Irina Verona and Jennifer Carpenter, principals at Verona Carpenter Architects
Travis Huggett / LES Art Supply
Jennifer Carpenter and Irina Verona have known each other since grad school at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). After graduating, they both worked in architectural firms, then left the corporate world for entrepreneurship at about the same time 2010.
“I was turning 40 — an important life milestone — and realized, I worked pretty much on my own within the firm,” explained Carpenter. “I like designing as well as the business side. I wanted to call my own shots.” She pitched doing a project on her own for the French Culinary Institute. When she won it, Carpenter decided to strike out on her own.
Verona’s trajectory was a little different. She had worked at several architectural firms before landing at a large firm. “The firm did really large projects, which were interesting to me, but, at the same time, I also pursued other interests,” she said. This includes founding and editing Praxis — a journal that focuses on the relationship between theory and practice in architecture as well as teaching at Barnard and Columbia. “I realized that being on my own was a better way to bring these different narratives together. This allowed me to be more intentional in the projects I pursued,” Verona continued. After she decided to leave, as luck would have it, she reconnected with a former client who asked her to do a house renovation. She focused on residential design and some art projects.
Before they officially joined forces, they worked on a project together. A client of Carpenter’s in Panama City, Panama, was unhappy with the design of his penthouse apartment. He asked for her help. Residential projects were not Carpenter’s strength, but they were Verona’s. They partnered on the project, which was a success. “This was the first time we could see that one plus one equaled more than two,” said Carpenter.
Surprisingly, the idea of a formal partnership didn’t occur to them after completing the project. That happened when a mid-sized architectural firm approached Carpenter about joining as a partner. “It made me start to question whether I wanted to continue on my own or share responsibilities with someone at a high level,” she said. It was then that she realized that the person she wanted to do this with was sitting right next to her in their office.
The duo knew they trusted each other, were compatible and collaborated well. They knew that, by partnering, Carpenter and Verona would eliminate some of the inefficiencies of running two firms separately. It would also allow each to take a vacation without having to check-in to make sure things were running smoothly.
Together, they formed Verona Carpenter Architects, an award-winning architecture and interior design firm in Manhattan. In an industry with few women at the top, they are particularly proud to be 100% women-owned.
“In the beginning, we were pretty much heads down dealing with the day-to-day design issues, questions, and challenges,” commented Verona. Now that they have been in business for two years, they are starting to think about the direction of future growth. Where do they want to make their mark in the architectural world and how will they let the world know? Now, every Friday morning, the two meet to talk about these issues.
Carpenter has been building expertise in architecture and neurodiversity, which refers to designing space that takes into account the variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. She is on the Board of Directors of the Quad Preparatory School, a school for 2E (gifted with special needs) students. Her son goes to the school. Verona has a particular focus on architecture, nature, and technology. She is teaching this at universities.
As a small firm, they do not have a budget for a marketing campaign. Instead, they are focusing on building thought leadership. Thought-leadership creates credibility, visibility, and brand loyalty. It’s a powerful tool in helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses. If you earn a reputation as a thought leader, journalists, analysts, and conference producers will seek you out and want to put you in the spotlight. If you are a thought leader, other respected people in your industry will want to connect with you. These supporters and followers can open doors, which ultimately will grow your business.
The two are applying to design competitions. Their design for a Learning Lab School at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has been chosen as a winner of the Redefining Learning Spaces competition. Their design for a bathhouse in Williamsburg was featured in Vogue. They have been written about in the Women Who Build series in ArchNative.
Who can you join forces with to increase the impact of your business?