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Staples at dawn

PUBLISHED: 10:48 09 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:19 20 February 2013

Staples at dawn

Staples at dawn

The Suffolk couples who share an office

Staples at dawn!


Artists Serena Hall and Marc Brown share a studio in Southwold.
They both also share the running of the nearby Serena Hall Gallery.


Serena: Marc is not only my partner and fellow artist, hes also the manager of my gallery. He is the complete opposite of me in that he is very tidy and meticulous, which is a bonus when you are presenting a clean, organised space.
His memory is also fantastic and customers who visit once every year are amazed that he can remember not just their names but the painting they purchased from the gallery. Its a wonderful thing to see their faces really light up! We have a huge amount of work in the gallery but he is great at remembering what work is made by who and how, which is vitally important.

Marc: We both care passionately about the gallery and it is not just a business but our whole life. Our roles arent traditional: I enjoy cooking and I like to organise things so Serena can concentrate on her painting.


Serena: I am a great ideas person and love organising shows and coming up with exciting projects. Marc will groan at first but then he supports me when he has had time to think about it. I tend not to switch off and would be very happy to talk about work related projects all night and first thing in the morning, I can be like an excitable puppy! But he is quite good at switching off and thats good for me too.

Marc: We do work in very different ways. Serena has paint palates spilling out from every corner, canvasses stacked up and drawings half finished on the floor. I work on one paint palate a year with the paint building up to look like stalagmites. My style is calm and and serene with meticulous small details, while Serenas paintings are large and loud with bold colour and huge brushmarks.


Serena: Marc is quite happy just to stay quietly in one room looking at the view of the marshes but I like to pace up and down a lot. I am quite restless and enjoy unloading the kiln in between painting . . . large sculptural pieces lie on every spare surface.
Its a hazard to walk from one side of the room to the other

Advice to would-be office partners?
Serena: Make good use of each others strengths so you both have an important role to play.



Robbie and Claire Gawthrop run separate wings of East Green Energy an award-winning renewable energy company based near Saxmundham.


Claire: There are three people in our office. Our company builds and maintains eco houses, my husband is the companys technical director and Linda is his business partner. I help with the planning, marketing, finance and business development. I also run my holiday cottage business from the same office. Having Linda there means Robbie and I have to be very polite to each other. As most of our friends would tell you we do argue. We have had some major rows in the office. On one occasion we had a very loud shouting match and I threw a small printer at Robbie. Now, even though we sit next to each other, we send each other nasty emails so that poor Linda doesnt have to see us arguing.


Robbie: The children leave for school at 7.45am and we try and get to our desks by 8am, or before, to get working before the telephone starts. The great thing about working from home together is we can arrange our schedule around the children. Claire stops at 4pm and I continue until 6. Not having to commute is great. The children sometimes come into the office and do their homework while we continue working.


Claire: There are definite good and bad points. Sharing an office and our lives means we are both aware of the work load we both take on and can be mutually supportive. The most annoying thing about sharing an office with your husband is when he asks ...whats for lunch? And when he talks loudly. The stress of never getting away from each other does sometimes get to us.


Advice to would-be office partners?
Claire: Try not to! Robbie and I have worked with each other throughout our 22-year marriage and so know each others strengths and weaknesses. Having said that, I would miss him dreadfully and I hope he would miss me if we stopped sharing an office.



Lawrence Mallinson, the managing director of James White an award-winning organic juice company, shares an office with his wife Doe, a classical music agent.


Lawrence: Our work is poles part. My company produces the finest tasting fruit and vegetable juices, which are pressed and bottled in Suffolk, while Doe manages the careers of some of the worlds top classical musicians, including the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov and and the violinist Chloe Hanslip.
My glamorous away days are spent attending trade shows in Birmingham NEC, with sales meetings in Bracknell and Stockport and, of course, at the farm in Ashbocking. Whereas Does away days see her in St Petersburg, Paris, Copenhagen and Rome.


Doe: Both of us are in the office from 9am-6.30pm. We used to drop the children at school and pick them up together at the end of the day. They are now too old for that! Occasionally we will stay later but fortunately not too often.


