This time of year, love is on everyone’s lips. So it seemed only appropriate to feature some of our city’s most outstanding couples for Citygram’s Admire issue. The duos featured are inspirational leaders in a number of industries, and living proof of what can happen when teamwork is met with the love and support of a likeminded partner.
Kimberly Smith and Michael Hsu
Michael Hsu has made quite a name for his architecture firm, which is responsible for some of the most iconic buildings in town. But many don’t realize his other half, Kimberly, is an incredibly successful art historian and professor, and the two balance their flourishing career lives while raising two children– and still manage to set time aside time for themselves every now and then!
After receiving PhD in art history at Yale, Kimberly Smith accepted a teaching position at Southwestern University and relocated to Austin in 2000. Soon afterward, a friend invited her out to an art opening and she arrived to discover that architect Michael Hsu had been invited too.
“I didn’t know Michael was going to be there, but Michael knew I was going to be there,” remembers Kim. “It was a half-blind set up and it worked very well!”
“It was also a very Austin setup,” adds Michael. “We started at Women and Their Work gallery and then we had drinks at San Jose and Guero’s.” Three years later, they were married at the former Miller Crockett Bed & Breakfast (now Hotel Saint Cecilia).
“Kim’s work is much more cerebral…where mine is emotive. We synthesize things differently.”
– MICHAEL HSU
Now, they have two children– Lorenzo, age 5, and Nadia, age 9– and the family of four resides in a mid-century house featuring a wall of westward facing windows overlooking the hills leading down to Lake Austin. After 11 years of working for Dick Clark, a well-known architecture firm in town, Michael decided in 2005 that it was time to break off on his own. (And right after taking the plunge, he took on Uchi as his very first client!)
“It was interesting because when Kim said, ‘We’re going to have a baby’ is when I decided it was time to start my own office, just because I think the responsibility of having kids made me think that I didn’t want to rely on things outside my own control,” he describes.
“I think if we didn’t have our relationship and our kids, I may have been happy just working for someone else…Kim is such a stabilizing kind of energy, and it really allows me to take risks at my work. And I think it’s only because of that relationship, because I feel like there’s someone who’s grounding us, that allows me to take more license with experimenting with my office.”
Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, now 19 architects and interior designers strong, has had a huge influence on the modern design of our flourishing city. Barlata, Hotel Ella, and Chavez are just a few examples of recent work, with many more projects on the way. Kim has published a book on Viennese Expressionist landscapes with Yale University Press, written essays for multiple journals, and is currently finishing up her second manuscript. She’s spoken at Sotheby’s, lectured at various universities, and is headed to Germany this summer to present at a conference.
“Kim is such a stabilizing kind of energy…it really allows me to take risks at my work.”
– MICHAEL HSU
“Kim’s work is much more cerebral and research-driven, where mine is emotive, and we synthesize things differently,” says Michael. (In the same respect, their outlets for release and relaxation are also related, but much different. Kim loves to work out and run, while Michael gains speed in another way– by racing motorcycles!)
“But it’s important for both of us to be in a relationship that values creativity, and artistic creativity specifically,” says Michael. “And it means a lot to our kids too.”
Michael and Kimberly’s children, as you may imagine, already possess their parents’ creative traits. Nadia loves drawing and painting, and Enzo has a natural affinity for building. And both kids take lessons on the early 20th century Steinway piano Kim grew up playing.
“I think we have a relationship to the arts that’s just very rich and committed,” says Kim. “We don’t have to have any debates over whether we think that actually matters or not. We definitely think it does and it’s something we want our kids to appreciate and know is a vital part of any culture.”
Anthony Sobotik and Chad Palmatier
Though Anthony and Chad met in a bustling city setting, they both grew up in small towns where farm fresh produce and dairy were a natural way of a life. After daydreaming about opening an ice cream shop for several years, they decided to make it a reality by leaving their contrasting careers to go into business together. And while working so closely day to day is not always easy, they find balance in their complimentary personalities and common goals.
Anthony and Chad had both only been in New York for about 6 months when they met at a Planet Hollywood mixer. Chad had moved there from Lancaster County and Anthony from Hallettsville, a small town just outside of Shiner– and he had every intention of moving back to Texas. “He told me that, like, twenty minutes into our first date,” laughs Chad.
Anthony had moved to New York with the intention of writing about food, but fell in love working hands on with food. He cooked for several caterers in the city before working at a bakery for several years. “It was fun– it was exciting. I kept a journal the whole time,” he says. “I love studying flavor profiles and experimenting with them.”
The two each had fond childhood memories of making hand-cranked ice cream using fresh, seasonal ingredients purchased at farm stands in their respective home towns, and opening an ice cream shop together was something they’d always talked about. “I appreciate where he grew up and he appreciates where I grew up– which were not all that different actually,” says Chad.
