Office Envy: Creative Retreat
Kar-Keat Chong and Yen Chee photographs by caitlin abrams

Office Envy: Creative Retreat

For artistic couple Kar-Keat Chong and Yen Chee, operating their businesses side by side leads to greater fulfillment at work and home.

After getting their kids out the door each morning, husband and wife Kar-Keat Chong and Yen Chee leave their Golden Valley home for the short commute to their shared Northeast studio. Chong is an architect and watercolor artist; Chee is a jewelry designer. For these independent creatives, the office isn’t about getting away from each other; instead it’s about establishing separation between home and work.

“Before, I would be like, ‘Once the kids go to bed, I can pump out a bunch of jewelry because I have an event coming up,’ ” Chee says. “But now it’s like, OK, we’ll give ourselves till nine o’clock or whatever, and then we go home—we just relax and don’t bring work home.”

“It’s just more inspiring to be around other artists.”

—Yen Chee

They went looking for office space early in the pandemic and fell in love with a small warehouse building that overlooks downtown Minneapolis, with fellow tenants who are other creatives.

“It’s just more inspiring to be around other artists,” Chee says. “I feel like that’s made us realize how important it is to have a sense of community and have other people in our space.”

The studio ticked many other boxes for them: Natural lighting, room for storage, versatility to easily shift from work to event space, with room to display art, meet with clients, or even host their daughter’s birthday party. Chee hosts jewelry sales in the studio; Chong hopes to use the space for watercolor workshops.

“We want it to be a community space—that’s one of our favorite things,” Chee says. “When we first had people come in, it just brought life to the space. That’s what leads you forward.”

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Though equally inspired by the setting and their shared passion for design, working together does highlight their differences: Chong is exceptionally neat; Chee likes to spread out. But with desks facing each other, they’ve learned to respect each other’s work habits, and it’s actually made their marriage stronger.

“We love talking about design so much. That’s a huge part of our relationship. We’re able to support each other,” says Chee. “It’s talking through expectations and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

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