In the corporate world, it is relatively uncommon to find husbands and wives in the same profession. But in the field of automotive design, it shouldn't be that rare, given designers' specialized training.
This story looks at five designing couples. Three met at design school, and the other two met at work. All but one worked for the same employer at the same time.
All of the couples have evolved specific ways of working together - and apart. Some manage to blend work and home life, while others prefer to keep those realms separate. Some discuss their work; others agree not to. Some talk about cars at home; others purposely do not.
One striking similarity is how involved each partner has become with the other. There is no competition or hint of one-upmanship. Quite the opposite: All of these couples seem highly supportive of each other in the workplace and at home.
Another commonality among all five couples is each has a special appreciation and understanding of the other, thanks in part to their shared experience, natural inclinations and automotive design experience. In fact, you could say their romances seemed to have happened by design.
Tom and Carolyn Peters: Lubbock to Detroit
Tom Peters was sweltering through his junior year at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, majoring in advertising illustration, when a catalog from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., changed his life. Flipping through the pages, he came across the name of one of his idols, Harry Bradley.
'I saw Harry Bradley's name on the faculty list and I knew then that I had to go to Art Center,' Peters, now 46, says. 'I got in my car and headed west.' With $600 and a 1968 Ford Galaxie 500, he made it as far as Lubbock, Texas, before the engine blew. A crop-dusting cousin there paid to rebuild the engine, and Tom arrived in Pasadena in time for the 1976 fall semester.
Meanwhile, Carolyn Rotundo was taking art classes at Pasadena City College. The first design course Carolyn took required students to draw an original table and then build it. Her work won an award and prompted her to apply to Art Center, where she became one of only four women in the industrial design track.
From the first moment he noticed Carolyn, now 43, Tom was looking for romance. But Carolyn was focused strictly on her schoolwork. When she refused to date, he asked her out to play tennis instead. He wore cutoffs and drove his green Ford Galaxie with painted flames, a hood scoop and no front bumper. Carolyn says she couldn't help but be smitten.
After graduation in January 1980, Tom went to work for General Motors in Detroit, and Carolyn, with her degree in product design, received offers from Cessna, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments and Techtronics. GM also made Carolyn an offer, but withdrew it when the person she was to replace decided to stay.
So she took the Texas Instruments offer and moved to Lubbock to the company's Consumer Products Division. Six months later, when Carolyn's boss needed another designer, she suggested Tom.
He got the job, and arrived in Lubbock with a marriage proposal. The two often worked side by side on projects that included marine navigation instruments, early laptop computers and educational tools for children with disabilities. A few months later they were married.
When Tom left Detroit, Chuck Jordan, GM's design chief at the time, had promised him that when two positions opened at GM, he would get in touch. A year after Tom and Carolyn married, Jordan kept his promise.
In June 1982, Tom returned to GM to advanced exterior design, then went to work at the Chevy Three studio. Carolyn started work at Oldsmobile, where she did interior design.
One of Tom's first projects was the Corvette Indy concept roadster. He eventually moved to Pontiac. From 1993 to 1996, Tom served as director of GM's Advanced Concept Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Now, as chief vehicle designer in Warren, Mich., he oversees program teams on two projects that share a platform.
Carolyn moved from Olds to Cadillac, where she worked on a show car that eventually became the Cimarron. She then was invited to join the fledgling Saturn operation. While on leave after the birth of their first child, Carolyn decided to try consulting from home. Five months into her leave, she decided not to return to GM.
Carolyn still is in the design loop, and keeps getting job offers. Her biggest client is Milliken & Co., a major fabric supplier.
'Tom and I had waited seven years to have children,' she says. 'We'd done all the things we wanted to: traveled, had fast boats and cars. I'm glad I stopped working full time because it gave me a chance to raise my children.'
Jay Bernard and Lisa Taffe-Bernard: Orange and white
Jay Bernard admits he got miffed one day in 1997 when he saw a friend escorting a woman into the GM Design Staff building. His frustration came from the fact his friend hadn't stopped to introduce her.
'When I saw Lisa that day, I knew she was the one,' Jay says.
Lisa Taffe had worked in GM's color and trim studio since December 1994. Jay joined GM in the summer of 1997. Lisa soon heard he was interested in her, yet it took some time before Lisa was willing to go out with Jay.
Recalls Jay: 'This place is like high school. We were trying to keep things quiet. Even so, people started asking questions when they saw us going out to lunch together or leaving work at the same time.'
