Creating Space with Family and Blank Studio Co-Founders Marni & Willa Blank

Listen now:

Imagine a blank space to make completely your own. That’s what co-founders Marni and Willa Blank did. They did the impossible and they took a blank space and turned it into a rental studio dedicated to making it their own and creating a place for others to bring their visions to life. 

What you’ll learn:

  • The Blank sisters share their transition from corporate to entrepreneurs 
  • They dig deep into building and cultivating community through the pandemic and holding on their space
  • The Blank sisters also express how they got their entrepreneurial spirit and family 

To learn more about Blank Studio, visit their website blankstudionyc.com and follow them on instagram at @blankstudionyc

Check our past episodes of The Sixth Degree podcast! Remember to follow us on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

Emily Merrell  0:04  

Welcome to the sixth degree Podcast, the podcast where we grill our guests about the things that make them tick and find out how human connection plays a role in their life. I’m your host, Emily Merrill. I’m your host, Emily Merrill. And today I’m really excited to be having Marnie and Willa blank, the cofounders of Blink studio and the cofounders of the blink farmhouse on the show. Ladies, welcome to the show. Thank you. Oh, this is gonna be fun. I’ll call on each of you to so you guys don’t have to say things. I also failed to mention your sister’s true.


Marni Blank  0:46  

It is true. I Marni am the eldest by three and a half years though often will it gets mistaken as such. We will


Willa Blank  0:55  

Why do you think you get mistaken? I say probably because I’m wiser not because


Emily Merrell  1:02  

I think both of like twins really actually, you know, one year apart if that. But it is interesting how the my sister is three, three years younger, and I call her my older, wiser sugars to see through like, seems to just have every executive functioning skill put into place like he has things in our kitchen. I didn’t know you’re supposed to even need is that you guys? What’s your dynamic? Like?


Marni Blank  1:26  

I mean, we definitely have different skill sets like Willow will just come over to my house and fix things or I’ll find something in a different order sometimes. And it always makes so much more sense.


Willa Blank  1:37  

I tend to do that when she’s not home also.


Emily Merrell  1:39  

I love that Do you


Marni Blank  1:42  

know what’s changed? Something has changed. But it always ends up being for the better.


Emily Merrell  1:48  

In Willow what is Marty do?


Willa Blank  1:50  

Marni runs my life completely. She is boss. She is the operator of our business and functions as the operator of my life the stuff that I want to just bury my head in the sand over.


Marni Blank  2:04  

It’s like the it’s like the negotiating the phone bill kind of life stuff. You know?


Emily Merrell  2:09  

Are you the person Marney at a table? Like if you get bad lobster or something, you would send it back? And then Willa, would you be the one who would like ate the lobster?


Willa Blank  2:19  

Neither of us would send it back.


Marni Blank  2:22  

That’s what our father would do. And we very much try to to not do that


Willa Blank  2:26  

our family would like return a watermelon for 73 Seven from Costco. It was not like sweet enough inside because you should get your money’s worth. So that


Emily Merrell  2:39  

was funny. The traumas that the same like he would he I’ve seen waiters quit and mealtime before so I think I’m like an overly generous tipper. I’m overly empathetic with every Uber driver. I know life stories, I have more Uber drivers numbers than I should probably have. Like my boundaries are a little loosey goosey sometimes with empathy? Well,


Marni Blank  3:03  

certainly if you’ve worked in the service industry, I mean, both will and I have worked, you know in that so you certainly know how to treat people better than you were treated.


Willa Blank  3:13  

And that involves eating spoiled lobster. met before


Marni Blank  3:20  

I literally got food poisoning from lobster once but that’s for another another.


