Ben Page and Gavin Duke of PAGE|DUKE are without question very talented landscape architects, known for their superior design skills and ability to transform outdoor spaces of any size into sanctuaries. Though her name may not be on the door, Julia Baker is an equally important partner in that business. Responsible for much of the firm management, Julia is a strong force in a world of creative people. Spending just an afternoon with her, it is easy to see how she has been so successful. What is all the more remarkable is her commitment to giving back to the Nashville community and caring so deeply about her family, all while growing a business on the back of a liberal arts degree. We’re excited to share more about Julia with you today!
Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Nashville?
I’m originally from New Orleans. I moved to Nashville 26 years ago before everyone else discovered it.
How did you find PAGE|DUKE?
I actually came to work as a temporary for just one week. They had already hired someone for the job full time. A week later they called and said “If we fire the girl we hired, would you come back?” It was awkward, but I thought about it and the girl [who they had hired] was calling me all the time, asking “What did you do here? How did you do this?” and I just kept saying “I was really only there a week!” And she said “Well they keep telling me ‘Julia did it this way’ and ‘Julia was able to do that.'” So I guess that one week was truly serendipitous. I came back as an employee. At that time, [when I was hired] it was Ben Page & Associates, and Gavin and I worked for Ben. Then, 18 years ago, Ben, Gavin and I formed the PAGE|DUKE partnership.
Can you tell us a little bit about being a partner at PAGE|DUKE?
Ben (Page) and Gavin (Duke) and I are all a well-balanced triangle. They are landscape architects, the principal designers, and I run the office. I graduated from Belmont with a degree in psychology, which is what I need. Every. Day. I deal with our clients, with our marketing, with our employees. Although my business sense is kind of innate, the psychology component guides me daily. I am the entry point for when a client first calls. I explain our process, schedule consultations, send marketing and portfolio information on other projects. Sometimes, they don’t know much about us but just know they want to use us.
How have you seen your psych degree benefit you in the business world?
It helps me to look at the person and listen to the content of our conversations. I’ve always been good at multi-tasking. I think anything I do, regardless of the field, I would help manage the nuts and bolts of it because that’s what I enjoy. I actually had no idea landscape architecture even existed. It’s a field that has come a long way in establishing itself as a design team member. I have a creative visual perspective, I try to look at the people who are involved, not just their problems. I think the way to solve a problem is to look at the personalities of the people and find a way to help them all communicate, as opposed to focusing on what’s being said. To me it’s more about What does this person really want from PAGE|DUKE? I can usually read a client pretty early on and tell how I’m going to be able to communicate with them best. I do think that my gift is to look at the person. I have a good sense for what they need, internally in our office or externally.
What challenges have you faced, as a woman in business and just generally in your field?
In the beginning, there were times when discussing contracts with male clients, they would only want to talk to Ben. But Ben has always been a huge supporter, saying, “No, that’s Julia’s job. You need to talk to her.” Over 20 years that has changed considerably. It’s the same for our female landscape architects. Over the years, they have grown to a place of respect on construction sites as well.
So do you see Nashville’s growth as a city as intrinsically tied to your growth as a firm?
Yes, absolutely. There’s a very diverse spectrum of people moving here, and so we have had a lot of projects that are people who have moved their headquarters here, moved an office here, they’ve personally been transferred here. Yes, I think the growth is multi-tiered. People out of college or they are just jumping on the Nashville band wagon, juxtaposed with the corporate relocations can all be our clients, and that’s what we need and like. We are also so lucky to work with several clients in the music world, which is SO fun.
What advice do you have for women interested in business?
Listen. Listen more than you talk. I think as women, we tend to feel we need to say one more statement, one more little point of explanation. But a lot of times, it’s a lot more effective to listen to the other person completely before you start talking.
How have you seen Nashville change since you’ve been here besides, of course, the traffic?
I will say I used to be able to get anywhere in town in 10 minutes and that is just not the case anymore. But there are a lot more activities and a lot more restaurants. I grew up in New Orleans — I love food, I love to cook. So, for me, a huge plus to the growth has been the food culture. I love the Food and Wine Festival. I love to eat. It’s my favorite activity to do all year long in Nashville. I stalk the Food Network chefs. My sister and I actually have photos with many of them from the past two years.
I’ve also loved the increased diversity. My church, my kids’ schools, my neighbors — we’ve all been enriched by the growth. The arts, film, TV industries and more have all boosted growth because they highlight different kinds of people here and want to be a part of it. It’s all self-perpetuating. I’m excited about Megan Barry and what she’s going to do to continue encouraging the diversity of our city, in terms of the people here and in terms of our interests.
We’ve heard you’re very involved in the community — can you tell us a little more about that?
Sure, yeah. I was a co-chair for the MS Fall Crush [a fundraising event to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society] this year. We changed the setup so it was a Sunday afternoon at Green Door Gourmet, which proved to be so successful. It’s been exciting to see how the organization has grown and been successful over the years. I feel passionately about supporting the MS Society. It’s great when you throw yourself into a cause that affects your life directly and can help someone you know and care about. That connection is important. But it can also be good to see how other lives are affected by things you don’t know about or see regularly. I volunteered to be a Girl Scout Troop Leader, and my daughter wasn’t even in the troop — it was just fun to do something with these girls who I wasn’t necessarily directly connected to. I think that’s important for everybody — getting outside your own circle.
Alright, switching gears. What is the last best meal you had out in Nashville?
5th and Taylor for sure. We sat at the bar and ate appetizers. The oysters were amazing and the pumpkin soup was delightful.
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Both, actually. I like staying up late, and I like waking up early. At night, I do home stuff. Loads of laundry or organizing that random drawer under the oven that I’ve been meaning to get to. I’ve got a running list of things I want to get to around the house. Don’t we all? But that’s when I chip away at it. In the morning, I read or meditate. I take hot yoga classes and have learned how to train my mind to be still. I think that is very important to do daily — to start with a quiet, still mind.
Do you have any irrational fears?
I watch a lot of “Law & Order.” So if I don’t hear from my kids in 48 hours, I get really nervous and am certain they’re dead in a bush somewhere. But I suppose all mothers are kind of that way.
How do you like to relax and unwind?
Cooking. My favorite way to unwind is cooking. I love to come home and cook a big meal. We often don’t eat until 9 p.m., but I love making dinner for my family. I don’t bake much, because the science of it is more exact. But I love to pick a new recipe and go for it or just open the pantry and see what I can throw together from what we’ve already got at home. My own personal in-home “Chopped” episode, if you will.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. It’s her latest. I just finished Julia Reed’s But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!: Adventures in Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry. It took me a while; I was making the recipes as I went through the book.
Who is your biggest role model?
My dad. He has always been an administrator at a church or a school. He knows how to be firm and honest, while showing great compassion and leadership.
Name three things you can’t live without excluding family, friends, and faith.
Butter, shoes and sunshine.