moms in the mommyhood - vely zajec

we have a new "moms in the mommyhood"!

welcome vely zajec from the blog "velgnettes" and the "zajec design studio". it has been fun getting to know vely and what it's like to be a mom to 2 kids and a wife all while running her own architecture design business from home. her blog velgnettes is filled with touching humour, real life honesty and her gorgeous, adorable munchkins.

vely's sister thought she would be a perfect fit for "moms in the mommyhood" and i agree! she's sweet, down to earth, hilarious and a darn hard worker and it's been so informative to learn about the world of architecture from vely's perspective and how it relates to her life as a mother - i hope you enjoy it as well.

if you are new to the mommyhood, our "moms in the mommyhood" features a new mom monthly who currently has their own business (doesn't matter what kind). we try to sit down and have a virtual cup of coffee and ask them all the fun, little questions that we are dying to know. we also try to get a glimpse into their lives and what it's like to have your own business and be the boss of your kids at the same time. we are always on the lookout for new moms to feature. if you know someone or would like to be featured in this spot, please send us an email at we can't wait to meet you!

now, let's get sipping our coffee, heck grab a yummy treat if you so desire, pull up a chair and let's get to know vely:

1. vely, you're an architect with your own business...i'll admit i don't know very much about the world of architecture so i am very excited and curious to get a glimpse into the life of one. what led you to become an architect?

I was in the midst of pursuing a mechanical engineering degree in Sofia, Bulgaria and I thought “why the heck am I doing this to myself??” I always loved to draw, design and construct things, and as a kid I constantly “remodeled” our house and designed utopian islands. So eventually I connected the dots on the fact that it’s the profession of 'Architecture' where it all comes together for me.

2. you didn't always have your own business, how did you end up on your own?

It was a case of compulsive behavior actually... I wasn’t ready to plunge into self employment just yet, but I saw an awesome opportunity for a project in my home country and I couldn’t pass it by. I quickly put together a team, sent a proposal and got set up with my home studio. It wasn’t until we signed the contract that I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking “and why in the world do I think I can handle this?”…but I have. With lots of help and support. It has been fun, it also has been very intense at times, but apparently I had it in me to navigate through large projects and through self-employment in general.

3. how the heck do you manage to do the intricate work i imagine an architect does with your little ones running around? do you put them in daycare sometimes or are they at home with you full time?

When I started my business my daughter was in pre-school full time so that was easy. Now she is a kindergartner, which means ½ days and meanwhile we added another little pumpkin to the equation! Currently my mom is helping me a lot with the kids during the day. My best hours, however, are still at night when everyone is asleep. My creativity gets unleashed past 8pm. My son was kind enough to start sleeping through the night for me at 4 months so that really helped in claiming those quiet hours of the night back to myself.

4. this may be a silly questions but do you get to make those lovely models? how do you keep those safe with the kids around and have they ever demolished one?

I do! And I love it. When I was at school I spent 2 years interning with this amazing firm as a model-maker so it totally became my thing. I wouldn’t call them ‘lovely’ though, they are more like a quick design tool to help me figure things out, I have a few here but my dad’s garage is full, he may have one suspended from the ceiling. Final presentation models however, those really pretty realistic looking ones, are usually digital and done by a 3rd party.

No, the kids have not demolished any models yet but my daughter has actually demanded models from me. She kinda’ became one of my clients. It seemed so cool to her that I can make little houses out of foam board. We’ve made a doll house for her barbies and a beach set.

5. who is your favorite architect and who/what do you turn to for inspiration?

I love Antoni Gaudi, Aalvar Alto, Eero Saarinen. Also Santiago Calatrava – I love the fact that he was a sculptor and a structural engineer before he became an architect and i love what that does to his architecture; and Kenzo Tange for his awesome work in urban planning and his Olympic Arena in Tokyo .

6. do you miss working with a firm?

Rarely. Pre-motherhood I may have answered differently, but having this freedom and flexibility now is absolutely priceless to me. It by far outweighs the lack of social lunches or wearing mascara and high heels. Ok, I do miss my cute outfits a little. And as far as the ‘stability’ of a corporate job, so much for that right now, huh…

{casa battlo - left, right}

7. what is your favorite/least favorite thing about being an architect?

Architecture, when at full throttle, does not mix well with family life at all. I did 12-14 hour days last year and flew half way across the world while pregnant. It can exhaust not just you, but everyone around you. What I love about architecture is the opportunity to make a difference through thoughtful and innovative design.

8. how has the economy affected your business?

We were doing well since our projects were all abroad but our economy here did eventually catch up to East Europe as well. Things have slowed way down ... my business partner was able to get us 3 or 4 small jobs locally but it is still a struggle right now. Once in a while I go after small graphic design jobs. Unfortunately Architecture is one of the first professions to go down when the economy slows down and one of the last ones to go back up when the economy recovers.

9. do you have a favorite outfit to work in?

