Barbara Parker + Miriam Torres
Barbara Parker and Miriam Torres made their way into design independently, working for Graham Solano and Kenneth E Hurd & Associates, respectively. It wasn’t until a mutual colleague pointed out that they would work well together that the idea to go into business for themselves began to gestate, ultimately leading them to found their Boston-based firm Parker-Torres Design in 2004.
Over the past 19 years, Parker and Torres have brought their visionary touches to a slate of renowned properties, including the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey and InterContinental Washington, DC – the Wharf, leading to their induction into Hospitality Design‘s Platinum Circle hall of fame in 2022.
As for what makes their partnership such a success, they credit the passion and dedication they pour into every project. “We’re fortunate that we just happen to do what we love to do,” Torres says.
Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I am here with Miriam and Barbara. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you ladies?
Miriam Torres: Great
Barbara Parker: Oh, we’re doing well.
SSR: Good, good, good.
MT: Thank you for having us.
SSR: Of course. Thanks for being here. All right. We always start at the beginning. Miriam, let’s start with you. Where did you grow up?
MT: Ponce, Puerto Rico.
SSR: What were you like as a kid? Were you creative, were you artistic?
MT: Yeah. I can’t do no sports, only artistic. Start taking painting lessons when I was probably seven with a man called Azaustre, who is probably the most famous artist in my town, who passed away. Looking back, I can’t believe the opportunity. My parents would send me to his house to do painting, and drawing, and sketching lessons-
MT: That’s my background.
SSR: Amazing. Did you have other influences? Were your parents artistic or creative?
MT: My mom is incredible. She has a stained-glass studio, and when I was younger she had a ceramics studio. She’s extremely creative. My father is an engineer, who always wanted to be an architect so I get it from both sides.
SSR: Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up, or did that come later?
MT: I did. When my father built his dream house, I was about 11 and they brought me to an interior design firm. I remember walking in there. My parents allowed me to work with the designer and do my own room. I remember telling my dad and my mom, “This is what I want to do.” I think I mentioned this before. He said, “No, you will be an architect,” but it was from that experience, going to a designer’s office.
SSR: Yeah. How did you convince him that you could be a designer?
MT: Oh. He sent me to Cornell, remember? I did that program and passed, and then I just applied to interior design school. He literally was very upset with me for many years, but now he’s very happy because I make more money than my engineer brother.
SSR: Ah, there you go.
MT: You see? It’s the truth.
SSR: Love it. Okay. Barbara, where did you grow up?
BP: I grew up outside of Boston in a town that now is a sort of commuting suburb. At the time when I was growing up, it was still pretty rural. We had a small farm, and grew up with chickens, and kittens, and all that kind of fun, rural stuff.
SSR: You were super outdoorsy. Were you also creative too?
BP: I was, yeah. My parents were so great. They always kept me in supplies of paints, and clay, and crayons, and whatever thing I wanted to experiment with. Yeah, always from a very young age, bored my parents to death being like, “Look at this horse I drew. Look at this other horse I drew, and this one,” endlessly.
SSR: Amazing. Did you know you wanted to go to school for design or is that something that came later? Or …
BP: Yeah, so In high school I studied commercial art and I really thought I wanted to go into the graphic design side of things. Senior year, I got a real change of heart and I decided I wanted to be an environmental scientist. I applied for science programs for college and quickly learned I wasn’t a scientist. I was like, “Chemistry and biology? No, that is not interesting at all.” I ended up going to work for a couple of years. It was then I really realized I spent all my spare time with shelter magazines and dreaming about how beautiful I could make places, and I applied for design school. That was my path of how I got there.
BP: Took a short detour into science and was like, “Nope, not for me.”
SSR: How did you two end up meeting?
BP: I was working with a client who’s Turkish, and he really was interested in developing very high-end, luxury properties. I was working with him on a hotel in London and … Miriam, do you want to tell the rest of the story?