Willa Blank  3:26  

I love it. I didn’t know it was


Emily Merrell  3:28  

a true sub subject that had happened. So you know you two are sisters, your co founders. But who is Willa and who is Marnie? Like I knew I want to know a little bit about your origin stories and who you are now because I know you wear a lot of hats. So below why don’t you kick it off? We’ll do Age before beauty,


Willa Blank  3:51  

Age before beauty. Um, well, it is. Well I identify in that. I identify as the creative one. But that’s not to say Marnie isn’t creative, but I sort of picked that up more so from our parents are both dentists but also artists. And I always, yeah, I was, I went to art school, I came out of school and design and I had a career as an apparel designer, women’s wear designer for about 10 years before this business came to be. So my background really is in the creative field. And that was sort of my network and sort of confidence going into this business that I could kind of create the space, get it off the ground and have the network of people that might be interested in it and then see what happened from there. And what else do


Emily Merrell  4:45  

you do I know nowadays, you’re the co founder of these two businesses. Do you have any other hats that you wear?


Willa Blank  4:53  

During the pandemic? I kind of got back in the making a bit which was something I hadn’t flex in a while so I I kind of put it all under one hub of blank supply. And I’ve been doing a lot of quilting, which I learned from my grandmother, which I love to do with her and have done a lot of really special commissioned pieces for people. And I just recently did a collaboration with Alex Mill, which was really exciting. And I’m working on a second collection for them. But yeah, I think I kind of lost the love for the industry. But I think that it’s definitely evolving. And sort of this idea of slow fashion is sort of more appealing to me and getting to do it on my own terms. And in between, it kind of frees up my brain, you know, from doing like, the studio work or the Upstate work, it kind of is this creative thing that keeps everything else functioning properly. So it’s like my outlet. And I love that you


Emily Merrell  5:51  

were able to take something that once became your career back into a place of love and a place of you actually resetting your brain for the other things that you do. Exactly. Yeah. The fashion industry can destroy you. It can, it can give there’s like a special therapy for fashion. And how about you Marnie?


Marni Blank  6:16  

Yes, so I was not the black sheath. But I definitely didn’t flex my creative muscles as much as a young person, you know, with our parents being artists, and we’ll go into design school, but I always wanted to either be a therapist or a lawyer, and I ended up choosing law because I missed my another stat class by I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t do stab again. So I did law. And I practice as a lawyer in New York City for a little over five years, I worked in the federal government in New York City government. And I just kept waking up wishing my day away, and someone in their early 30s Shouldn’t do that. Life is too short. And so I ended up switching careers and ending up in commercial and residential real estate. And at that time, Willa was sort of at the stage in her career where she was falling out of love with the fashion industry, but was in you know, in these sorts of studios that we ended up creating, and asking me to look for spaces for her to sort of see what was out there with no intention of working together. And I would send her spaces, she would talk about her ideas. And eventually, she asked me if I wanted to partner with her. And my initial reaction was, that’s a terrible idea. We’re sisters, this, we’re very different people. But, you know, we each talked to our individual therapists, we talked a lot about how it would look and how we would set it up so that we could maintain, you know, a sisterly bond and not overstep that, because that’s obviously the most important thing to us. But we did end up deciding to partner together. And that was, we’re coming on our seventh year. But also during the pandemic. I became, I’ve been interested in death, dying and grief for a while now. And it was sort of spawned by our mother having a freak car accident, and she’s okay, but it got me really thinking about caregiving end of life care. And I ended up training to be a death doula over COVID. And I’ve recently started begin with the end, which is end of life planning, for young ish and healthy ish people who need to get their affairs in order. And just being a space in which people can talk about the uncomfortable and, and educating people around a topic that not everyone wants to discuss. So that’s, that’s sort of my side hustle at the moment.


Emily Merrell  9:07  

And I love that you were able to take your your itch to be a therapist, and marry that with this because it is what you mentioned a really uncomfortable conversation that no one wants to have, and navigate it with intention and help people become more comfortable with the idea of getting your documents in your eye everything that you need to get in order in order.


