Meet the Spruce Sisters, the siblings behind Sydney-based Spruce Interior Design.
Entering into a business with family members, is never a decision to take lightly. The stakes are so much higher because calling it a day and parting ways is not that simple; you still have a relationship outside of business. Contrary to this, there is a reason why family businesses work; there’s a baseline of love and an understanding of the full breadth of each family partner, not to mention a shared lived experience and history. Here the dynamic sisters behind Spruce Design & Interiors, Kerry and Mandy Alice, affectionately known by their clients as The Spruce Sisters, share how they make it work and why joining forces just before the pandemic has been the launch pad to their burgeoning success.
Can you describe your relationship both as sisters and as business partners?
Mandy: Kerry and I grew up in a family of four sisters. I am the second born and she is the last. From the moment she was born, I took ‘ownership’ of her and she became my ‘baby. My mother talks about me as a little girl finding a ‘sense of purpose’ from the moment Kerry was born. Having a professional relationship is something entirely different, and it’s a learned skill to work together in that capacity without allowing old ‘triggers’ to get in the way.
Kerry: Our relationship as sisters has always been inherently close. As 2 of 4 girls, the relationships are never without complexity but there is undoubtedly a trust and reliance that is unshakeable. Obviously as business partners we have had to shift and pivot and learn to see and relate to one another as professionals, which required a stripping away of lifelong set ideas of one another. We’ve grown enormously and Spruce Design & Interiors has benefited from that. We have also carved out our individual roles in the business over time, this was something that could only have happened organically as we are both ‘creatives.’
How did the idea to join forces for Spruce come about?
Kerry: It was borne when Mandy and I found ourselves simultaneously looking to go out alone and start our own respective businesses. I was brainstorming a property styling/design concept for myself and its branding, while helping Mandy on doing the same for her interior design business. I had worked with interior designers in South Africa and Los Angeles and always loved the industry. It was through the process of setting up branding for both businesses that we decided we had an amazing pool of skills between us and that it was a no-brainer to merge, to pour ourselves into a single business with our diverse skill sets.
What’s it like running and owning what is essentially a family business?
Kerry: The growth and experiences are so exciting and rewarding even though it takes a lot of hard work. Looking back, we have established so much with very little external backing or support. The beauty of it being a family business is in the absolute faith, trust and knowing that things will get done in the most efficient, proficient and professional way. I have the added bonus of having a business partner who is an absolute perfectionist, she makes sure everything is done flawlessly.
What would you say are your individual strengths that you bring to the business?
Mandy: My primary role is the creative. I’m super-efficient, organised and methodical which comes in handy. I also have good people skills and a bit of an innate psychologist in me. So between that and my intuition (which stands me in good stead), I always have a good understanding of the client and their needs. Kerry is definitely the business brain in our partnership. She’s also a creative but in a different way. She’s a brilliant graphic designer, so everything is always beautifully presented. She also has great people skills and drives the social media side of the business which is a skillset I cannot claim.
Kerry: The business benefits from my 25+ years of being a graphic designer as well as many years as a property stylist. I have a great sense of space and how to utilise it. I’m also quite passionate about numbers, so getting well-acquainted with excel and systems, through production to installation, is surprisingly exciting for me. Mandy brings 20+ years of experience in the interior design industry and has had the privilege of working alongside some amazing mentors over many years. She has an incredible eye for detail and an eye and memory for colour that I have yet to experience in anyone else. And of course, what runs deep in both of us is the ‘superman efficiency’ gene.
How has being in business together affected your relationship?
Mandy: It’s been an interesting journey. We’ve had many a challenging moment understanding each other in a work capacity. I think we’ve learned things about one another that we weren’t aware of in all our years as sisters (that’s quite a few). I would say it’s also brought us closer in some ways.
What are the pros of being sisters in business?
Mandy: There’s a foundation of love, trust and mutual respect. It’s a great comfort in business knowing that someone really has your back. Knowing each other as well as we do and really operating as a team brings about a real trust from our clients. They definitely feel it.
Where does it get tricky?
Kerry: Creatively it tends to get a bit tricky because although we do have some crossovers aesthetically, we definitely have our own style that is quite different from one another. However we’re both pretty good at reading our clients aesthetic and determined to give the client what they want as opposed to guiding them towards our respective design aesthetics. This is a real strength of the business and one that we think sets us apart from other designers.
How do you manage disagreements or conflict in both your personal relationship and business?
Mandy: As kids, we suffered a trauma at a very young age and as a result of that, all four of us sisters chose to do the ‘work’ and become the best versions of ourselves. There are times where a good heart-to-heart conversation when we’re both calm, is enough to work through a situation. When it’s a little more complicated, we’ve defaulted to a couple of therapy sessions. This allows us to have an objective, neutral party present to make sure that we’re really hearing each other, it’s like marriage! At the end of the day we both understand the strength and potential of the business and very much value our personal relationship, so you do what you need to do keep both healthy and balanced.
Spruce Design and Interiors is a full service interior design consultancy based in Sydney. Get in touch here to book a first consultation to bring your interior dreams to life.