Black! It has to be black and comfortable. It’s funny, there’s actually a stereotype about all architects always wearing black, but it works and I now know exactly why that is for me. When you design you become hyper aware of yourself, and that’s not good, not in my world. I think as an architect you have to become ‘the backdrop’ of your thoughts and designs. Color is distracting, you have to make yourself disappear. To me good architecture is never, ever about the architect, it’s about the people who will experience it. Oh, this is hilarious, I am currently in black yoga pants, black turtleneck and black flip flops. See, I can’t escape it!

10. do you listen to music while working and if so give us a sneak peek into your playlist?

When I work I am in the habit of listening to Cake and to David Bowie. If it stretches into a long night.. I add Madonna and hip-hop to the mix. For some reason in the earliest stages of design I need a little Mozart.

11. coffee or tea? sweets or salty?

Espresso with a spoon of liquid heavy whipping cream, no sugar. I usually have 2 shots in the morning and another two at around 4pm. I love having Trader Joe’s chocolate chip dunkers with my espresso!

12. how do you keep your ideas fresh and new?

Reading, going to exhibits, running things by my 5yr old daughter’s pure little brain. When in the midst of making design decisions I love bouncing ideas of my husband. He is not a designer per say but he has great intuition and a wonderful sense for design. He and I are incredibly different so talking to him always adds a different twist to my ideas.

13. how do you balance home/hubby/work with 2 kids?

We have a very supportive family and I am so grateful for it. Mom, dad, and sister (our babies are the exact same age) are all within 15 minutes. My husband John is the most supportive and sweet individual ever (he is my best friend of 17 years) Sometimes I look over and I realize he’s been taking care of the kids for 12 hours straight while still bringing food and coffee to my desk. He even froths the milk. Things are currently very busy for him so thank goodness it is a bit slow for me now, I don’t know what I’d do without him! As far as our 11 month old son Ian and our 5 ½ year old daughter Emma, they just go with it, they are so used to our crazy schedules. They know they are always a priority though.

14. walk us through a day in your life?

I am up at 7 with my son, hubby is usually already on a roll. Emma sleeps until 8:30. The baby and I stroll her down to school at 11. She is there until about 3 so I try to extend his napping as much as possible within that interval of time. He also has a play pen in my office which really helps. He is a pretty self sustained kid. From 3 to 6 is serious quality time with the kids, i block out the whole world. Then it's dinner, bath, books and bed time for the kids and a 9pm jog for me or hubby, we alternate. Then, if needed, mommy opens the office again.

15. when did you start your blog velgnettes? how have you enjoyed the process? tell us about it.

My sister bullied me into it 3 years ago. She has a cute blog called ‘be the change’. I didn’t know what to write about so I kept reading other people’s blogs until I realized: my blog just needs to be funny. I LOVE funny. When in doubt – just go with ‘funny’, that’s my motto. So it became a blog about funny conversations with my daughter and about getting a 5 year old's perspective on life in general. Blogging has become one of my favorite ways to unwind.

16. what has been your favorite project to be a part of?

BlackSeaRama Golf and Villas in Balchik, Bulgaria. The most gorgeous location, an awesome client and it is in my home country. After I studied Architecture in the US I always wished for a project to help me reconnect with Bulgaria and its centuries old architecture. This project is at a Gary Player Golf Course in the Northern part of the Black Sea Coast. Zajec Design Studio (me), in collaboration with JJC Design (my very talented business partner), so far have designed a 35 room boutique style hotel, a 3 story restaurant, a small spa complex (partially underground, partially open to panoramic views), 21 villa clusters and 11 detached homes, all inspired by Tuscan architecture while reflecting Bulgarian tradition. We also got involved in the concept design of the hotel interiors. With BlackSeaRama my team and I had more challenges and more fun than words can describe!

17. if you could design any project what would it be?

A crazy looking performance hall or some insane-never-been-done-before arena. Well.. designing my own house would do too.

18. favorite architectural book/magazine/website?

I subscribe to Architectural Record, Dwell, Art News and Nash Dom. Back when I had more time my hubby and I used to spend countless hours at this awesome bookstore. It is the best place for architects and designers! I like this fun website too.

19. do you have any tips for women looking to leave a comfy job with a company to go solo?

In the beginning, it is not the easiest road to take but at the end It is so worth it! I would recommend it to any mommy who can do some type of work from home! No matter how hard it may get, working for yourself helps you find yourself, and to me that’s where true happiness is, not in ‘comfort’. Just do it, you can figure out your own health insurance and investment fund, there are so many options out there. The flexibility you can have is absolutely priceless. You really just have to want to do it and it can all work out beyond your expectations.

Stay inspired and good luck to all of you devoted hard working mommies!!! Only we truly know what it takes to make it all work!

thank you so much vely! i appreciate all the nap time emails we shared, and all of your kind and sweet words. hopefully one day we can share a real life espresso - i am dying to try one of those trader joe chocolate chip dunkers!

{all images vely zajec unless otherwise stated}