In Charleston, Helen Rice ’03 and Josh Nissenboim ’03 are running a thriving marketing business and transforming a historic home.
Helen Rice ’03 and Josh Nissenboim ’03 were in search of a lifestyle as much as a livelihood when they moved to Charleston, South Carolina, six years ago. With an energy and cleverness that’s become their trademark, they founded a full-service digital agency named Fuzzco and remodeled a historic house and office building to live and work in, while collaborating with the designers, restaurateurs, musicians, and artists that constitute Charleston’s creative class. Along the way Fuzzco has racked up awards for its diverse design projects and garnered some great national press.
The two met in French class, where they were randomly paired for a project. Like many group projects, it ended as a solo effort—Rice finished the assignment—but Nissenboim later showed his appreciation by treating her to an enormous slice of chocolate cake at Coffee News. Ten years later they were married.
After a brief stint in Madison, Wisconsin, where Nissenboim worked for a software company and Rice waited tables and painted, they were eager to move to a warmer climate. Without much soulsearching, the couple chose Charleston.
“Moving back to Charleston had a lot to do with the fact that nowhere else has ever felt like home, and a little to do with all the friends I had here,” explains Rice. “I’ve always felt Charleston was an underrated place. Our decision to move here didn’t have anything to do with opening a business—and at the time, Charleston was still emerging as a design community.”
They started Fuzzco in 2005 “because our interests overlapped in such a way that we saw the potential to be a creative team,” says Nissenboim. Their first project was a business card for a local trucker. They took turns working on Nissenboim’s college computer until they finally decided to spring for a second workstation. “We felt like the underdogs in an overlooked, underrated city,” he adds. “We were also really hard workers and obsessed with growing our business.”
Six years later, with a client list that now includes Google, eHarmony, and Sharp, they and their seven employees work in a spare, beautifully renovated office building that was recently featured in Dwell magazine along with their restored and reinvented 1852 house. “We work with clients of all shapes and sizes, from international to hyperlocal,” says Nissenboim. “We love the mix.” Today the client roster includes multinational corporations, software start-ups, and even a small chocolatier. Fuzzco’s take on projects is often a blend of irreverent and hip, classicism and timelessness.
The same aesthetic can be seen in the couple’s restored home, located just a few blocks from Fuzzco’s headquarters. “The spaces where we live and work are extremely important. They influence how we think and feel,” says Nissenboim. “We love the juxtaposition of old and new, and we try to keep things organized and minimal.”
The home renovation, characterized by a light touch and respect for the distressed bones of the 150-year-old building, was made possible through a combination of bartering for services and much physical labor. When the couple purchased the vacant property, it was a shambles of peeling paint and plaster, broken appliances and fixtures, its windows insulated with newspapers and duct tape. The renovated space is a blend of functional new and stripped-down old, as in the case of tongue-and-groove walls left exposed after outdated wood paneling was removed. It’s also an urban oasis. In a city with few lawns, their yard is big enough for a vegetable garden and a croquet course.
Rice plans to someday build an art studio in the backyard. The former studio art major showed paintings at Charleston galleries until the demands of a growing business made that impossible. She oversees the art direction and strategic creative development at Fuzzco.
Although long working hours are a necessary part of starting a business, Rice and Nissenboim make time for socializing, frequently with clients who’ve become friends. Their synergistic approach to life and work means there are few demarcations between business and pleasure, clients and friends, interior design and graphic design.
How did college prepare them for the life they’re leading now? “At Mac we made some great friends, worked hard, and learned how to live in a small, close-knit society,” says Nissenboim. In Charleston they’ve made use of those college lessons, in a community that appreciates their talents and allows them to mix work and living in an interesting and artful way.