Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Maggie Shannon
Tina Roth Eisenberg has a way of finding the beautiful in the ordinary. “One of my favourite examples is the empty blue pallets outside Domino’s Pizza – whoever has stacked them has gone the extra mile to stack them perfectly even. They could have made one stack taller, one stack shorter, but it is this perfect queue, and it makes me chuckle.”
With her knack for celebrating the overlooked, Tina has filled in a gap the creative industry arguably didn't know it had. Alongside her popular design blog swissmiss, the Brooklyn-based designer has grown a varied chain of creative communities and businesses: a global lecture series CreativeMornings, coworking space Studiomates (now named FRIENDS in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill), the temporary tattoo business Tattly and a to-do app called TeuxDeux.
Tina often credits her ventures to a simple philosophy borrowed from musician James Murphy: the best way to complain is to make things. Tattly, for example, came from complaining about how aesthetically displeasing her children’s temporary tattoos were. Now, artists and designers around the globe contribute to making beautiful designs for children and adults alike.
“Complaining is just a waste of energy,” says Tina. “When I see something that really bugs me, I think, ‘Okay, Tina, you either need to stop thinking about it and let it go, or you really have to do something about it.’ ”
CreativeMornings, TeuxDeux, Tattly and the original coworking space were all established within three years of one another – and bookended with the births of her two children.
How does someone channel such immense creativity and gumption in such a condensed period of time? For Tina, her first pregnancy took her ‘for a spin’.
“When I became pregnant with Ella over 11 years ago, my life inventory was good – I was working as a design director at a good company – but suddenly I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ In hindsight, I was such a chicken and I was just coasting. I realised I always wanted to run my own design studio, so what was I waiting for? I was now making a human, and that human better look up to me one day and say, ‘I have a badass mum.’ ”
Tina’s advice to young creatives is not to hesitate over starting businesses or projects because you think you’re too young. “I wish I had a wake-up call earlier. It never occurred to me that you could start all that sooner, when your life is so much easier and there are fewer responsibilities.”
Such advice is just one example of how Tina is generous with sharing her reflections and insights on the past and present. Whether it's creating inspiring businesses, bringing people together on the front stoop of her brownstone at the end of the day, or investigating how to do a 'happy divorce,' Tina teaches us all how to flip the mundane, the ordinary, and the difficult into something magical.
“I wish I had a wake-up call earlier. It never occurred to me that you could start all that sooner, when your life is so much easier and there are fewer responsibilities.”
I do have a routine, but I would never say I would stick to it forever – I don't like to be confined by routines that are too rigid.
I’m separated from my partner, so I have the kids from Monday to Wednesday and my ex-husband has them on Thursdays and Fridays and we alternate weekends.
When I have the kids it’s more rigid – I’ll often wake up at 4.00am to fit in meal prep and getting them reading for school. On the days I’m on my own it’s more like 5.00am.
Something I do every morning is stretch, listen to NPR and then shower. Then I sit down and either write whatever my soul needs to regurgitate or post to my blog. I’m not very routined in that regard, usually when I find something I like it needs to go up on the blog and needs to be shared – it cannot wait! If there is really pressing stuff happening at work that requires deep thinking, then I do that in the morning because usually once I'm in the office I'm too distracted.
"I do have a routine, but I would never say I would stick to it forever – I don't like to be confined by routines that are too rigid."
At around 6.30am I wake up the kids and they come downstairs, lay down on the couch and I take out the blankets and make them into little burritos and say, ‘Burrito, burrito, burrito. Good morning!’ They hang out and I’ll make them breakfast and their lunches for school and we have a sweet ten-minute conversation while they are little burritos on the couch. That's really so adorable.
As a parent, I'm really aware of creating little traditions so that they’ll maybe one day tell their children: My mum always did X.’
"I do not want to portray that I have it completely together."
I walk to school with the kids, which is really lovely because we often have the best conversations when we’re not directly looking at each other. I try to address things that are difficult or icky on the way to school because it can be more comfortable. It's my secret weapon!
I get to the studio around 8.15am and usually have around 45 minutes to myself. That’s usually spent shock-opening and closing my inbox! I have lost track of how many emails I receive, but I think things are shifting and there is now more of an understanding that just because you email someone, it doesn't mean that you will get an email back.
But my to-do list is so long – it’s funny, I showed my co-founder of my app TeuxDuex and he was like, ‘Tina, you are failing at your own to do app!’ I do not want to portray that I have it completely together.
"Sometimes I will hire people for roles outside their skill set, but I intuitively know they can figure it out – they're smart, they're driven, they have enthusiasm for the work. I think it's so cool to see people really putting their own thought and their own heart into it. They actually take ownership of the project because I do let them make their own decisions."
As someone who resists routine, I really struggle with the weekly team meetings that we have. They really give me anxiety, but I have to force myself to embrace them and see the value in it for my team.
Most of the day is spent attending to the most important thing or to whoever screams the loudest. The rule at work is that people can come up to me and talk to me whenever they need.
The cool thing about having started two companies at the same time is my team had to learn to be independent because I was not available all the time. I had to trust them to figure it out.
Sometimes I will hire people for roles outside their skill set, but I intuitively know they can figure it out – they're smart, they're driven, they have enthusiasm for the work. I think it's so cool to see people really putting their own thought and their own heart into it. They actually take ownership of the project because I do let them make their own decisions.
Tattly, for example, is better because everyone's decision-making goes into it. To be honest, I could not come back for a year – and it would still work!
I try to always have lunch with people, either upstairs at FRIENDS or a business lunch. That's my social time and where the magic happens.
