Pictured from left: Kerri Davidson Haack and Michael Haack
Not all couples can live and work together, but Kerri Davidson Haack (B.S. ’00) and Michael Haack (B.Arch. ’01) have found that combining the professional and the personal has its advantages. “You know the thing you have happen to you at work that is still on your mind, but to tell your partner about it requires you to give a lot of backstory and they need to care? Well, we already have the backstory and since it is our business, we both really care,” says Michael. And Kerri tends to agree. “We have found working together highly rewarding. It has definitely deepened our relationship.”
When the two met on New York Tech’s Central Islip campus as undergraduates, the notion of going into business together was not on their radar. As a child, Michael was drawn to creating things, whether through drawing, sculpture, or building treehouses in the nearby forest. And architecture felt like the right path for him. When the time came to choose a school, the five-year architecture program at New York Tech was at the top of his list. Kerri also knew what she wanted to study at a young age. “New York Tech was one of the few schools at the time to offer a degree in advertising. It was close to New York City, and even had an agency, The Carlton Group, on campus.” Sparks flew when they met through mutual friends in their first semester, but it wasn’t until the spring that they started dating.
Kerri and Michael on the Central Islip campus, outside of the Student Activities Center, spring 2000.
After getting married in 2003, the Haacks spent the next two decades building their family and their careers. Michael established himself at the architecture firm BAI Group, and Kerri went through several phases: working in advertising agencies on Fortune 500 accounts, then working from home, freelancing, and homeschooling their kids, and then as a project manager in the advertising email service provider division at Oracle.
In 2021, the principal at the architecture firm where Michael worked, retired, passing the business on to Michael. As he took on that challenge, he realized that bringing someone on to deal with the management, branding, and communications would allow him to concentrate on design and client relationships. Luckily, he knew someone who happened to be developing these skills for the past 20 years. Kerri left her job at Oracle to join the new family business, using her advertising skills to help facilitate the rebranding of the company from BAI Group to Gray Space Architecture. “We have very different skill sets that complement each other,” says Michael. “We don’t always agree on everything, but, luckily, our responsibilities don’t typically overlap so we don’t butt heads too much, or even argue very often.”
According to Kerri, “Gray Space Architecture is about finding solution-oriented design. We deal mostly in corporate interiors and our clients are looking for elegant designs at efficient prices.” As anyone who runs their own business can tell you, an endeavor like this requires a lot of time, energy, and commitment. “Michael’s phone lights up constantly with emails and calls during business hours, and his desk lamp is lit from the early morning to evening hours,” says Kerri. For Kerri, it’s an experience that involves the constant switching of gears: facilitating homeschooling while juggling calls, proposals, invoicing, human resources needs, supply orders, and managing project schedules and status documents.
Looking back, both Kerri and Michael say New York Tech had a profound impact on their lives, and not just because it is where they met. “When I was applying for jobs after graduation, the agency that hired me told me they offered me more money than the other new hires because of the New York Tech agency experience and the work experience I got while in school,” Kerri says. Michael has fond memories of his studies and especially of two professors who had “a significant impact” on him. “Michele Bertomen was a champion of my work and my development, and Francis Campani was always supportive of who we were as students and wanting us to do our best work.”
In the hours when they are not working or taking care of their kids, one of Michael and Kerri’s favorite ways to spend time together is cooking. “We’re frequently soliciting each other’s opinions on flavors, texture, and level of doneness,” says Kerri, further proving there is more than one way to find a recipe for a happy life together.
By Alix Sobler