American Dream, Made in Philly
Done + Dusted is a full-service set building company that works with the likes of Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and Free People. We sat down with incredibly charming Jestis and Eliot at Two Persons earlier this month to chat about how they got into a niche business, the reasoning behind taking risks, and how they find inspiration in a world dominated by Instagram.
We are excited to introduce an exciting new series called #TenantTalks. Every month, we will be featuring one of our tenants and having them answer the questions you posed a few weeks back. Get ready to get schooled about all our amazing tenants!
Can you describe what you do in a sentence or two?
Jestis: In a sentence or two?! Yes, I can. We build sets for photoshoots and we rent out backdrops. That’s the main thing that we do. Another thing we do is wall finishes for commercial and retail stores. We do the bulk of Free People’s wall finishes and some other stuff. But they’ve been a big client for us. Set wise, it started off with Anthropoligie, but we do sets for tons of different people now.
How did you get into this business?
J: Elliot and I met in London. I was working for a company that was the subcontractor which would do just about all of the Anthropologie stores. Elliot was a carpenter on the job site of an Anthro store. We just became friends.
Then, fast forward a couple of years, we got married. We thought, “Well, we both do things separately that no one is willing to pay that much money for. Why don’t we just start our own business, and then we get to set what we’re worth?” What made us special was that we had someone who could make something pretty, which was me, and someone who could build it. We had some good connections down at the Navy Yard from freelancing over the years. We were in that orbit already and they didn’t have anyone in house that was doing that set building. That became us. That’s how we started, about five years ago. Our first big job was building a set for Urban, redoing all their studios. That was about two weeks after we started our company.
What made you decide to follow your career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?
J: I don’t know, I don’t think it is risky. It would have been risky if we had these steady, well-paying jobs that we knew we could have forever. But it seems to me that in the modern workforce, working for somebody else is no more secure. You can be let go at any time. With us, having our own company, we have so much control. If we work harder, we can get more clients. If we pull back, we can have less work. There are so many more controls that you have. And we have good relationships with our clients.
Eliot: It’s a bit different here because of the healthcare thing. In the UK, you get free healthcare. The funny thing is I’ve been self-employed since I was 16. Coming here, I said to myself, “I’m going to get a full-time job because I’m fed up with being self-employed.” But now I’m self-employed again. So I don’t know.
J: Yeah, you’re on the fence more than me. I’ve always worked for somebody else, so for me, being self-employed is totally liberating. So, when times are bad, I’ll just take that over a regular job.
“We definitely consume a lot of work, but I think the trick is to limit that consumption and distill it into what is meaningful for you.”
How did you find Bok?
E: It was by chance really. A lot of the time, we could work on site. Or I was trying to do it in our basement…
J: or our patio, or our kitchen…
E: And then, I saw that they were clearing all the furniture out of this place…
J: We live three blocks away. They said they were turning it into studios. So then, we got to a point and I said to Jes, “We should go see what’s going on.” It was new, so it was already going to be really reasonable. There weren’t many tenants in here, were there? 20? 10?
J: We were pretty early. Not the earliest, but we were pretty early.
E: And then we decided...it just made sense.
Do you collaborate with any other tenants?
J: Mostly with Texture Florals. We became friends pretty quickly. We both did an event here and that’s what brought us together. We were put forward to build a set and then Nicole was doing the florals. We just became friends over time. And Design Manifest. There was a color palette from a backdrop we had that Naomi wanted to reproduce. We did a plaster reproduction of it for a house.
Where are you finding inspiration lately? (books, podcasts, magazines, Instagrams, etc.)?
E: Not me. I’m just like, “fuck it all.” (laughs)
J: He’s like, “What do I have to do?!” I’m constantly reading. It’s my favorite thing in the world. Sometimes I dream about just being locked up in a room with a library and a bed and just do that for the rest of my life. I’m reading a really good book right now called How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. She’s a conceptual artist and a teacher at Stanford and a writer. That book has been great because it is essentially about always searching for context and being able to focus, which I find gets harder and harder as the years go by, with technology.
With social media, there’s so much of the same information that gets circulated. It’s so limited. I try to get most of my inspiration outside of that. We don’t care about trends. If there is a trend, I’m just running in the other direction. We are always trying to do something that we want to see that we’re not seeing.
We definitely consume a lot of work, but I think the trick is to limit that consumption and distill it into what is meaningful for you.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
E: I had this one tutor Tony. The first thing he said to me was, “Don’t ever listen to these arseholes, just do what you want because you’re the one who is going to be out in the world, trying to get work. So my advice to you, is never listen to your art tutor.” Even though he was an art tutor! He said, “Get advice from them and everything, but don’t let them pigeon hole you, do your own thing.” And I always stuck to that. He knew that I wasn’t really arty...I was just good at taking photos. And he saw that in me. I mean, he failed my course for that semester as well, but...
My dad gave me good advice as well. He was an architect. I always used to help him out if I wasn’t working and one thing that he always said was, “Listen to what people are saying to you. Always listen, because that is the best way to learn.”
J: It’s more important how you work, and how you are to work with, than necessarily the product you make.
Why did you choose Philadelphia? How did you end up here?
J: Well, I lived in New York, f-ing hated it. I had no desire to compete like that, just to be able to afford a place to live. I saw that my quality of life would be crap. I just thought, “Let’s try Philly.” It never felt intimidating. I thought I could just stake my own path there. I had lots of friends who lived out here who worked part time jobs and were still able to have cool apartments in nice neighborhoods. I’ve traveled all across the country and went to every big and small American city and this is the best city. It’s a small community here, so you are limited to how much income you can make creatively but if you work well within that community, I don’t think you are limited to how much work you are going to get. I love Philly. I think it’s the greatest city in the United States.
E: Do you really think so?
J: I do! You could live in a beautiful place, you could live in a cooler place, but can you actually live? The American dream is alive and well in Philly.
What are your working on now?
E: Too much. We’ve got a meeting today for a set for Anthropologie for a video. And then another set for Anthropologie Home that we’ve been doing for ages. We just finished a job in Nashville for Free People.
J: And we’re rebuilding Urban Outfitters Men’s photo studio. And then we’re doing a plaster job at the beach for Naomi. And then we have three away jobs coming up in Nice, Knoxville, and Colorado all within the next two months.
E: We just had to turn a job down because they wanted it next week.
J: I’ve been having anxiety dreams because I don’t know how we’re going to do it all.
E: The problem is that they want them all at the same time.
J: And we’ve got two little kids. I don’t know how we do it. But we do it.
How can people support you?
J: I’ve got this fun little side project where I sell bags, which is fun. But for supporting us, I don’t know. Maybe if everyone got into the photo industry and rented backdrops and asked us to build sets, that is the best way to support us. For sure. (laughs)
Visit http://www.doneanddusted.us/ to learn more about Jestis and Eliot.