Spencer Charles was hand-lettering signs at a Whole Foods in Salt Lake City when he heard Louise Fili Ltd was hiring. She invited him to New York for an interview. Fili and Charles clicked. A month later he was living in Brooklyn.
It was 2012 when Charles began working for the legendary Louise Fili, whose New York design studio specializes in book design, restaurant identities, food packaging, and “all things Italian.”
Including, apparently, amore. For Charles, landing a job at Fili’s studio was a dream come true … but that was just the beginning of his dreams come true. While working there, he’d meet Kelly Thorn … and marry her.
Meanwhile, Kelly Thorn was finishing at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. She, too, had heard Fili Ltd was hiring. “I lugged my giant portfolio case to her studio, and that’s when I met both her and the guy who’d become my favorite dork, Spencer.”
As their work relationship grew romantic in 2014, Charles left Fili to freelance. By 2015, Charles and Thorn were married and working together as Charles&Thorn.
Based in Brooklyn, they have a studio at The Pencil Factory, a creative coworking space, where they work for a host of clients including Barnes & Noble, Knock Knock, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. In fact, they’ve done a series of book cover illustrations for classic titles for Barnes & Noble. Initially, Charles designed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and then his client asked if he knew anyone who would be a good fit for Jane Austen’s seven novels. “A prerequisite was that they had to enjoy drawing flowers and letters, which suits me perfectly,” says Thorn. They have subsequently illustrated dozens of titles for the publisher. “Now, depending on the title, they decide for us who is right for each job,” she adds.
When collaborating with your life partner, it can get tricky deciding who does what, but this duo has figured out a system that works for them. “It really depends on the project and who is more excited about doing it and, frankly, who is better suited for it. We’ve learned to delegate and be honest with each other about the type of work we want, and that’s made a big difference,” Thorn notes. And then, there’s question of spending so much time with one person—is it too much of a good thing? “Of course, and this is something we check ourselves on regularly. We’ve learned to voice when we need alone time, when we need to consciously NOT talk about work,” she says, adding, “separating work and life is tricky, especially when you love your work.”
But the two, who admit that their favorite project to date, was designing their wedding invitation, wouldn’t have it any other way. The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. “We take work home all the time. I think it’s better for us to kind of accept that the two worlds permeate one another. It’s unavoidable, and we don’t really mind.”