Willa Blank  9:33  

Marni had also gotten into an MSW grad program just as I was starting this idea and so I deterred her passions basically, she she deferred for a year and then we started the business and then never went back to it. So Oh, wow, look at this


Emily Merrell  9:52  

full circle. This is like confessions. I feel like we’re in the Bachelor right now. And this is the moment where I’m getting I’m hearing both That’s. So you both mentioned that your parents are dentists and artists, which is pretty wild that they’re both dentists. And they’re both artists. It’s pretty, pretty extraordinary. How did your parents react to when you said, Yeah, I’m hanging up my lawyer life. And I’m hanging out my career in the fashion industry, and we’re gonna start a space. And you know, what, we have no idea what we’re doing, but we’re going to do it. They were honestly


Marni Blank  10:29  

thrilled and proud and overjoyed that we were both working together, but also taking risks to make ourselves happier. Our parents have always been our biggest supporters in whatever we we chose to do. And, you know, as a dentist, you know, our father had started his own business, you know, in his 30s, and was, you know, basically an entrepreneur, we have a lot of entrepreneurs in our, in our family. And so, we saw the life that one could create, if they put in the hard work, but could create, like, a flexible schedule for themselves. And, and they were both, you know, happy, happy that we are, we were choosing for ourselves and not just choosing what was the lowest rate in our path for everyone else.


Willa Blank  11:20  

And the more surprising thing was that you wanted to do it, like you, you have such, when you set out to do something you can achieve so greatly, but you have like boundaries of safety, always in mind. This is why also she’s a great partner, because she’s always thinking from a lawyer Lee background. But yeah, I think like watching you dive into that was exciting for me, too.


Marni Blank  11:45  

Yeah, it was a risk that I wasn’t necessarily looking for at the time, but I’m so happy I took but like, you know, like we’ve said, we have such complementary skill sets. And so the fact that I am more risk averse, or, you know, I’m thinking about the logistics pairs really nicely with someone who has elevated our business because they know how to, you know, to take those risks necessary to get something off the ground and, and really just go all in?


Emily Merrell  12:17  

Have you two ever done like an astrological chart comparison? Or like a human design comparison with your strengths? Yeah, we did


Willa Blank  12:25  

a human design reading with both of ours and how we work together. And it was actually really interesting, because our charts are way more similar than I would have, like admitted to, I think because we’re sisters, and we work together we spend so much time together. I always like need my uniqueness or like my own. Like, I need someone to acknowledge that I am not Marnie and Willa and not because I’m not obsessed with her and proud to work with her. But because I feel like I could never get away from it. And And not that I need to. But that’s something that I work on. But I think seeing that we actually are a lot more similar than I admit, made me realize, like, I’m just creating all the tension, because we actually like work in a similar way. And we flow really well together if we’re both on that same page. And when I tried to like rebel against that, if that’s the only thing creating the friction.


Marni Blank  13:25  

And what I’ll add to that is that the way that we’ve created this business has allowed for us to each take space to do our own things. Like Willa was saying, like, I couldn’t be prouder that, you know, right down the street on Mercer, her quilted coats were in, you know, a retail store. I mean, and she did that on her own, on her own time. And so we’ve set it up so that we can each be in our own spaces. And we also know how to take space from each other when we need it. And we’ve we’ve learned to, to ask for what we need and to, you know, like, have safe words basically, when it we’ve we’ve reached the peak of, you know, work talk and, and family talk, and we need to, you know, do our own thing. Yeah, I


Willa Blank  14:13  

think that’s, that’s so


Emily Merrell  14:15  

helpful for anyone who’s listening. And that’s thinking of creating a partnership with a best friend or a sibling or someone super close to them. But establishing those boundaries. And like, this is what we’re going to talk about family. Now we’re going to talk about work and I just want to talk about dating with you. Like I want to just be a friend, I want to be a sister. I don’t want to be anything but that so that’s awesome that you guys have that dynamic and have also invested in understanding your dynamic dynamics with one another and who has what strengths. Speaking of strengths, something that I was so impressed about, was during the pandemic, how the two of you handled having a space during a time when people weren’t utilizing spaces. Can you talk to me i About that time for you, because I remember getting goodies in the mail and it made my, my day my week, I actually still use the mask you sent me in the journal every morning, just so you know. Yeah,