When Chad got a job offer as a store designer in Ohio for Victoria’s Secret, they relocated there for the next four years, but visited Anthony’s family in Texas often. Their ice cream dream began to come to fruition. “I love the idea of shopkeeping, designing the space, and selling something we love,” says Chad. “I actually love working in retail. I love that face to face interaction, that customer service.”
In 2010, they relocated to Austin and opened Lick ice cream shop together. While Anthony had only worked for small, independent businesses, Chad had only worked for corporations, “where it takes 35 people and 6 months to make a decision,” he describes.
“We’re very yin and yang. He’s very impulsive. I analyze things to death.”
– CHAD PALMATIER
“They had meetings about meetings, you know what I mean?” adds Anthony.
“We’re very yin and yang. He’s very impulsive. I’m more thoughtful and I analyze things to death,” says Chad. “I come from a very structured, corporate background, but he’s dealt with small businesses and I haven’t. I have really enjoyed the transition into working directly with small businesses and local farmers and artisans. They do what they do well and I appreciate that. It has been an adjustment but one Anthony has helped me navigate through.”
Their biggest challenge? “Doing it together is the biggest challenge,” says Anthony. “Working with anyone that closely is difficult. But at least you can say, ‘It’s five o’clock. I don’t have to deal with you until tomorrow!’ But if we argue, it’s like– ‘Ok, I’ll see you at home!’ and twenty minutes later we’re sitting on the couch together.”
“It’s the fact that we both believe in the same things that got us to this point.” – CHAD PALMATIER
Because the two share a 850 square foot home in Clarksville and sit 10 feet apart every day at work, they decided to join different gyms and drive separately to create some semblance of a division between work and home life. “And we can’t go to our jobs and vent about anything because…we’re it!” laughs Anthony as the two exchange a knowing glance.
“But it’s good because we care about what we’re doing,” says Chad. “We both want the same things. We both want a successful business. It’s the fact that we both believe in the same things that got us to this point.”
Emily Larson Orth and Ian Orth
Emily Larson, one of the proprietors of Prototype Vintage on South Congress, loves exploring– whether that means combing thrift stores for vintage finds, or spending the day on the Greenbelt. Ian Orth’s obsession with music and knack for organizing large events made him the ideal candidate for Transmission Event’s creative events manager. Together, they are proof that a sunshine girl and a city boy can certainly live happily ever after.
While Ian Orth was doing graphic design, throwing events and offering music publicity through his company Learning Secrets, Emily Larson was running Prototype Vintage with her business parter and best friend Audrie San Miguel (who’s married to Ian’s childhood friend Graham).
“Audrie and Emily would always come out to our Learning Secrets parties and they’d always be the first ones to start dancing,” says Ian. “Then one day I went into Prototype to drop off some flyers for a party, and Emily was working by herself and it just hit me– I’m crazy about this girl. I have to get this person in my life.”
After a trip to Marfa with a large group of friends, Ian was sure Emily was the one. “That [trip] basically solidified, for me, that Emily had no chance of not being with me.” When he discovered her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he realized he could see her weekly if he came over to cook her dinner while they watched their way through her boxed set.
“I tend to sit and think about a problem; he will badger it until it’s solved.” – EMILY LARSON ORTH
“He used Buffy against me,” says Emily with a coy smile.
After a year and a half, they finally started dating and were engaged just six months later. Emily moved into Ian’s duplex in Cherrywood, which she said was “definitely a stylish bachelor pad.” Now, the space couldn’t be more reflective of their respective personalities, which even visually complement each other.
Shelves stocked with records and a vintage jukebox line one wall, while plants and terrariums brighten the earth tone mid-century furnished living room. A bookshelf of foraged curiosities houses a sparkling disco ball on the bottom shelf. “I’m really more of a city person and a night time person and Emily loves nature,” says Ian. “That’s one thing that Emily has done for me, is inspire me to look at the world in a totally different way than through the eyes of a nightlife person.”
Now they’ve been married for two years, and their professional lives have continued to advance. Prototype Vintage has grown to a dedicated team, so Emily can focus on treasure-hunting instead of shopkeeping. And, while Learning Secrets just celebrated 10 years of parties, Ian is now also the creative events manager for Transmission Events.
“It helps that we’re doing things we love,” says Emily, “but we’re very supportive of each other’s endeavors, whether it’s music or buying trips or new endeavors with the store…and Ian’s a really good communicator. I would say that we have a lot of communication. Whereas I tend to sit and think about a problem, he will badger it until it’s solved.”
“Emily inspires me to look at the world in a totally different way” – IAN ORTH
“I’m constantly telling her things they could be doing differently with the store…and Emily always has this eye for things. She always kind of helps me put things in perspective.” says Ian. “We’re just really comfortable telling each other what’s up…We’re best friends, and that’s important I think.
When they’re winding down from their respective business ventures and creative projects, you might find the two relaxing in front of a movie or enjoying the great outdoors together.
“I never thought I’d hear myself say, ‘Hey babe, can you grab the binoculars so I can take a look at this bird?’” laughs Ian. “I never, ever thought I’d catch myself saying that, and I actually say that… I say it a lot.”