Lisa, 27, a native of Rochester Hills, Mich., is in charge of color and trim for all GM concept vehicles. Jay, 31, is an advanced vehicle designer in GM's corporate brand-character studio. Inevitably they were thrown together in various projects, but when they did work side by side it was all business.
'We like to keep our personal lives separate from our work lives,' Lisa says.
Jay and Lisa said nothing until one Monday 10 months after they started dating, when they returned from a weekend in Jay's native Toronto and surprised colleagues by announcing they had married.
Jay and Lisa enjoy a view of Detroit's skyline from their waterfront penthouse condominium in Windsor, Ontario. 'When we leave work,' Jay says, 'we literally leave the country. At the end of the day, a different culture allows us to step back and get another perspective on life.'
Lisa and Jay drive to and from work together and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Their offices at the GM Technical Center in Warren are only two minutes apart.
'He's truly my best friend,' Lisa says. 'We have similar and complementary tastes overall.'
This is evident at home. Their penthouse is mostly white, with just a burst of color here and there, such as an orange chair.
'Our personalities complement each other,' Jay observes. 'She's the orange and I'm the white. It really works out pretty well.'
Away from home, the Bernards do talk about cars and design, but they have other interests as well. 'We like diversity,' Jay says. 'We like to observe, experience and create. We draw from the Internet, fashion, culture, media design, news and especially people.'
On Queen Street
Once or twice a month, Jay and Lisa go to Toronto to people-watch on hip, young Queen Street West or in Yorkville, Toronto's version of Rodeo Drive. They absorb design ideas from street garb and avant-garde furniture stores.
Since their marriage, the Bernards worked together on the 1999 Pontiac GTO concept car; Jay was lead designer, and Lisa was color and trim designer.
'Actually, working together made it a lot easier, because Lisa knew exactly what I was looking for in terms of colors and materials,' Jay says. 'She understood what the vehicle was all about.'
Rob McCann and Amy Hiroshige: Same number now
Rob McCann, 38, and Amy Hiroshige work as designers for different automakers, but they hardly consider each other competitors.
Both majored in transportationdesign in the early 1980s at Art Center.
Amy, a native of Oahu, Hawaii, was two years behind Miami native Rob. They met in the glass-walled model shop dubbed 'The Aquarium' because visitors can stand outside and watch students work.
'Not a lot of women spend time in a shop with a hammer and a table saw, painting with automotive paint,' Rob says.
On their first date, he invited Amy to a graduation party. When he asked for her phone number, she told him what it was but wouldn't let him write it down. If he couldn't remember her number, it meant he wasn't interested enough.
He repeated the number all the way home.
Rob graduated in 1983 and went to work in GM's Advanced Concepts Center while Amy kept at her studies. 'There were two other women in my class when I started. By the time I graduated, I was the only one left.'
In 1985, Amy graduated and went to work for Mitsubishi's design studio in Cypress, Calif. As studio design manager in charge of interior and exterior color development, she sees projects through from concept to production.
In 1988, six years after they started dating, Rob and Amy married. Though she made Rob memorize her number, Amy says it was love at first sight for her, too.
'It's really important to me, for a long-term relationship, to have someone with the same interests,' she says. 'You get excited about the same things.'
During the time GM's California studio was closed, Rob spent almost three years associated with Samsung Motors. 'Our California satellite studio was one of the best I've ever worked in,' Rob says. 'It had all the right people at the right time, but during (an) economic crisis.'
Return to GM
GM reopened the California studio this year; the new venture has been coined GM 5350 Industrial Concepts and is in North Hollywood. Rob was named chief designer in charge of the digital studio in February.
When they get home from their jobs, Rob and Amy 'think of more interesting things to talk about' than work, Rob says.
They enjoy listening to Latin jazz and the blues, and hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, which are a short drive from their home near Newport Beach.
Both like to cook, and use fresh ingredients from Amy's herb garden. 'Our mutual achievement goal in life is to cook better food than any restaurant within 50 miles,' Rob says.
The two also share a keen interest in furniture design. For a time, each - unknown to the other - dreamed of owning a set of expensive Swiss chairs. Finally, they compared notes and decided to buy the chairs.
'We didn't even sit on them for a long time. We'd just look at them,' Rob says. 'Turns out they're even comfortable.'