Willa Blank  15:14  

that was stressful was stressful,


Marni Blank  15:20  

the dark times, if


Emily Merrell  15:22  

you will, yeah, back to the dark times,


Willa Blank  15:25  

we’re still like, we’re still dealing with all of that, because we had really built like a nice nest egg at that point. And going into 2020, we had, maybe for the first time created a proper marketing plan, and allocated a budget for it and like, had all of these plans, and it was strategic, maybe for the first time. And, of course, then we were shut down. And we have extreme overhead, renting a space in Soho, and our landlords are not the most.


Emily Merrell  16:09  

You can say, asshole, let’s find


Willa Blank  16:13  

out. We went through all of our savings to pay our rent, and like, let alone like, obviously not paying ourselves. But it was just Yeah, so we’re still building that back. And like even looking towards 2023. It’s like, well, we’re, we’re kind of starting back. This was our best year to date of the business, which is amazing. But we, you know, we didn’t make the most money we’ve ever made today because our expenses are just going up. And we and we had to like rely so much on our savings. But what we did


Marni Blank  16:47  

do during it when we were sitting at home because Willa is a master Sower. And we had such this community of, you know, creatives were also hurting like our space was closed, but also no one was photographing. So the photographers, the stylists, everyone was out of work, obviously. And it was a really hard time. And so Willa, took the initiative to start hand making masks before masks were available, and asking anyone who needed it. And we sent them out in the mail sent


Willa Blank  17:18  

out over Yeah, three over 300, which was handmade. And we also during that time made a database for all of our creatives, we, you know, asked everyone to let us know where they’re living, who they’re living with, what resources they have. So if any brands wanted to shoot, and they needed someone with a kid or with a dog or outdoors or whatever, you know, we could kind of pair people with creatives that were able to shoot at home, or wherever they were


Emily Merrell  17:50  

just hearing this, there


Marni Blank  17:52  

was Yeah, I mean, the thing is, is that you you can’t obviously plan for the future, none of us had the crystal ball that knew that March 2020, we were on in negotiations on a second location. Like that was our plan. We had the documents and and then we shut down for what we thought was two weeks and we all know how that turned out. And you just have to know when it’s time to


Willa Blank  18:15  

to say okay, so this isn’t happening. What are we gonna do we want to have the overhead of another rental lease in the city when this is now like a real reality in our everyday life.


Emily Merrell  18:34  

different interests to so at what point in the conversations did you guys decide to keep the space versus you so easily could have ditched it and been like, you know what, I don’t need this. Oh, no.


Willa Blank  18:49  

It was so you it could be stolen. But no, you wouldn’t be robbed. Um, but honestly, I’m grateful that we weren’t able to get out of our lease as stressful as that was we are still in business today. And it’s been amazing to be able to like Welcome back creatives and, and build back with them slowly. Like even when we reopen, we hadn’t raised we haven’t raised rents, we just raised rents and we haven’t done so since the pandemic since before the pandemic because all of our clients, you know, don’t have the budgets and even though our rent has increased exorbitantly you know, we tried to shoulder as much as we could to help people get back. And


Marni Blank  19:31  

it’s also been amazing to see people in person again, on like a more workshop level we’ve had we used to have workshops monthly it for the community and community is really what has made our space what it is. And you know, we’d loved having your event at the studio, seeing everyone that work in person and just like, you know, genuinely be beaming because they’re just in space with other people. And that is really something that that drives us Um, and as always driven us.


Emily Merrell  20:01  

Where do you guys? I mean, you talk about this drive, but where do you think this drive comes from, like this desire to give back in such a greater way? Like you’re not only just holding literally space for people, but you’re, you value your community so much like, where does that come from?