Eileen and Arnold Van Den Berg
When Eileen and Arnold met each other in the early 1970s, they didn’t have much money.. but they were rich with love for each other. Arnold went on to establish Century Management and has been named one of world’s 99 greatest investors. Eileen has dedicated her life to hundreds of foster children who she keeps in touch with via handwritten letters and heartfelt packages. This power couple attributes their achievements to unflinching support from the other.
“My first memory of meeting Arnold was falling in love with him from the minute I met him, and he’s been my best friend ever since,” Eileen says sweetly.
The two met through a mutual friend in California in the 1970s, where Eileen had relocated after living in Brooklyn and then Tucson. Arnold had been in LA since his family immigrated to the US from Holland in 1949 after surviving the Holocaust (which is an entirely other incredible story).
“The first night we went on a date, I wasn’t ready to get married because I was just starting my business.” says Arnold. “But I said, if I was ever going to get married, this is the kind of girl I’d marry. I said that to myself on the first date. So I knew.”
A Rabbi married them in a utility room, because they couldn’t afford a hall.
Arnold had no formal training, but he was studying investing in order to start his own financial company from the ground up. “Everything I’ve had to do I had to work hard at– it isn’t something that came natural,” he says.
In 1972, a rabbi married them in a utility room, because they couldn’t afford a hall. They celebrated with one bottle of the cheapest champagne they could find and a cake from the supermarket. “I still remember my dress was about $28 or something like that,” says Eileen. “I still have it! I saved it because it was one of the most meaningful days of my life.”
So when Arnold wanted to take Eileen to Hawaii for a honeymoon, she was shocked. “When we got to Hawaii, Arnold wined me and dined me the whole week,” she remembers. “We went to luaus and everything. But I noticed he wasn’t eating anything! So I thought that was very strange– a man this size doesn’t eat food?”
“I still remember my dress was about $28.”
– EILEEN VAN DEN BERG
When they got home, Arnold told her about the $20,000 in debt he had racked up while getting the business up and running. “I asked him why he had taken me to Hawaii and he said ‘Because I wanted you to have the honeymoon of your dreams and I knew that we would work hard together to pay it all back.’ And we did many times over,” says Eileen. “It still makes me cry just thinking of it!”
“I really believed the company was going to be successful and I believed I was going to be successful, and I didn’t want to wait until we could really afford it because it would’ve been years,” Arnold says.
Arnold’s company started out in his small studio apartment, with Eileen as receptionist and accountant. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” says Arnold. “First of all, you had to have a wife who was willing to forego a lot of things for many years. We lived in a little place I was almost embarrassed to show to people. And she went without spending any money on anything and she worked day and night to help me with everything. That kind of support only comes from somebody who’s truly committed.”
“I wanted you to have the honeymoon of your dreams and I knew that we would work hard together to pay it all back.”
It took 8 to 10 years to fully grow the company– and now Century Management , started on $2500 and credit card loans, manages approximately $2 billion dollars in assets. “I just basically had a dream,” he says. “And now I feel like we’re living a dream. We have a great company and a great family and we have each other.”
Once Century took off, Eileen began volunteering at Helping Hand Home for Children. What started as a simple weekly storytime grew into productions with sets and props, all aimed to teach life skills, whether introducing them to a new culture or preparing them to ride on a plane or visit a dentist for the first time. But Eileen soon found that weekly visits weren’t enough, especially as the children left the home to start the next chapter in their lives.
“It was very difficult to see the children go off to foster homes and treatment centers, and most of these children didn’t have anyone else in their life and that was very difficult for me to handle,” Eileen explains. “So I said to Arnold, ‘You know what? I’d really like to start a foundation where I can send things– quilts, presents, books, letters– so that those kids know that someone out there still cares about them.’ “
“He’s always been my biggest supporter…and helps me to believe in myself.”
– EILEEN VAN DEN BERG
In 2003, Eileen began Children Blessing Children, a foundation dedicated to keeping in touch with the hundreds of children in foster care she has touched. The name came about because the Van Den Berg’s three children and seven grandchildren, who are all incredibly close, have remained involved with the foundation through the years.
Arnold will bring his computer to Eileen’s warehouse and the two will work together through the weekends, pausing to share lunch or take a brief nap (and Arnold, who practices yoga daily, might strike a pose or two in the meantime).
“He’s always been my biggest supporter and always believes in me and helps me to believe in myself,” says Eileen. “So when you have big dreams and somebody’s standing behind you and lifting you, you can do anything.”
This article originally published in The Admire Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [February 2014].
Download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.
Food & Beverage Columnist
Veronica Meewes is a freelance writer and photographer in Austin, TX.
Specializing in lifestyle, travel and food her work has appeared in several outlets including Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats, and The Today Show.
Veronica spent her childhood in New Jersey, and traveled around the country before deciding on the sunny capital of Texas.