FAIR LAWN, N.J. — A steady stream of cash was the only thing keeping Leandro and Iris Dickson of Fair Lawn at their New York City jobs.
Aside from that, the couple had every reason to leave.
The kids missed Leandro when he worked late at the architectural firm, which was often. His boss had little sympathy.
Iris dressed to the nines every day for her interior design job, tending to her demanding boss' requests.
Eventually, they both realized the money wasn't worth the stress. In 2014, Leandro walked out. A year later, Iris followed suit.
It wasn't long before they opened their own architectural firm together, LND Architects , in their own home.
But it took courage. It took nerve.
Most of all, it took faith that there was something better out there — for both of them.
"We try not to make any decision based on fear," Leandro said.
"That's when we make the worst decisions — just constantly fearing the unexpected.
"We figured we might as well be excited because (LND Architects) is way more interesting than going into an office and managing someone else's projects, making them rich."
The couple met in the late 1990s while working for the same firm in the city. They both ended up leaving to pursue other opportunities, before getting engaged and moving into a North Bergen condo.
In 2015, the Dicksons needed a bigger home for their family of four, so they moved to Fair Lawn.
That's when everything changed.
Iris, a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, and Leandro, who earned his bachelor's degree in architecture from the Pratt Institute, made a home office in one of the rooms on their first floor.
They literally built their business from the ground up.
"The days of unrealistic scheduling are over," Leandro said from behind his desktop, which is adorned with pictures of his kids.
"I know what I have to do. I can pretty much estimate how long it can take me, and I can give the clients a realistic deadline."
LND Architects help residential and commercial clients develop designs, monitor construction, acquire financing and more.
The company also will assist with interior design, Iris' specialty, and collaborate with the building department to get plans approved — something Leandro knows a thing or two about.
Leandro was recognized by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg while working as a plan examiner for New York City.
"I was working circles around other people," he said. "They had these lifers working there for 20 years at their own pace."
Getting a design approved by the New York City Planning Board, and those of other municipalities, can take several months, Leandro said.
Several of LND Architects' clients were Hurricane Sandy victims. Some of their drawings are still being approved.
"You can tell these people have been through hell," he said. "Why make it worse? We might as well get it done for them — get them into a home."
Some of the couple's recent projects include a house flip in Wayne, a brand new house in New Hampshire, and dozens of other renovations in Bergen and Hudson counties — including their former North Bergen condo.
It takes them two to three weeks to turn a drawing around. That's more than half the time it would take most others in their field, the couple said.
Their most difficult project seems to be their new Fair Lawn home, since they can never seem to agree on a plan.
But, the couple says working together is the best decision they've ever made.
"It just feels natural," Iris said.
And of course, Leandro added, there's the added bonus of client satisfaction.
"The thing that I really enjoy is that somebody is going to eventually live there," Leandro said. "One thing I look at is: what kind of memories are they going to take away from this space?
"How many laughs are they going to have in this kitchen? How many tears are they going to shed in the living room?
"Once you think about it in those terms, it becomes very personal. You're influencing somebody's life in a strange way that nobody really thought of — and it's interesting."
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