Family bonds help designers


POSTED: Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friends and lovers come and go, but you can't escape family, which involves the most permanent relationships in a person's lifetime—like it or not.

Not a problem for Tiare Cowan and Rick Cowan of Archipelago Hawaii, who, given their matching surnames, are often mistaken for husband and wife.

“;Until they meet us—then they're thinking, 'They look too alike, they must be related,'”; said Rick, Tiare's younger brother. Both own the full-service interior design firm.

Indeed, high cheekbones and warm smiles are traits shared by the brother-sister team. Speaking at their offices in the Gentry Pacific Center, seated side by side, their bond is apparent as they finish each other's sentences or talk over each other, relaying the same message in different words.

Partnering up was just part of a natural progression that has resulted in branching out to the neighbor islands and being featured on an episode of HGTV's “;Designer's Challenge.”;

Their company has roots in Tiare's stint as an independent designer working out of her home after graduating from Chaminade University with an interior-design degree and earning her stripes as an apprentice. “;I had kids, and it just made sense to have my own business and work from home with no overhead,”; she said.

Rick had a degree in geography from the University of Hawaii at Manoa that he “;didn't know what to do with,”; and so was employed in construction off and on, learning everything from the ground up. He dabbled in other jobs in between and, after a time selling kitchen cabinets, found himself designing kitchens. “;It was artistic enough for me ... and I had a real knack for space planning.”;

When an opportunity arose to buy Studio Becker, all the gears were in place to merge Tiare's interior-design savvy with Rick's kitchen-design know-how to create Archipelago Hawaii. Rather than put their homes up as collateral to obtain a business loan, “;the market was up, and we had enough equity in both our homes”; to make the deal work, said Tiare.

“;We changed the name because Studio Becker was so well branded (as sleek European); we were sort of pigeonholed,”; Rick said, adding they felt they could offer more to a broad-based clientele.

“;Tiare is very Hawaiian style, and I'm a little more eclectic/contemporary-modern, so therefore between the two of us, we could design anything a client wants.”;

The saying goes that business and family don't mix. “;We really talked about it. This is business,”; said Tiare, slicing the air vertically with one hand, “;and that's family,”; slicing again with the other. “;Keep the two separate. And we do that.”;

“;Not only that, but we were both in the design field separately,”; said Rick.

“;Yes, and a couple of times we ended up working on the same projects and collaborating ...”; Tiare said.

“;... And we said, 'Hey, this is fun!”; Rick said.