MT: Literally, he asked Barbara if there was somebody who can join to work with her. A mutual rep, Mitchell Roscoe, so Barbara brought me, and Barbara knew about me because we used to compete in projects, working at different firm. Long story short, he hired us both, and we used to fly back and forth from London. Then when he stopped his company and retire, he used to say, “You guys could be incredible partners.” I went back to work for Ken Hurd, and she went back to work with Graham-Solano. At the time, that’s where you were, right? Graham-Solano?
BP: Mm-hmm, yeah.
MT: Eventually, Graham-Solano closed, and Barbara called me. She’s like, “What the client say is right. We should be partners.” I say, “Okay. Let me finish the Waldorf, and then we’ll be partners.” Then literally, the day I put the accessories at the Waldorf, we started our company. It was a client who really introduced us and put us together.
SSR: Yeah. You mentioned once you had fun conversations on a plane, right?
MT: He’s very wealthy. He still is. We’re still in touch with him and we will always flew first class, and we will always have champagne. I remember Barbara said to me, “Oh, some day we’ll be partners.” I thought, “I’ve worked for five companies. She’s never left her company. She’s been there 19 years. That’s never going to happen,” but when they closed, she called me. I just didn’t take her seriously. I’m crazy and risky, and she’s so proper and by the book, so I didn’t think she was going to make that jump.
BP: Here we are, 19 years later, together still.
MT: 20 almost. Right?
BP: Almost 20.
MT: Almost 20.
SSR: Well, that’s amazing. You finished the Waldorf. Which Waldorf was it?
MT: New York. I actually worked on it in 1986. No, sorry. 1991 and then in 2000. I did it twice for Ken. I worked on it two times, top to bottom, with Ken. Crazy.
SSR: That’s crazy.
MT: I was really young. That taught me how to do … We have five luxury projects that we just finishing. I think that that was one of the reasons. That and working for the person in Turkey is what taught us how to do luxury.
SSR: Right, right. Okay, so you guys decide to make this leap. What were the early days like? Did you have projects? Where were you working? Tell us a bit about getting started.
MT: First, we didn’t have a dollar. We did it with our cellphone and our big computers in our house. We never put a dollar in our company, which has blown my mind. We ended up doing residential because we felt bad and we didn’t want to take the business away from our old bosses. I don’t know, we were so crazy. Barbara, why don’t you go ahead?
BP: No, it’s true. We were so loyal to the people who had taught us everything, so we were like, “Oh, we don’t want to get into hotels and take their business away,” not considering that there’s millions of hotels. Yeah, we started with residential for a very short period of time, and we realized-
MT: We did one project.
BP: We realized-
MT: We did one.
BP: … we were not residential designers. An old client of mine called and said, “Hey, we have a restaurant renovation. Would you like to work on that with us?” We got started on that project and that was the beginning. We hired a CAD person to consult, and it was just very small steps. Our first employee was a student of mine I had been teaching at New England School of Art and Design. We hired her as a part-time assistant that we shared, and it was like such a big deal to have an employee. Yeah, that was the very early days. We had, I think, about 400 square feet we worked in.
MT: My basement.
BP: We were on top of each other.
MT: We’re like this, the true American story. Me being Puerto Rican, starting with nothing, two females in a basement. Never have laid off. Never anything had happened. 20 years, just growth, growth, growth. I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s starting without nothing, and it has worked out, like this true American dream.
SSR: That’s amazing.
MT: I think people realize it. Right, Barbara? Like-
BP: Yeah, no, it’s true. It was very humble where we started, very humble.
SSR: What was it like working together at your house? How did you guys start to divvy up responsibilities too?
MT: Well, one thing, it’s interesting. I told Barbara, “I don’t care if it’s just the two of us and your student. We need to act like we’re a big firm, and have somebody answer the phone.” Because we know how to run and do projects. We’d done it before, but Barbara has always done the interior architecture, and I’ve done all the FF&E. Barbara can tell you how she design without color when she design, which is to me an amazing thing. I never realized that. I can only design in my head and view a space with color. Barbara, you want to explain? I don’t understand how.
