I love the concept of “the family business.” It has that old-world feeling of apprenticeship, with one generation picking up skills from another. But the family business is one built on trust and unconditional love. I am sure maintaining a family business is a supreme challenge at times, yet from my off-and-on research, I know that a family business can also deepen and strengthen bonds.
Meet Andrew and Naomi Stein—the father and daughter team at Design Manifest, a full service design firm with a top-notch construction and installation team, based just outside of Philadelphia. Andrew loves to build. He has been building things for 40 years. “Swinging the hammer is what I like best,” he says. Naomi, who studied marketing at Penn State and then got her interior decorating certification from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, has an adventurous spirit with a passion for design, decorating, and blogging. While she gets the relevance of function and durability, aesthetics are what truly fire her up.
Andrew Stein started the company in 1973. Then, the focus was on kitchen and bath design and construction. When Naomi joined the business in 2004, after submitting a written proposal detailing how she could improve the business, Design Manifest started to change and grow. Now the seasoned, honest, meticulous carpenter who always strives to do better and the talented, energetic, bold designer with fine-tuned social media skills are a one-stop shop. Naomi thinks it is the perfect pairing.
Using excerpts from an interview, here’s a peek into their family business.
JD: How’d you get to be such a good construction guy?
AS: I’ve always been fascinated by how things work. When I was a child, I used to take things apart and put them back together. My dad was a hobby carpenter and often times I could see a better way to do something. I left home at a young age and somewhat by accident got a job in construction. I learned to swing a hammer installing furring strips on brick walls.
The first winter was harsh enough to make me question my choice of careers. I took a break and came back the next year with a job framing new houses. I learned the principles of modern framing and began to learn some of the complex math that is used to calculate stairs and rafters. Next job was with Otto, a master mason and European craftsman. After a few more jobs, I jumped into business on my own. When I would encounter a skill that I was not proficient at, I would find an expert and learn that skill. If there is one thing that makes me a “great” contractor, it is the fact that I am never satisfied. It is gratifying to continue to learn every day.
JD: Naomi, are you handy?
NS: Hmmm, I’m inclined to say I’m not very handy, but that’s comparing myself to my father. Compared to the average Joe, I guess I’m a 7. I can whip out a DIY or two… just don’t look too closely!
JD: Would you recommend going into business with a parent or child?
AS: I love being in business with my daughter. We have fun. We create some great spaces. We make our clients happy, and I trust her, and that is really important in any relationship.
JD: Has the business strengthened your relationship?
NS: We’ve become much better friends and I see him so much more. Growing up, my dad was running this business and supporting a wife and four children. I respect him in a whole new way and really appreciate how hard he worked and works to provide for his family.
JD: That sounds so sweet. Tell me about the not-so-sweet stuff.
NS: I’ve been known to be a little snappy with my dad and rely on him too much. A big challenge is to treat my father with the same respect and kindness and patience I would any co-worker—sounds obvious but sometimes we take for granted the ones we love. And I probably get away with much more since I’m related.
AS: Sometimes I ask Naomi to take care of certain items and she blows me off. Only my daughter could get away with that!
JD: What’s the best part of working with your dad?
NS: I love landing new jobs and designing beautiful spaces and then watching him turn them into a reality. I love making our clients happy, but I also like to feel that my dad is proud of me.
This blog is dedicated to my dad, Sheldon Z. Myers, who owned a couple of clothing stores, as did Bella, his mother, his Aunt Fanny, his Uncle Irv, and his brother, Sidney. My generation never made it into the family business, but I grew up amongst the racks and in my dad’s shops. I worked with him on weekends and during the summer. I loved working the shops, in particular the 9 a.m. wheeling and dealing “Shirts 2 for $5!” in the Italian market on a Sunday, accompanying my dad on buying trips to NYC, and watching him chat with the regular customers. Of course, I also loved choosing outfits for the window displays. The shop’s been gone a long time and now my dad is retired and spends his time on the golf course, in the garden, and antiquing with my mom. Sometimes if we’re out shopping together, he’ll point to a garment and start to share some piece-goods wisdom. “Jane, you see how they made the seam on those pants….” I like that.