With complementary household roles and combined passions for the company they’ve set up, these 20-somethings have laid the groundwork for a lasting relationship—in business and in life.
Photos by Francisco Núñez
As comforting as settling down with someone sounds, most newlyweds will agree things don’t completely fall into place afterwards. Following their charmed wedding in 2011, Joel and Marla Darwin’s living situation wasn’t as ideal. “We didn’t want to rush into finding an apartment,” says Marla, recounting the year she and Joel spent in relatives’ homes.
Their first month as a married couple, they stayed with Joel’s parents in Fairview, which was an “unbearable” commute to their workplaces in Mandaluyong and Makati. The Darwins got more comfortable when they moved in with Marla’s grandmother—perhaps a little too comfortable. “We were a bit spoiled because we still had her helpers doing laundry, making breakfast, and cleaning—so it was still cheating,” says Marla.
The one-bedroom apartment the couple has inhabited for the past two years has been a real start in their lives together. “I think we worked with what we already knew how to do and what we were willing to learn,” says Marla, who learned to cook through YouTube videos, took on menu planning, and began doing the groceries with the aid of recipes from her iPhone. “Even if I didn’t know how to cook, I felt like I had a better chance at mastering that because I’m more patient with food and I have a pickier palate. If Joel was in charge of the kitchen, our food would always be corned beef and Pancit Canton,” she laughs. Having lived independently during his college years in the States, Joel took to duties that dealt with home maintenance. “He’s the more hands-on one,” says Marla of her husband, priding in his ability to fix toilets and deal with Internet provider customer service.
A minimalist space anchored by neutral midcentury-modern chairs reflects the couple’s accord in taste, as well as their practical decision-making. “Since we’re renting and we don’t know how long we’re going to be here, the look had to be something we can take with us anywhere,” Marla explains.
While keeping some modicum of homeyness in their living area, the two have focused on laying the financial groundwork for the rest of their lives. Last year, Marla and Joel decided to combine their skills and put up Natural Selection, a design company with projects that have spanned logo design for a construction company to the creation of brownie mix packaging.
Making a living from shared passions has required some compromise, however. As Natural Selection builds its client list, Joel’s part-time job as an English tutor has been a consistent source of income. With Joel’s salary taking care of rent and other immutable bills, income from Natural Selection can be directed to helping the business grow, such as shelling out for accounting services. “I’m realizing that I’m going to have to delegate more tasks as we get more work. I want to get to the point where we’re able to say no and start picking projects that will be more rewarding,” says Marla. “I want to build relationships. The clients I really enjoy working with are ones who end up becoming our friends.”
As the couple takes on the new year, challenges will be matched by the changes they make. To improve their operations, they’re investing in necessary equipment such as a printer and scanner, as well as a proper home workstation for Joel rather than the couch or dining table he’s currently using. As they continue to firm up their finances, a new milestone or two might be in order. “We’re trying for a baby so we really need a little more space,” says Marla. At least with such unwavering mutual support carrying over to their company, they can work on getting a little more company in their household—the cute kind, at least.