BP: Sure. Yeah, for all the years before we had our company, I was on the interior architecture side of things, so I was running projects, and doing all the master planning, and detailing all the millwork, and working with a bigger team that then took over all the FF&E side of things.
I think it was from those early days when you’re doing sketches with pencil, and doing your little 3D vignettes, and things like that that I really just saw things as volumes and forms. I would see it in shades of gray, but I never saw it as like, “Oh, that needs to be a sage green sofa with lavender accent pillows.” No, I never saw any of that. I just saw it as the form really, and same to this day.
MT: It blows my mind because this really shows we are completely different in everything in our life. I only imagine the spaces in color, and the volume and the math of it is not my first thought. I think everything about our partnership is complete opposite like that. It’s just crazy to me.
SSR: But it’s kind of formed a yin and a yang, right?
MT: That’s right. I always felt like Barbara never told me, but it should be this way. I never told her, but it should be this way. We finish each other’s work and sentences. I don’t know. In every aspect, not just in design. It’s interesting. Now, she didn’t tell me this until like six years ago. I’m like, “Oh, that’s why you never say, ‘No, it should be like that.'” It’s like we have two different lanes and we stick to our lanes, but we never discussed it. It happened organically.
BP: The thing is, sometimes Miriam will say, “Oh, do you think that should be a little bit [inaudible 00:13:57]?” Or, “Do you think that should be over there?” We’ll talk through things like that. My input, really, to her would be like, “Hmm. Maybe that could be a deeper shade of that color,” but I would never say, “It should be a different color,” or, “Maybe the back on that chair could be a little higher.” We give each other minor comments like that, but I don’t get in her lane at all, ever. No one would want me to.
MT: No, and people tell me I’m pretty strong and sometime, it’s hard. I don’t like too many opinions, and I’m very set in my ways. It’s nice to have a partner that is very kind and easygoing. I’m the difficult one. Like marriages, I’m the difficult one. She’s the easy one. Yeah, that’s how it is.
SSR: I love it. What do you think was your big break for your firm?
MT: Fairmont Copley and the Willard. That’s now more than 10 years ago. The Willard was first, and we got the Fairmont because of the Willard. It’s interesting because I feel that that break was a breakthrough, but every couple years, we have a big breakthrough. This year, we had a really big breakthrough. Last year. We’d never none Four Season work, and we got our first Four Season, but it’s another breakthrough. They just asked us to be on another project, so for us, when we start with a brand and then they ask you to bid on another project, then you know you’re in. I think that was a breakthrough last year for us. Every couple years there’s a breakthrough, don’t you think?
BP: Mm-hmm, absolutely.
SSR: How has your firm evolved? Tell us about it today.
MT: I used to do all my own specs, and Barbara used to do all her own drawing. I don’t know how to get into the spec program. I don’t know the password. Let me put it this way. Barbara doesn’t do CAD. Very little, or Photoshop, or any of those things. I think the biggest way that we have evolved, for me, is letting go. Right, Barbara?
MT: What do you think is the biggest way we’ve evolved?
BP: No, definitely. That’s a long, hard process when you’re used to being responsible for everything yourself, and to give that away, that’s really hard. For me, honestly, I was a hand-drafter. I come from that generation. I can do a tiny bit of CAD. I can at least open a drawing and measure, and so on, and so forth. It was easier for me to let go because we obviously had to be working in CAD, and I couldn’t do that myself, so that was an easy transition.
I was initially working really closely with the designers to work through all the millwork details, and redlining drawings, and all of that. As the company grew, then there became people who did that, took those roles, who took those oversight roles. Then there were people drafting for them, so that was the evolution on the interior architecture side. I think similar for you, for FF&E. Right?
