ODE TO BABEL
Name: Myriam Burke Name: Marva Babel-Tucker
Title: Co-Owner, Ode to Babel Title: Co-owner, Ode to Babel/Interior Designer
Born, Live & Work: Brooklyn, NY
CreativeTypes: What made you start Ode to Babel?
Marva: We've always had an entrepreneurial spirit from our mother. I always knew going into any office, no matter how corporate, that I would take the challenge of egos, and all of the software and work, and accept these challenges as arsenal to put in my bag so that when it was time to go out on my own, I would know how to deal. We always knew that when the right time and space presented itself, we would take the step. This was the right place, because it's our neighborhood. Myriam and I have lived in this neighborhood for over 20 years. It's not too far from our homes and it just felt right. This building is owned by a woman of color, and that doesn't hurt to be giving your money to another minority business owner. So this felt right and we signed the lease!
CT: What was your idea for the space?
Marva: With the space concept and my background in interiors, Myriam and I knew that we didn't want something traditional. We wanted a store and more of a conceptual space where you can find all of these amazing creatives that we know who live in Brooklyn or around the world and have all of these amazing pieces from art, ceramics, photography, etc.
CT: Did you get funding to start your business?
Marva: We did a crowd funding campaign. We put it on facebook and asked our friends to share it and it just travelled word of mouth. We asked how we could give back and gave incentives such as - if you donate $50, you get this amount of drinks as a customer, or you can have a party in the space if you donate this amount. We said that we don't have much, but this is what we can offer in return for your support.
CT: How did you cultivate your following and customer base?
Myriam: Since we're creative, many of our friends tend to be creative as well but we don't ever want to box our core customers, however we are kind of specific with how we curate our patrons. If we know that we have a group of guests who are not what we represent in this space, it's hard but we have to be okay with cutting things off swiftly and if they don't return, that's okay. Sometimes you realize that all patrons don't respect your vision. Everyone likes to party and have a good time, but that's not what it's always about all of the time. There's a lot of places out there where you can do that, but here is a bit different. We want conversation here, we welcome that people have other things going on in their personal lives here besides "turning up". You can turn up here, but once glasses start being thrown, we are okay with parting ways. We want fun, but we curate the experience. Even with the drinks that we offer, we want everything curated. For a long time we would not carry certain brands because we want to elevate peoples palettes to introduce customers to new brands and flavors that they may end up preferring and we recognize that if they don't like them then there are lots of other establishments where they can get what they're looking for, but here is special.
CT: Because this environment offers such a curated experience, how do you find staff that aligns with your vision?
Marva: That's one of the biggest challenges. Finding staff that understands small business and knows that they will literally wear every hat. That means we're going to go clean the bathroom, and then we're going to do inventory, and then after that we're washing hands to open up the bar. All of us do all of this, so it's hard to find people that understand that this is what small business is. To understand that vision and want to be a part of seeing where it can go, and understanding that they're cleaning the bathroom because this is a brand in the making is hard to come by. We're finally there but it's taken about a year to get the right people on board.
Myriam: Other than the financial piece, the human resources side of small business has been the absolute hardest part. It's so hard to find and retain great talent and have people in line with your vision and supporting you, realizing that it's eb and flow - some days it's quiet, some days it's crazy.
Marva: To have someone who doesn't freak out if it's slow...you're going to have slow days! All businesses have slow periods, but they have to be in it for the long haul.
Marva's Interior Design Career Highlights:
- Senior Manager, Visual Store Planning & Design: Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth
- Manager of Special Projects/Visual Presentation: Macy's
- Store Planning & Design: Fendi
CT: When you decided to pursue a career in interiors, did you know anyone who did this?
Marva: No. I just pursued lots of internships and networked and went out to meet people along with attending school. I went back to graduate school and attended Pratt for Interior Design.
CT: How did you get your first internship?
Marva: I asked the receptionist (the only person I saw that looked like me), to pass my application along at Clodagh. They design a lot of Spa's and commercial spaces. After Clodagh, I started interviewing and then got the job with Fendi for Junior Store Planner and Design.
CT: What does a Junior Store Planner/Designer do?
Marva: It's a lot of project management. It's the in-between because when you get to retail they usually outsource the big picture beautiful part of the design to "StArchitects". In-house people are taking that vision and putting it pen to paper with a timeline from start to open, filling in all of the in-betweens step by step (i.e. flooring, painting, furniture, etc.). I actually really enjoyed that aspect of it because it kind of opened my doors to meeting people and learning how to maneuver that corporate angle and coming outside of, (instead of getting caught up in), the creative part only and not realizing the bread and butter which is the money part.
CT: What is needed to get a job in Interiors?
Marva: In Interior Design you don't need a degree per say, but I highly suggest studying design tools like:
Whatever tools you can use to present your ideas to people clearly and visually.
- No more than 5-10 pages
- Most people say digital only, but Marva suggests having tactile examples as well
Follow Ode to Babel online!
Marva offered an opportunity to "Get Connected" to her by receiving feedback on a selected beneficiary's Interiors Portfolio.
She sat down with Samiayah Johnson, who has been a teacher with dreams of launching her career as an Interior Designer, but hadn't had the opportunity to receive practical one-on-one counsel while in her Associate's Degree program for Interior Design. Below is a snapshot into Samiayah's feedback after meeting with Marva on a rainy day in Brooklyn...