a long time, then it will probably go much smoother than if they are just learning about each other. It’s not unusual for couples to run businesses together, like “Mom and Pop” stores, but running a business with a spouse will either make or break a relationship. You have to have strong communication and full confidence in each other. Instead of harping on each other’s flaws, we have learned to appreciate our individual strengths and accept them. It helps to see other couples successfully running a business together. Matt’s parents own a small garden tool company (Red Pig Garden Tools) and have been an inspiration to both of us.
How do you escape the business (what other things do you like to do together)?
This is hard. We realize that we had to make specific work days and off days. For us, Tuesday is the new Saturday and we make sure that we always stick to it. In reality, we only have one day off a week. The simple things have become a luxury for us….going out for coffee together, spending the day at a park with our dog, or shopping. For the most part, we don’t mind the complete saturation of business because we are doing what we love. We have surrounded ourselves with art, and creative people. If we were selling radiators, it might be a different story.