Margaret and Jim Hackstedde: Golden pond
When Margaret Dickey joined Chrysler's design staff in 1982, she had a firm rule: never date co-workers. She broke it only once, in April 1986, when she started dating designer Jim Hackstedde. By November of that year, her name was Hackstedde, too.
Few colleagues knew about the relationship until the engagement was announced.
Today, Jim, 55, is senior design manager for DaimlerChrysler's truck studio. Margaret, 45, is director of color and trim design for all Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep product lines.
Married nearly 14 years, the Hacksteddes still keep their work and professional lives as distinct as possible. They commute separately and rarely work together on projects, although Jim often deals with designers on Margaret's staff.
But their common interest in design shapes much of their home life.
'It's hard to take design out of the designers,' Jim says. 'Designers kind of feel design throughout their whole lives. Everything we relate to is kind of design-oriented. It makes a unique experience.'
Margaret and Jim share a strong interest in architecture. A few years ago while searching for a new home, both fell in love with a relatively modern Cape Cod near a pond. The house went off the market before they could bid on it and nothing else stirred their interest.
'Then all of a sudden last year I saw a sign out there,' Margaret recalls. 'I called Jim and said, 'Guess what. I saw a sign at the house.' '
She didn't have to explain which house. The Hacksteddes immediately paid the asking price.
The house is just a quarter-mile from the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, where Margaret is vice president. The club is home to Nochy, the 9-year-old bay Belgian Warmblood gelding she imported from Holland in 1997. She goes riding nearly every day.
At home, conversation occasionally drifts to shop talk. 'It depends on the events of the day,' Jim says. 'We work in such close proximity, and we have mutual contacts, so we sometimes do discuss work. Not only do we both have a feel for the subject, but we're familiar with what the other person is talking about, and that's really nice.'
Kate and Phil Zak: In tandem
Phil and Kate Zak met in the hallway at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Both were in their third year of a five-year industrial design program that offered a minor in automotive design. Phil had taken a minor in automotive design, while Kate minored in architectural interiors and graphic design with a subminor in automotive design.
Both are brand-character design managers for GM.
Kate and Phil graduated in 1988, and went to work for GM in Warren.
They had started dating about six months before graduation, but when it came to their job searches, they focused on the best opportunities rather than on staying together. Phil had been a GM intern in the summer of 1987 and accepted GM's offer immediately.
Kate, who is brand-character design manager for Saturn, entertained offers in both architectural and automotive design but in the end decided GM was the right place for her, too. 'I'd always felt that an automobile is the ultimate product design,' she says. 'People don't have the same passion for their blender or their cell phone.'
After their first year at GM, Kate and Phil knew their relationship was serious. In May 1990 they bought a house in West Bloomfield Township, Mich. That October they were married.
In 1991, when Phil was assigned to a June-December rotation at Adam Opel AG, Kate, who then worked in GM's exhibits group, asked GM design chief Chuck Jordan if she could take a month or two off without pay to visit her husband. Jordan instead found that Opel needed help preparing for an auto show in Frankfurt and sent Kate to Germany.
Phil next went to the Oldsmobile studio, where he has been brand-character design manager for the past 15 months.
While the Zaks, both 34, have identical titles and work together as team members, they rarely see each other at GM outside of that setting. Adds Phil: 'In the almost 12 years we've been here, we've gone to lunch together maybe a dozen times. The building's really big enough that we don't see each other all that often.'
It's often 9 p.m. when the Zaks get home. Once there, they often talk shop. They also often share ideas. Sometimes Kate finds herself flipping through a fashion magazine and getting an inspiration that isn't right for Saturn but might work for Oldsmobile. 'One thing we don't have to do,' she says, 'is go home and try to explain what our day has been like.'
Sometimes they do find themselves working together. Last year, both were concentrating on their divisions' show cars. 'It's not a competitive or jealous situation,' Kate says. 'You're so engaged in what you're working on, it's good to look up and see what someone else is doing. It's nice to be able to bounce ideas off each other.'
In 1996, the Zaks began building a new house not far from West Bloomfield. They did a lot of the finish work themselves, including the flooring on the first level.
This summer Phil and Kate plan to enjoy their home when they're not riding mountain bikes or hammering out some new renovation in their limited free time. They have thought about having children, but, as Kate puts it: 'They're still in the design stage. We don't even have sketches at this point.'
Janet Braunstein is a Detroit-area free-lance reporter.