MT: Yeah, but she did it earlier. I think about seven years ago, Barbara let go to … We have very experienced people. We have people who’ve been doing this for as long as we have. For me, maybe my personality. I’m very controlling. Was only probably, I think, right before the pandemic, and then at the pandemic, I finally realized, being in Puerto Rico for a year, and doing the Ritz Naples from Puerto Rico, that my team could do it, and that was my big step to let go. It took me a lot longer than Barbara. I think that was probably the biggest change in our company, the evolution to let go.
SSR: Yeah. How many people do you have now?
MT: It varies. 29, 30.
BP: Mm-hmm, yeah.
MT: We’ve been like that for about 10 years now though, or eight years, right?
MT: Been a while.
BP: Really, it’s all designers. We have one bookkeeper and an admin, and everybody else has a design role.
SSR: Right. What do you look for when you hire?
BP: Hmm. I don’t know. Miriam and I really have been lucky to just have a good sense about people. I think we look for people that are like us that are, they’re really passionate about what they do. They clearly have a good work ethic. You have to be able to get along. I think the best part about our office is that everybody gets along so well. Nobody’s working in silos here. Right now, we have a crunch on some spec deliverables. Three people jumped in. They’re like, “I have a few extra hours this week. I’ll help.” They’ll just jump in, or they’ll help each other source things. There’s nobody who’s hiding their work from somebody else because they’re threatened by them. It’s very collaborative here.
MT: Personally, what I’ve learned is some people have taken each others to doctor’s appointment. They have watched their children. Other people watch their dogs. I’ve heard things. It’s crazy. They’re all like a family, boys and girls. It’s amazing what we have. I don’t know. I will tell you, in the industry, I have a lot of friends that are designers and they always tell me. I think this is probably our biggest success is our team, from the beginning. They left, they have come back. I think that’s our biggest success, Barbara, now talking about it. I don’t know. I think we hire people like us, but I’m a little difficult, and we never hire difficult people.
I remember once we interviewed a person, and he was very strong, and da, da, da, and almost like me. I remember, after the meeting, you were like, “He doesn’t fit in.” I’m like, “Oh, but he’s like me.” I don’t think [inaudible 00:20:40]. People, nobody’s very strong, demanding, I think. They’re all very passive. I’m probably the most crazy, high expectation. Not in a bad way because there are good things about it, but I think I’m probably the-
BP: Those people who have left and come back, they come back because they love working with you.
BP: It’s those high expectations, but you’re also very kind.
MT: I know. I’m very weird. I’m kind as well. No, it is true because I think about my personal life. I’m very kind, and I take care of people. I think the people here tell me a lot about their personal, but for work, I’m very demanding. I don’t know why. It’s a different thing. Barbara’s more passive.
BP: It’s true.
SSR: That’s amazing. What’s one of the projects that was the most challenging for you or you learned the most from?
BP: Yeah, sure. We really realized that during Ritz Naples that we could really rely on our company to pull it all together. We were 1,700 miles apart. Miriam was in Puerto Rico for the 2020, and that’s when the bulk of that project got designed. We had, would you say, Miriam, like 12 people working on it?
BP: From all aspects, a new-build tower, really amazing suites, all the public spaces, a huge pool deck, new pools, so much, and the spa. Everybody just, they had their own internal meetings. They met with us. They were meeting with the client. It really was that time when we realized we didn’t have to be involved in every single detail, that we could let go, and it all happened beautifully.
MT: Nobody was in the office. Everybody was in a different part of the country. I also realized what an amazing team we had. We’re probably one of the few firms that got $160 million project to do in the pandemic. I don’t think there were tons of firms doing that. At the same time, we had 17 hotels put on hold, right?
MT: This project was so big, it really saved us. I think something that was very interesting about also, that the company got tighter because for the first time, Barbara would write a letter every week and send, but the letter was very intense. The first thing will be, “This project got put on hold,” eventually, every week, and until 17 were put on hold and, “This is what we’re doing, and this is what we’re doing,” and it was so intense. People told Barbara, at the same time, they never felt that they’d have so much information about our company because Barbara would write everything down. Every Friday, people would get this email. Remember that, Barbara?
