Design Couples: Gael Towey and Stephen Doyle

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By: Caitlin Dover | May 31, 2010

Gael Towey and Stephen Doyle

When, where, and how did you first meet?Gael: Looking for a sensitive and smart designer for our biggest book of the year, Martha Stewart’s Weddings, I contacted three designers that I knew and respected. They all told me to call Stephen, who just started his own company. Tanned, and in huaraches, I loved his work and delivery—lighthearted and happy, which was in bright contrast to my state of mind.

Stephen: I was “summoned” to Gael’s office because she was looking for a designer for a book about—get this—weddings! Ugh! Sorry, wrong number! But wait, she’s gorgeous, chic, and gives me a business card with the last name crossed out. She tells me her last name is “Towey” like it used to be. Not like what’s printed on the card. Yes! The EHSS: Ex-Husband Surname Syndrome … an opening! I still have that card and that Rolodex. It’s the only reason I still have a Rolodex!

So what kind of work do you do?

Gael: Celebrating 20 years this year, I’m the chief creative officer and editorial director at Martha Stewart. I work with some of the most creative people, and together we create beautiful stories about some of the most humble tasks, enobling the things we do everyday. In our environment of photography and design, our work plays a lead role in creating a beautiful world of accomplishment, in which our audience participates.

Stephen: Gael has a small job working for a stylish woman, and my incredibly influential studio of ten is poised to take over the planet with wit, humor, and the color chartreuse.

Where do you live?

We live in Greenwich Village in a townhouse that we have had the best time decorating (and entertaining in) together. Gray-green works for us, it’s the perfect backdrop for our friends—we used to think that the home should have the color, but have learned that, ultimately, the real color is provided by the personalities.

Did either of you influence the other in your choice of discipline?

Gael: No, my focus has not changed. However, our relationship helps me get through the intricacies of my job: Stephen is consultant, shrink and cheerleader.

Stephen: Dear reader: compare and contrast. That’s what we offer each other, and that dynamic has infiltrated our 23 years together. Gael’s empire and my miniscule studio offer us both such insights into design, innovation, and energy and enthusiasm. We are both exposed to very different worlds of creativity when we look through the other’s lens. And we are both inspired to push further in our very different spheres.

How much of your work do you do together? Do you ever collaborate?Stephen: Our entire life is a collaboration, and that’s what we love about it. Decorating, gardening, raising kids, traveling. Walking into a museum is collaborative, and you should come over for dinner if you want to see us in action! But other than these obvious things, we shore each other up. The other night we were just talking about the dynamics when we met, and I was perhaps more prominent than Gael. (Studio apartments in the East Village, though, for both of us.) And now Gael’s inevitable star has risen. Does that threaten me? Absolutely not—I believe I helped her shine. I believed in her as much as she believed in me. Neither of us could have accomplished what we are proud of without the faith and encouragement of the other. Hell, this sounds like material for an ad, but for what, deodorant? A mortgage? Retirement financial advice? A Volvo?

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done or created together?Gael: Raising our children, who are always pushing us in a new direction.

Stephen: Of course the kids. But that’s private. We have a nice home that we use to entertain our friends, and we think of our dinner parties as salons where creative people intersect and enjoy our hospitality. We set the stage—and we are determined cooks— for 16 or 30 people to meet in the embrace of our hospitality. That’s what makes us happiest. And that will be our legacy, if one thinks in those terms, we want to be remembered as good designers and amazing entertainers. My advice: Try to get on our list!

How do you each think your partner influences your practice, your style, or anything else about how you make design?Gael: Our tastes as classicists overlap. I’ve learned about typography from Stephen, and he balances my tendencies toward serious and sentimental–he’s an irreverent perfectionist.

Stephen: Gael taught me (is still teaching me) how to look at photography. This is her visual genius. We have a modest but nice collection of black and white photographs. Before we were married, I was collecting color photographs, but she looked at my little collection and set me straight with three little words; “Black and white!” Gael also teaches me about management and patience. These things do not come easily to me, but they are her tools for success, and she shares them with me. Gael keeps me modern.

How are your working lives and home lives integrated? Gael: We are always working even when we aren’t working we are working.

Stephen: Wait, there’s a difference between work and home?

How do you approach design-related decisions that you make as a couple in your daily lives? Gael: When we renovated our home, Stephen created the volume and I was in charge of surface. We happily collaborated on every decision, and had a great time shopping together, now our home has too much stuff, but it is so personal–things collected over time and kids art work, it is an eclectic mix and always evolving.

Stephen: Throw us into an unfamiliar museum together, and we both rush toward the paintings of, say, Per Kirkeby. We are both attracted, magnetically, to the same art, furniture, colors and even food. It’s not a great leap that our design decisions would jive.

How do you approach your children’s connection to design and the visual arts? Stephen: We have introduced our kids to the visual world by traveling. This offers exposure to all kinds of architecture and visual references, culture, of course, and food. It is the broadest palette that a parent can offer a child, and helps them figure out their passions. Our daughter Maud is very interested in art history and design and communication, while August is pursuing his passion for Civil Engineering and architecture.

What’s the best thing about being a couple working in design? Gael: Making friends! The people, the amazing and incredibly talented people that we get exposed to, the journalists, artists, gallerists, filmmakers, photographers, nutcases—who could ask for more?

Stephen: The huge, huge dollars. I’m just in it for the money.

Next: Min and Sulki Choi

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