Willa Blank  20:21  

I think that comes from our family. I mean, some of that is cultural comes from being Jewish. And I think our family always sought to take in people coming visiting, like, travel to see other cultures. And we always they’re very, like, politically active. So we were always at marches as kids, I was just saying, my dad was like, so proud of our Holiday Market and the fundraiser and was just he came out and was just, like, sent us a message of like, how proud he was and, and I was like, wow, you know, if we weren’t, so like he used, they used to make us trigger treat with UNICEF boxes, which, like, it is so embarrassing, but it’s like, deeply ingrained in our being that no matter like what you’re doing, you’re also doing something for others.


Emily Merrell  21:16  

Love that. And I totally remember this boxes.


Willa Blank  21:19  

Yeah, yeah. Our parents, our grandparents, like, they were all very much part of their community and fight like our grandfather, was a attorney for


Marni Blank  21:33  

a labor attorney during the 1950s. And it Yeah,


Willa Blank  21:36  

I think just I don’t know why. But both


Marni Blank  21:41  

of us, you know, are very much introverts, but we also really value a tight knit community. And we’re not about


Willa Blank  21:49  

you know, the,


Marni Blank  21:51  

the how are you? And what do you do, we really want to know how you’re doing. And we want to create a space in which people are connecting with other people. And, yeah, I think I think that’s just been and everyone has everything in the city except for space. And so being able to offer space and offer a space that feels warm and inviting, is just really important to us. I completely agree.


Emily Merrell  22:15  

And I love that I love the family history, and how you can you can actually see the past and how it has influenced your future in so many significant ways. Oh, well, I have one more question for you all.


Willa Blank  22:30  

Time management.


Emily Merrell  22:31  

How the heck do you do it all? You have this amazing space blink studio. You have this gorgeous blink firm house upstate. So those listening if you’re looking for a great Airbnb getaway, it’s amazing. Check it out. It’s I think links on your website as well. And then not only are you designing for a fashion house will up, Marnie you’re doing this death doula at the end of life planning. Oh, just in your hair, you’re recording a podcast in the middle of your day. So tell me your secret. And I’d like a bottle of it please.


Willa Blank  23:09  

Marnie has Marnie is more actually scheduled in a positive way. I don’t have that same brain, but you want to share your secret?


Marni Blank  23:19  

Um, well, I think it’s that I work with a partner that I implicitly trust and who is able to give me the time that I need for what I need to do and vice versa, you know, we talk, you know, 500 times a day, we do. WhatsApp, walkie talkie, this is gonna say, as I know that we’ll have volunteers at the senior center every Thursday. And so I know that I’m going to be at the studio if we have a booking on a Thursday and we try to work around each other’s schedules in a way that gives us flexibility to do what we need to do. So if I know that her co collection is going to be due in a few weeks, I know it’s crunch time to her so I’m going to step up with the studio stuff. And then vice versa. I’ve been networking a lot for the death doula business, and Willow will step in and come into the studio. So I think it’s really about having someone who understands that our time is very important and valuable. And how we allocate it.


Willa Blank  24:20  

Is, is hard, but


Marni Blank  24:22  

that it sort of all flows together. I personally use the full focus planner, like the Michael Hyatt planner, it is very helpful for me to plan out my day and my week. And so that’s how I do plus just you know, Google Calendar,


Willa Blank  24:42  

but yeah, I mean,


Marni Blank  24:45  

there’s some things are, you know, not everything happens every week. So the farmhouse that’s sort of what we pivoted to when we didn’t end up getting the second space. We got the farmhouse that was a lot of time and effort, you know, q1 of 2021 to get that up and running, but the day to day management of that is a lot less hands on than, than the studio. And so things kind of come to the forefront and you know, and then go back based on on level of importance.