BP: Mm-hmm, yep, yep. No, I was thinking about that just a couple days ago, and sorry I let that drop off because we did that every week for a year and it really was like a status update. Yeah, I had people come to me and said, “I never knew this much about the company. I didn’t know we had this many projects.” Or, “I didn’t know this person was working on this one.”
It was a good opportunity. Not only did we say the status of everything, but we gave shout-outs to people. Like, “This project opened and it was amazing. The client’s so happy. We had this great presentation this week.” It really was a good platform to share that with everybody. I wish I could find that hour a week to do that again.
SSR: I know. It’s so hard.
MT: You know what? It was amazing. All I remember was we had a really rough time at one point right before we got the project. Barbara called me and say, “First time in the company history, we might need to lay off somebody.” I remember talking, and we decided we didn’t have a B team, we just didn’t. We discussed if we laid off anybody, it’s whoever doesn’t have a job right now. I remember, at the same time, I was going through a lot in my personal life. It was probably the hardest week ever.
I remember telling Barbara, “Okay. We have to do it.” She wrote the letter and say, “Things are getting tough. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and we don’t have a B team. Therefore, it will be people who don’t have a job at this moment.” She talked about it, and the next week we got the Ritz Naples, and it’s probably one of the largest things we ever got. It was freaky. The next week, we’re like, “We’re in. We got this huge …” It went from the worst to the best in like seven days. Sometime, when you’re in the darkest, you just can’t imagine something good is going to happen. We didn’t. That was wild.
MT: Really wild.
SSR: You have a lot of repeat clients. What do you think it is about what you all do, and your relationships, and how your run your business that brings people back to work with you?
BP: Well, I think service is such a big part of it. When we started our company, it was really important to me and I think to both of us that we’re a hospitality design firm. What is the core of hospitality really? It’s service. It’s providing a welcoming space and to meet the expectations of the guests that come to stay at the property. I feel like our business model has been like that. It’s like we don’t say no. We show up when we’re supposed to show up. We make our deadlines. We pick up the phone when there’s a problem. We follow it through and make sure it gets resolved. I think we’re super … It’s not sexy, but we’re super responsible.
MT: Responsible, but I think we’re so passionate. I have a note that I keep on the wall on my office. We’re an open space. It’s a woman that I admire. Her name is Debbie Feldman. There was a company called FelCor and she’s the daughter of the Fel of the FelCor. They had all the Embassy Suites. When we did the Fairmont Copley, she wrote me a note and she said, “I’ve never worked with somebody as passionate and dedicated, as hardworking. You have made this the most enjoyable project.” I have that up on my wall, so any time we have a problem, or somebody complains, or make me feel bad, I literally read it. I literally read this.
That’s it. We’re very dedicated. I think we give it our all. These are like we give it our all. I think about it. My kids tell me, it’s like, “You’re so happy, mommy, when we call you and you’re at work.” We give it our all. We’re fortunate that we just happen to do what we love to do. We’re fortunate that we found that, right?
SSR: Yeah, no, 100%. What is it that you love about the hospitality industry?
MT: You go first, Barbara. I’m always answering first.
BP: Definitely the people. Gosh, the events you sponsor, Stacy, bring so many great people together, and I feel like every project meeting feels like that. How great is that that we get to work with all these people who really seem … Everybody seems like they love what they do. Right?
BP: We’re going to Summit in two weeks. That’s always great to reconnect with all of those people. Miriam, I don’t know. I feel like every time we go to a project meeting, the project’s important, but also, “Where are we going for dinner?” Everybody just wants to hang out together. It’s such a great industry. The industry’s full of amazing people and you have these amazing projects. When working on a project, what is the part of the process that you love the most? Tell us why.
BP: For me, I love the kickoff meeting. I love that first time that you’re walking into a space and you start to imagine the possibilities. Even though I’m not that involved in the day-to-day design anymore, I still get involved in space planning a lot or master planning. It’s just the coolest thing to walk in and imagine, “That wall’s not there. We’re going to put the bar over there.” Then to come back-
MT: Here we go.