Lawrence: For me the best element of working together is that I get a fantastic insight into what Does business involves without any of the responsibilities. It is a fascinating world. On the other hand, she does keep a rigid control over my lunches and I am starved! Absolutely no snacking allowed.


Doe: Lawrence is not a meetings person, so conducts a lot of business on the phone. His worst office trait is the noise he makes on the phone. He tries to locate himself in a far flung corner of the office, but I can still hear him.


Lawrence: Doe, of course, has no faults but as lunch monitor she is a bit stricter than I would be! On the plus side sharing an office has given me an insight into a different business world which can help maintain a broader world perspective. Also, having an outsider on hand is a very useful sounding board for both of us. Lunches although frugal, are often very constructive.


Doe: There are perks to sharing an office with an award-winning fruit juice producer. Lawrences company James White sponsored the BBC Classical Music Awards and gave away free CDs of Mozarts Marriage of Figaro with home delivery orders. I can make sure my musicians are always well lubricated.


Advice to would-be office partners?
Lawrence: Do it! But make sure youre the lunch monitor.



Best-selling authors Sean French and Nicci Gerrard write psychological thrillers together at their home near Hadleigh, under the name of Nicci French. Their 12th novel What To Do When Someone Dies, came out earlier this year.


Nicci: Organised isnt quite the right word for our working day. On the whole, we start when we can and finish when we have to. In the past, a lot of that has been dictated by the childrens school day. Also, we do different kinds of work at different times, only some of which planning, writing, correcting proofs is done in the office. We have separate laptops, different desks, drawers. But there does seem to be a problem over the allocation and ownership of pens and paper, though!
The best part of sharing an office is when its all going well, when we are jointly excited by a new idea, by the way a book is going or how it has turned out. When things are going badly, theres nowhere to hide. Many marriages depend on the separation between the two lives; we dont have much of that.


Sean: When it comes to office etiquette, Niccis worst habit is her failure to see that beneath my apparent chaos lurks a more profound sense of order and organisation.


Nicci: Seans worst habit is his incessant planning of meals at nine, hes talking about elevenses; at eleven, hes wondering about lunch; at lunch, hes rooting around in the fridge and freezer in search of supper. Oh, and he reads out crossword clues when Im trying to concentrate, points out birds in the garden, comes up with a resolution to learn Russian, Spanish and Ancient Greek. What I have learnt from sharing an office is your way might not be the best or most fruitful way Seans digressions often lead us to unexpectedly exciting places in our work.


Sean: Ive learnt that pens, like socks, continue to disappear and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.


Advice to would-be office partners?
Nicci: Give each other space and lay down rules in advance a sense of boundaries around the work can be very useful and protective (this is not a piece of advice we have followed ourselves).
Sean: Think about it very hard. And buy a lot of pens.



Antonia and Stephen Bournes bought Southwold Pier in 2005. They share an office on one of Britains finest piers two days a week.


Antonia: It was extraordinary how we came to buy the pier. We were involved in outside catering but wanted a change. The opportunity of the pier came up and we grabbed it because it held such potential. It is such a fun, an exciting place to work, lovely customers and ever-changing views.

Stephen: We get up at 6.30am, I go for a bike ride and sort out the dogs, Antonia gets the children organised (and her chickens). I am at the pier by 8 or 9am and generally leave somewhere between 6 and 10pm. Antonia works half the week from home, so we only share two days a week at the office at the Pier.


Antonia: We each have a laptop so that we can both work at the pier or at home which is a great bonus and very handy on days off lots of brainstorming at the kitchen table! I remember reading a Richard Bach story about a couple working together, they could tell what the other was thinking and sent each other lots of emails from the same office we do that!


Stephen: We have worked together on and off since we first met 21 years ago. We enjoy working together and think we make a pretty good team. Its great being involved in the same business, it is so varied (from shops to restaurants) and communication is easy as we share the same goal so we always know what the other is driving at.


Antonia: When it comes to bad habits, Stephen is always driving for deadlines and sometimes forgets to impart all the relevant information. Having said that the experience has taught me tolerance, patience with lots of laughter.


Stephen: Antonia is slightly disorganised with her desk, is unfortunately good at clutter but is fortunately excellent at reading my mind.

Advice to would-be office partners?
Antonia: Keep an open mind, know that you each have your own field of expertise. Dont argue in public!

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