When we think of the phrase “power couple,” we imagine relationships that have forged impressive innovations and ideas—all done with love. In our February franchise Partners in Design, we’ll showcase a few of our favorite creative couples and hear, in their own words, how they keep the spark in both their working and romantic relationships.
Some people can’t fathom spending all day cooped up in an office with their S.O., making important business decisions and spending every waking minute together. But when we visited Anishka Clarke and Niya Bascom, cofounders of interior firm Ishka Designs, at their office at Camp David in Brooklyn’s Industry City, they were perfectly in sync, cracking jokes, and making each other laugh while mulling over the design boards for their projects.
This synchronicity is undoubtedly an important ingredient contributing to their success. The couple’s design projects take them all over New York City and beyond—from a collector’s home in France to a 12-bedroom villa in Jamaica. With a decade of experience in finance under her belt, along with an Interior Design degree from FIT and an MBA from Stern Business School, Anishka brings many diverse skills to the table. But so does Niya, who had a wealth of experience in photography and set design in the film industry before they ventured out together to create their design firm. In terms of experience, it was a match made in entrepreneurial heaven.
We sat down with Anishka and Niya before they set off to Jamaica to install a massive project that was three years in the making and picked their brains to learn their best advice for thriving in love and business.
How did you meet? How did you start working together?
Anishka: Niya was working in the film industry on set design and had a friend who needed a design solution for a hostel in Crown Heights—this was the pre-Airbnb era. At that time, I was attending FIT, so we decided to partner on the project. It went pretty well and the business just evolved organically from there.
How would each of you describe each other’s roles in the business?
Niya: Anishka does a lot, but I don’t care because I do a lot too.
Anishka: What he said.
How would you describe your brand aesthetic?
Anishka: Our brand aesthetic is informed by [our] endemic concept of “efficiently beautiful”—a conscientious, mindful design approach pursuing the ultimate form of simplicity, efficient lifestyle, and luxury of natural materials.
Niya: Anishka is a natural and organic woman. Her style is simple but powerful, bold but minimal. She respects independent artisans and labels, often selecting distinct pieces to add to her wardrobe, which is reflected in her approach to interior design.
Anishka: Niya is easily one of the most stylish men I know. His physical attire and presence are eclectic and forward-thinking, layered, and complex. His style is welcomingly unpredictable. His home is highly curated, very eclectic, and reflective of his travels and his obsession with art. He’s an avid collector of records.
How do you separate your work relationship from your romantic relationship?
Niya: We don’t. When we are not designing or obligated to design, it is still difficult to separate design from life. Design is in everything we see, touch, and experience. Because our lives are constantly influenced by good and bad design, it invariably creeps into 99% of our interactions, whether work-related or not. Similarly, because we are entrepreneurs, we find it next to impossible to shut off.
Are there any rules you have to keep the separation?
Anishka: One hard-and-fast rule that is never broken is work time cannot interfere with Niya’s parenting time. Outside of that, we’ve tried and failed at other rules, but this entrepreneurial business of design is fluid, and there are times when the rules have to get broken. Ultimately though, we have grown to realize that one of us will check the other when it gets overwhelming and the other will respect that request to shut it down or turn it off.
How do you push past creative roadblocks?
Niya: Travel usually helps stimulate our minds and opens up the creative juices. Other things that inspires us include visiting art galleries, museums, listening to music (especially independent sources like NPR’s Tiny Desk and vintage reggae records), sleeping, and studying fashion designers, artists, and architects that are serious risk-takers and who follow their minds unconditionally—like Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, OD, and Tadao Ando.
What should couples know before they start a business together?
Anishka: It’s not easy. Whether you are romantically involved or just in business together with someone, compromise is necessary because you may not always be aligned with what the business currently needs or where the business needs to go. Also, get used to being together an inordinate amount of time, but then allow yourselves to take long breaks from each other. Always be respectful of each other no matter what you’re feeling or going through.
What’s your favorite thing about working with each other? What’s the most annoying thing about working with each other?
Niya: We respect each other’s approach to life, we tend to see things the same way, and we always have each others’ back. In addition, we think the overlap in our backgrounds allows for real ease and synergy in our work.
Anishka: I am an introverted hermit, while Niya is an extroverted nomad, so there’s probably a lot that annoys us about the other, but it’s probably also the reason we’re still functioning after so many years.
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