BP:… a year later and it’s done, and that’s the second favorite thing.
MT: Yeah, so here we go. I love meetings. I’m like, “Oh, this schedule. They’re going to give me a budget,” da, da, da. I hate the first meeting. For me, it’s when I put the accessories. That’s my thing. When it’s done and everything that was in my head comes exactly as my rendering, that’s what we envision. To me, it’s the end.
BP: See, again, opposites.
MT: It’s so funny. We never discussed this before.
BP: We haven’t.
SSR: I love it. What else haven’t you discussed?
MT: We don’t talk about things like this, Stacy. I think it’s interesting. When we meet with you, all these things come up that sometime, we don’t even know about each other, or that we never thought about it, how it happened, because we’re just here doing it and you bring it to surface, and we start thinking, “Oh my god. We did that,” or, “We’re successful,” or, “She’s like this.” Otherwise, we would never talk about these kind of topics if it wasn’t for you, actually.
SSR: How do you think your aesthetics have evolved over the last decade or so?
MT: A lot. I think I used to be more traditional, because doing the Willard, and the Fairmont, and the project in London was like that, and we become way more contemporary, and I think … I don’t know. What do you think, Barbara? Don’t you think?
BP: Oh, definitely, yeah. I think, Stacy, we’ve had such a range of work that we’ve never had a look. Some design firms have a look. I don’t think we’d ever be accused of that when you look at our portfolio. We really design to the property, definitely.
MT: Yeah, I do feel we’ve grown. Sometime, I look at the portfolio, I’m like, “That looks dated,” and I take it out. I think we evolved. Part of it is because we have a younger generation designing, right?
MT: They’re doing things that I would have never done. Then I see the final rendering, I’m like, “Wow.” I think it’s also keeping young people coming in, bringing fresh blood. Like the person who came in that has done Four Seasons. Bringing vision from other firm that they influence, I think is interesting.
SSR: Awesome. Looking back, did you ever think you’d end up where you are today?
BP: Oh, so Miriam and I talked about this earlier. For me, yes. Not this, where we are specifically, but I was and I think Miriam’s the same, even though she didn’t admit it earlier. We’re both ambitious and we started out in hospitality. We just kept moving up, and wanting more, and traveling, and traveling internationally. Then we had our own firm. Did I ever think when I was 20 that I would have a firm of 30? Probably not specifically, but I always knew that I would have a long and really happy, successful career. I was really dedicated to hospitality design and really wanted to do it well.
MT: I always thought, because it’s my life and what I love to do that I will do it forever. I never … I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I never expected to achieve what we have achieved, honestly. I never expected that that year we had like three Ritz and a Fairmont in one year. I did not expect that at all, especially when we started, before we were doing very high-end work when it wasn’t our company, so I never imagined that we’ll come back full circle, honestly, because it’s hard to go back there again.
I will tell you that this year, for the first time, when we were called about Platinum Circle was the first time that I felt ever that we made it. It’s interesting because a lot of people told me, “Miriam, look at the work you’ve done.” We never stood back and look at that. We just work, work, work, so I think Platinum Circle was the first time that I felt like I achieved something that we were not looking for, was just given to us without us even thinking about it. I think, to me, that’s the highlight so far of my career, I will be honest.
SSR: Right. That’s amazing.
MT: It meant so much. I still get congratulations from people. It’s so weird.
SSR: Well, we were excited to honor you. It was such a special evening. I should tell the podcast listeners there is a great video of them too on our webpage, so they can go see that at hospitalitydesign.com. Okay. Let’s do a little rapid fire. How do you stay inspired, or where do you find inspiration? Barbara, you go first.
BP: I definitely think it’s from our designers. The young designers today are doing such amazing work. I go by their desk and I’m like, “Wait. Where did you get that? That’s so amazing.” There’s so many great products, and they’re great researchers. It’s amazing what they pull up.
