A family that plays together stays together. But what about a family that works together, from home, across two different cities? Judging by the life that the Wixoms have made, they not only stay together, but flourish and make adorable babies. Austinites Kris and Alisa Wixom (say that two times fast!) are co-creative directors for advertising agency TBWA Chiat\Day in New York. They have worked with Spike Jonze, have been nominated for an Emmy and their work for Jameson is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. But last year marked their greatest achievement of all — the birth of their son, Sawyer Lee. You could not meet a nicer pair, or two people more in love. Jessica Pages photographed this creative couple one morning (before they headed out with baby in tow to the Austin City Limits festival) in the amazing Bouldin Creek home where they work and play.
photography by jessica pages
Kris and Alisa work in advertising, but their situation is unique because they work as a team and are also married. “Basically if Don Draper had a partner, and they were married, that’s what we do,” says Alisa.When asked how co-workers react to a married couple in the mix, Alisa laughs, “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked us ‘how do you stand one another?’… But after the initial shock wears off, I think people find it charming rather than weird. Or, so I tell myself.”
How did you two meet?
“There’s no sugar coating this. We met at a tanning salon in college. Kris worked there (smart) and I tanned (not smart). He asked me how many minutes I wanted.”
After stints in SF and Minneapolis, Kris and Alisa were working in New York when we they had their second apartment sell out from under them. The native Texans took it as a sign that it was time to move back to the Lone Star State to find a place of their own. “We were going to freelance, but the agency suggested we stay with them full time and do a long distance trial run. It’s been over four years now,” Kris says. “We’ve found it doesn’t really matter where you are physically as long as you work hard, are responsible and have a strong relationship with the teams back at the office.”
Before purchasing their home in Austin’s sought after Bouldin Creek neighborhood, Kris and Alisa used to drive by this house and talk about how much they loved it. Kris would say, “I’ve seen that house on design blogs – it’s amazing!” But he never thought they would actually live in it. Two years ago, they put a note on the door and hit the housing jackpot. Now they spend their days working from home and their weekends recharging in their pool with their dog, June Carter, or walking to local favorites Elizabeth St. Cafe or Sway.
Living in Texas, but working for an East Coast office forces Kris and Alisa to start each day early. Their one-year-old son starts singing through the monitor around 6:30am. Then, they have coffee while feeding him breakfast, then squeeze in some playtime before the phone starts ringing at 8am as their East Coast counterparts are getting into the office.
Having a baby has allowed this already very creative couple to see the world in a new light. “Babies are the best. They remind you how important it is to play,” Alisa says. “Having him has been like a reboot for our own imaginations. Every creative person should have one!”
Sawyer’s mobile was loving handmade by former coworker Christian Travers.
The house’s previous owners, Sam Shah and Anne Suttles, also worked from home, so along with the Alter Studio, they designed the office to be a big part of the house. “It actually takes up half of the 2nd floor, which is great for us because we have room to spread out a bit.,” says Alisa. “Kris likes to work sitting on a couch and I prefer a table so we have room for both. And since no one’s in a cube next to us, we can play music as loud as we want to.”
Kris and Alisa’s love of music is evident from their impeccable record collection, Kris’ enviable drum kit and practice space (Kris plays with local band The Cold Irons) and the countless music related posters and pieces of art hanging in almost every room. Even baby Sawyer has a guitar next to his crib for the day he is old enough to jam with his dad.
Cowboy painting by Fort Guerin.
That the Wixoms have great taste is obvious in their work, but it also shows in the way they have decorated their home. Each room has a collection of highly curated, yet still casual, mix of high end modern pieces and eclectic objects they have scored on their travels abroad and their strolls on South Congress. A vintage mounted bear head from Uncommon Objects keeps watch over an Eames lounge chair in their living room. A vintage pulldown chart depicting the journey of a tapeworm hangs over a beautiful custom side table by Paul Nielson.
Unplugging together is especially important to this hardworking couple since they literally work across from each other every day and lots of nights. “Having a baby forced this on us in the best way possible,” Alisa says. “Of course you still have to check email and work nights and weekends quite a bit but in general we try to work as efficiently as possible. I think you get better at this the longer you’re in it and it also helps to have great teams working under you.”
It’s not surprising that after being married and working together for so long, Kris and Alisa’s personalities compliment each other perfectly. “If one of us gets fired up about something at work, the other automatically goes into ‘chillout’ mode. Smooth the waters, stay cool, that kind of thing,” Alissa says. “But then as soon as the other of us starts to get amped up, it’s like a switch flips and the other goes into Zen mode. It must be some sort of couple self defensive mechanism.”
Neon sign from South Austin favorite, Roadhouse Relics.
The Wixoms many Cannes Lions (advertising’s highest award) sit on the shelf next to an old 8-track player and various other knick knacks. This display represents the yin and yang that define them and the eclectic neighborhood where they live.
Kris and Alisa’s best advice for staying sane in the often crazy world of advertising? Keep it fun. “Surround yourself with nice, fun, talented people. You can’t change the hours or the amount of work, but the people around you can either make it fun to be working at midnight or make you wish you had gone into banking.”
Painting is by local artist Jeffrey Swanson.
Kris on Alisa: “I love everything about her. I love her sense of humor. I love how smart she is. I love that she’s an amazing mother. Mostly I love that she’s also been my best friend for the last 15 years.”
Alisa on Kris: “Kris always sees the best in people. It’s the most endearing trait on a person I can think of. He also opens doors for me. I’m a sucker for a southern gentleman, particularly one that plays the drums.”