Everybody's working on so many interesting things that are so different from what I am doing – that’s what I love about the FRIENDS studio so much! I could never go back to working for one company where we're all working on the same problem and then we're having lunch together and talking about the same thing again.
"I could never go back to working for one company where we're all working on the same problem and then we're having lunch together and talking about the same thing again."
Again, the afternoon is just about what screams the loudest.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Every time I have a little break during the day, I favourite articles I want to read or interesting things I want to go back to.
I have a nanny, Lhamo who picks up the kids up from school – she's the rock in my life and truly is family at this point – so I can keep working through the afternoon.
I usually leave around 6.00pm and walk home and spend the evening with my kids if it’s my night.
One routine we have in the warmer months is playing on the front stoop. I didn't have a stoop before, but it's changed my life. Every night, all the kids in the neighbourhood come out and play in the street and all the parents sit on the stoop and have a glass of wine. My heart wants to explode – I'm all about community building and I’ve found my community at home.
"Every night, all the kids in the neighbourhood come out and play in the street and all the parents sit on the stoop and have a glass of wine. My heart wants to explode – I'm all about community building and I’ve found my community at home."
I like to cook, but often my nanny cooks before I come home.
It’s funny, my daughter asked me recently, ‘Mum, what do you eat when we're not here? What do you cook?’ I'm like, ‘My diet usually consists of red wine and cheese. She goes, ‘I had a feeling!’
I’ve only been separated for a bit over a year and a half, but when we first separated I did your typical design research and sat down with six happily divorced couples and took notes because I was determined to be one of them. And you know what? It totally worked – we get along, hang out, and the kids are fine. I feel the world needs to hear more happy divorce stories, because often we only hear about the dramatic ones.
Now when I’ve had a night or weekend to myself, I feel like my soul is fully restored and I’m so ready to shower them with my love and attention. There is a joy to being alone, but often people that are couples either don't believe you, or they’re so incredibly envious it's oozing out of every single pore because they're actually lonely in their relationship but not daring enough to escape. I really don't feel there's much in between!
"When we first separated I did your typical design research and sat down with six happily divorced couples and took notes because I was determined to be one of them. And you know what? It totally worked – we get along, hang out, and the kids are fine."
For about seven years now I’ve hosted a dinner party with creative people I admire and always involve my kids – I tell them who the guests are, what they do, and we look up their work together. It's really cool for my kids to see that people can have a creative life. When I see them sit on the couch and talk to the guests, my heart wants to explode because all I want to do is help my kids realise that there's so many different ways to make a living. That was something that my parents were always afraid of – that I wasn’t going to make a living as a graphic designer. I know it came from a place of love and worry, but I want to make sure my children know that you can live your life creatively and make it work.
I've also learned that inviting people to your home for a meal changes everything when you do business with them – often what starts as a work connection soon turns into a friendship.
"That was something that my parents were always afraid of – that I wasn’t going to make a living as a graphic designer. I know it came from a place of love and worry, but I want to make sure my children know that you can live your life creatively and make it work."
Then we usually come up for the night and my kids and we usually get some Cheerios and have a chat about the day.
Then we brush our teeth together, go upstairs and they get ready for the following day – my daughter will take out her pants, a t-shirt, socks and her underwear and make this little burrito of clothes ready for the next day and now my son does the same thing.
Then we always read together before bed at around 9.00pm. Sometimes I go to bed around then too because I might be getting up at 4.00am and I need at least seven hours sleep, but other times I go downstairs and read a bit.
"It started in my 40s—zero fucks given."
– Tina Roth-Eisenberg
THREE LIFE LESSONS FROM TINA ROTH-EISENBERG
"You can either start complaining and feeling sorry for yourself or you can channel all of that frustration into how can we look at this from a different angle and make it to something good."
On the art of flipping it…
Towards the end of my 30s, I learned to accept that things sometimes don't work out and that life throws curveballs. One thing that I always say at work, and that my team has adopted, is when something comes our way that is seemingly a problem, or is really not good, I just say, ‘Let's flip it, let's flip it.’
So you say, ‘Okay, this sucks. This is absolutely not what I anticipated. It's absolutely not what I want, but I'm going to flip it on its head and make it good.’
I feel that is something that I'm also teaching my children because you can really do that. You can either start complaining and feeling sorry for yourself or you can channel all of that frustration into how can we look at this from a different angle and make it to something good.
Seriously. It starts with really small things but it is such a powerful tool to remind yourself to flip it.
On choosing wisely who you surround yourself with…
I'm really trying to make my kids aware of how people make you feel. After play dates I often ask my daughter, ‘How do you feel right now? Do you feel filled up, or do you feel empty?’ In the beginning she'd be like, ‘Mum, what are you asking me?’ But now she will come to me and say, ‘Mum I don't feel filled up right now.’
It's something that you really need to teach children, or at least it’s something that I wish I learnt earlier in life because I was in some really unhealthy friendships because I felt bad for someone or was feeling manipulated into friendship.
I'm trying to have really good people in my life: I know I fill them up and they fill me up and we are happy for each other’s successes.
On giving zero fucks…
It started in my 40s—zero fucks given. I'm so ruthless now if I feel like somebody doesn't have good intentions, or if somebody can't be happy for me, then something needs to change. Not that I cut someone off immediately, but I also believe that friendships change throughout the course of life. Sometimes they just have a place in time, but you can also outgrow each other.
"I'm trying to have really good people in my life: I know I fill them up and they fill me up and we are happy for each other’s successes."
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