MT: For me, I will say, I take every year a summer trip and I get real … I need that time to completely clean my head and absorb new things. I think that’s when I get inspired and come back all excited about things that got my head moving for a project or whatever. I think, for me, those summer two-week vacation in Europe is what inspire me.
SSR: What is one piece of advice you wish you could give your younger self when you were first starting out?
BP: This isn’t very original, but just say yes. Say yes to every opportunity that comes along. Just don’t be afraid. You’ll make it work, one way or the other.
MT: And if you say no, you will regret it some day probably.
SSR: Mm-hmm, right. No, I think it’s important because I think, our younger selves, we tried everything. You just did what was thrown at you and I think it’s important to remember that. It helps you get where you are today.
MT: Take those chances. Take chances.
SSR: Yep, okay. All right. Continue with the rapid round of questions. That was a tough tongue twister there. Tell us about your own home and style.
MT: I have a sectional, very contemporary and simple. My house is full of beautiful Louis XV pieces from Lake Como and Europe in every corner. I’m very eclectic and I happen to have beautiful ormolus with inlay marquetry in all these French, old-style hotels that I used to do, with some very simple upholstery.
SSR: Yeah? I didn’t even know that.
MT: Yes, I will show you some … Yeah, I’m going to show you a picture. You’re going to be surprised.
SSR: Okay. Can’t wait, Barbara, what about you?
BP: I think, again, I show my New England roots. I have also a very eclectic style. I love to poke around in antique shops and secondhand places. I’ll just put together some interesting things, and then with an overlay of New Mexican art, and sculpture, and rugs, and things like that, so-
MT: Yeah, we know.
BP: Very eclectic.
MT: Yeah, but you’re talking about very different. Miss ormolus with gold and marquetry, and over the top French, and yours is very organic, and neutral, and earth.
MT: Oh my god. Yeah, our houses are completely different.
SSR: Oh, I love it. You guys are definitely yin and yang.
MT: Oh my god, yeah. I love glam, and Barbara is a true, honest, earth person. I’m not at all, so it’s interesting. I just love gold, and sparkles, and flashing. I don’t know.
SSR: All the things. What’s on your desk, and do you guys share a desk?
MT: No, my god. My pile and craziness. She has nothing but a pad and a pen. I have piles of carpets, and it’s a mess, and craziness. And a glass of wine. I’ve always had that.
BP: That’s how we always knew to move. Because when Miriam’s stuff started to creep onto my desk, I’d be like, “Okay. We need a bigger office.”
MT: We have desks side by side, but there’s like four feet in-between. We have an open-space office.
SSR: Got it, got it, got it.
BP: Yeah, we both have pinup boards next to us. I love to collect quotes, things that I find inspiring. The very first one, and I took it off the wall today to read it to you. This was the first one I pinned up. “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news,” because that is our office, and that is our lives, and we never know where we’re going to be next, and just, you got to embrace the chaos.
SSR: Yep. Just got to lean in.
SSR: Love it. Okay. What’s one thing you can’t live without?
BP: Go ahead, Miriam.
MT: Let me think. I don’t know. Give me a minute, Barbara. Why don’t you say it first? I don’t know.
BP: This isn’t a thing really, I guess, but I think the thing I can’t live without is autonomy.
BP: I really like to be in charge of my own self, and at many different levels. That’s what we try to give everyone who works for us too. We try to give a sense of they’re responsible. We can give them that spark to start with, but we let them take it. I’ve had that opportunity my whole career, and we hope to, we want to share that with the people who work with us too.
MT: So different because I was going to say something that was very materialistic. She’s so eloquent. Mine was I can’t live, it’s silly, but without my phone. I’m a person that has to be in touch with the team all the time. I have to be in touch with my client. I cannot live without my phone. It’s sad but it’s the truth. It runs my business right now, and my personal life to get ahold of my kids, so yeah.
SSR: What has it been like being a woman-founded, woman-owned, woman-run company in this industry and how are you also promoting other or mentoring other women in this industry?
