Michael S. Wu photographed by Eddie Anastasio from Ephemera Photographics
As a network of more than 3,000 small businesses, we’re paying close attention to how they’re faring in an age of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. In an effort to stay connected to our TSG community and share their stories, we’re “catching up with” different business owners every week to hear about their challenges, learn how they’re coping, and find out how they’re spending their time at home. Today, we’re checking in with Michael S. Wu, an award-winning residential architect based in Locust, New Jersey, who has been designing and building custom homes both locally and nationally for more than three decades. Here, he discusses how he’s running his boutique firm in an age of social distancing, finding joy in building and playing backgammon with his family, and continuing to engage with local businesses professionally and personally.
What’s your business up to right now?
Right now, I have three homes under construction, each at a different point. The largest home, 9,000 square feet, is based upon simplified New England house forms organized around courtyards for outdoor living; it’s enclosed and we’re finishing up the interiors. We just broke ground on a second house loosely composed in the owner’s preferred Tudor style, where the form work is being prepared for the foundation pour, while the third project, an early 1900s waterside Colonial renovation, has been gutted to expose the structure so we can begin to engineer the remedial structure needed to accommodate the new layout.
Your biggest professional challenge:
I’ve run a “virtual” office with associates as far away as Nebraska and as close as upstate New York, so we’re well versed in working remotely. The biggest challenge has been trying to keep the work moving, since many firms have closed for worker safety or are working with skeleton crews. Further, municipal and state reviews/inspections are taking longer as local governments adapt to limited hours and personnel. Nevertheless, work is moving forward, but original schedules have been tossed to the wind.
What’s bringing you joy?
I’m restless, and I don’t like having to don a mask and adjust my daily routines to the demands of the pandemic. Fortunately, nowadays a good part of the day deals with building the houses that I’ve designed, and like all architects, I like to build. It is my favorite part of the process. There are three points in the construction process that give me joy, and each of the projects that I’m working on are at one of those points. The first is starting. I can watch a backhoe scooping out buckets of the earth for hours, and I would if I could. The second milestone comes when the house is enclosed, the exterior forms are set, and you can walk about the rooms full scale. The final and most gratifying moment comes when the project is complete, the landscaping planted, and the owner has moved in.
Before I heard the term “sheltering in place,” my wife left the house early for work, which meant I had the house to myself until her return in the evening. Now, my wife, as well as our Brooklynite daughters, are all here, Zooming, conference calling, and commandeering rooms to do their work. My tranquil home work environment has turned into a mass of laptop extension cords, USB cell phone chargers, and one-way conversations where the other part of the conversation is masked by earphones. Although life at home has changed, it’s satisfying and great fun for my memory to evolve from the girls eating chicken fingers and watching cartoons to the internet of movies and a silk road of spices flavoring new dishes. Being home, they’ve broadened our dinner palette and updated the house playlists.
What are you watching, reading, and listening to?
We’re watching a series called Midnight Diner, which centers around the lives of patrons who frequent a Tokyo diner that opens at midnight. I just finished reading Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom by George Leopold and have begun Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen.
Your go-to snack:
Popcorn, peanuts, Fritos
Your favorite family activity:
The local businesses/services you’re using this week:
Professionally: engineers, landscape architects, surveyors, contractors. Privately: every local restaurant, delicatessen, and farmers market.