Willa Blank  25:16  

Yeah, I was gonna say I’m I, my focus, which is not how you should be, I’m like in the weeds of things, my focus is on like, what’s most important and like, do the soonest and then Marnie is really good at big picture. And she’ll be like, Okay, I know you’re doing that. But we need to think about this thing for whatever the holidays like back in September. And so I think by way of her full focus planner, she’s organized and then can keep me on track for things that we need to plan for in the future. And I’m really more of a day to day.


Marni Blank  25:54  

Yeah, but both are really needed. And we need we need the person who can like just get it and be like, Okay, this is what we’re doing right now.


Willa Blank  26:05  

I’m a generator. Yeah, he’s a manifesting generator. So that’s kind of the difference there. And I like that you


Emily Merrell  26:11  

are able to in a way, you’re kind of the naggy mom Marnie, and you can get her activated. And then two inches activated, she’ll do the thing but she just needs the direction like go to the fridge make the sandwich we’ve got tomatoes and lettuce and bread. And that would be essential make the most epic sandwich that is the most delicious thing ever. And like I couldn’t do exactly your like I just saw the lettuce in the bread and will you saw like the condiments and like turning the cheese into something more magical


Marni Blank  26:45  

will is definitely much more like detail oriented in a lot of ways and can see like visualize how things should be in a way that I’m always like in awe of it’s incredible.


Emily Merrell  26:58  

Your partnership literally could be like a whole coaching program for relationships for business partners, for family members, what you guys relationship and really, you know, it truly is it’s remarkable seeing the way that you talk about one another and clearly both admire each other for your strengths and lean on each other. In moments of I’m going to put quote unquote weaknesses


Willa Blank  27:22  

we do but to be clear, that


Marni Blank  27:25  

has taken a lot of work it was not always like that we’ve taken a lot of emotional intelligence courses together and separately, and it’s a it’s like any relationship that it’s a work in progress and you really need to you know, work yeah, you need to work on it or


Willa Blank  27:44  

else it falls apart and choose to be like kind and respectful and supportive. Every every time.


Emily Merrell  27:52  

Oh, well. I love that. So how can individuals here find out more about blink studio going away to the blink firm house shopping will is new collection planning let’s see I’m trying to think Am I missing anything I feel like I’m thinking a dental appointment.


Willa Blank  28:15  

Um, well blank studio nyc.com and sign up for our mailing list because we always have exciting workshops and fundraisers and events going on and giveaways also, we just did a giveaway for the farmhouse so the farmhouse is the blank farmhouse.com And you there’s Yeah, it’s linked from our studio website as well. And Instagram is all the same names as well. And if


Marni Blank  28:42  

and if there was not enough on our plate we are starting because everyone had such good feedback on the farmhouse and we’ve learned so much about rental arbitrage through blink studio. It’s basically what we’ve been doing for the last seven years. We’re going to be offering services upstate consulting services if you want to turn your home into an Airbnb or you’re considering it we can help you get get in the right direction.


Emily Merrell  29:10  

I love that I think that is a genius idea. Now’s the time to really look at your wealth plan and building wealth and investments and Airbnb s are a great way to do that. So they’re very lucky to


Willa Blank  29:23  

learn from I really got started through your yes or


Marni Blank  29:28  

Yeah, we did your 90 Minute deep dive and really got clear on the actually yeah, you’re totally right. I did it twice. I did it for the death doula business and I did it for blank upstate and got really clear on how we wanted to proceed and now we have a deck and we’re ready to go so I kudos to you for making it clear and lighting the fire. Yeah, totally.


Emily Merrell  29:51  

Well, thank you. I need to repay it by by booking the farmhouse and next time I’m in town. I’m going to be one of your bookings. I’m gonna go get myself a weekend upstate in the Catskills. Right? Yeah, that’s cool. I love or you know I can be an influencer if you want and just my seven followers that I have. Well ladies, this was such a treat and I loved hearing your stories, but I have even more questions for you and these ones aren’t fast. So you ready for six fast questions. So basically six questions two responses, one from each of you. Hey, Marnie, tell us an unknown fun fact.

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