BP: I have never felt it was any disadvantage to be a woman-owned company. I always felt we had a place at the table. There is a lot of women in hospitality. I think it’s a women-strong business.
MT: I don’t think that was always though. When we started, everybody, all the major firm were male. If I think of your company, the major person was a male, and all the companies in Boston were males. I think that has evolved, but-
BP: I guess, I never felt shorted because I was a woman. They didn’t give me less responsibility or less advantages.
MT: No, I think this profession is not like that. It’s a profession that, actually, sometime it’s a plus. They trust you that you will have really good taste, or whatever, so yeah, I think in our profession, we haven’t been pushed one way or another. It’s been good for a woman in this profession to succeed.
BP: I think in terms of our office is predominately women, just by chance. We didn’t seek for it to be that way, so they all get the opportunities we have, I hope, to take it as far as they want to.
SSR: Also, running a company is a big enough accomplishment, but is there one accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
MT: I’m so proud that, not consciously, but sometime consciously and unconsciously, to be able to provide so those families can move on. I think, to me, that we have all these people that we can take care of them, and they take care of us too, is my biggest accomplishment. It’s amazing that we have all these womans working for us, and we could keep them in business. To me, it’s something I worry and Barbara does too. We’re very conscious about we have to keep our business going because we have families depending on us. That’s my biggest accomplishment.
BP: No, and that’s so true, and that circles back to the whole, during the pandemic, and not laying anyone off, and just keeping everything pulled together. Even as far back as 2008, because that was another really scary time in our industry. I remember when we started to hire people, and feeling so proud that we were bringing people back to work. Yeah, that’s a huge responsibility and it means a lot to both of us.
MT: I think our team knows, and that’s why they’re loyal too. They know that we care.
SSR: You have been through two big downturns.
MT: Yeah, true.
SSR: What was the secret to holding onto your team and making it work? Because it wasn’t easy for anyone.
MT: I tell you, Barbara and I will never be millionaires. We share the wealth, honestly. When we started the business, I told her we wanted to run the company like it was a big company so I said, “We need to give the best benefit.” We have a profit sharing. We needed to give these people, treat them with everything, with the best and respect. We’re also very good about when people have family problems. We’re very caring. We let people take care of their family first. I don’t know. We have very strong values in our personal life that move through our business life. We don’t think of this as a business and a let’s make money machine. We never have. It’s interesting. Never thought about it, but I’m talking about it. It’s never being like a production and making money. It’s always been just a passion and caring for people, I guess.
SSR: Yeah, that’s amazing. All right. Well, I could talk to you guys forever, but in the sake of time, we always end this podcast with the question of the podcast. What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?
Every time that you’ve been in a project and you lose it, I literally go to bed crying, and I’m not being dramatic. Every time, we got something better. It took 20 years or maybe 18 years to realize that. I always thought it was the end of the world, and it took a long time to realize it.
BP: Well, I can definitely expand on that. It’s so true. There’s days we’re fortunate and we write a lot of proposals in one week, and we get rejection after rejection. So many times, you think it’s the end of the world and then the next week, another project comes along and you’re like, you couldn’t imagine that you could have passed up that opportunity when it happens. You think back and you say, “Oh gosh. If we had gotten those other projects, we wouldn’t have been able to have this one,” so yeah, sometimes, the good things, it happens for a reason.
MT: Just never let anything like that put you down because it did to me. It did to me for a long time. I think as you grow and you become more secure, and the business continue, I wish I’d known that before because you take it personal.
MT: I think now knowing that this business is amazing. It never ends. Even at the hardest times, we had some great projects so I think not to be afraid. Better things will come, and not let people make you think it’s the end. It’s always positive. It’s crazy. At the darkest time, there was something positive at the end. It’s part of the industry, I think.
SSR: Right. Well, I think that’s a perfect place to stop. Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It’s always such a pleasure to hear your story and catch up with you both. Can’t wait to see you in real life soon.